Tag Archives: hindu temple of atlanta

Want It Done? Don’t Ask the White Lady


“Why are all your roads at 90 degree angles?” My friend Tushar once observed.

“Everything in America is at 90 degree angles, the roads, the food, the religion.” I replied.

Whenever I go to the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, I want to visit on Saturday (as well as other days) because ostensibly, their gift shop, which is full of books is open.

The problem is, even on Saturday, the one day of the week when the gift shop is open… it’s rarely open.

I approached the old white woman who, presumably, cleans the temple, if she could find someone to open the gift shop, telling her I had come a long way and would like to buy some books.

“No.” And that was all I got, a 90 degree answer.

I sat for a minute and thought… I know what happened here… I just asked the wrong person. I need to ask an Indian to open the gift shop, then as I began to seek out an Indian associated with the Temple, the entire scene that was to ensue played out in my head. This person would have no idea the gift shop wasn’t open, would have no idea how to get it open, and no idea where the key was. He, or she, would then confer with at least 3 to 6 Indians, none of them knowing why the gift shop wasn’t open, who was supposed to be in there, nor who had the key, then they would scatter in all directions, it would take 10 to 20 minutes, but they would find the keyholder and open the shop. Yes, all the chaos played out in my mind like some telepathic prediction, but the end result would be a “yes,” and the gift shop would be open… there was only one part of this scenario I hadn’t seen coming.

“People from dharmic cultures tend to be more accepting of difference, unpredictability and uncertainty than westerners. The dharmic view is that so-called ‘chaos’ is natural and normal; it needs, of course, to be balanced by order, but there is no compelling need to control or eliminate it entirely nor to force cohesion from outside. The West, conversely, sees chaos as a profound threat that needs to be eradicated either by destruction or by complete assimilation.”

Rajiv Malhotra, “Being Different”

I found an Indian, who was very respectful, and agreed, that, of course, there was no reason I should not be allowed into the gift shop (as predicted), then I sat back and watched my every other prediction become a reality right before my eyes. I sat on the steps leading up into the gift shop and watched, from a distance, as if this were a silent movie, 4 Indians all conversing about why the gift shop wasn’t open, who was supposed to open it, and who had the key. Then, as predicted, they scattered in all directions in search of all these unknowns. And as predicted, 15 minutes later, up came a pair of Indians with looks on their faces that made it obvious they had found the key, even though none of the roads they took to find it were at 90 degree angles… and who had the key?

You may have guessed it, the withered old white woman who had given me a 90 degree “no,” but now she had a rather angular scowl on her face as she saw me sitting on those steps. But, I suppressed my inner raksha and did not grin at her… well, not outside, but inside I was grinning ear to ear… I suppose that grants me 50% good karma.

I learned if you want a 90 degree no, ask the white person, if you want a chaotic and active yes… ask an Indian. Personally, I prefer the way Indians do things.

Spiritual Road Trip: Final Thoughts & Integration



“I just created the world, not the misery. The world is neither beautiful nor ugly; neither joyful nor sorrowful; neither right nor wrong. It just is! The rest are perceptions of the mind…”

Brahma the Creator (As told by Devdutt Pattanaik)

Perceptions of the mind indeed. So, how, I ask, has my mind so often tortured me with miseries? Why do I suffer when all, including the suffering, is an illusion? Have I lost my mind? Have we all lost our minds?

“The kingdom of heaven is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.”

Jesus Christ

“…So there is something here which can make this mud into a tree, into a fruit, into a filmmaker, into a Guru and into a billion other things. Don’t you want to know what it is? Don’t you want to experience what it is? And if it is somewhere in heaven, I am not interested… This is the ultimate source of creation, don’t you want to know what it is? Don’t you want to experience it? Don’t you want to know the power of it, the joy of it, the beauty of it?”


Yes, we have all lost our minds. We have created our own karma, our own miseries, our own suffering by allowing that terrible tyrant, the mind–the ego–to rule us. We have convinced ourselves we are helpless against our suffering, so we pop anti-anxiety pills and lounge about in bed, consoled that the world has told us, “she has depression, poor dear, she can’t help herself.” And certainly, to a certain extent there are physiological problems that cause some symptoms, but truth be told, many of us embrace this helplessness as a comfortable form of damnation. The truth is, however “real” our struggles with anxiety and depression might be, ultimately, we have power. Why are so many of us so willing to surrender our power to the demon Helplessness? But… not all of us are willing to surrender.

Many of us come to this conclusion, that we are not helpless, that we are creating our own karma, our own suffering, and we have allowed suffering to feed on itself… to feed on us. We cannibalize our own lives away. Yes, some of us realize at some point that we do have power, that we cannot sink into helplessness, but we know the battle is a horrible one. Some of us never take up arms to fight that battle. In the “Bhagavad Gita” When Arjuna was at his most helpless, his most confused and miserable, Sri Bhagwan Krishna told him: “Fight the battle, Arjuna.” To not fight is not only an act of cowardice, it is damnation, and damnation right here right now. We make our own hell.

A therapist cannot beat it, medication can do little more than throw blankets over our demons to hide them, but in the end, win or lose, it is whether or not we do as Krishna ordered that seals our fates. But how do we fight these battles?

