Papaji and the Buddha

It all started when I saw a picture of the Buddha in a history book at school. This picture illustrated the period of his life when he tried to live on only one grain of rice a day. The face was very beautiful but the body was skeleton-like, all skin and bone. I immediately felt a great attraction to him, even though I didn’t then know anything about his teachings. I simply fell in love with his beautiful face and decided that I should try to emulate him. In the picture he was meditating under a tree. I didn’t know that at the time. In fact, I didn’t even know what meditation was.

Undeterred, I thought, ‘I can do that. I can sit cross-legged under a tree. I can be like him.’

I began to sit in a cross-legged position in our garden under some rose bushes. Sitting there, I felt happy and content that I was harmonising my lifestyle with this person I had fallen in love with. Then, to increase the similarity even more, I decided that I should try to make my body resemble his skeleton-like frame. 

At that time in our house we would collect our food from our mother before going off to eat it separately. This made it easy for me to throw my meals away. When no one was looking I would go outside and give all my food to the dogs in the street. After some time I managed to stop eating completely. I became so weak and thin, eventually my bones began to stick out, just like the Buddha’s. That made me very happy, and I became very proud of my new state. My classmates at school made my day by nicknaming me ‘the Buddha’ because they could see how thin I was getting.

My father worked for the railways. At this particular period of his life he was working in Baluchistan as a stationmaster. Because his job was a long way away, we only ever saw him when he came home on leave. About a month after my fasting began he came home on one of his regular visits and was shocked to see how thin I had got during his absence. He took me off to see various doctors and had them examine me in order to find out what was wrong. None of them suspected that I was deliberately fasting.

One of them told my father, ‘He is growing tall very quickly, that is why he is getting so thin. Give him good food, lots of milk and dry fruits.’

My mother followed the advice, adding a bit of her own. Every day she would say, ‘Eat more butter, eat more butter’. The dogs on the street got very fat and happy because the new diet went the same way as the old one.

The school history book containing Buddha’s picture was a simple guide for children. The main biographical facts were there, but the concepts of meditation and enlightenment were not adequately explained. Presumably, the author did not think that these very essential points would be of interest to children. So, I remained ignorant of what he was really doing under that tree and why his final accomplishment was so great. Nevertheless, I still felt attracted to him and still felt an urge to imitate him as closely as possible.

I learnt from this book that the Buddha wore orange robes and that he begged for his food, going from house to house with a begging bowl. This was something I could, with a little ingenuity, copy.

My mother had a white sari that seemed to me to be the ideal raw material for a robe. I took it when she wasn’t looking and dyed it ochre, the colour of the Buddha’s robes. I draped it around myself in what I took to be the correct way and began to play at being a mendicant monk. I got hold of a bowl to beg with and walked up and down the streets of Lyalpur, asking for alms. Before I went home I would change into my ordinary clothes and wrap up the orange sari in a paper parcel. I kept the parcel among my school books, a place I thought no one would bother to look.

One of my friends found out what I was doing and told me, ‘You can’t get away with this. Somebody will recognise you and tell your family what you are doing.’

Feeling very confident about my ability to do it secretly, I told him, ‘Your parents know me. I will come to your house in my robes and ask for food. If I can fool them, I can fool anybody.’

I put on my sari, smeared ashes all over my face to further my disguise, put a cap on my head and went off to their house with my begging bowl. It was about 8 p.m., so the darkness also helped my disguise. I called out ‘Bhiksha! Bhiksha’ [Alms! Alms!] because I had seen sadhus calling out in this way. Since it did not occur to me that anyone would recognise my voice, I made no attempt to disguise it. My friend’s mother came to the door, showed no sign of recognition, and invited me in to eat.

‘Swamiji, Babaji, come in and eat something,’ she said, taking me in and offering food.

I went with her, acting out the role I had assigned myself.

‘My child,’ I said to her, even though she must have been about thirty years older than I, ‘you will have children and get lots of money.’

I had heard swamis bless women like this. Since most women wanted to get rich and have several sons, itinerant swamis would give these fantasies their blessings in the hope of getting a better reception and something good to eat.

Then, laughing, she removed my cap and told me she had always known who I really was.

Excerpt from Nothing Ever Happened Volume One, pages 42-46

By David Godman