The fifth Satchandi Mahayana was in progress and like so many others, I was there participating in seva.
One day I decided to run across to the visitors’ car parking area, where the stalls for malas, photos of gods and goddesses, etc. had already commenced their day’s sales, and buy myself a little spiritual gift – a sumerini mala.
In the first stall sat an old man with sunken cheeks, prominent cheek bones and a monkey cap protecting his head and ears from the morning mist. He sat huddled, wearing a black coloured, horn rimmed pair of glasses like Mahatma Gandhi, which sat on his nose at an angle of 45 degrees.
After exchanging our Namo Narayans and at my request, he carefully chose and gave me a tulsi mala for sumiran. I took it in my hand, inspected it knowledgeably and paid him his price. After a quick “Namo Narayan” I ran back to resume my seva, mala already rotating between my thumb and ring finger, and japa happening in silence with spiritual conviction written all over my face.
With the blessings of Devi Maa and the inspiration and protection of three Paramahamsas, no less, I resumed domestic life full on, mala between my specified fingers and mantra on my lips. After a few weeks of sumiran, I could distinctly feel an occasional tingling up my spine. The frequent but mild rumbles near the manipura chakra confirmed to me that I was on the right track and that my sadhana made moksha inevitable and irrevocable. It was no ordinary mala. It had come into my life from the tapobhoomi of a stithaprajna.
A few months later, as happens frequently in worldly life, I had a tiff with you know who. Balance switched to disbalance, that quickly gave way to irritation which in turn manifested in anger. Although I am a Taurus, I roared like a Leo and strode out of the house like the elephant in Munger market which Swami Niranjanji talks about. I went and found myself a place to sit down under the sky and resumed my japa furiously.
One bead, one mantra, next bead, again the mantra, third bead . . . Suddenly, a thought crossed my mind. Do you know how many beads there are in the mala? The japa stopped as if an emergency brake had been applied. I counted 1, 2, 3 . . . 24 . . . 27 . . . 29 . . . 32. Thirty-two?! Good God! Thirty-two! But that’s not a multiple or sub-multiple of 9 as it should be, must be. Nine is definitely a very auspicious number. If you add up the digits of 108, doesn’t it come to 9? Following these incisive calculations and realizations, my buddhi kicked in further.
I was doing it wrong all these months. What a waste of spiritual time and energy. How could that old man give me a sumerini mala with 32 beads! Wasn’t he from Rikhiadham and not College Street. How could he? Didn’t he know that a sumerini mala must have only and precisely 27 beads! This was destiny playing tricks with me.
All the spinal tingling, manipuri rumbling stopped but not my anger. The only positive development was that now my negative anger was transformed into spiritual anger, not worldly anger. I went home, threw the mala back furiously into my travel bag, stopped my sumiran japa and got down to planning my next visit to Rikhia.
From that day, the only tingling I felt whenever I remembered the number 32 or when I saw an old man with horn rimmed glasses was at the temples, and that’s not where the kundalini energy flows past. What a horrible waste of valuable spiritual time, and that too because of an ignorant, toothless old man. I reached Rikhia soon enough, kept my luggage at the gate and went straight to the mela. The old man was still there, his horn-rimmed glasses were still the same and placed at the same angle on his nose. He gave me a divine, toothless smile and said, “Namo Narayan.” He probably saw Narayana in me, but I only saw red. And you surely know what happens when a bull sees red.
Me: (No Namo Narayan) Didn’t you give me this mala?
Old man, after inspecting it carefully: Yes!
Me: You must know that a sumerini mala has only 27 beads?
Old man: Yes.
Me: Count this and see how many beads are there.
Old man, after counting each bead carefully: 32!
Me: So you knowingly gave me a wrong mala.
After a deadly silence of a few seconds, the toothless smile became wider, he straightened his spectacles a wee bit, looked up at me and said, “Baba, taking God’s name five times extra won’t bring you any bad karma,” and handed the mala back to me after touching it to his forehead and heart.
My anger balloon punctured. I felt a severe burning sensation once again but this time on my right cheek as if I had just received the tightest, widest, wristy slap in my life. How true, how innocent, how pure, how simple.
I immediately remembered what Sri Swamiji had said, “Sri Aurobindo used to say that intellect can be a friend initially, but it can become an obstacle in spiritual development.”
I don’t know this old man’s name because he had moved on to his next life by the time I reached Rikhia again the next year, but whenever I hear the name of Sri Aurobindo or realize that my buddhi is chattering too much, I remember him and my right cheek begins to smart all over again. He remains Sri Aurobindo to me to this day.