One weekend in New York I was invited to a disciple’s birthday party, celebrated in Guru’s customary way—disciples sitting on Guru’s living room floor as paper plates of curry and birthday cake were passed around. It was a typical time for chitchat with Guru. “So, Marion,” Guru said, catching me by surprise (Guru so rarely spoke to me), “when will you open your restaurant?”
I nearly choked on my curry. “Wha - wha - what restaurant, Guru?”
“First choice restaurant, second choice health food store.”
“But I don’t have any money, Guru!”
“Your parents will give you,” Guru reassured me. “Can you have it open by April 13th?”
But that gave me only six weeks to convince my parents, find a location, buy the equipment, and set it up. And I had never even run a cash register, let alone a business!
When Guru asked us to do something, he would put an incredible force on it. It was as though a divine wind was blowing inexorably towards a particular goal, and all I had to do was to spread my sails to catch the wind. In one way it did feel like an enormous amount of hard work, but in another way, it felt effortless, as though everything was already done.
My parents immediately balked at the idea of a restaurant, noting how often restaurants go out of business, but did not close the door entirely to the idea of a health food store. I found a location, a tiny storefront on Charles Street, in the heart of Boston’s historic Beacon Hill. The current tenant, a graphic designer, created an architectural drawing of the floor plan complete with fixtures. I negotiated a lease with the landlord and stalled for time, saying I had to get money transferred from out of state.
A wholesaler helped me create a list of products to stock for the opening. A banker helped me with a business plan. I wore a sari everywhere I went, an act of courage and surrender if not total idiocy. A retired grocery executive, volunteering for the Small Business Administration, gave me advice on running a food business, despite his doubts. “Lady, you’ll never make it on Charles Street, especially not if you’re dressed like a gypsy!” he said.
This all took several weeks. Afterwards, paperwork in hand, I went home to Delaware to ask my parents for the money. To my amazement, they said the amount I needed was the exact amount they had set aside for me to go to graduate school, and if I wanted to consider the health food store my educational expense, they would give it to me.
When I first became a disciple, I thought I was obliged to “convert” my family and friends (a delusion left over from my born-again Christian days). But people have to feel something from within. I found a better way to relate to my parents, based on Guru’s dictum, “You have to please people in their own way.” I encouraged them in their own forms of spirituality: my father found peace of mind through running, my mother through gardening. When I was with them, I would imagine their heart chakras full of light.
After the first year or so, I never actually talked to my parents about my life on the path—in fact, I avoided their questions—but I felt their increasing acceptance. I knew, even if I could not tell them, that Guru was giving them the opportunity for some really good karma by helping me with the store, and that they would understand once they reached the higher worlds. In fact, when my father left the body two years ago, I had the inner experience of Guru welcoming and guiding his soul.
The health food store turned out to be a wonderful way to share Guru’s message while also providing great vegetarian food. I recall one steady customer, a regular-Joe type of guy. He was a real estate agent who was not particularly spiritual, but used to say, “When I eat your food, I can never have bad thoughts, I only have good thoughts.”
I put Guru’s poetry on the labels of my cookies and sandwiches, using my little calligraphy pen to copy out a two- or four-line poem on each tofu salad or tempeh reuben label. Customers would collect them, taping them to their refrigerators.
Once, after a concert Guru performed at Harvard, ten years after I closed the store, I had a remarkable experience. A disciple from Maine brought over a spiritual seeker to meet me. He had been coming to classes at her Centre and recited a poem perfectly, by heart:
Keep doing the right thing.
God Himself will go
And collect the gratitude-buds
That the world owes you.
Sri Chinmoy 1
The young man had grown up near my store on Charles Street, and his father had taped that poem over the kitchen sink where he could read it while doing the dishes! Not only that, his father became the state Secretary of the Treasury, and who knows how much courage that poem gave him to pursue the right thing amidst the notorious corruption in our state government? It just goes to show, you never know what seeds you are spreading. After all these years, I still have people coming to meditation classes who saw Guru at Harvard more than 40 years ago, or who remember my little store.
Gratitude is the food of faith.
Faith is the food of love.
Love is the food of peace.,
Peace is the food of God.
Sri Chinmoy 2