Let go? “Let go” can be a cliche, the most hollow words ever spoken to us, but if we act upon them, they can likewise be the most powerful of all words. This “letting go,” however, does not come easily, and it can take years, even lifetimes. For many letting go may require gurus, renunciation, discipline, even psychedelics, but for all of us, letting go, in the end, is not a single action, it is a war, a number of exhausting battles. I’ve been fighting these battles for a lifetime, but only within the last 5 have years I begun to win my battles. Only within the last year have I begun to acquire the weapons I need to win these battles, and only very recently have I realized the depth of possibility in letting go.

To truly let go, we have to let go of many of the things we cling to so dearly. This can take lifetimes to perfect. Hence reincarnation karma, and all the rest of it.

Before I left for the Hindu Temple Of Atlanta, I had been holding onto anxieties and miseries that I knew were regenerating because I had allowed them to. No, certainly the circumstances that I believed had “caused” my anxieties were not of my making, but the choice to suffer them, then to let them fester week after week and month after month, those circumstances were caused by me. Am I being too hard on myself? No, because this is what most of us do, whether we know it or not. Worse, most of us even create the circumstances that lead us to suffer. Recently, however, I have begun to see that there is a way out, and my frustration has been that I have had to fight these battles alone, with no Satsang (no sacred company), with no temple, with no guru, my only help came from Lord Ganesh, Ma Durga, and Lord Shiva, powerful allies, indeed, but I felt overwhelmed and confused by all I did not know. I was still living in ignorance. The only way out was to STOP, to stop all the things that were feeding my suffering and anxiety and take action, to “fight the battle.”

Finally, last Tuesday, I realized I’d had enough, so I grabbed my sword and shield, gathered my allies around me, and ran screaming into the battlefield. Alone, but for the company of the Deities, by Thursday I shut off my internet, turned off my phone and took off for Atlanta to the Hindu Temple, then, or so I had planned, on to Sadhguru’s ashram in Tennessee. I’ve already told the story of how all that went, but now I am going to strip away the narrative and tell you what I learned, what wisdom I have gained, and what actions I have to take to “let go,” to win this battle and move on. Much as my DMT trips were only the beginning, the integration was where the real healing took place, so it has been with my temple visit. It’s one thing to run off, have ecstatic spiritual experiences, then come home and forget about them, slowly sinking back into a wallow, and it is another thing entirely to run off, have ecstatic experiences, then come home and integrate them, allowing them to be truly transformative. Perhaps the most important part of my entire “Spiritual Road Trip” saga has only just begun with this writing.

So what lessons did I learn or relearn? What wisdom rung true for me, even if I had encountered the same wisdom before? What do I have to integrate into my life if I am going to move on to the next level? What discipline must I apply? How can I finally live the wisdom I have gathered?

What inspired me to write this was my need to truly know what it was I learned, to crystalize all I had learned so that I will live in the practicing of it. One of the details I left out of my telling of the story of my time at the Hindu Temple was that, prior to going, I had, over a period of months, become consumed by anxiety. The oil leak that happened upon my arrival in Atlanta nearly ruined the whole trip, as car problems and traveling alone are both panic inducing for me. The time came in this temple to Tennessee trip when I knew I was going to skip traveling to Tennessee to the ashram, but had to choose between following my panic, canceling the whole trip, and running home with my leaking car, or staying put at the temple and fighting the battle. The day and a half I had originally planned to spend at the temple had passed, and I sadly realized that my anxiety had not dimmed in the least. I still felt as though I were wrestling a bear. Then, once the decision was made to not run home, but to change my plans, fight the battle, and spend all of the time I had meant to spend in Tennessee at the temple, everything changed. After an afternoon of living in the choice to alter my plans and spend all my time at the temple, on THAT very afternoon I would have been returning home, within an instant I recognized that quite suddenly, as if a trap door had been opened up under me, every last bit of the anxiety I had been carrying and multiplying for months suddenly simply fell away and I was free! It was as close to a miracle as anything I had ever felt. To this day I have felt far more clean and clear than I have in years. In fact, I cannot recall a time in my life when I have felt this clear.

The first lesson: if our plans fall apart, it is time to surrender and know that our plans were probably too small to contain the possibilities consciousness (or God) had in store for us, and when this happens we need to learn to be grateful and trusting, even in the midst of disasters. Easier said than done, but so it goes with wisdom.

The first lesson is one I have learned time and again, but have only now realized that the time has come to live in trust of that wisdom. Eight years or so ago I recovered from cancer, but it changed my life in every way possible, and for the better in every way possible. I had learned that cancer was the best thing that had ever happened to me! Cancer, for me, was a liberation. This is a pattern I had begun recognizing, that every disaster of my life had, in the end, resolved itself by leading me away from the the wrong path and towards the one I was meant to travel. This is why Lord Ganesh is not only the remover of obstacles, but he who places obstacles in our paths to deter us from going in the wrong direction. This was why I ran out of oil right smack dab in front of the temple. That was the obstacle I needed. This is why I met Ram who encouraged me to stay longer at the temple than planned, as I needed him to remove another obstacle. Had I not ran out of oil and supressed my fear and stayed, I would not have had that divine moment when every last drop of my anxiety melted away.

The first lesson resolves itself into two bits of wisdom, firstly, that more often than not our plans are too small to contain our larger journey. If our plans are falling apart around us, it is time to surrender, because more likely than not our plans were too small to contain our possibilities.

The second resolution of the first lesson was that we have to learn to be grateful for our disasters. Very often the disasters that befall us have befallen us to liberate us from something we had not been willing to set aside. I have often said, if cancer doesn’t set you straignt, you did it wrong. I am grateful for my cancer, and I am grateful my car leaked out all its oil, and further grateful that I choked down the anxiety response that would have driven me home immediately, and instead found the strength and time to stay at the temple for a few extra days, otherwise my anxiety would not have left me.

