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Resources of the Himalayan Yoga Tradition

An Everyday Saint: Remembering Dr. David White

If you have read Swami Veda Bharati (Dr. Usharbudh Arya)'s book, Meditation and the Art of Dying, here is a recent episode that will interest you. Dr. David White who, together with his late wife Beverly, practiced meditation for the last five decades, and was most loved as a philosophy teacher in the Macalester College (alma mater of, among others, Kofi Annan), Minnesota, recently died. Here is the inspiring story. 

Dr Stoma Parker writes: Paul Emerson called me last Saturday morning to let me know that David White had died and that his memorial service would be that afternoon. I had first met David as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota. He came as a guest faculty member to teach a course on Indian Philosophy. I was immediately captured by his infectious excitement with ideas, his joyful grin to which my body could not help but respond and his saintly hospitality. He invited me to sit through the course he taught at Macalester and I did so even though I was not a student there. Because the Bhagavad 
Gita was his favorite subject, I asked him to be on my committee for my honors thesis. He agreed with his customary excitement. When it was finished and he had read it through, he said that he wanted to give me some feedback but that in order to get it I would have to spend a day with him at his lake cabin. We went fishing and David, long a Quaker satyagrahi and advocate of non-violence threw back each fish he caught with a smile and a blessing and a wish that they would learn to avoid hooks in the future.

David finished his Ph.D. in 1949 at the University of the Pacific with a dissertation on the non-dual philosophy of Ramana Maharshi. He spent quite a lot of time in Raman's ashram in 1948-49 and may even have been their during the visit of our own gurudev when he was Shankaracharya of Karvirapitham. He also spent time with Paramahansa Yogananda on several occasions in California, during the years when Yogananda saw very few people. One of David's friends was the great art historian and philosopher Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.

His wife, Beverly, had been a yoga teacher in St. Paul for many years and had studied meditation in a Rinzai Zen monastery in Japan. It was always fun to hear her recite the great Rinzai chant and koan, "Mu!!!"? at the top of her lungs. She was a beloved member of the Minnesota Zen Center and after her death in 1995 they began a meditation outreach to prisoners in her name. David and Beverly were passionately devoted to each other, although they lived the last several decades together in a celibate marriage. 

David taught at Macalester College for 50 years. The last 10 years, after his retirement, he taught the same classes as always as an unpaid volunteer. He taught more people than any other faculty member in the history of the institution and many faculty thought he was probably the best teacher the college ever had. Students would come to the philosophy department and ask to major in philosophy, not out of any interest in the subject but so they could take every course that David taught.

His memorial service was organized along the lines of Quaker worship, speaking out of the silence, although there were so many people who wanted to celebrate his life that there wasn't much silence to be had. David had throat cancer for the last several years and had not been able to swallow for some time. He shrunk to 80 pounds, although I saw a video he made a little before his passing and though he had aged some (certainly not to 93) that same infectiously joyous grin was there and my heart responded just as it always had. One of his caregivers said that she didn't think that we would believe her, but she didn't think that he suffered much with the cancer. Two days before he left his body, he bounded up the stairs with his customary energy. The day he passed on, he bathed himself and his caregivers were only beginning to think about when they should move in to accompany his 
active dying process.

The mother of a former teaching assistant who had lived abroad for many years told the story of her son's recent return to the U.S. He called David and said that he wanted to pay a visit. David told him, "Well, I don't know whether I'll have time! I'm awfully busy preparing for my journey!!" Joining his excitement the student said, "What journey? Where are you going?" "I'm preparing to cross over! I'm dying!!" Though there may have been tears at many people's partings from David, they were always buoyed by that infectious joy of his.

And there were stories of everyday miracles. Twice David was seized in the midst of his midnight philosophical vigils by an intense desire to call specific students. He didn't even have the phone numbers but managed to find them and call. In both cases the students were within minutes of ending their lives. David was able to encourage them to work through their troubles and, obviously, they did.

David was famous for giving away books as gestures of spiritual kinship. He tried to give away 50 books every year. Roger Jones, retired physics professor and early Meditation Center leader, told of a conversation he had one day with David late in his life. Also a bibliophile, Jones said that he couldn't imagine which 50 books he could bear to part with. David replied that he always tried to give away the 50 books he loved the most.

There are everyday saints around us all the time of whom we never become aware. Through them Mataji works her ordinary miracles with no one noticing. David was always fond of telling the following story about the death of A. K. Coomaraswamy, told to him by his wife. Like David, Coomaraswamy sat through the night most nights reading and writing in his library. He slept very little. She would never intrude on his solitude and would leave his breakfast at the door in the morning which he would take when it suited him. One morning the breakfast remained untouched at midday so she entered the library and found him dead, smiling serenely in his chair. Around the room 
he had arranged books containing all his favorite passages on death, all open to the appropriate pages. He knew something--just like David White.