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Samohi and the Bhagavadgita

By Jeffrey BELL-Zekas, class of 1972

My junior year at Samohi, my mom took in a boarder to help make ends meet. However, this renter was no ordinary person. He was Toby, a student at Santa Monica College, and an outspoken Hari Krishna (Hindu, for those of you not familiar with the sect). And the year that Toby resided in our house was a time of spiritual and emotional revelation for me. But also, it was my first contact with a new world.

"Uh, yeah, I believe in God...sure, I'll read it!" I replied enthusiastically. Since my family was agnostic and intellectual, having a spiritual room-mate was unique.

In the evenings that followed, the sounds of sitars and chanting emanated from Toby's room. I was drawn by the music; hypnotized by the mysterious bells and throbbing, resonating strings of the far east. As I opened Toby's door, the smell of incense filled my nostrils. On the walls were posters of a myriad of gods, great battles and various avatars and gurus. Sitting in the middle of the room, legs crossed and with a beatific smile on his face, was a serenely happy Toby. Over the next year, I spent many hours in Toby's room, listening to sitar music, singing chants, discussing Krishna, reading the Bhagavadgita (Hindu holy book) and thoroughly enjoying Toby's stories of India, spiritual enlightenment and meditation. Toby's joyful love of God permeated the air around him. He was at once peaceful and full of energy. Needless to say, my brother Steve (Samohi Class of '69) was disgusted and dismayed by Toby's proselytizing. Steve was an atheist, and all this talk about Krishna, Shiva and Nirvana was a bit too much. Finally, one day after school, my brother's irritation boiled over.

"Toby, I need to talk with you," Steve said calmly, in his "big brother" voice.

"What is it, Stephen?" Toby replied sweetly, his voice melodious and gentle.

"Toby, this 'God thing' of yours is ridiculous!" Steve blurted out in exasperation, "I mean, there is NO God, NO Krishna, and there certainly ISN'T a soul which is 'reborn'...the whole concept bears no relationship scientific fact! Why don't you stop spouting this nonsense, and get your act together!"

Toby smiled in a calm, ethereal manner, and replied, "You really ought to do something about your anger, Stephen."

Toby avoided Steve after that; at school, I stopped bringing the Bhagavadgita with me and went back to my biology texts. Later that year, Toby moved out. But every so often, I hear the tinkling of bells, or smell incense in the air, and in my mind I can hear Toby softly chanting, "Aummm....aummmmm....Hari Krishna....Hari Ramna....Aummmm..."