Part 5: Monday & Tuesday – Har Har Mahadev!
“Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me”
Justine Mara Andersen
Devdutt Pattaniaik said of the Hindu myths: “They do not teach, they generate experience.” It was last year, when I slowly worked out how to get our student from Bangalore to transform. All of his life his gurus (teachers) had told him to settle down, to still his racing mind. But saying a thing is one thing, generating an experience is another. I don’t care how many times I have read profound truths that I had believed had transformed me, only, in due time, to forget them. An intellectual understanding of a truth is like understanding what an orange tastes, smells and feels like from reading about it. Only peeling and eating an orange will help you understand what it means to eat an orange. The experience is the thing. I told this student, “You have 5 jugglers in your head, all juggling 3 to 4 balls. We are going to send 4 of those jugglers away, and we are going to take away all but one ball. I want you to look at that one ball the rest of the year.” At that point I gave him an old tattered book on the work of Bilibin. I told him forget everything else in my class, and study this book, this artist, his work. Reproduce work only in his style. Learn to see what he mastered.” For the rest of the semester he worked only on projects inspired by Bilibin, at least in my class. Hard as I try, I cannot always seduce a student into experience, that opening is sometimes something, tragically, they fail to reveal, or worse, I fail to see.
But… did you see that? I did not tell him to settle his mind, I gave him the experience of focus, of settling his mind on one thing. That is every teacher’s goal, whether they know it or not. It is not our job to teach, but ultimately, to generate experience. Only by generating experience can we truly transform a student, only then will they know the experience of peeling and biting into an orange, of the sensual squirt of cool tangy juices in their warm mouths. That is the problem with all I am about to write, I will be telling you what an orange tastes like. I cannot generate the experience that I had no matter how carefully I work to explain it, partly because what I experienced is beyond the vocabulary of our language.
Before I go on, funnily enough, two school years ago, I picked an orange off our tree and handed it to another student, one who had never, unlikely as it may seem, eaten an orange before. He had terrible eating habits, and he resisted my every effort to enlighten him about food. Patiently I insisted he try everything, even if he said he didn’t like such and such a thing. I told him that just because you didn’t like broccoli the way so and so made it, does not mean you won’t like it prepared this way, or that perhaps your tastes have changed. I told him there was no sin in disliking a thing, only in refusing to try it, and try it again. He has since lost 20 or 40 pounds and become an avid salad eater. His consciousness regarding food had been limited, now, with experience, his food consciousness has expanded. He was in the bondage of his own self-created and self-generating limitations, but has since broken those chains.
Enough fruit metaphors and teachable lessons. Monday, yes! Monday was the big day, a major holy day for Lord Shiva! Shiva, the destroyer of illusions, a terrifying, adorable, inspiring, loving, terrible, focused inebriated Yogi. After speaking of Shiva’s inebriation and habit of keeping company with demented beings, Sadhguru asked if we can call Shiva a good man, to which he laughed and said that you cannot call this man a good man, but he is fantastic! “That which is fantastic need not be nice.”
Again I thank Lord Ganesh for not only delivering me to the Temple, but for placing obstacles in my path that kept me from traveling further, and for placing in my path a new friend in Ram who encouraged me to settle in and stay for a couple extra days, for all these things kept me at the Temple where I know had been meant to stay. For the first time ever, I was grateful my car had problems, it was a gift from God, from Lord Ganesh, that I might stay at the temple and worship his father, Lord Shiva, and have experience after experience. Shiva, for me, is a source of great comfort. Devdutt Pattanaik went on to describe Lord Shiva this way, and with all humility, I relate very strongly to this description: “Shiva was an Ekavratya, an unorthodox hermit, who lived by his own rules, not always acceptable to traditional society. He refused to conform to the ways of the world.” Likewise I have said, “I will not conform and I will not submit.” Yes, years ago, it was Shiva, he who walks with dogs and ghosts, that came to me in a stoned and aroused vision. It was Shiva that motivated me to at last venture into my first temple. It was Shiva who first moved me to tears of ecstasy, it is Shiva who I most fear upsetting and most turn to for release.
