it was a Christmas gift to the world...
note: the story I am about to tell is true, and sensitive. if you read a book called The Gifts of Shirdi Sai Baba (available at www.kaleshwar.org), you will find several other accounts of it there, from other students of Sri Kaleshwar. if you are upset by this story, or its details (I can't imagine anyone would be, but still) -- please write me and let me know about it.
so, the course in 1999. in India, for the first time, getting used to wearing saris and many layers of clothes. sleeping in a room with 8 other people. (30 people sharing one bathroom. you don't even want to know about that.) we traveled about 8 hours by car to another location, an ancient temple city (now in ruins) called Hampi, and spent several days there, cooling out and learning various high-level healing techniques and mantras. it was superb.
there were about 150 people, I think, at that course -- many Germans, Americans, Japanese, and other nationalities.
when we came back to Penukonda, there was an excitement in the air. something was coming, with the Jesus energy.
I was surprised that Kaleshwar talked so much about Jesus. at first I thought it was a sop for Western people; a way to make the exotic spirituality of India more palatable for people from predominantly Christian countries. (I'm not a Christian, myself, although I have a great respect for Jesus.) but I began to get the point that what Kaleshwar was saying about Jesus was that he was the number one healer this planet had ever had; that his talking about Jesus and his abilities was like INVOKING Jesus and his energies; that Kaleshwar was talking intimately, almost casually, about Jesus like I would tell strangers about my older brother.
by the time Christmas rolled around, he told us he was opening the Jesus channel of energy (?) and that he and Jesus together were planning a big miracle for Christmas Day. it became immediately apparent to us that the Jesus channel was fraught with suffering (as it has been clear to every Christian saint, especially the stigmatists, who traditionally focus on the suffering that Christ experienced) -- bizarre disasters happened around the ashram, including a worker who fell off the roof of the temple, splitting his head open on the concrete below. (Kaleshwar healed him, and he was fine a day later.)
[in many ways the scene in the movie Stigmata, where Gabriel Byrne is chasing Patricia Arquette's character, after she's run away from the nightclub; they're in a back alley and pipes are starting to burst, spewing steam all over, and windows are breaking, etc., reminded me of the sheer force of reaction created in Nature as a response to opening the Jesus channel -- what I saw directly in India.]
anyhow, on Christmas Day, Kaleshwar had four men (my then-partner Jonathan was one of them) construct a wooden cross out of two large, thick tree branches. it was about five feet by five feet, a squarish, clunky-looking cross, by the time it was finished. they had to plane the branches, and so on, using primitive tools (this IS India, after all) and even Swiss Army knife saws!
they labored all day, and had to start over a few times, because one of the specs for completing the cross properly included the direction that no one OTHER than those four men should touch the thing. and of course people, in a daze, and attracted by the process, kept walking up and touching the wood.
by midnight, it was finished. I must say that it was eerie, spending Christmas day knowing that a cross was being constructed, hearing nails pounded into wood... Kaleshwar is an unpredictable saint, and he likes gory miracles -- it was in the forefront of more minds than mine that day that perhaps he would chose to crucify himself... at one point I even ran outside, to see what size this cross actually was. it was an enormous relief to see that it was too small for a grown man to hang on!
anyway, to repeat, by midnight, it was finished. all of us students had gathered in the main temple of the ashram. the women were decked out in formal red saris with fragrant flowers in our hair, everyone had lit a candle and placed it on the white marble altar in the temple, near a statue of Shirdi Sai Baba, the other Big Boss, Kaleshwar's guru. the men were mostly wearing traditional white Indian pajama outfits. Kaleshwar talked for a while about Jesus, how he was the Big Boss of this planet, and the greatest healer mankind had even known. the cross was propped up with stones (it wasn't even free-standing) near the front of the temple, backlit by dozens of candles. it was all so beautiful I had tears in my eyes.
then, Kaleshwar had us all meditate on Jesus, and he took the four men who'd constructed the cross, had them carry the cross, and they left the temple.
the unbelievably blissful, peaceful, heart-filling energy that descended on the temple during the next half-hour or so is almost indescribable. it was completely still, and quiet, and yet there was an activity, like a palpable ecstasy, in that stillness, in that profound silence.
then, all of a sudden, I felt people stirring and I turned around to see that Kaleshwar had entered the temple, that his pristinely white pajama legs were heavily stained with.... red. blood. 'oh, my god,' I thought -- 'he's showing the stigmata' (someone had explained to him the day before what that was. his response, a thoughtful, mmm-hmmmm...).
I heard people in the back of the temple gasping as they saw the blood all over his ankles and pyjama bottoms. he walked purposefully into the temple, his eyes super-over-bright -- and sat down in his chair, wiped his hands in a kind of matter of fact way, and crossed his (bloody) legs. & he didn't say a word. the tension....
oooh, the suspense was killing me! what had happened? okay, it wasn't stigmata, but where did all that blood come from?
then, as if on cue, the four men who'd built the cross came into the temple, and they were even MORE dramatically blood-stained than Kaleshwar. Jonathan came in last, and I nearly fell over in shock -- his whole kurta (the white pj top) was drenched in blood, from his waist all the way down to his mid thighs, as though he'd been sitting in a puddle of blood. (which, in fact, it turned out that he had.) the red blood stains on the white clothing were sensational enough, but looking at the faces of those four men was even more dramatic and amazing. they were completely shining, illuminated as if from within, clear, light, radiant beings, streaked with blood -- with pure calm faces like the Buddha. they walked up on the altar, and knelt down, and began to meditate.
