by Ginny Riker
When I was 22 years old, I lived in Hermosa Beach, California. I rented a small studio in an apartment building right on the strand. The strand is what they called the wide cement sidewalk and thoroughfare that bordered the beach. I used to skate and ride my bicycle along the strand quite a bit in those days. It was a lovely and lively place to live back then, especially for a young, single woman like myself. I loved living close to the beach and the ocean.
Every once in a while, when I walked or rode my bicycle along the strand, I would notice an older man with a long white beard, sitting in the sand meditating, facing towards the ocean with his eyes closed. As time passed, I became more and more curious about this man. He was obviously an older gentleman. But, he was in such fine physical shape that he appeared to be younger. I would even say he was in superb physical shape. I later learned, quite by accident really, that he was almost an exact match, as far as looks go, for the late naturalist John Muir. I would sometimes see him early in the morning, jogging along the water’s edge, alone. In fact, I never saw him with anyone… until late one afternoon.
On this particular day, I was riding along on my bicycle and enjoying the beautiful sunset, when I happened to look over and saw this man standing on the sand, near the wall which separated the sand from the strand. He was talking to several young people around my age. As he spoke, the crowd around him looked into his face and they seemed to listen intently to his every word. When I saw this, it was as if a fire burst forth inside me. I knew, without a doubt, that I had to hear what he was saying. I also knew, without a doubt, that he was teaching them something worth learning.
I quickly put my bicycle away in my apartment and ran back out to the beach. As fate would have it, he was speaking only a few feet from my apartment door. I approached the crowd and listened to him. He was speaking about the nature of dishonesty and why honesty was so necessary. He said that when one lies, it sets up a kind of destructive vibration which spreads. He gave an example, a parable I guess you could say. He told about how a man who cheated a customer in his store, then contributed to the customer feeling negatively. The customer then went home and yelled at his kids. The kids then kicked the dog. The message was… When we lie, we set in motion a wave of less than loving energy. That was the lesson of the story and I instinctively knew that what he said was important… and true. I vowed to stay there, in that spot in the sand, until everyone else left. Something told me, I had to speak with this man.
Eventually, all the others left and there I was standing face to face with this teacher. He looked at me and said “Hello. What’s your name?” I said “Ginny. What’s your name?” He answered “George Teng”. I said “What do you do?” He said ” I teach.” I said “Where do you teach?” He said “In my home mostly.” I said “What do you teach?” He said “I teach about life.” When I heard these words, my heart soared. For I loved to learn about life, and I spent many days reading books written by spiritual teachers. I said “Can you teach me?” He said very seriously “I don’t know. I can’t teach everyone.” We then went ahead and set up a day and time, about a week later, for me to come to his house (apartment) and proceed forward with the task of teaching me… about life.
At the appointed time, I walked to his apartment which was located near the strand in the next adjoining town called Manhattan Beach. I found the door to his apartment slightly ajar. Inside I could hear a young man getting ready to leave. He had a book in his hand as he left. I believe it was a Bible. George came to the door and asked me to take off my leather shoes and leave my purse (leather also) outside the door. I complied. And thus, I was invited into his sanctuary.
To my surprise, his apartment was nearly empty. There was a small table in the little dining area off the kitchen, but no other furniture. The place was clean and neat and I noticed a grass mat rolled up in one corner of the empty living room, with a candle nearby. I also noticed some posters of what I perceived to be religious “goddesses” placed high up on one wall of the living room. They looked like the kind of posters you see depicting Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu religion. Some of them had blue skin and they all had lots of jewels and colorful clothing…. and more than one set of arms and hands.
George invited me to sit down on the carpet in the living room. He sat opposite me and we faced one another. I noticed that his face had no wrinkles. I couldn’t see even one. His eyes were a clear blue color and the whites were a clean and bright white. I had never seen an elderly man who looked so fit and youthful. Yet, he was obviously not young, as he had a pure white beard that was at least 20 inches long, which he tied into a hitch knot. His hair was balding on the top and pure white also, and very close cut.
As we sat facing one another, George said “How is your life going?” I said “Fine. I’m pretty happy.” He said “That’s good. But, surely something brings you here today… and it is my belief that we all know what is bothering us.” When he said this, I suddenly knew what it was that I needed more wisdom about. I said something along the lines of….”Sometimes, I find relationships with men to be difficult for me. I don’t want to become involved with some of them, and yet, I end up doing just that.”
George then told me to speak from the very deepest part of myself. I found this difficult, as I was not sure how to do that. I found, in fact that I was not able to say anything at all. Complete silence was all that I could offer. George must have noticed that I was unable to utter a sound, for he then said “I understand”. And then, he started telling me how life was like a pond, which is teeming with life on the surface, but also has life underneath the water, and even at the deepest depths of the water, there is life. As he spoke, he spoke with a mesmerizing rhythm. He spoke with a calmness and authority that drew me in. I found myself going deeper into the rhythm of his words. They seemed to have a sort of cadence to them. Within a few seconds, the rhythm took over and it drowned out the sound of George’s words. I began to hear music… the most remarkable sounding music. I could see George’s mouth moving, forming words, but I could only hear this incredible music… as I watched his mouth moving. This music was not like any I had ever heard. It was rather like a choir of angels… a huge endless choir of angels… singing wordless songs. The music filled my being to overflowing. I then realized I needed to tell George what was happening.
I said “Excuse me George, but I don’t understand your words in the normal sense. I seem to hear music.” He said “Did you take any drugs before you came over here?” I said “No.” He said “Do you meditate?” I said “No.” No doubt noticing that tears were streaming down my face, he said “Are you afraid?” I said “No…. I feel full of Joy!” I saw his eyes fill with a sparkling light, and a big broad smile slowly spread across his face, as he said to me “This then, is what one feels, when one meditates.”
And so, I share this with you now…. the essence of my first meeting with my spiritual teacher George Teng. I was to continue my learning with him over the next several years. Though he seldom spoke of himself, I eventually learned that he was a monk, who had gone forth to homelessness. This was the often repeated term they used in the East, he told me, to describe the type of spiritual life he had chosen. He also told me he had traveled all over the world studying sacred texts…. and he preferred the teachings of Christ.