Richard Rosen's September 2015 Newsletter
NOTE. This is the continuation of Yogi Meshugganatha’s story which began last month. I apologize for its length, but I wanted to make sure I retold the it accurately.
“The old yogi,” continued Meshugganatha (hereafter M), “was well known in the vicinity of the library, though judging by the treatment he received when he first showed up, apparently not to the younger generation. It was rumored that he was ‘older than old,’ the most elderly among the locals claimed that he was already old when they were children, and their grandparents said the same of him when they were toddlers. Wild estimates circulated about his age, 150, 200, 300 years. It was even said of him, as Svatmarama would write a few hundred years later in the Hatha Pradipika of the adepts in his lineage, that he had ‘broken the rod of time’ (the ‘rod’ being the means by which Yama, Death, eventually punishes all mortals for the grave sin of living) and roamed the universe at will.
“He was once known as a maha parama hamsa, a ‘great supreme swan,’ the rarest and most exalted title that could be bestowed on a yogi, but he had long since passed beyond all names, even a personal name. It was also rumored that he had frightening super powers, when the head librarian chastised his young assistants for ignoring his presence, and said they were lucky he didn’t turn them all into dogs, he wasn’t speaking figuratively, he meant it literally. People were afraid of the old yogi, and treated him with the utmost respect. Of course the old yogi didn’t give a hoot how he was handled by the people, and he was never tempted to turn anyone into a dog.
“‘What can we do for you, honored sir,’ asked the head librarian, the unction dripping from his words. The old yogi gave him an ironic look. ‘I was hoping you might know where I can find a certain book,’ he spoke slowly, as if to a rather dull five-year-old. ‘A book!’ exclaimed the head librarian, rubbing his hands, ‘you’ve come to the right place,’ he giggled as his own joke. Now we might expect that history would preserve the title of this book, since it was such an unusual and momentous occasion; but no, time, as it will someday you and me and the entire universe, has swallowed it up. Several articles have been posted to the website Academia from specialists speculating about this book. ‘The Yogi With No Name’s No Name Book,’ one paper is headed, and ‘You’ve Come to the Right Place: Was the Yogi With No Name’s Book the Book of Books?’
“That he wanted a book was in and of itself strange enough, yogis of his stature never touched books. To the people of many ancient cultures, writing was anathema. One of my teachers used to tell me, ‘If the soul is fire, then writing is a bucket of cold water.’ The book you’re holding”—I was sitting with his copy of the Rig Veda, just over a thousand mantras (often times they’re called “hymns,” but that’s misleading)—“was passed along orally for hundreds of years, one big reason being that writing hadn’t yet reached India, so the priests had no other choice. But even after writing developed in India, they were still adamantly opposed to writing stuff down.” M smiled. “‘Writing is for merchants,’ they insisted, ‘let them keep track of their wares that way, and we’ll care for the soul in ours.’ The Rig would be preserved and handed along in the same way it was received from God at the very beginning of the current world cycle, by word of mouth (the same way, incidentally, it’s revived at the beginning of every world cycle—world’s come and go, just as the sun rises and sets and rises again, but the Veda is eternal). That’s why the Rig and the books associated with it are called shruti, ‘that which is heard.’ The spoken word has a transformative power that the written word lacks. Then too, it wasn’t just the soul the priests were concerned about. The mantras in this book were the tools of their trade. With them the priests conducted ritual sacrifices, that’s how they earned their living, and as time passed by, that living became more and more profitable. If all those mantras were collected in a book, and some merchant got a hold of it, then God only knows who might start horning in on their business. Priests would multiply like Tribbles, or like yoga teachers do today.”
“The booked was fetched from the bowels of the library. Most books in those days, before the advent of the printing press, were laboriously hand printed and so had necessarily a limited number of pages. But the book the old yogi requested, only the oldest librarians had any idea of its existence, and even they weren’t sure that it was anything more than a figment of some fevered librarian’s imagination. It was large and heavy even by today’s standards, the young assistant sent to find it and bring it back could be heard huffing from the effort it took to carry it. A table was set beside the couch on which the old yogi sat—when they put the book on it, the legs creaked. They all gathered round, poking each other and whispering, ‘I told you it was real,’ ‘No you didn’t,’ ‘Yes I did,’ the arguments went back and forth until the head librarian hushed them.
