The Gospel According to Bardow

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“Are you a doctor?” he asked me.

Part of me wanted to continue on, to pretend I hadn’t heard. Sarah had already been waiting for me in the room for several hours, and the hotel was just a few steps away. Still, I stopped.

“No,” I replied, “I am not a doctor. Just a traveler.”

“You have a very kind beautiful face,” he told me, “Very healing face. There is much love and kindness in you. Love and beautiful things.”

I am sure, indeed, that my face was glowing at this point. My spirit was bursting: I had already been blessed with a wonderful afternoon. But in light of the things that were about to come, even the joyous events of the previous hours would become little more than a footnote to an even greater blessing.

Earlier, while Sarah took rest, I had gone down to visit the Ramakrishna Mission. We had passed it earlier, and I was quite curious as to what it was, and why it was there.

The Ramakrishna Misson, Pahar Ganj, Delhi.
The Ramakrishna Misson, Pahar Ganj, Delhi.

Ramakrishna was very much what I anticipated from a few glances: a contemporary Hindu movement that has been shaped, at least in part, through interacting with the theology and institutions of the Christian church. I enjoyed browsing through the bookstore, and pondering some of Sri Somethingorother’s views on Christianity, and what Hinduism might have to learn from the Christian faith. I didn’t agree with all of it, but it was interesting to peruse.

The temple was, architecturally and aesthetically, very much like a traditional church of the Spanish style. Two square towers flanked the main entryway, while at the back of the building, above what would have been the chancel in a Christian setting, a large dome. The inside of the temple was remarkably austere. A few pictures of gurus lined the walls, and in the front of the building (where an altar would have been in a church) there was a garlanded statue and a number of unfamiliar sacramental objects. But otherwise, the space was an open expanse of red carpet, with ample room to sit and pray or meditate.

Above all, it was a welcome oasis of quiet in the chaos of the Delhi streets. A few people were meditating inside. I sat down in the back of the crowd, made the sign of the cross, and prayed.

It was not difficult for me to sense the presence of Jesus Christ in that place. Whether this was due to the particular state of my heart or to the something in peaceful atmosphere I do not know, and dare not speculate. But I knew very strongly that he was there with me.

I saw him, in my mind’s eye: the Christ of the Indian Road that E. Stanley Jones talks about. Jesus wearing the saffron robes of the sadhu, touching beggars and lepers, calling the children of India to himself. Jesus is in India already, doing his own work, in his own time. We just need to watch and listen and learn.

I left the Mission with much peace in my heart, and brought that peace with me into the city streets.

I had the time and the confidence, as I meandered back to my hotel, to greet all the people who called out to me. Most of them very quickly lost interest when I explained that I had no money and no interest in buying anything. But one young Kashmiri Muslim shopkeeper kept chatting with me, even after I had very clearly explained that I had no intention of buying his goods. We sat for a long while and had tea in his shop.

We talked about life, about love, and about business. (“You will buy a rug,” he told me. “Maybe not today, maybe not from me. But you will buy a rug. I know you Americans. My uncle, he sold a rug to Bill Clinton.”) We talked about traveling, volunteering, and religion (he was very fascinated, and a little disturbed, by how seriously I took my faith). We talked about stereotypes and prejudice and world politics. It was an unhurried and encouraging conversation. I was amazed at how similar, and yet how different his world was from my own.

When I left an hour or so later, we had both made a friend. He gave me his card. “Tomorrow is Eid festival; I will not be here,” he told me, “But come back the next day, maybe. We can meet again, and talk more.”

And then I ran into Bardow, from Bhutan, who asked me “Are you a doctor?” Before I knew it, I had been whisked away into another little café, and another cup of chai was sitting in front of me.

Bardow told me his story. He is 62 years old, a retired Buddhist teacher, who came to Delhi in February in hopes of finding work. His retirement at 60 had been obligatory, and he did not receive a pension. He was hoping to make some money in India so that he could send his daughter to nursing school. But he had not been able to find work: people told him that at 62 he was too old to teach. He got a few odd jobs here and there, giving private lessons for a few rupees, but these could barely pay for his living expenses.

