The bowl of red strawberries on the kitchen table looked very enticing. It was early summer in Russia, when the long-awaited berries first come out, and my older sister had gone to the farmer’s market to bring home a basket of the very best and ripest fruits.
All of the adults in the household knew that the berries were bought for the little one: my sister’s 2-year old son. That’s how the custom went: the very best of everything was always offered to the young ones first.
With that in mind, my sister tied a pretty bib around my little nephew, and settled him on her lap. Taking the biggest berry out of the bowl, she held it in front of the boy and asked: “Hochesh?” meaning, “Do you want one?”
The little fellow’s eyes grew big at the sight of the treat. “Hochu! Hochu!” he said. “I want! I want!”
What followed next, however, was unexpected. As soon as the berry touched his lips, the boy squeezed shut his eyes, and turned away, all the while protesting loudly, “Ne Hochu! No! Ne budu!” meaning, “Don’t want! Don’t want!”
My sister took it quite calmly. She said, “Oh. Maybe later, then.” She untied his bib and put him down on the floor.
The story was far from over, though. As soon as my nephew’s little feet touched the ground, he began to wail in what seemed like utter despair, “Hochu! Hochu! HOCHU!” Meaning, of course, “I w-a-a-a-a-n-t!”
What was my sister to do? She put the bib back on her son, and hoisted him up on her lap. Once again the red berry made the trip from the bowl to the boy, and once again my little nephew turned away, screaming ever louder, “No! Ne Hochu! Ne budu!”
Predictably this time, the bib came off, the boy came down, and the berry went back into its basket. The anguished wail of a disappointed two-year-old filled the house once again.
As this scene repeated itself over and over, I decided to make a suggestion. Finding a rare spot between the fits of screaming from my nephew, I helpfully offered, “Um. Why don’t we stuff the guy in the closet and let him starve to death?” I was thirteen, and it seemed like a fine idea at the time.
I will never forget my sister’s response. Instead of calling me any number of names, all of them deserved, she said absolutely nothing. She did look at me, though. And in her look she conveyed what I could not understand at the time, being young, immature, and short-tempered myself.
She silently said, “Look here. To you, this is an obnoxious kid. But he is my child. I will NEVER abandon him, no matter what his behavior.”
I fast-forward to present time and place. We live in America, where strawberries can be found year-round in the nearest supermarket. My nephew is a grown man, with two little ones of his own. Having raised a fine son, my sister is now enjoying her grandchildren. The temper tantrum thrown by a two-year-old in a distant Russian town over thirty years ago is well forgotten… or is it?
The Sanskrit word for disciple is “chela,” meaning, “child.” When we come to our guru, his offerings look to us like that bowl of ripe red strawberries. The promise of samadhi, cosmic consciousness, and bliss, makes our eyes grow big with wonder and longing. The guru lifts us up on his divine lap, and there we sit, safe and secure, full of anticipation of the great things to come.
The guru then says, “Ready? Here it is!” What happens next is a story all too familiar. As soon as we see up close what is coming from the guru’s hand, we squirm away, crying, “Oh no! Not THIS!”
“I see,” says the guru. “You are not as ready as you thought you were. Down you go.” With that, we come right off his lap, ending up back where we came from. But we don’t want to stay there! So we begin to wail, “Oh please! One more chance! Don’t leave me here! Take me up again!”
It seems that for some of us at least, this “routine” keeps repeating itself over many incarnations. We go up, we come down. We want God, but we are not ready to “swallow” the guru’s discipline. Our torment continues, until we finally accept the guru’s grace, whether it tastes sweet or sour to us at the time.
“Does it always take so long, Sir?” Swami Kriyananda once asked his guru, Yogananda. “Always,” replied the Master.
After taking what seemed like forever, my little nephew settled down and finished his bowl of strawberries. But the question remains: why did the little boy test his mother’s patience? Why do we test God’s patience with us? Is it because we are certain of their lasting, unshakable love?
Deep inside each chela lives a certainty born of intuition; “My guru will NEVER abandon me, no matter what I do.” Unfortunately, for some of us it translates to, “I can take my sweet time coming round!”
Wise are we who abandon the temper tantrums of the spiritual two-year-olds. Gratefully then we accept everything in life as coming from our guru’s hand, nurturing our souls, and filling us with his divine sweetness.