When I entered the world of college academia many a decade ago, I found myself taking a class called “Pop Culture and the World Around Us” to round out my credit requirements. Maybe it wasn’t EXACTLY called that – but it was indeed a class about popular culture and various world views. A studious, young professor taught the course, and the curriculum was a fun mix of art films, news reels, and books. We’d read essays on how popular culture effects the way we live, what we buy, and how it motivates us through the course of our lives. The films of John Waters and Andy Warhol were dissected. We field tripped it to museums and various galleries, discussing the role that art played in various cultures throughout the world.
Spirituality was also touched upon in this class. One afternoon our professor invited a member of the Hare Krishna temple in town to speak to our group about his life as a devotee. He was about twenty five years old. His head was shaven, leaving a plume of hair atop his head to sweep into a singular ponytail that trounced around whenever he moved. He was swathed in a robe and wore sandals. The third eye mark was flecked on his forehead – the point where meditation is focused – and henna markings surrounded his eyes.
Although I remember the visuals, little details escape me, like his name and specific stories he may have shared. I do recall a bit of his discussion about his life before Krishna. He wasn’t a lost soul. He was never involved with drugs. His life was good. He came from a happy, stable family. The course of his spiritual life unfolded when he sensed a deeper purpose in his life. The emptiness that the secular world provided was not enough to fill a hole within. He read books on religion and spirituality, and came upon – Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. It moved him, inspired him to envelope his life with teachings of Krishna.
I remember this man being intensely gentle. His skin seemed soft. The faint aroma of incense floated around him. A glow of spiritual peace and joy radiated from his being. There was something so delicate about him, like soft powdered sugar or light fluffy bread dough – as if he was above human flesh having immersed himself in clean living and daily meditation. It was humbling.
As I sat there, taking in as much as I could, I remembered back to my pre-teen days when I’d listen to the sitar strings and eastern tonal beauty of the Beatles songs George Harrison had inspired from his studies in India and with the Maestro, Pandit Ravi Shankar. As a child discovering Harrison and his other Beatle colleagues, I looked over photos of him with crowds of Krishna devotees, looking happy and calm. His later songs were always about God in some way or another. His work with a prominent Krishna temple in London was intense, having produced one album called “Chant and Be Happy”, which I’m sure made some Beatle fans think he was hanging with a very strange crowd. Not me. Gazing upon these photos taken so long before I found them, it was lovely to see George find this life. Plus, I thought these lovely bald, laughing, singing people were lovely. And a little amusing.
Yet, as this young man answered questions about his daily routine, his connection with family (he was still very connected to his family) and his future, I remember doing a very naughty thing. I was seated next to a friend during this lecture, and my professor took a seat behind me. Curious about stupid stuff, and filled with the effects of being a comedy nerd, I turned to my friend and very quiet, very discretely (or so I thought), whispered to my friend the following words:
“Do you think he’s wearing underwear under that robe?”
My friend chuckled. I leaned back in my seat and continued to listen to our guest. A few moments of his answer died down until it was clear he was ready for another question.
I heard my professor’s voice behind me.
“I have a question. The young lady in front of me wanted to know if you are wearing any BVDs”, he said with a smile on his face.
The whole class roared with laughter. Some classmates around me knew he was referring to me because they heard me whisper this question to my friend. I was delightfully embarrassed. It was a riot to hear my teacher bring this truth – the truth that I had this odd question – to his friend in the front of the class.
It also delighted our Krishna devotee, whose face lit up as he stepped back to give out a great, big, amazing laugh. It was like he was crossing over to Buddha, laughing hard with his head thrown back. The joy was contagious. God was in the room.
Then, when the laughter died down, there was a brief pause of silence where we all looked at him as he relished the moment.
“Well?” asked our professor.
Another pause, as if the ticking hand on the clock stopped for a few seconds.
“No…no, I’m not wearing anything under here, ” he said with a beauteous smile before another wave of laughter crashed through the room.
It was a gorgeous moment, a moment in time I do remember as details of that afternoon fade. The innocence of the question posed by an air headed student like me – that turned into a wonderful moment of laughter and honesty.
I think George Harrison would have been pleased.