He is a kind and gentle soul. Even his use of English reveals it: as he speaks, the words “love” and “beautiful” often find their way into the rhythm of his oration. He loves people and loves animals. He is very homesick, and saddened by the materialism of city life.

“Sometime, you come to my country. Very beautiful country. We welcome you with dance. That is our custom,” he said. “There is no many tourists, no crowded streets where all people hurry hurry. No ‘Come, look my shop.’ Only we give to our guests, give love and family feeling nice to meet you.”

“Last week, there baby cow lie on road. Very sick. Much blood. I go to help, and I look to find help. But all people still only ‘Come, look my shop.’ Very sad.”

“People here worry only about the material things,” he said. “They are waiting for car, for more money, all material things. The wives, they do not think ‘I am part of my husband,’ but only they want more clothing, more jewelry. The husbands, they do not think ‘I am part of my wife,’ but only how making more money, more material things. There is much food on the table, but there is no love, so still there is hunger.”

After some time, I excused myself and went to check in with Sarah. I had been gone nearly four hours, and I did not want her to be worried about me. I invited her to come with me to speak with this gentle and sagacious Bhutanese fellow I had met, and so she did.

“Oh, very beautiful wife,” he said, “like my daughter. Beautiful meditation face. Very much love, very light.” He rehashed some portions of his story for her.

“Mmm, very nice,” he said, as he caught me throwing Sarah a loving glance. “You have much love for each other. The deep love, the inside love. Not outside love, the love of pretty faces. This is material love. This goes away. Slowly slowly getting older and outside beauty going away. Inside beauty the same, and hidden, but love the key to the lock.”

Sarah with our new friend.
Sarah with our new friend.

We exchanged email addresses on the back of a hotel receipt. “I will love to get picture from you,” he told us. “I will tell my daughter story beautiful people, America friends. I also have picture here,” he said, pointing to his heart.

“Do you know much about the Christian religion?” I asked him. I wasn’t sure where I was going with this, but I felt led to ask.

“Oh, yes, I know a little,” he replied. “Some ten years ago I am in Burma and friend says come Sunday, big prayer service. I ask holy priest father ‘I want to know more about your religion,’ and he gives me little book. I say, ‘I have no money for book,’ but he says book is free. So I take book like this—“ he touched his forehead, than his lips, than his forehead, than his heart, “and I take and I read.”

“I learn that Jesus died for our sins, take away the shit inside. Jesus died for love the world. Beautiful man Son of God.”

He proceeded to tell us, in great detail, a summary of the Gospel story, from the Nativity to the Resurrection. He may have missed a few particulars here and there, and rolled several of Jesus’ miracles into one event, but he clearly understood the heart of the Christian message. (Arguably, even more than many professed Christians.)

He told the story so beautifully, simply, and clearly that it brought tears to the corners of my eyes. I whispered “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” to myself.

“I take these stories and I tell my Buddhist people,” he concluded, “And we all love Jesus.”

He smiled broadly at me, his eyes twinkling. “So I know a very little about the Christian faith.”

“You understand perfectly,” I said, “and sometimes even Christians do not understand.”

“Sometimes they do not understand,” he agreed. “If you go to church to pray, but in your mind you think ‘When will I finish’ or ‘I must open my shop,’ then you do not find Jesus. In your body you were in church, but your heart and your mind are not there. Better to sit anywhere, even in a park, and love Jesus inside. Jesus is there, too. Jesus is everywhere.”

“And many too they are wanting Jesus to give them the cars, give them the money. They go to church in their cars and talk their mobile phones, and paint the face. But Jesus is not there. Jesus is about the love, not the material things.”

When we said goodbye, he took my right hand in both of his, and touched it to his nose, his ears, his chin. Then he did the same to Sarah’s. Then he took our hands and joined them together.

“Maybe the Guru Jesus bring us together to meeting, yes? You keep in touch. Let me know, fifty, hundred days how you are doing.”

Our conversation was an unforgettable blessing to us. We ask that you join in our prayers for our new friend and brother Bardow of Bhutan, that God will guide him safely home, and provide for him all that is necessary for him and for his family.

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