Many years ago I met the leader of a worldwide consciousness movement. He had been a guest at my resort hotel on a number of occasions. He invited me to his home in a nearby city one evening. I thought it was a dinner invitation. But when I arrived, I discovered it was a reception in honor of a Tibetan spiritual leader. He was second in ranking to the Dalai Lama, someone whispered to me. The guests were lined up to meet him, and I was asked to stand in line as well. Someone even came to show each of us the correct Buddhist way to bow to the holy man in greeting.
The Tibetan sat on a raised platform of flowers and cushions. Near him was a large bowl of fruit. Next to him stood his prime minister and translator. After greeting a guest, he occasionally reached down and presented him or her with a piece of fruit - or more often a rose petal or blossom from one of the bouquets surrounding him - as a small, spiritual gift.
Well, this was all very nice and quite an honor, I thought. But the sight of the fruit made me hungry. I thought I had been invited for dinner, had skipped lunch, and what was uppermost in my thought was finding something to eat. I looked around. Not a canape, not a cracker. Nothing. Just that big bowl of fruit.
When it was my turn to meet the guest of honor, our host, the consciousness leader, came up and put an arm around me, to introduce me personally. We talked, this very loving religious leader and I, for just a few moments, but longer than he talked to most of the guests.
He was watching me closely, looking deeply at me. And I was looking back at him, through eyes that appreciated others' points of view.
My family had taught me young to love all mankind and to judge no one else's personal pathway to God. My path was not Buddhism, as was this Tibetan's sitting before me, but his kind face and words warmed me, and we seemed to get along quite well. I had also been raised to believe that it wasn't kind to be judgmental.
He concluded our brief talk with a gesture and a smile, and as I turned to leave, his translator touched my shoulder and turned me back. The leader had lifted the fruit platter's entire bunch of grapes to hand to me. It was enormous.
I heard people gasp around me, and I felt self-conscious, so I slipped away with my huge bunch of grapes deeper into the crowded room. Was it a gift to express his impression of me, or did I just look hungry?
Of course, I started to eat the grapes. A reception attendant came up to me and looked horrified. Was I eating those sacred grapes? Well, yes I was. I thought I'd been invited for dinner, I explained. I was hungry.
I quietly exited the reception and dashed to a fast-food restaurant down the street. My, I thought, how seriously some people take things. I take some things in my life very seriously, too. But not a gift of grapes. And, after all, they were delicious.