Open 2021 Open Stories - John F Zurn


Uriel Fox and the Dharma Lodge Ashram
By John F Zurni


For most of his adult life, Uriel Fox travelled to places he felt were somehow important. He also consistently sought out companionship even though relationships challenged his endurance. Uriel passed through many villages and towns, but he seldom remained in one place for very long.


Often he would arrive in a village, and solve some problem. Then his actions most often would prove to be very helpful; however, he still existed as an outsider. Either he appeared to be too judgmental or rather arrogant, so people learned to be cautious around him.


Yet, Fox enjoyed a large measure of autonomy because of his unique personality, but he also felt lonely and left out. Everywhere he journeyed, Uriel realized he didn’t belong. Residents in these towns might tolerate him for a time, but they clearly appeared to be suspicious of him. Before long, Uriel would always seek out a new place to live, but he strongly believed it would be a difficult task.


Eventually, Fox found a trail that led directly to an ashram called “The Dharma Lodge.”Exhausted and famished from his long trek through the deep woods, Uriel felt hopeful he might be able to visit the ashram for a few days.


He rapped on the large rustic door and wait with anticipation. He felt too weary to worry about making a good impression; nevertheless, a kind hearted young woman opened the entrance and welcomed him. She escorted Uriel to the dining hall, and offered him fruit and biscuits.


“Who are you?” the woman asked politely. “And how did you get so lost in the forest?”


“My name is Uriel Fox,” he answered. “I’ve been searching for many years.”


“I’m Katherine,” the woman replied. “You sound like a seeker.”


“Perhaps,” Uriel answered. “But so far I’ve found mostly corruption and despair everywhere I’ve travelled.”


“We often invite sojourners who come from many places,” Katherine said enthusiastically. “They all have one thing in common. Life has been dissatisfying for them. Many find answers here.”


“How many seekers live at the ashram?” Uriel wondered. “And how much do I need to pay to find shelter here for a while?”


Katherine laughed softly and replied, “This is not a hotel. Everyone works here. But since you seem genuinely interested in our ashram, we have fifty seekers here. At the Dharma Lodge we all rotate our work assignments, so the ashram can function successfully. You can remain with us for three days without working, but after that you must choose a job if you wish to live here.”


“Thank you,” Uriel replied gratefully. “I really would like to remain here and rest.”


“One more thing,” Katherine said with a more serious tone. “We have rules you must follow: breakfast is at dawn and dinner at sunset. We expect all who lodge here to work diligently and to regard others with respect at all times. Obviously, theft of any kind is also not tolerated. Most importantly, when conflicts arise, Master Baba intervenes to help resolve them.”


Immediately, Fox interrupted Katherine. “Who is Master Baba?”


“You really don’t know anything, do you, Uriel?” Katherine teased. “Master Baba is our leader, and he founded the Dharma Lodge over twenty years ago. He entered America from India and roamed the countryside teaching about life. He soon began attracting many seekers who came to him for assistance with their problems.”


“Has he helped you, Katherine?” Uriel wanted to know.


Katherine smiled. “Oh, yes. I once spent my time wandering the streets, homeless and miserable. Fortunately, one night I heard about the Dharma Lodge and somehow made my way here.”


Unexpectedly, Uriel’s time at the ashram seemed to be growing more complicated. It wasn’t that he felt incapable of following the rules; instead, he realized that he had never attempted to discipline himself to adhere to all of the rules at once. Uriel couldn’t be certain of the result, and he couldn’t be sure until he made an effort.


The first three days passed quickly, and Uriel slept much of the time in order to regain his strength. He also received a tour of the ashram from Erin, a long time seeker. There appeared to be many buildings on the grounds: the kitchen, dining hall, library and print shop. Behind these buildings stood the barns, the men’s and women’s dormitories, and the Master’s cottage.


Naturally, Uriel felt motivated to learn more about the ashram’s leader. “When can I meet Master Baba?” he asked impatiently.


“He’s lecturing at several conferences, but he’ll return in two weeks, and when he does arrive you can meet him at our Sunday celebration,” Erin replied.


Fox felt disappointed. But since he had no other place to go, he could wait.


“Do you have any preference for your work assignment?” Erin asked, changing the subject.


“The vegetable garden,” Uriel retorted. “I imagine I could be productive there, and I enjoy working outside.”


“The vegetable garden, it is,” Erin responded cheerfully.


By the time they reached the garden, two workers appeared to be hoeing and watering.


“This is Uriel; he’ll be working with you.” Erin volunteered.


“My name is David, and that is Sarah,” David replied. “The green beans and carrots needed to be watered. Why don’t you begin with them?”


Uriel eagerly began his first task. While he watered the vegetables, he also gazed at the cows and the grazing land. Uriel felt a sense of peace that felt meditative and comforting. He considered whether the Dharma Lodge might become his new permanent home.