just looking at Jonathan, at that streaming light pouring off of him, made me start crying in joy. even though my rational mind had no idea what had happened, a deeper part of me, call it the soul, knew that some mystical event had just taken place, and that I was witnessing, we all were witnessing, the high cosmic divine energy radiating off of these men.
then, softly, Kaleshwar asked the men to recount what had happened.
together, they told the story:
at Kaleshwar's instruction, they had carried the cross down into his subterranean meditation 'cave,' a kind of small square cellar that is about 16 feet underground, in the middle of the rose garden. (it has a slate floor, and the central feature in the cave is a foot-high Shiva lingam, in black stone, that is more than 1000 years old, mounted into cement. otherwise, the decor is Bare Lightbulb, complemented by white-washed cement walls, and a rickety staircase.)
three men held the cross up -- two on the cross-beams, and Jonathan, sitting cross-legged on the floor, straddling the base of it with his arms and legs. another man was touching the Shiva lingam.
after a few minutes, Kaleshwar began reciting some mantras, softly, and clapping his hands... and drops of blood, welling up from the center of the cross, began to drip, one by one. Jonathan felt them on his forehead, on the top of his head... just a few drops at first, then a trickle.
it went from a trickle to a stream in a few seconds, and then it was like a valve had burst and a whole river of blood poured all over the room, all over the men, straight from the cross' center.
Jonathan said that while the physical river was spewing, the real firehose was in his heart. he said it took about two seconds to feel the intensity of pure, relentless love fill his heart up, and then it started overflowing in all directions -- like a fire-hose.
all he could do was think of all the people he loved, in organizations he'd worked with, his family members, people he'd done healing for or meditated with in the past, just everyone -- and instantly, all that love in his heart was bursting out in all those directions, touching all of those individual souls.
he knew it was Jesus' love, that pure, relentless love that would brook no resistance but could simply mow down any opposition with the sheer force of itself. when Jonathan recounted his part of the story, in the large group, Kaleshwar looked at him quizzically and asked, -- "did you ever feel that you weren't holding the wood of the cross, but a man's body, in that moment?"
Jonathan thought for a moment, and said, "no. it always felt like wood. but I felt that Jesus was there."
Kaleshwar nodded, with a grin, but his words were serious: "He WAS there, in person, for a couple minutes."
Jonathan asked, "but Swami, I'm a JEW from Brooklyn. what connection would I possibly have with Jesus? why me?" and Kaleshwar's grin just got wider, and he replied, "wait. wait and see."
(Jonathan is still waiting to see ... note from 2013: but the ensuing years have definitely made this relationship a great deal more clear indeed. )
then, we ALL (like, 150 people or so!) were invited to form into small groups, to go down into the subterranean cave, to see the bleeding cross and to TOUCH the blood, with the palms of both of our hands. the whole process of groups coming and going took about 25 minutes.
I was in the very last group to go down. as my group was leaving the temple, I heard Kaleshwar call out to one of the men who was helping us, "tell the people to hurry. I can only keep this channel open a few more minutes, before I start to bleed in my own body.....!"
we hurried out to the garden, to the door of the cave, and down the rickety stairs.
I was about halfway down the stairs when the full impact of the scene below burst into my awareness, and burned its way into my mind forever. the whole floor was flooded -- in blood. it was a stream of blood about 9 feet long, about a foot and a half wide, maybe two feet. I saw/perceived lights, like a hoard of fireflies, hovering and dancing in the air above the stream, coming about two feet or so up from the ground. I blinked, and thought, no, that can't possibly BE -- and the little lights disappeared.
I got down the stairs, and saw the source of the blood, the cross, leaning against the wall to my right. it was spattered all over with blood, as was the wall behind it and the floor at the base of it. some of the blood was even clotting! movement from the center of the cross was still visible -- infinitesimally slowly, drops were still forming and slowly rolling down the front of the cross.
it was stunning. I've never seen so much blood in one place at one time, in my life.
obedient to instructions, I got down on my knees, like kneeling in front of a mountain stream except this was red and thick! and hoping that I was worthy of such an act, I put my palms face down in the blood on the floor of the cave. I don't know what I expected, heavens opening to reveal choirs of angels singing, or something. nothing earth-shattering happened, except that I registered that the liquid on the floor was kind of lukewarm....
and as I took my hands away, and examined the sticky blood on them, starting to dry, I knew it was really blood, that it was drying on my palms, and furthermore I knew -- without consciously knowing -- that it was Jesus' blood.
and that I was linked, bonded with that blood, with that healing channel, forever -- and so were the hundred and fifty-odd other students of Kaleshwar who were present that night.
there was no other response to it than simple, pure happiness. as Wordsworth wrote in his Prelude, "my dear friend, need I say that to the brim my heart was full."
there is no need to say it.
no way to explain it, or analyze it, or apply mental processes to a supernatural occurrence so extraordinary as to defy -- well, just about everything conventional, ranging from traditional Christianity to the workings of a rational mind.
and that was Christmas 1999.
my first time in an ashram, and my introduction to Southern India.
it was a brilliant spiritual prelude to the changes that 2000 would bring, a gift to the whole planet from this humble little ashram, in a humble little town, in the middle of nowhere (but in the middle of everywhere, because it touches the hearts of millions of people who haven't even heard of it, yet).