Though everything I am about to say was inspired by an experience beyond words and forms, I will do my best to apply words to the experience. Here is exactly why this is so difficult, it is not the generality that experiential moments cannot be transmitted through words, but more specifically that our language was meant to describe this reality only, and when we transcend or see a glimpse of a larger reality, our words are too feeble and specific to the limited logic of this reality (or illusion) to capture those transcendent moments; the experiences of an expanded consciousness.
I came early for the festival, primarily because I did not want to miss the last moment of quiet in the temple before the crowds arrived, and I did not want to miss the chance to help prepare. I did not come as a tourist passing through, but as a practicing devotee, I am one of them, not one apart watching them. Before entering the temple I enjoyed one of Lord Shiva’s favorite tools for consciousness raising, a good healthy hit or two of ganja. This is something the Yogis do that many more conservative Hindu teachers and Yogis insist upon decrying–and so far as I am concerned it is because they have been tainted by relentless and insidious Western (i.e. American) bigotry and bias against consciousness altering substances, even if they have had a long history of valid spiritual application in many cultures. For me, smoking pot is rarely much of an experience anymore, but I knew that if I did so in the presence of Shiva that I could trust that something transcendent could happen, without Shiva, pot is never more than a petty little pleasure with little real value.
The first thing I did upon entering the temple was prostrate myself flat on the floor, then I bowed to Lord Ganesh (who you are always supposed to worship first), plus I had to thank him again for delivering me to this experience. Then, amid the hustle and bustle of the preparations, I bowed before the Shiva Linga, and stared unflinchingly. I cleared my mind and focused solely on Godhead. Again, I began to feel tears well up in my eyes, and I felt a vibratory breathlessness overtake my chest. While all the Priests and volunteer devotees where chaotically preparing for the evening, something happened. I cannot say exactly what happened, as I had never eperienced anything like it before, but suddenly my consciousness altered, and nothing looked or felt as it had before. Suddenly the place I had sat in was no longer merely the place I had sat in. I was seeing things as if all that was happening and I were one and the same, or, dualistically, like I was observing something that existed solely within myself. My inner dialog began to seem like a distant abstraction, a voice outside of ME, outside of my experience, and slowly the voice faded further and further away. Soon, for the first time in my life, I saw everything for exactly what it was, as if for the first time I had tuned in. I saw this “reality” with a clarity I had never known possible. Still, I can see that moment in my consciousness, and it has forever changed me. I am not seeing things now the same way I saw them then, yet I know that the way I saw them then is now a part of who I am. I became aware of eternity, of the entirety of NOW! The madness of self-perpetuated suffering and ignorance were removed as I simply was part of all that was.
Be here now.
My vision had never been more clear, everything that was I saw for what it was… yet I do not know what that was, not so that I could put it into words. The experience was beyond words and forms. I was so deeply immersed in meditation that I wholly forgot to concern myself with what the other people might be thinking about the white girl, and I similarly realized the holiness I was experiencing was in all of them with no less astounding power. I saw the Godhead of that moment. I became aware not only of the objects in the room (from Priests to the sanctums, from the reality of each color to the lived-in clutter of the temple), but of how those object existed in space, and I became keenly aware of of how vibrant was the space between objects.
I had to slowly allow myself to come out of the experience, though throughout I was faintly aware of a battle going on inside me. My ego was afraid to surrender, afraid I might disappear to this forever, it was anchoring me to the reality it was comfortable with so that I might not slip away. I am slowly coming ever closer to being able to release that anchor, and I think with a guru to lead me, I might be able to trust enough to wholly surrender. Slowly I stirred myself up out of the experience and made my way to the back of the temple where I anchored myself to the mundanity of a cold brown metal folding chair, but was no less aware of the space between objects. I noticed tiny specks of soot from the ghee candles floating in the air. They seemed to drift, fall, then hover before me like sentient entities, and the space before, around and behind them was alive with existence. Never had I witnessed depth of field with such clarity… NEVER! What a grand illusion, this “reality” is! This sudden awareness of the space around objects maintained itself for some time, but it was no mere trick of ganja, it was a cosmic shift in my perception and consciousness. This is why the Yogis partake, because it can aid them in opening up to altered Shivanic states of consciousness.