Now if you remember, in those days, no one yet had thought to number pages, so finding anything in a book was a hit and miss affair, with even in the thinnest of volumes it sometimes took a seasoned librarian more than an hour to find the passage a scholar had sent him searching for. The head librarian stared at the book, then subtly signaled his senior assistant. “Please, sir,” he said to the old yogi, ‘if you tell us what you’re looking for, Muta and I will gladly track it down, it should only take an hour or two.’ ‘Thank you, sir,’ the old yogi replied, ‘but you needn’t bother.’ He wiggled up to the edge of the couch and sat gazing at the book with half closed eyes for less than a minute. The librarians watched, transfixed, as he leaned forward, slowly slid his thumb along the edge of the closed pages, stopped, and opened the book, seemingly at random. Then, after reading no more than 15 seconds, he said to himself with a satisfied grin, ‘Ah, I thought so,’ and gently closed the book. He turned to the head librarian, thanked him with a perfunctory nod and slipped off the couch to leave.
“‘Wait!’ the head librarian almost shouted. ‘Dear sir, how did you do that?’ He was shaking now, nearly fainting, his whole world topsy turvy. ‘Do what?’ the old yogi replied. “How ... how ... how,’ the head librarian stammered, ‘did you find that page you wanted so quickly?’ The old yogi looked surprised. ‘Quickly?’ he said. “I thought I took rather a long time, lately the old noggin has been slipping a bit, I’ve actually been considering leaving this body behind in the near future.’ ‘But ... but ...” the head librarian, who knew ninety percent of the words in his language, was at a loss for words. “Ah,” said the old yogi, “now I see, you are all stupid with too much knowledge. Look, my friend, a person writes a book and says, ‘I made this, this is mine.’ That’s a great mistake. Those words in the book, they didn’t come from him, like everything else in existence, they came ultimately from the source, Cit, Consciousness, the All. You must at least have an idea by now that we are all rooted in the All, and that it is, so to speak, an open book if you know how to read it. It will always tell you just where to look for anything your heart truly desires, whether it’s a page in a book, the love of your life, or your eternal soul. I asked, listened carefully, and as inevitably happens, was told the proper thing to do. So I opened to the page I needed, very simple.’
“The head librarian was crying now. ‘Please, sir, please, can you teach us how to do that? It would save us an enormous amount of time and effort.’ ‘So you would then have more time to accumulate more useless knowledge and become even stupider than you are now?’ the old yogi shook his head. ‘Well, well, send me your best assistants and perhaps we can do something about this, but I warn you, once they learn how to listen, and it may take several years, the last place they’ll want to be is a library.’ Now the head librarian was desperate. ‘But what else can I do?’ he almost whined. ‘How should I know,’ said the old yogi, rather harshly, ‘you’re the head librarian.’ He turned to leave again. ‘Send them to me when they’re ready,’ he said, ‘and in the meantime why don’t you just number the pages and then list the subjects by page number at the back of the book. Call it an index or something like that.’”
M chuckled. “That, of course, solved the whole problem, but a few of the assistants went with the old yogi anyway just to learn to listen. Eventually his ‘miraculous’ feat was transformed into a special kind of meditation called Page Turning, or as it’s popularly known, Purning.” When it first came to this country, it was strictly a spiritual practice, but over the last 30 years or so, it’s been turned into a popular competition, in which people compete for prizes.” M shrugged. “That’s what happens with you Americans,” he said, not unkindly. “Everything you do becomes a race for wealth and fame.” He shrugged again, “What the heck, it is kinda fun.”
And so the second rated Purner in the world reached over and pushed a button in an app on his iPhone that generated a random number. 327. We both sat very still facing each other, eyes closed, barely breathing, me with the Veda on my lap. After a few minutes I heard him shift and I opened my eyes. He reached out, ran his thumb slowly across the closed pages, stopped, and opened the book. We both looked. Page 331. “Not bad,” he said with a grin. “You wanna try?”
I have my September calendar in front of me and honestly not much is happening. Actually my 50th high school reunion is being held in Sacramento on the 18th, and I’ve decided to spare myself the mishegas and not go. Instead I have tickets to see Mark Knopfler at the Greek Theater that evening. Remember Dire Straits? If you do, your own 50th is likely on the horizon.