“He who looks upon well-wishers, friends and foes, neutrals as well as mediators, inimicals, relatives, the virtuous and the sinful with equanimity, stands supreme.”

Sri Bhagavan Krishna

The second lesson: This is an extension of the first. When Ram told me his life story, he told me that no matter how much he suffered, he only gave back positive energy, positive thoughts. Ram chanted the names of God and learned to love the wicked. It is taught in Hindu scripture that we are all God. it is easier said than done to realize, but even the wicked carry in them the same spark of God that the loving carry. It is sad how far many have fallen, but not a thing to feel anger or hatred over.

The third lesson: This I also learned from Ram, and that is to chant all the time, even if only in my head. I found that on Tuesday morning when it was time for me to face my leaking car and drive alone back home, that circling Ganesh’s altar and chanting was the only way to drive away the anxiety and maintain my newfound center. Moreso, the whole time I dumped a total of 4 quarts of oil into my car over five hours of driving, I chanted and thanked Lord Ganesh for the oil leak, and I came to this realization:

“Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me…”

So, that, too I chanted.

The fourth lesson: This also came from Ram, and is more personal than the others. When talking we both talked of moving on to “the next level.” He told me that night that he was ready to move on to the next level, and he told me that I, too, was ready to move on to the next level. Humble a man as Ram was, this, to me, was not a conversation, but a directive and a blessing from the mouth of God. Lately I have moved up many levels in my consciousness, and it is time that I fight the battle and move on to a much higher level, but as Ram said, I am ready to do that, and I am going to work very hard to make that a reality in my life. What is the next level?

To master my own mind.

Easier said than done, and it’s a big one, but it will be done, through Sadhana, surrender, gratitude Satsang, and chanting.

“What the word ‘Shiva’ means is: ‘That which is not.’ That which is is creation. That which is not is Shiva… That which is not is the basis of creation. It is the empty space in the existence which is the womb of creation, isn’t it? So we say Shiva is the basis of everything.”


The fifth lesson: This I experienced while meditating before Shiva. My consciousness altered in ways I can’t really explain or fully understand at this point. My perception of reality rang and resounded with a clarity I had never known before. Explaining the experience does little more than drag it into the mire of illusion, but, here I go. My visual acuity astonished me, and I became aware of the vivid reality of the space between objects. I saw “that which is not.” That which is not is the space between objects, the silence between notes, and the silence between thoughts. Shiva is the silence. Additionally, I saw all at once that others were having their own experiences of the sacred. What I saw and felt I don’t understand, yet I saw clearly for the first time in my life. Since coming home, I have seen only glimpses of that clarity. Whatever had happened, my perception was not ordinary, and however powerful it was, I don’t really understand any of it, not so as I could explain it any better. But I can still recall the enigmatic clarity of those moments. All I really expect is that I finally scratched the surface of what is possible through meditation. It was enough to make me want to go deeper. However, knowing what I know, and having experienced what I have experienced, when I meditate it is without expectation. I do not frustrate my meditation by expecting such ecstasies, they come when they come, and now inspired experiences like this come rarely. I accept what Shiva chooses to show me.

The sixth lesson: And this is one I have already put into practice, but found reiterated in Devdutt Pattaniak’s book on Shiva, and that is that the best teaching is experiential, and does not derive from words or lectures. How, as a teacher, can I learn to give the students the experiences they need? How can I turn the wisdom I read into experience? Written wisdom is merely inspiring as an intellectual exercise, but experienced wisdom can be wholly transformative. I need to find ways to make what I know through the intellect experiential… and this will only happen if I focus and participate in Sadhana (yogic practices) with discipline.

The seventh lesson: This is simply that I have learned the true value of Satsang (sacred company). I have been feeling terribly alone lately. The loneliness had become an aching gaping pit that I was desperate to fill. When I was at the temple, especially in the “Bhagavad Gita” class, I felt a sense of community, THE sense of community that I had been missing. I NEED the company of other Hindu’s, specifically of other seekers who are on a similar path, that of striving for Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth).

The eighth lesson: This I learned in Satsang, and it was an extension of my need for Satsang. I learned that the many conclusions I had come to regarding Hinduism, and my experiences and research, were sound. I had feared the conclusions I had been coming to were nonsense, or worse, madness, but they were not. When I shared the conclusions I had come to with the teacher (Chaplain) and the other students, the Chaplain nodded in agreement and even told me that the things I said were well said. Some of the significant conclusions I had come to were:

On dualtiy. I spoke on how one of the reasons Hinduism appealed to me was that, unlike the form of Christianity I grew up in (and the vast majority of Americans practice), in which there is only a narrow linear road, and in which all contradictions must be denied or put into line; in Hinduism, dualties are embraced and talked about openly, right down to the Chaplain nodding along with wholly contradictory statements from the other devotees during our moments of dialog. This embrace of duality is itself a liberation.

On the nature of reality. At times I had become concerned that my awareness of this “reality” as an illusion, was a form of madness that had distracted me. But, not so, the Chaplain himself talked about the illusory nature of material reality. It is difficult not to feel “insane” in a culture and city where there is no one else around to talk these things over with.

