By Nayaswami Narayan
October 15, 2019
“Wasted talent, Son!” My earthly father was expressing his emphatic disapproval of my new life. After finding my spiritual path through Autobiography of a Yogi, Ananda, and Swami Kriyananda, I decided a few years later to leave my high paying job in New York City and move to Ananda Village in Northern California.
Overnight I went from being a smashing success in my father’s eyes to throwing my life away. We were having another heated exchange and my dad would generously use his favorite line from a classic mob movie, “A Bronx Tale.”
“You’re wasting your talent, son!”
Ironically, this is exactly why I was choosing to leave corporate America. “Wasted talent” meant something different for me than for my dad.
At the end of “A Bronx Tale” the young boy, now a grown man, explains (in a thick Bronx accent) what he learned from his father and a local mob boss who was a sort of surrogate father:
“Sunny and my father always said that when I get older I would understand. Well, I finally did. I learned something from these two men. I learned to give love and get love unconditionally. You just have to accept people for what they are. And I learned the greatest gift of all: the saddest thing in life is wasted talent. And the choices that you make will shape your life forever. But you can ask anybody from my neighborhood, this is just another Bronx Tale.”
Who knew mobster movies could share such profound truth! Perhaps this is where my longing for God began. First, “A Bronx Tale” next “The Godfather” and then God, my true Father.
My dad wasn’t a mobster like the characters in the movie (though he liked to act like one at times!). He was a salesman by trade. Insurance, water purifiers, and even blood plasma (legitimately to hospitals). He loved closing the deal or the “whale” as he would call a big-paying prospect.
To say we did not see eye to eye when it came to my choice to live in a spiritual community is putting it lightly. He would raise his voice and use colorful language, I would raise mine and not back down. Perhaps you can relate to this kind of reactive exchange with a relative?
There’s a story from India about a snake who was bothering a village. The saint told the snake not to bite the village folk. He came back a year later and found the snake bloody and beaten. The snake said to the saint, “The boys know I can’t bite them now so they throw rocks at me.” The saint said to the snake, “I told you not to bite, but I didn’t say you couldn’t hiss.” Without knowing this story, I took the advice of the saint and would hiss back profanities at my dad.
Rather than get into an argument, what could I do? An answer came through my guru.
During my transition from the East Coast to Ananda Village in Northern California, I heard an audio talk of Paramhansa Yogananda. Yogananda tells the story about how an angry man verbally attacked him for over an hour. The man called Yogananda a fraud, charlatan, and that he used people for their money. Yogananda didn’t say, “No, you’re wrong!” That would be getting into an argument. He also didn’t say, “You’re right,” as that would have been a lie, for what the man was saying was untrue. Instead he responded calmly, “Maybe you’re right.” After an hour the man gave up and said, “You win.” Then Yogananda spoke sternly and gave him some strong medicine which helped heal the man of anger.
After hearing this story of my guru, I decided to give it a try with my dad. Amazingly, as I refused to argue, it gradually began to diffuse the tension in our relationship. When he would say, “You’re joining a cult.” I’d respond, “Maybe you’re right.” When he would say, “You’re wasting your talent!” I’d calmly say, “Maybe you’re right.” He would say, “You’re walking away from money and success.” I’d say, “Maybe you’re right.”
In final desperation to try and change my mind from moving, he appealed to my desire to help people saying, “Son, all the sinners are here on the East Coast!” We both laughed at that one! He was always closing.
Gradually, over time, my end of our conversations shifted from being toxic, profane, and reactive to calmly accepting and loving. I knew he was showing love for me in his East Coast Italian way. I loved him too and felt the best way I could help my dad was by giving my life to my Heavenly Father.
Though he didn’t like it, he grew to respect my decision. For example, after I had been living at Ananda village for a number of years, he said in his gruff tough “Bronx Tale” like accent, “Son, it took brass balls to make the move you did.” That was the closest I ever got to a compliment from him on my decision to embrace the spiritual life!
Not that I needed that from him. In the end we all have to make our own choices from our own center and what we know to be right.
Otherwise, we will waste our true talent: the free will God has given us to love Him and serve Him in all.
As Swami Sri Yukteswar used to sing: “Satsanga’s boat is calling. Who will go? Who will go? If no one else will go, I will go.”
Bronx Tale Blessings to you!