Even after only a few hours of hard work, he already felt a sense of kinship with the seekers he met. Early the next day, Uriel could already be seen hard at work. David and Sarah noticed Uriel’s work ethic and positive attitude and discerned Uriel might find a place at the Dharma Lodge.


Fox easily made friends at the ashram especially with the vegetable gardeners. When he received permission to hike the ashram property, the seekers he met seemed to be decent people who usually followed the rules. Nevertheless, Uriel did experience one major disappointment.


Master Baba couldn’t attend the Sunday Celebration because he remained out of town. This disappointment soon began to affect Uriel’s opinion of the ashram. The ashram had so many regulations that it felt like a military camp. He didn’t agree with the way the rules appeared to be enforced either.


For example, when Uriel attempted to rest, another seeker threatened him with a harsh stare. He also resented the dawn and sunset rules since they seemed very controlling and arbitrary.


A number of other circumstances irritated him as well. Some seekers appeared to feel superior to others and felt the need to give orders and criticize them. One such seeker, Harold, appeared to be so autocratic that the other seekers nicknamed him ‘Harold the Horrible’ behind his back. Uriel also noticed other workers gossiping about individuals when they thought they were alone.


But one of the most blatant acts of insensitivity occurred when one of the dairy cows escaped through the gate and was lost overnight. Harold immediately accused the two workers near the barn of being careless because it required half the ashram staff to find the missing cow.


When they finally brought it back, ‘Harold the Horrible’ renewed his tirade pointing out to the “offenders” that half the ashram had wasted much of their day. Nevertheless, the “offenders” continued asserting that they did lock the gate.


Fox, by observing carefully when the cow returned and the gate appeared to be locked; he noticed that the gate reopened again because it was broken. Harold felt angry when Uriel pointed out the problem; however, the accused offenders felt vindicated, and Harold, of course, made no attempt to apologize. Uriel assumed that hard work and exhaustion could have led to Harold’s anger and frustration. But the cruelty seemed excessive.


Of course, cooperation and order seemed vital for the lodge to function, but Uriel inevitably resented the regimentation. Despite this realization, Fox found the seekers were a new experience for him because of their good natured personalities. Almost all the seekers also seemed dedicated to both the ashram and Master Baba. Human nature might be very difficult to control, but it seemed many of the seekers strove to improve.


The next day in the vegetable garden, Uriel turned to David and said, “I don’t believe I should say here for much longer.”


David’s reply sounded both kind and honest. “Uriel, not everyone who arrives here stays for a long time. Most people discover the lack of modern conveniences and the emphasis on work to be a serious challenge. Yet you don’t seem to have these limitations.


Stay awhile longer without judging and wait for Master Baba before you make any final assessment. Uriel, you really haven’t given the Dharma Lodge a chance. You might be in the right place and not even know it.”


Uriel felt encouraged by David’s prudent words. “I really would like to meet Master Baba,” Fox said simply.


“He’s worth the wait,” David answered mysteriously.


Fox decided to remain at the ashram and attempted to find contentment in his current situation. The next morning, he began working with a positive outlook. He sought out others during the day and attempted to find ways to be helpful.


But even after all his efforts, Uriel still felt trapped by the lack of freedom at the ashram. In fact, it remained only his anticipation of Master Baba returning for Sunday Celebration, that he remained and worked.


When the next Sunday finally arrived, Uriel found his opportunity to meet, Master Baba, the founder of the Dharma lodge. In the late afternoon, the ashram temple overflowed with ashram seekers and individuals from many different little towns. By the time everyone arrived, the building literally hummed as the crowd waited with anticipation for the master. Many seemed to push others out of the way, so they could get a better view of the master when he entered.


When Master Baba first appeared, he looked frail with a crooked back and grizzled beard. Yet, when began to speak fluent English with his soft voice and clear brown eyes, his words felt compelling. He seemed to be authentically compassionate and remarkably wise. The master spoke for over an hour with the seekers singing and chanting before and after the discourse.


Fox patiently waited for Master Baba to finish the Sunday Celebration, but he felt discouraged once again when the master left the temple without even glancing in Uriel’s direction. Somehow, he expected the great teacher would be willing to meet him and answer some of his questions.


Yet, on that same afternoon, a seeker called Paul approached Uriel and explained that Master Baba would be willing to see Uriel after dinner. Uriel also learned that he needed to finish his chores first, and then enter Master Baba’s cottage through the back door.


Uriel raced through his chores and then almost ran to the cottage. Fox opened the door expecting to find a living room with lavish furniture and expensive appliances. Instead, Fox discovered a rather modest cottage with several tiny offices. Master Baba entered the living room from the hall, and he seemed happy to see Fox.


“Sit, my boy,” Master Baba spoke crisply. “You’re Uriel Fox, one of our new seekers.”


“Yes,” answered Fox. “I’ve been here for over a month.”


“How do you like it here?” the master asked pleasantly.


“Everyone has been mostly kind, and the ashram has given me a place to stay,” Uriel replied quietly.