On the material vs. the mystical world. I talked about how our language was designed only to describe THIS illusion (or “reality,” if you prefer), and how our language is incapable of describing or fully understanding transcendent, or mystical, reality. Again, my observations were not questioned as madness, but were welcomed and complimented as eloquent.

The ninth lesson: Shiva generates ecstasy. This was not news to me, but what was news to me was that time and time again Shiva has delivered me to tearful bliss and ecstasy. In other words, these ecstasies were not one-off experiences. When this first happened for me I was at a small temple somewhere outside of Ocala. When we were chanting “Om Namah Shivaiya,” tears began to stream my cheeks. At that moment, that very second, the Pandit (who had not seen my tears) said; “Shiva cannot help but come to the aid of those who cry tears for him.” Wow!

The tenth lesson: Political over-reaction is a form of darkness. I am apolitical, and often have to endure being shamed for that stance, but I have had to renounce politics to keep that toxicity away from my consciousness, especially now when the world has been given to such deep sorrow and madness that no game of musical chairs (i.e. elections) will provide any answers or solutions. We are not going to make real changes by moving the rules around within the construct of a broken system and reality. The powerful symmetry of my reading out loud on that very topic in the Gita class took my breath away. The wisdom I read aloud was the very wisdom I needed to hear at that moment… and what were the chances? very good, there are no coincidences when it comes to consciousness.

“If you care for people around you, you must make yourself into a person they enjoy being with.”


The eleventh lesson: This was on the toxicity of anxiety, and this I observed two days before I left. A friend of mine, who I had invited over, was positively vibrating with anxiety over the election. It was then, even though I had suffered and witnessed anxiety before, that I recognized how toxic anxiety was not only for the sufferer, but for those around the sufferer. I became icily aware of how toxic that energy in me has been for the people around me. It is time, at last, that I truly defeat this demon. I do not expect it to be easy or quick, but I do expect to slay this demon once and for all, or at least I expect to allow the demon to pass through me without allowing it to get its claws in me.

“In the vastness of the cosmos, everything is going perfect, but one nasty little thought in your mind can make it a bad day. That is lack of perspective.”


I have had revelations about anxiety before, but over the course of my temple visit, and through the ensuing days after, everything I need to know about battling anxiety and depression became very clear to me. Now, I know this is not an original idea, but at one point I realized experientially and existentially that very often anxiety attacks begin as solely physiological experiences, then our mind (the ego), who cannot bear not being in control, applies a reason for the physiological experience of anxiety, and this does two things: firstly, it feeds the anxiety; secondly it feeds the smugness of the ego itself. The ego, once it claims the anxiety as it’s own, can sit back, fat and grinning, on its throne, and declare itself the master even of my anxiety and suffering. I have since realized that, conversely, just as often, negative thoughts can come first, and those can trigger the physiological symptoms of anxiety. Additionally, I have since realized that those moments of “darkness” that shove me into depression, are also often physiological sensations that the ego feeds. So, what is the Sadhana, the practice that will free me from anxiety and depression? The Sadhana is to stop as soon as the physiological or mental seeds of anxiety or depression stir, and not to validate them by feeding them either thoughts or emotions, but rather to simply sit and observe, let whatever symptoms present themselves (be they physiological or thought generated), and let them pass through me. If the symptoms are strong and have their claws in me, I do as Ram told me, and I chant and seek whatever gratitude I can find.

“Being attached to someone is not about the other person. It is about your own sense of inadequacy.”


When the solitude of night falls, I will not fall with it.

The twelfth lesson: And this lesson is about loneliness. My loneliness is not existential, only my solitude is existential. It is up to me how I view my solitude. I can choose to see it as loneliness and feel that pain, or I can choose to see it as a form of asceticism and Sadhana, and embrace the Shivanic lifestyle. Now, when alone, I choose to meditate on what I have learned, meditate in general, or read Hindu scriptures and mythology. She who has Shiva is never alone.

The thirteenth Lesson: It is up to me if I choose to return to the fear, anxieties and sufferings of my life prior to my temple visit, prior to the ecstasies of being in the presence of Lord Shiva. I can lay that past life and those emotions to rest. I lived them, I experienced them, I have given them their due, I no longer need to continue to bear them. I am free of that bondage now, why would I take those chains back up? I will not be so foolish.

“Whatever your goal in life, unless you develop a great urgency, what could be near will be far away.”


The fourteenth lesson: Fight the battle. Discipline, Sadhana, Satsang, transformation. Yes, Lord Krishna, like Arjuna, I will fight the battle.

“A devotee or bhakta has infinite faith in Shiva. He believes that everything that happens in his life is the will of Shiva. Good or bad, he accepts it all as prasad, divine offering.”

