I first hear about “The Blessed One” as a graduate student.
“A holy man from India,” was how Felix — fellow student and best friend at MIT — first described the 60-something engineer.”He’s got crazy wisdom. You’ll love him.”
I agree to meet the two of them for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Harvard Square.
I arrive, but no sign of Felix so I order cold sesame noodles and Buddha’s Delight. But no standing on custom or political correctness today; I’m simply too hungry.
Minutes later — as I wolf down mouthfulls of Chinese pasta and steamed vegetables — I see Felix walk through the front door, sans holy man.
“Where’s your friend?” I ask, with a shrug of my shoulders, as he approaches my table.
He points to a table, five feet from mine.
There’s no one sitting at that table, I say to myself, except . . .
I watch the grin spread across Felix’s face.
Except, a slight, dark-skinned Indian man, sporting a blue bindi in the middle of his forehead, who’s been sitting there since I walked in the restaurant.
The man stands and extends his hand.”My name if Rajiv, glad to finally meet you Martin.”
I look into his eyes — deep, green pools of compassion.
“Were you sitting here the entire time?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says.
“Are you hungry?”
“Starving,” he said. “I’ll have what you’re eating.”
“Make that three,” says Felix.
“Gentlemen, how ’bout a beer?” but Felix waives me off and Rajiv says, “”I’m also going to pass,” he says, “I’ve got an exam this afternoon.”
“No kidding?” I sad, “What course?”
“Course 7, Biology,”
“Cool.” ( did I really just say cool??) I winced.
“Rajiv, I don’t mean to pry, but it’s refreshing to see a man your age . . .well. you know . . .take on the challenges of graduate work.”
“Thanks for the compliment, Martin, but I’m the Robert Bartlett Professor of Biology, and I’m not taking the exam, I’m giving it.”
I look across the table at Felix who has a mouthful of Pepsi streaming out his nostrils.
The waitress arrives with trays of food, and not a minute too soon . . . before I can make a complete fool of myself.
We attacked the plates of noodles and vegetables like three starving sailors.
I wipe my brow with a napkin, “Are you involved in any clinical studies?” I asked Rajiv.
“As matter of fact,” he said, “I’m doing some pretty avant garde stuff with soul mates.”
I set my fork on the table and stop eating, “Soul mates?” I ask.
“Yes, it appears that some couples have chromosomal, mitochondrial DNA that, during cell division, demonstrates significantly less telomere degradation.”
“Does this population cohort show slower aging? That’s what you’d expect to see, right?” I say.
“Well, that’s what we’re looking at,” said Rajiv. “In the interim, a grad student has stumbled on a fascinating correlation. It appears that these soul mates file for separation and/or divorce 80% less than an average couple. He smiles, flashing a mouthful of gold teeth. Pretty interesting, eh?”
‘Fascinating,’ I said, “Does that mean that you believe there’s a biological precedent for the phenomenon of ‘soul mates’?”
“Could be,” he says.
I turn toward Felix, “You been unusually quiet today, everything okay?”
He gives up a deep belly laugh, “Not exactly my intellectual strong suit, besides – I know you too well, Martin Bayne. Any second, you and the good professor are going to up the ante and deal from a new deck, Isn’t that right, professor?”
“It did cross my mind, Felix,” said Rajiv. He shifted his gaze and looks into my eyes. “Well, Martin, care to play the hand?”
“Only if I can go all in” I reply.
The professor pauses for a few seconds and exhales deeply. “Okay, you’re all in. I call”
“Okay, Rajiv, here we go . . .” My heart is pounding and my adrenal glands are pumping enough adrenaline to sucker-punch a raptor. “The question before us is, ‘Who is Martin’s true soul mate?'” I pause. “Are we in agreement, Rajiv?”
Rajiv extracts a monogramed linen handkerchief from his pocket and gently pats his forehead. “Yes, certainly, but in the interest of time, let’s just cut to the chase. Do you know where room M-220 is?”
“Yeah, Main Building. Second Floor.” I say.
“Tomorrow, be there. Seven AM sharp.”
“And what will I find in Room M-220, professor? Just to make sure we’re both on the same page.” I say, trying to keep my breathing steady.
“You’ll find the one person who was always meant to love you and to be loved by you. Is that specific enough?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
The rest of the day flew by and I didn’t even bother to go to bed: with my head racing at top speed, I knew sleep was a lost cause.
Before I knew it, it was 6:30 AM.
I sat on the steps of the Main Building; smoked a cigarette and drank a cup of coffee. Relax, Martin, I said to myself. Worst case, I’m the butt of a practical joke — the kind Felix was well-known for. Best case . . . I find the one person I was meant to be with this lifetime.
At 6:55, I begin to walk . . .slowly . . .to Room 220.
I checked my watch and began a four minute countdown.
Arriving at Room 220 with two minutes to spare, I opened the heavy, polished oak door to find a bathroom!.
A bathroom?! I stood in the middle of the room and slowly scan the toilets and sinks.
To say I was disappointed is an understatement, but after twenty minutes of sitting on the floor, it was time to get on with my life. Time to chalk this one up to experience.
As I walk down the Great Hall of the Main Building and into its rotunda I see: Oh, no, it can’t be . . . it’s the professor, and the bastard is smiling.
He must have known I went to Room-220, and now is enjoying the fruit of his joke.
“You having a good time?” I shout.
Time seemed to stop and before I could blink my eyes Rajiv stood beside me.
“Did you go into the room?” he asks, appearing somewhat confused.
“Yes, of course I went,” I bark back at him.
“And you stood in the middle of the room?”
“Stop fooling with me. I said, “Yes, I stood in the middle of the room.”
“Tell me, what did you see? Take me through every movement.”
“I saw nothing but toilets and sinks,” I say, tears streaming down my cheeks.
“And when you looked into the mirrors above the sinks, what did you see?”
“Stop this,” I scream, “I didn’t see anything but the mirrors . . .
My body and mind came to a complete stop.
I couldn’t say another word. A great dam inside me broke, and as thousands of internal sluice gates opened, I finally knew beyond any doubt who my real soul mate was, is and always will be.
“I saw me,” I said. The mirrors above the sinks were the Great Door.”
I looked into Rajiv’s face. “I can see my soul mate now. It’s me.”
He put his arm on my shoulder. “Yes, and it’s always been you.”
I turned to face him. “Now what? I mean, now that I have had this insight, what do I do?
“Live your life . . .a day at a time. For the next few weeks, or even months, you will live in The Land of the Buddha as a Bodhisattva – that is, someone who is ‘awakened.’ As a Bodhisattva, it is your responsibility to bring every blade of grass to a similar awakening. Because everything is impermanent, this cycle is eternal. Yet, your compassion is also eternal. Thus, in the words of the Buddha, “Go on, always go on, always become Buddha.”