“But how do you like the ashram,” Master Baba said more precisely.


“I don’t know. I’ve been travelling for a long time,” Uriel replied. “But I still don’t know if I belong here.”


“Do you feel that you belong anywhere?” the master countered.


“No, usually people are cruel and ungrateful.” Uriel continued, “but even here I feel like I don’t fit in, and the seekers are good to me here.”


“Perhaps,” Master Baba suggested, “you’re trying to find fulfilment through others people instead of within yourself. What are you searching for anyway?”

“I hope to find a place where I can truly relax,” Uriel replied.


The master interrupted, “Everyone wants pretty much the same thing.”


“What’s that?” Uriel asked somewhat puzzled.


“Everyone wants to be happy,” Master Baba answered succinctly. “Every thought and action of individuals is an indirect attempt to acquire happiness. The problem is that mental and material desires only satisfy for a time. If I get a job, then I’ll be happy. If I get that promotion, then I’ll be happy. If I find a place to belong, then I’ll be happy. The goals keep changing because we need to fill the void.”


“In that case, “Uriel said wistfully, “I don’t have any idea what makes me happy.”


“All your searching has been an attempt to find the truth within your heart, and determine the meaning and direction for your life,” the master continued.
“Then why do I feel left out and discouraged all the time?” Fox wanted to know.


“Because you are unconventional, a loner, and somewhere in your heart you realize that your true happiness is to discern your own unique path. Most individuals can grow spiritually when routines and self-discipline are an integral part of their lives. But not you. You seek your own path.” Master Baba asserted. “In the end, Uriel, everyone is truly alone if they remain objective about it. Yet, you seem to be better able to face being alone than most others.”


“Do you know the truth?” Uriel asked.


“Here’s the problem,” the master began. “If I explain the truth, you will search for it in the context of my description. Then you may miss the truth because you are searching for it through my eyes. Truth is a direct experience.”


“All this time I thought everybody else knew more about life than I did!” Uriel exclaimed.


“Ha!” Master Baba laughed. “I’m willing to believe that you feel lonely everywhere you go. You do actually help others, however.”


“I guess that’s true, but who am I helping now?” Fox asked.


“Nobody,” the master answered. “Everyone has been helping you, but you don’t belong here.”


Uriel tried to disagree, but he knew the master appeared to be correct. “I suppose you’re right. The ashrams seekers have been good to me, so I should wish to stay, but I don’t.”

“You’re right,” Master Baba answered. “You are alone but you’re not truly lonely. Stop seeking answers in the world and other people around you. Instead, look for answer within yourself and your own experience.”


“Yet, loneliness feels a lot like suffering,” Uriel insisted.


“Suffering can be a powerful teacher, Uriel,” the master asserted. “It is often the person suffering who is making the most spiritual progress. Also, try to remember that no one’s life is easy: The wealthy man may have poor health. The loving parents may lose their only child. The farmer may lose his family farm.”


Fox already felt an attachment to Master Baba because of his wisdom and understanding, but Fox realized he must continue his quest, but with a new perspective. “Will I ever see you again?” Fox asked the great teacher.


“Possibly,” the master replied. “Try to remember and practice what I’ve taught you.”


“I’ll remember and practice,” Uriel answered gratefully.


Just as suddenly as he appeared in the living room, Master Baba disappeared into a back room leaving Uriel alone with his thoughts.


Uriel felt sad but encouraged by his visit to Master Baba, and he finally decided to leave the Dharma Lodge. He would say goodbye to everyone, and then continue his sojourn. In the past, Uriel needed to leave the places he’d been living either because of some disappointment in someone’s behaviour or because he had been coerced into leaving.


But the seekers at the ashram had engaged him in conversation, and despite their limitations, it seemed clear they cared even if they were overworked and exhausted sometimes.

Uriel packed his gear, and after waving to some of the seekers near the vegetable garden, he hiked out into the woods. Within an hour he felt a sense of contentment return, and with it the recognition that the ashram experience seemed to be fading already. Every experience in life had an end. With Master Baba’s help, Uriel now felt the need to tackle the vague but incessant mystery that inspired him from within his heart.


Uriel discovered that his wanderings would provide answers, but only if his sojourning sought out the true meaning of his experiences beyond the circumstances and his own personal judgments. Somehow, Uriel Fox understood that the answer to his quest would ultimately be revealed from within.


This unquenchable thirst that both excited and frustrated him would be his spiritual guide that could free him from his deepest doubts.



John F Zurn from USA has earned an M.A. in English from Western Illinois University and spent much of his career as a school teacher. He has worked at several developmental training centers, where he taught employment readiness skills to mentally challenged teenagers and adults. Now retired, he continues to write and publish poems and stories. As one of seven children, his experiences growing up continue to help inspire his art and influence his life.


Our Contributors !!

Some of our writers!

  • We occassionally invite writers to send their musings. Do send in your work, and we will host it here.
  • Do visit the Submit page to submit your work.