Devdutt Pattanaik

(ADDENDUM) The fifteenth lesson: I plan to continue to add addendum to this as new lessons present themselves, and one already has. Since coming home it has been made abundantly clear that the car I just bought (from an individual) is a lemon. Prior to buying the car I had sunk $1,400 into the old one two to four weeks before it died, then I bought another used car, $2,200, and immediately put another $500 into it, only to find there are more and more problems with it, especially after coming home from the temple. Immediately, all the good feelings I had, all the equanimity, the joy of having found my center, all of it went brittle and cracked, revealing a hollow depression and electric anxiety. I felt foolish and saddened that my transformative experience had lasted all of three days. I could barely sleep, but I woke this morning and began to think on all the lessons I had learned, and on Ram’s advice about chanting, about even loving the wicked (and by extension, he did not merely mean the wicked people, but the wicked events in life), and about giving and thinking nothing but positive thoughts. Now all of these things are old news in various scriptures and philosophies, but this is the first time in my life when those truths have felt like a reality. So, I decided to draw open my curtains, let the sun in, and to lounge comfortably in my warm bed and read the Gita and some of the Shiva stories. The first story I came to was that of when Vishnu manifested as the horrible lion-headed Narasimha. He came to do what he came to do, take vengeance on a demon who had been persecuting one of his devotees, but having drunk the blood of the demon, this horrific form took control of Vishnu, and he cried out for Shiva to help him. Shiva took the form of Sharabha the dragon and scorched Narasimha, releasing Vishnu from the power of the demon-quenched avatar. It seemed to me a reasonable lesson. When confronted with my own inner demons (the rise of depression and anxiety through the powerful blood of a financially wicked incident), I am to call upon Shiva for release. It also came to me that it is one thing to enjoy the bliss of spiritual ecstasies when all is well, but it is another thing entirely to maintain my equanimity and center when circumstances fill my gut with demon blood. I cannot be attached to the money I am losing by the thousands and thousands of dollars (even though I am very very poor and cannot afford this devastating blow). I must chant, be positive and trust in the Gods and all the lessons I have learned. It is one thing to learn lessons, and another entirely to live in their wisdom. For me, it is finally time to live in wisdom.

What is left to do now is work, Sadhana, surrender, submit to the discipline it is going to take to let go and mmove forward… to the next level. This means more time reading sacred texts, more time in meditation, and a renunciation of Youtube, obsessive email checks, and the habit of choosing to see my solitude as loneliness, etc… etc… etc… in other words, the replacement of past bad habits with new good habits.

So I say again… Gratitude is the only response, anxiety is a betrayal of all the boons and wisdom that have been granted me.

And these are the truths I will live in.

Har Har Mahadev!

Spiritual Road Trip, Part 5: Har Har Mahadev!


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.


Spiritual Road Trip, Part 4: Satsang Sunday



Part 4: Sunday – Satsang Sunday

From my notes from the Gita class:

“He alone who recognizes his own self can recognize God.”

“Fixing your mind on me, you become me.” Krishna

Today I got up in time to go to the Bhagavad Gita class at the temple, and what a blessing that was on so many levels. Firstly, the Satsang (companionship of other devoted Hindus) was sorely needed. There is no Temple in Gainesville, so I have been feeling terribly isolated. Being here now has shone a light on a very large part of what has been my problem since coming to Gainesville… there is no Temple, no Satsang, and I feel not merely isolated, but almost as though I made Hindusim up, as if I have lost my mind and am sinking into some sort of madness for being so out of sorts with mainstream American/Western culture. Sometimes it scares me. I love SAW, but the comics community is not my community. I love Joe Courter, but Progressive politics and activists are also not my community. And, no, though I have and love many New Age and Pagan friends, the “Temple Of the Universe” is not my community. Inside the Hindu Temple I feel at home. I feel at home among the sari’s, the Carnatic music, among the Gods, the people, and am definitely at home eating the Temple food every single day. And, I was at home in our class of 6 (plus the teacher) in the Gita class. Though the surroundings were scarcely even humble, a tatty “library” in the basement of the temple that also doubles as a supply closet and overflow storage room for the kitchen, there in that tatty place I fought back tears through the whole class. Simply realizing how much it hurts to be so far from what matters to me most created an empty ache in me that I cannot resolve. But now, here I was in the company of others who were on the same path and asking the same questions as I. How isolating it is to not have access to that kind of companionship.

I made a lot of notes in my diary as we went along, but what really stopped me dead in my tracks was when we read aloud in the ancillary reading. We went around the table, each person reading a paragraph aloud, all of it closer inspection of the truths within the Bhagavad Gita. What just about knocked me out of my chair was the paragraph I read aloud… the very paragraph was about the unhealthiness of political hysteria. As I read the words I was stunned not only that the subject was being addressed right here and now in this book on this weekend in this place, but that the words of wisdom were going straight into my eyes and out my mouth into the air to echo my current “reality.” I was giving words to thoughts, and giving form to words. This was no coincidence. God is Consciousness. It was not Trump winning that drove me to the Temple, it was the reaction of everyone around me that drove me there, and the passage addressed the very topic of political overreaction, and in general, of placing too much importance on politics. To read such things there and then took my breath away. I could not help myself, I had to share what I was going through, and what I had to share was actually welcome there! They didn’t scold me for my views, didn’t become hysterical when I tried to suggest that politics will NOT save us… no… they nodded in agreement! Finally, I was in a room where I didn’t feel like I was babbling in another language, I was in a room where the things I had to say were not only welcomed, but were seen as wise. My heart ached to know I had to get in my car and drive away, that I could not attend this class week after week… that I had to leave… home.

We talked for a while about my feelings of isolation and displacement, and I stated how sometimes I feel so isolated that I fear I am losing my mind. They all nodded and understood how hard it must be, they have each other, I have no one. But, the upside is, I have been invited to continue taking the class via phone conferencing! I am elated to have a lifeline to what matters, to have found Satsang! Had my oil not leaked out, had I continued to Tennessee, had I not listened to Ram and gone home, I would not have been here for this, for this class which will continue to nourish me and help me feel less isolated and insane. More significantly, this class will help keep me from being distracted by delusion, and will keep me on the right track.

