As we feasted on the delicious meal, Satchidananda's deep, accented voice discussed the nature of good and evil. "There's nothing that you can say that is evil, or it is good," he instructed. "We make it good or bad according to our usage. I can give you hundreds of examples. Fire. Good or bad?" he asked. "Cook your meal, it's good. Set it on the house, it's bad. Knife. Good or bad? Cut a fruit, it's good. Cut a throat? So a knife by itself, it's good or bad? Neither. Stone. Good or bad? Hit it on somebody's head, it's bad. Build a house, it's good. Money. Good or bad? Take it and go to Las Vegas, it's bad."
"What if you win?" joked a cautious voice from the crowd. (No, it wasn't me.) The group chuckled.
As we cleaned our plates, a huge white cake topped with candles emerged from the kitchen, followed by a round of song. As it turned out, my visit coincided with Sister Kamala's birthday. A Raspberries & Cream cake from Just Desserts and the exchange of some simple gifts finished out the meal.
Weekday meditation and lunch guests at the Institute pay their way with donations, both monetary and service. Everyone was invited to join in the cleanup, including me. I enjoyed pushing a broom amid the active sea of bare feet moving around the kitchen. After, we relaxed back on the patio with some fresh lemonade and quiet conversation in the sun.
Walking home I marveled at how much a single afternoon can affect one's outlook on life, how incredible an organic, yogic, vegan meal can taste, and wondered: What the hell am I going to do with that huge Costco box of frozen fish sticks at home?