Angels and Gurus

Prophecy is between the angels and the people.

—Thomas Aquinas

I finally met one. An angel. I was exhausted. Depressed. Hopeless. Maybe suicidal. Sick of politics and organizing. Walking down Wilson Avenue. Out of the corner of my eye, saw an old wino approaching, not unusual on Wilson. He staggered closer, then . . . BURST INTO LIGHT! So blinding, I had to look down, close and hold my eyes. Could only hear, something, someone going by. When I cleared and turned to look again, it was the back of a shuffling old wino. Wino. Angel. Wino.

Politics, the revolution. In Chicago we had been through the ’68 Convention (I got tear-gassed; not too bad.). The Westside burning. Fred Hampton’s murder. I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed something different. The ’60s were coming to a close, the shift from political to spiritual. People were going to India to find their Guru. To Japan seeking a Zen Master. I was broke. I wasn’t going anywhere. I needed a Guru. I needed a Zen Master. I found both in Chicago. 

The Zen Master was my favorite. There was a small Buddhist temple in Uptown. I hadn’t noticed it before. But one day walking past I saw a brief sign in the window: Wednesday Night Class: Zen for Westerners. We sat around a table. Saito pointed to one of us: it was his or her turn to talk. About anything. After a bit, he held up a hand, stop! Then opened a small book and read a poem, written by his Master. When it was my turn, I talked about The Revolution. Injustice. Racism. The War. He stopped me. This was the poem he read to me:

so  –  you want to save the world

well, try

then come back

I’ll tell you something good

I was hooked. We did a weekend. The subject of our meditation: focus on each person, and find the one word which will destroy them. Saito told me to play my guitar as we walked and meditated. I became so absorbed that when we came to a stream, with a log halfway across, I walked out and off the log, plunged into the water still playing my guitar. 

Later, that night, it was time to share our words. Most of the others could not find a negative word for Saito, only praise. His face remained blank as they were read. But when he came to my word, smokes, he smiled. 

We continued, seated in the circle.  In turn, Saito moved a candle in front of each of us. Found some way to challenge our complacency. 4:00 a.m. It was my turn. I was seated in a rocking chair, in my stocking feet. Had a cold cup of coffee in one hand. He pushed a burning candle toward me. I stared, did not react. He pushed it closer. Nothing. Right up to my feet. A sock started smoking. No reaction. Sock burst into flame. I just watched . . . until the first twinge of pain hit. With a flick of the wrist, I sent the cup of coffee flying, putting out the lick of flame, and spilling over Saito. He brushed off the coffee, said, “Very good,” relit the candle, and moved on to the next person. 

Later I was given an award: a plaster cast of my foot inscribed: Fiery Sole of John. 

Saito and I became friends. I was invited to his home, met his dog and wife and children. The first time there, I could tell his wife was nervous. Formally, she turned to me and said, “So, you want to be a Buddhist monk.”  “No,” I said.  ”What? No?” She was startled. “No,” I repeated. “I don’t want to be a Buddhist monk.”  She turned toward Saito. “He doesn’t want to be a Buddhist monk! He doesn’t want to be a Buddhist monk!” She whirled in a circle, almost dancing. The three of us started laughing. We were friends. 

Another time we had a cooking contest. Saito cooked his favorite Japanese meal. I cooked my favorite Italian meal. His two children were the judges. We put plates of each meal in front of them. They dabbed at his, wolfed mine down. “You are traitors!” he roared at them. They laughed at him. Once again we all were laughing. 

The lessons from Saito were an extension of my 11th-grade teacher, Mrs. Warren. Don’t lie. Especially to yourself. Don’t pretend to know what you don’t know. Don’t pretend to be what you aren’t. Don’t try to do what isn’t yours to do.

A concept in the physical world is the shadow-image of

Beings in the highest world.               

Rudolf Steiner

It was quite different with the guru. His name was Madhusudhandas, and he was holding satsang in Chicago. An older man, in his eighties, in all-white robes. When we went for walks with him, we sometimes had to jog to keep up. One day I asked him why he walked so fast, in a power-walk, strides that never left the ground. He told me that when he was young, he was seeking his teacher. Whenever he heard of a teacher he wanted to investigate, he walked there. Back and forth across India. 

In his presence I began to experience kriyas, spontaneous inner movements of energy. The kundalini. We sat there, many of us writhing, unsure where this was going, but sure that it was going somewhere. After meditation, there was question and answer. One question I remember specifically, dramatic but not that unusual, went like this: “Guruji, I was flying my small plane in the mountains, clouds socked in and my instruments went out. I was running out of fuel. I was sure this was it. But then your image appeared, just off and below my left wing. So I steered toward you, and came out into a valley with an empty two-lane highway, where I could make a landing. But my question is, how did you know I needed you then?” To which the guru replied, “Oh, guru knows, guru knows.” 

Some years later, after having taken all kinds of woo-woo trainings and classes out in California, I had returned to Chicago to set up a practice of my own. I offered a workshop on spirit guides. One of those who attended was a guy from Indiana I had never met before; I don’t remember how he got there. But a few weeks after the workshop, I got a call from him. This was 1980. John Lennon had just been shot. He told me Lennon was his guru. The night it happened, he had been distraught, felt life wasn’t worth living. If they could kill Lennon, what was the point. He didn’t want to be in this world. He had all the pills he needed, and was lying in bed, about to take them. But then my image appeared at the end of the bed. He was startled. An omen! There were other teachers. Spirit guides. Life was still worth living. On the phone, he paused. “But my question is, how did you know I needed you then?”

“Guru knows. Guru knows.” But who was guru? The night Lennon was shot, I had been in a bar, having a couple of beers with friends. Not the least thought of Lennon. Or this guy from Indiana. I had to tell him the truth. It wasn’t me. But it was the truth. The guru? Angels again? Someone, something, wanted him alive. And wanted me to know I had a role to play.

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John Sacelli
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