Equally significant for me was the open dialog, in which no one sat in judgment with “THE” single right answer. No, in Hinduism the questions can be open ended, and “debates” can be listened to and carefully considered, such a far cry from the sort of Christianity I grew up in where there was a one-way path. The discussions were fluid and healthy, NEVER dogmatic, and in those discussions I was at last able to open up and share some of the conclusions about Hinduism, Gods and spirituality that I have come to in solitude… and was able to have them confirmed as perfectly reasonable, even beautiful. Having come to those conclusions without a teacher, a guru or Satsang, I felt they were worthy of suspicion, but as it turns out, I had been led to perfectly acceptable conclusions, guided, dare I say, by the hand of Shiva, Krishna… let’s just say… God. This brings me back to what the first Priest I talked to in the temple in Ohio said to me when I told him my story and how I came to convert to Hinduism, he said to me: “God is speaking to you,” which has always felt like a burden to me. I mean, if God is speaking to me, it seems to me I have not lived up to such an honor, that I have not done anything worthy of being spoken to. Now, I saw, that perhaps by speaking to me, God was simply sharing wisdom through clarity with me, and for now, that has been enough. Perhaps God is not speaking to me so that I may change the world, but so that I may change myself. After all, who can change the world who cannot change themselves?

But here at last, I was able to talk with those who know more than me about their cultural metaphors, about the ambiguous nature of God, about REALITY (a topic that has somewhat obsessed me since my DMT journeys brought me experientially closer to Hindu teaching about the illusory nature of reality). I was able to talk about embracing duality, and how beautiful it is that in Hinduism questions need not be resolved and opposing ideas need not resolve into a single truth that must be followed by all. Furthermore I was able to talk about how our language and words are meant to describe this reality, and are quite ill-equipped to consider and describe any other. No wonder so many “intellectuals” are atheists, they put far too much trust and value in an intellect that can only comprehend this tiny corner of “reality.” They are limited by their egos. Every single thing I said and others said confirmed for me that I am not full of shit when it comes to my understanding of Hinduism. It seems that perhaps the conclusions I have been coming to are conclusions I had been gently led to.

I am grateful to have had this experience, grateful to be able to continue to participate, yet somehow saddened that the Temple is, in all practicality, out of my reach considering my finances and lemonish car. But, I will return home with Satsang, and enough spiritual fuel to keep me going for some time, and in the comfort of knowing that all I have learned and all the conclusions I have come to on my own have not been absurd fantasies, that they have been guided by my consciousness being open to Godly consciousness. This is not my ego talking, this is a breathless gratitude talking.

I didn’t spend much time in the temple Sunday, I was tired, the sudden weather change from driving up North has messed up my sinuses, so I spent a lot of the day in my room, but I did go back for a brief visit, and for all my bemoaning the loss of temple access, I realized that in the time since I left the Shiva Vishnu Temple behind in Ohio, I have learned a lot. For one, I had been able to hold my own during the Bhagavad Gita class, and my understanding of the Gita (and I have read two translations more than once) and the complexities of Hindu concepts of “reality” and God have been greatly enhanced by my admittedly shamefully infrequent studies (which I am now going to become more serious about).

Additionally, thanks to DMT I had learned to meditate. Back in Ohio I could not meditate at all, but now, over the past few days, I had been meditating before the Deities. This in and of itself is quite an arrival for me. And beyond all that, I had learned to chant, and need to learn more chants, but I am pleased to say that I was able to circumambulate around the Shiva sanctum while chanting this:

Om Try-Ambakam Yajaamahe
Sugandhim Pusstti-Vardhanam
Urvaarukam-Iva Bandhanaan
Mrtyor-Mukssiiya Maa-[A]mrtaat

Har har Mahadev!

Sunday night, in my room, totally exhausted I had to accept that I was growing very fatigued from the weather/pressure and sinus pains. I had been bearing them, had tried not to think about them, but they had been a weight around my neck the whole trip. Finally, I sat down with my prasadam (an orange), and ate it. Prasadam promises to be not only healthy but healing food blessed by the Gods. One hour later, and this was quite a shock to me, 100% of my fatigue, body aches and sinus pains were gone, simply gone, like my anxiety!

But for all the glories of Sunday, the real ecstasies were to come Monday, at the Shiva Temple, and Ram was right, it was more than two eyes could bear, and more than I could have imagined.

NEXT (Part 5, Monday): Har Har Mahadev!

Spiritual Road Trip, Part 3: Me, The Visiting Deity?



Part 3: Saturday – Me, The Visiting Deity?

