Tuesday, April. 14, 11:31 PM
Sividanda Ashram, Nayyar Dam, Kerala, India
This morning I woke up at 4:44. Alone in my dorm room at the Ashram (we’re in-between sessions), I awoke to a light on in the next room and heard feet shuffling… I was sure I’d been left behind. Last night before bed, I was informed that we’d be woken-up before sunrise, blindfolded, and taken somewhere. That’s all I knew, as I didn’t get the info first-hand. (I skipped last night’s Satsang, and maybe 3 more before that I can’t take any more chanting… it’s like going to church, but twice a day and for twice as long, and we chant before meals, before and after Yoga, before and after class… so I stopped going. Tonight I read my book (but put it down 40 pages to the end, felt like too much TV), watched a movie, ripped some DVDs to lighten my load, and chatted with new roommate, an Indian guy who keeps telling me I have a good look and I should really have a go in Hollywood. I really shouldn’t still be up now, it’s so late. But I’m being a renegade, (actually more of a fool), but this last DVD rip is almost done so I’ll tell today’s miscellaneous tale.
So I walk downstairs with my camera, and my first sight is a blood-spattered threshold at the entry to our dorm. Maybe I was lucky to have been spared from this morning’s massacre!? So I took a picture, evidence, my first picture here in 5 days at the beautiful Ashram, respecting that photography is prohibited in most places, at least the holy ones (like the temples, prayer and yoga halls). See for yourself: first picture, bloodbath.
I made my way down to the temple, and got intercepted by a guy who told me that we’re too early we can’t look yet! Back to bed. I laid down, and 10 minutes later Swimiji (I always thought it was Swami G when I heard it) stirred me beneath my mosquito net and reminded me Eyes Closed! For the next 15 minutes I was holding hands in a daisy-chain with the other guys, butt-pinched and shoulder-massaged by Jamey behind me, and led down out of the dorm, outside, through the hilly campus, up a step, down 3 steps, then waited for a couple minutes… one step up, one step down, no more steps. Sit! It smelled like sweetness, fire, incense. Now, slowly open your eyes…
I opened them to a cornucopia of fruit, candles, a mirror reflecting back at me (I am Krishna!), the deity’s statue in the background looking exquisite, a beautifully decorated shrine to greet me in this New Year! I’d tell you more about Vishu, but I was playing hooky when they gave the lesson. The ensuing feast, served on banana leaf, however needs no explanation… I love holidays!
I left the Ashram for an hour this afternoon to visit the village and check my email. Not being in contact with Amy all month, she’s been somewhat of a wild card for me in regards to my plan for the next leg of our journey, skipping next-stop-Thailand in favor of sheepy New Zealand. The good news is that she responded favorably, and wishes to stick with me into the sunset! Yay! Upon returning (I had to take a rickshaw to get back in time to serve tea for my Karma Yoga (daily chores), I told Jamey the good news and we did the happy dance. In sad news, both Cara and Jamey told our friend Michael, who was to meet us in Thailand two weeks from now, that none of us will be there. Bad, bad! At least he’ll have the company of other friends he’s traveling with…
On a totally different subject, I had a conversation today which baffled me. In the grand scheme of things, I am a humble Un-Knower. It’s my choice, and in my opinion it’s better to admit what little you know than to behave as if you know so much. So I take information as it comes at face value, and my perception of life and reality is largely what’s right in front of me. I’m not well-read, I’m never abreast of the latest news headlines, I don’t know what’s up in pop culture. As the saying goes, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, and knowing this, I’m quite aware of how little I know about practically everything. But my cluelessness makes me feel ridiculous at times… and tonight, specifically about Nepal. I had a nice conversation with a girl named Dhivya from Sri Lanka who “stops wars for a living”. She told me how she’d love to be in Nepal now, to see how things shake out with the new government (who I am aware of), but what I didn’t know is they are in the wake of a war. Is this true? Ok, I heard of the Maoists and some political disruption, but I never imagined Nepalis at “War”. I must be really naive, but I had no idea. After telling me what she does, she said with a certain smug absurdity “you should try it sometime… the first thing you can do to help stop a war is notice one is going on in the country you’re visiting!” So strange, how it never came up! The whole time there, we didn’t have a guide book, I never got a history lesson, any news media was in Nepali, and the company we kept never mentioned these current events. Today I was dwelling for a long time in Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, reading the chapters in which he visits Cambodia and Vietnam, and it got me down (and for good reason). Cambodians still wear the pain of their recent past on their sweet smiling faces, while the Vietnamese have moved-on from the war and never hold the past (“We will not forget”) against him as an American, which simultaneously touches and breaks his heart. The Vietnamese have forgiven, left the hard past behind, don’t blame, and are happy to be living Now in better times. Considering all this makes me re-evaluate my Nepali experience… most of them were Poor that was common knowledge, but did I read their faces right? Did I look beyond the unmissable foreground of dirty clothes, sniffling kids, the widespread economic deficiency, and into the soul? They seemed happy despite their hard lives (and I asked many, who always said they were happy, unflinchingly), but now I feel like I didn’t go deep enough… were there more layers behind those smiles that alluded me completely? Now I want to know….
Back to religion, I learned something cool today which makes this Ashram, the most religious place I’ve ever lingered, ever more palatable. In today’s class, which is more of an open Q&A than a lecture, we were discussing Karma and Chakras. I was delighted when our teacher, Swamiji, compared the Hindu gods with the gods of mythology… explaining quite plainly that the multitude of Gods they worship were never real people who walked the earth or heavens, rather they are concepts rolled into characters, from whom we can learn lessons and model ourselves after. By identifying with these embodiments of various virtues, the actors on scripture’s stage, we can become better people, more Divine. I don’t know if all Hindus will agree with Swamiji’s statement, but it made me, a religious skeptic, much more comfortable here, where I’ve recently felt like shielding myself from the incessant spiritualism. These gods are so incredible, in both senses of the word, with blue and red skin, many heads, faces of animals, riding tigers and peacocks… like a band of super-heroes. I wondered, how can anyone take these gods seriously, pray to them countless times a day, make offerings to anyone so hard to believe in as real? Of course, anyone’s God is as abstract and unrealistic (in the tangible and intellectual sense) as any other, but at least Hinduism admits that their Gods are fantastic!
Bloody fantastic! Om, shanti.