Just as it was arranged that Parvati marry Shiva to keep him engaged in the material world, for fear that he would lead all to renounce it, thus destroying it forever, I chose to engage, too. And while engaging, the lingering effects of the ganja wore off. I found a few of the Indian women sitting in the corner making ghee lamps, and I asked if I could help. I first watched the specificity of how they were made. They were little brass lamps, open, each with yellow and red spices artfully sprinkled about their tiny spouts. In each one lay a wick. I then scooped ghee (unclarified butter) into each one, carefully keeping a portion of the wick available. I then saw that they dipped their fingers in the ghee and masaaged it into the wicks, twirling the two ends together before lighting them. I was pleased to have been included, and delighted to have participated.
The last thing I did before things really got going was go downstairs to the “canteen” for more temple food. There Sudha had a smile for me, and I thanked her for being so kind, which pleased her, and I took my place in the back of the dining hall and with great relish enjoyed every bite of my spicy food, bread, and hot pickles.
Before the peak ecstasies, I went outside and stood by Nandi, the bull Shiva rides (there are Nandi’s before every Shiva temple), and was lucky enough to have one last chat with Ram. He and I both were ecstatic. Ram had been fasting. It was such lovely Satsang, exactly what is so sorely missing from my life. Ram shared more of his simple wisdom, and wisdom need be nothing more than simple, but what I remember most distinctly was our talking about how we move on to next levels. Almost as a blessing, he told me now I was ready to move on to the next level. And… I am, though it is entirely up to me if I choose to be strong enough to move to that level, but I think Ram is right, I am ready to move onto that level, and I am fully aware of how much discipline that is going to take, and I am aware of the demons I will have to battle, yet I do feel the fire burning in me, and so I am going to tend that fire.
Above us the full moon shone a brilliant blue over Nandi, and all around us the astounding beauty of a Hindu holy night in full swing. Under the blue of the full moon hundreds of ghee candles, all around Nandi, flickered in the faces of beautiful devotees while they sat and drew their prayers out around the candles and offerings of fruit. Much of the fruit was being used as incense burners. The beauty of Hindu holy festivals are indescribable, and Ram was right a couple days before when he told me that two eyes were not enough to behold all the beauty.
Just trying to now write about the final moments has transported me to tears of bliss, the most beautiful and fulfilling ache of my life. By now a large crowd of devotees had gathered around the Shiva sanctum (the Shiva Lingam), and when it was opened, the Lingam was lit up with a golden halo of ghee candles. The Priests began their resounding chanting, calling us, and we responded with booming choruses of “Ohm Namah Shivaiya!” I can scarcely bear to recall it. I began weeping uncontrollably, chanting, bowing, ecstatic! Nothing in my life has ever compared to that ecstasy. I surrendered wholly to it. I cannot help but suspect that I will never be the same…
Ohm Namah Shivaiya!
Ohm Namah Shivaiya!
Ohm Namah Shivaiya!
* * *
In the morning I drew open the window shades of the hotel room and looked out over the trees, layers of Georgia trees in the fall. I knew then that if I were to be transformed, I had to rise to it NOW.
Before going to my car, I realized… Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me.
As I approached my car, what usually would have overcome me as I considered driving home with an oil leak would have been anxiety, but I chose instead to feel nothing but gratitude for the oil leak itself, for without it, I would not have been there the night before.
While I popped the hood of my car and poured quarts of oil in, over and over I chanted:
Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha,
Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me,
Om Namah Shivaiya,
Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me,
Om Shanti Shanti Shantiy,
Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me…
And on and on until the chant had replaced every bit of anxiety, and I embraced nothing but peace and gratitude.