Saturday morning, the day I was supposed to stop by the temple before hitting the road to Tennessee, well, that did not happen. Instead I settled into a full day at the Temple, a day I would not have had had I gone to Tennessee, yet I still would have been returning home days earlier than originally planned. The problem with returning was that my objective had not been met, in that my anxiety had not yet diminished in the least, and I had not counted on, nor was I fully prepared for, how seductive the hospitality of the Indian people can be. A practice unknown to most Westerners is that when visitors come to Hindu homes, the guests are to be treated like visiting Deities. This is rather convenient when one has guests in ending that awkward personal dilemma that arises when you’ve made something delicious and secretly want to keep the bigger piece for yourself… if you wouldn’t short Ganesh the big piece, you cannot short your guest. I often get very special treatment when I am among Hindus, and though my ego would like to believe it’s due to my smile and surrender to their spiritual truths and culture, it’s more likely that they are simply extending that philosophy to me, or, peradventure, they are simply hospitable people. In light of their openness to Westerners partaking of their culture, here’s one point I need to make in regards to this “cultural appropriation” nonsense. Whenever I wear Indian bangles, skirts, a bindi, or Gods on my jewelry, the Indians light up. The Indians I have met LOVE seeing a Westerner embracing their culture. I have been complicated more than once on my dress. Even in the temple back in Ohio the Priest complimented me on my Indian-influenced style. Want to see an Indian smile? Talk about their mythology, food, Bollywood or Hinduism, or wear a bindi and sari. So, here’s the deal, culture police… you don’t know what the hell you are talking about when it comes to the myth of “cultural appropriation” and, believe it or not, no one appointed you as a spokesperson for other people and other cultures, so keep your holier-than-thou hostility, bigotry, judgments and cultural ignorance to yourselves. Once you have informed and enlightened yourselves, you can go around telling the rest of us what to do, wear, or sing, until then, follow my Granny’s advice and mind your own business.

Now, on to more pleasant matters. Again, here at the Atlanta temple, the Indians have welcomed me with open arms into their culture, into their temple, and into their sense of style.

OK, confession time, maybe the thing I miss most about temple life isn’t the spirituality, the Satsang, or the culture, maybe it’s the food! See, I LOVE Indian food, and one of my biggest frustrations with Indian restaurants in America is how the food is often dumbed down to suit our limited palettes. For one thing the food is mean to be very spicy, and for another chai is NOT chai if it is not sweetened with sugar! I know it’s some weird American pride thing to drink coffee and tea black, but that most definitely is not culturally authentic. If you are not sugaring your chai in restaurants, you are drinking bastardized American chai… period! Me, I want an authentic experience, hot food and sweet chai. The food at temples is prepared lovingly by fellow devotees to suit an Indian audience, so the food is spicy and delicious. I have eaten nothing but temple food since I have been here (confession… a couple chocolate chip cookies), and most of it free. Sure, I paid for some of it, but Saturday as I was enjoying my first temple meal, one of the kitchen staff came to me and welcomed me, and upon talking to me was pleased to hear of my genuine interest in their culture and devotion to their spirituality, and he told me that all day long all my food would be free and that I could take whatever I liked. He then handed me some Indian sweets, including the BIGGEST Laddoo I had ever seen–as in the size of softball. For those of you who have never had Laddoo, it is a little like a round Indian sticky donut hole, but far more textural, flavorful and delicious… especially when prepared in a temple. The problem with laddoo is were I to eat them as much as I would like… I too would be the shape of Ganesh.

In mythology, Ganesh had eaten so much laddoo that Chandra (moon God) saw him struggling to walk and laughed at him. Ganesh fell and his extended belly split open and all the laddoo spilled out, so he grabbed a cobra and tied it about his belly and cursed the moon. This is the story of why the moon is not full year-round. And, by the way, no most Hindus do not believe this to be literal scientific fact, it is accepted as mythology.

One of my bigger disappointments was that the temple gift shop was not open. This temple is more than a temple, it is a community center and for many, a spectacular tourist attraction. Additionally, as Hindus love their murti (so-called “idols”), they need a place to buy not only them, but books of wisdom that are otherwise hard to find, and this book store even had lots of Indian ACK Comics, which are all based on Hindu mythology, history, and so forth. I wanted in, so I went upstairs and asked the little old white lady if someone could open it, as it was supposed to have been open anyway. I told her I had driven almost 5 hours just to be here and really wanted a chance to pick up a few things. She, with complete disinterest, rather flatly and unsympathetically told me no. Rather cold.

OK, so I wasn’t going to get in to the gift shop, then I thought about it a little longer and realized I had approached this thing all wrong… all wrong. I realized that if I know Indians, and I am beginning to, then all I had to do was ask one of them, and soon I would be in the gift shop, so I asked one. Also, I knew that if I knew Indians, and I am beginning to, that no one would know who would open it, where the key was, and there would be a certain amount of confusion and disorganization… but give or take ten minutes, and the shop would definitely be open. Confusion and disorganization aside, that was a huge improvement over the unfriendly, disinterested and unsympathetic little old white lady who had no interest in helping me because it was simply easier to tell me tough luck. Well, I sat on the stairs of the shop and watched them go at it, and soon enough, in some great swoop of karmic justice, along came the Indian woman I had talked to about getting in, and toting along behind her… guess who? Yep, the cranky little unsympathetic white lady… with the key… and a stern scowl. Oh, no, she did not smile at me when she saw me sitting on the stair, but my smile was big enough for both our faces. The woman who sat in the shop, Sudha (if I have that right) was all smiles and kindness. We talked a little as I selected a few books and comics, and I thanked her and went along my way. The lesson here… if you’re at a temple and you want something done, always ask an Indian.

Between the free food and the lovely gift shop experience, I was beginning to realize more and more that I was gonna miss the hell out of this when I left in the morning.

image001Of course food and gifts were not really why I had gone there, so I went back upstairs to the temple to watch the rituals which Ram had promised would be unforgettably beautiful and “auspicious,” and he was right. The first thing I saw was a lengthy pujah to Lord Vishnu. They have, in this temple, an astounding larger than life shining black Vishnu. I don’t know how much you know about Indian temples, but there are sanctums. There is the outer sanctum in which all shoes must be removed as no outside dirt is allowed inside the temple. This is a symbolic practice, as it symbolizes that we are also not to bring any outside dirt into the temples in our hearts, minds and souls. Now, encased within (or beyond) that is the temple proper, and upon entering you are to bow to the Deities, many, myself included, prostrate themselves flat on the floor. Within the temple are numerous smaller inner sanctums which house the Deities. The most significant Deities (such as Shiva and Vishnu) are housed in their own small structures or sanctums, and the devotees are allowed in the outer sanctum that houses the Deity, but only temple Priests are allowed within the innermost sanctum where the murti reside. Now, contrary to the limited Christian viewpoint, Hindus are not “idol worshipers,” and to say so is a gross over-simplification based on ignorance and cultural bias. The so-called idol, or murti, is really nothing more than a representation of the Deity that we focus our meditation or prayers on to connect with the Deity. This day Vishnu was being offered milk, honey, and various sensual and delicious offerings. Ram was right, the sight of the shining black face and body being coated in milk was lovely beyond description. All the while the Brahmin (Priests) are chanting in a call and response whose strange harmonies stir the soul.

Shortly before the Navagrahas (planetary Deities) pujah, my new friend Ram talked to me for a while explaining that I should consider staying through Monday as it was a major Shiva festival, Karthika Deepotsavam. He said the temple would be decorated with thousands of lights and that “two eyes are not enough to see” the beauty of the event. I thought about this for a while and realized that my original plan was to be gone at least as long as Tuesday anyhow, so I would stay around and witness that before I tended to my oil leak. Besides, the hospitality that had been shown me had warmed my heart and had left me feeling as though I was in no way ready to go back home, and I was feeling far less lonely than I had in a long time. It is also important to note that as a Shiva devotee, it seemed astonishingly fortuitous that I had arrived there with an oil leak at the precise time of year when a major festival in honor of Shiva was taking place. I realized more and more that my oil leak was most definitely an obstacle placed in my path to keep me where I was meant to be (Ganesh not only removes obstacles, but places them in your path if you are going the in the wrong direction). So it was that my plan to stay until Tuesday remained, the only difference being that I stayed in one place and saved myself 4 more hours of drive time. Thanks, of course to Ganesh… though now that I think about it, as Shiva is Ganesh’s father, it’s no wonder he had a hand in keeping me at the temple, a devotee of his father’s, for his father’s sacred day.

So here’s another confession, though I stayed after and participated in the Navagrahas pujah, I had no idea what the significance of it was. Hinduism is a 10,000 year old religion, and I have only been a practitioner for about six years, and have had to practice my devotion in practical isolation, so there is much I do not know. For example, yesterday when the Brahmin poured yellow liquid over Vishnu… I was moved to tears by the sheer beauty of the act, but I’m not 100% certain what the vibrant yellow liquid was.

While waiting for a similar pujah to be performed over the Shiva Linga, one of the Priests explained that most milk, even organic milk, contains fish oil extracts, so is not appropriate for Lord Shiva. One of the devotees asked why we do not use vegan milk. The Priest patiently explained that he was not here to change their traditions, just to educate them about the milks they were buying.

Now, there is a rather troubling question, or attitude, that is passed judgmentally upon these rituals in the form of a heavily loaded question, “Why do Indians pour milk and honey over their Deities when so many people are starving?” This is a question that demonstrates a “pragmatic” Western bias or comes from a person who clearly does not value spiritual practices highly enough, meaning that, to them, there will be no satisfactory answer. It must be understood that in order to advance spiritually sacrifices must be made. When a devotee comes to the temple with an offering, they come as an offering. One cannot just take from God, one must give as well.

This evening, once the Shiva pujah was underway, was when the most significant event of the trip took place. Now that I had decided to no longer allow fear to dictate my actions (meaning I did not run home), and chose instead to stay in the temple and attend the Karthika Deepotsavam, right then and there, in the middle of the worship of Shiva, a miracle happened. Within ten minutes, give or take, all at once, as if I had sprung a leak, all of the anxiety I had been carrying around in me for the past weeks and months simply drained away… all of it! I noticed soon that not only had all that anxiety drained away, but ALL anxiety had drained away. I was perfectly clean and clear for the first time in decades! I had simply forgotten what it felt like to not be carrying some anxiety in me somewhere, and it felt amazing, as though a dead dog I had been carrying forever had been lifted off my shoulders. God has reset my nervous system. Now it would be up to me to reset my mind.

Just prior to the Shiva pujah I had gotten in line for another meal, but they were briefly out of chana masala, so Sudha (from the gift shop) asked me to step aside and wait for the food, after a while I left, not because I got impatient, but because I didn’t want to miss the conclusion of the Shiva pujah. She arrived in the middle of the ceremony and was genuinely concerned that I had not gotten my food. I held her hand and told her it was OK, I just wanted to participate in this. After I drank the holy water and ate the prasadam (blessed food), she took me into the closed kitchen and the staff sent me home with boxes full of free delicious food, enough that I have not had to buy a meal all weekend.

Yes, the hospitality of the Indian people can be moving and seductive, I was definitely staying on through to Tuesday morning. Though I was concerned about the additional hotel bill, when Sunday came I was cosmically certain I had made the right sacrifice (i.e. money for wisdom and Satsang), as early Sunday morning I had what was another peak experience, the very Satsang that had been so sorely missing from my life since I had moved away from my home temple in Ohio, that which could end my loneliness, if only there was a way for me to continue the Satsang… but, there was and is a way…

NEXT (Part 4, Sunday): Satsang Sunday