‘We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us, and call that handful of sand the world.’
- Robert M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)
….After all, Christianity is an Eastern religion that just happens to speak Greek
- Charles Foster
‘The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away.’
- Robert M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)
The Self, said the Buddha, is the source of illusion, and its creatures. Destroy it, and one has cleared away the scum on the lake of the world. Then one can see Reality, glittering sharply, with fabulous multifaceted beauty, at the bottom of all experience. ‘Now I have found you,’ said the Buddha, when he burst through Enlightenment. ‘Never again will you build the house of Self.’
Sleep was elusive; I chased it and it wore me down.
He vomited as tidily as any duchess as we lurched round the bends into the clouds
The gardener stomped muddily down the corridor and kicked at my door ……showed me his earwig trap behind the potting shed. I was grateful, of course, but it was a flimsy foundation for friendship.
I sat, throwing out the thoughts as I’d been taught, and again, never wondering who was throwing them out.
There’s no question, though, that aloneness is a fine tool for exposing the multifacetedness of things: you simply have more time to turn over and over the toys we call facts. You can see how they glitter in the light of quiet.
That patch of sky over india had a musty, homely smell, like an old exercise book. It should have had inkblots and spelling corrections.
Pulling on a crumpled roll of marijuana in Varanasi, a sadhu said: ‘The truth is within you. Everything you search for is there. Its your own obsession with the “I” which blocks your view of those truths. Why do you look outside?’
‘What could anything on paper ever tell you that the tree which has been destroyed to make it could not? Nothing. Nothing at all.’
There are four life stages in the Vedic ashram system. The first is Brahmacharya, the stage of dedication to the great quest – to realize Brahman in oneself. It is entered into by bright-eyed youths……Then there is Grihastha … the stage of settling down. Wives and mortgages are acquired, children are born, cars are polished, lawns are mowed, businesses grow, fortunes are made. Then when the children fly the nest, the wives sag, and the machinations of the firm become unbearably grey, there is Vanaprastha. The Hindu goes into the forest, and begins to prise from his soul the deadly things that have stuck to it over the years of domesticity. He pays off his debtors, and tries to pay off the demons too. He has been dying since he was born, and now is the time to do something about it. The house is sold, the business is given to the sons. He takes with him into the forest only the sacred fire, the cultic implements and, optionally and unusually, his wife. He lives off wild food; his hair and nails go uncut; his capacity for delusion is gradually ground down by austerity and meditation. Eventually he may see clearly enough to go into the final stage – sannyasa. Then he will wander alone through India, begging. The ties with the old life and the old self will have been severed, he will be teethering on the edge of enlightenment, or living in it……..
It is a stern system, now rarely followed. It has generated immense spiritual wealth.
‘I think what I really mean when I speak of the unconscious is the substance of the soul, the “centre” where all the faculties, sense, feeling, appetite, imagination, intellect, will, have their roots. Here all are merged in a deep, simple unity, open at once to God and to nature. Primitive man lives from this centre and that is why he is so “natural”. With so much grace and spontaneity in body and soul, so open to God and to the infinite, and yet so readily turning astray into immorality. As the faculties develop, especially the intellect and will, man grows out of this centre; he becomes specialized, one part is repressed at the expense of another, he becomes “unnatural”, complicated, disunited, yet develops a strong “moral” character to keep things in control. (This is typical of the British in India) ….’
- Bede Griffiths (Letter, 1956)
She sat on a rock for an hour in the lotus position, completely still, and brought the stillness back with her to the hut. It was not the sort of stillness that you interrogate, but the sort that interrogates you.
There was sun somewhere up there, but so far away that it didn’t seem to matter. Eventually it went away, and then it did matter.
Santoshi Mata is a new Hindu goddess………. She was cheap to propitiate, and needed no elaborate rituals or professional priests. She was intensely practical. She did not insist that busy housewives stop scrubbing their potatoes and work instead on understanding that they and the potatoes were identical with Brahman. She responded quickly and sympathetically to requests for electric mixers, sons or television sets.
Many people sat and looked at a cross that sweated blood during Mass several times between 1551 and 1704, and waited for something. India is superb at waiting.
‘Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear. When a sage sees this great Unity, and his Self has become all beings, what delusion and what sorrow can ever be near him?’
- Isa Upanishad
…..Upanishads…..they are the products of well-integrated men – powerful codifiers, adept in linear logic, but sublime poets and frontier-pushing mystics too. There have never been many such writers ………The earliest Upanishads were composed between 800 and 400 BC. Most of the Upanishads are later thatn the four Vedas – the foundational texts of Hinduism. The Vedas are hymns containing detailed accounts of Hindu mythology, passionate exhortations to religious observance, bleak verdicts on the irreligious, and dazzling, kaleidoscopic performances by writers schooled in ecstasy and close to the heart of joy……
Literarily wonderful though they are, the Upanishads are rathe sniffily middle class towards the Vedas. They see the Vedas as the province of the uneducated and unwashed peasants who would never dream of listening to Bach or reading the New York Review of Books. They are plainly embarrassed that many Hindus take the colourful myths so literally, and want to put them right. The authors clearly regard themselves as having been favoured with special knowledge, which they might well have been.
The authors of the Upanishads were religious revisionists. They were the early Cromwells of the Hindu world…..systematically smashing up the idols of the Hinduism that they saw as outdated and primitive. ……….Give me wild Vedic Hinduism any day instead of the slightly self-satisfied University Hinduism of the Upanishads.
Hinduism can and should remind the Christians what their faith is meant to be about. Probably most worthwhile learning is actually anamnesis: unforgetting. Hinduism can help to remind everyone, eloquently and beautifully, that there’s a massive part of ourselves which we neglect at our peril, and which Christianity has neglected to its peril. It’s a detailed map of the seething Unconscious; of the raging sea of the psyche; of the myths from which we can never escape. It’s the book of the elemental.
Can anything be a ‘satisfactory blueprint’ for something as majestic as the whole of a human life?
The answer, obviously, was no. Existence is far too big, colourful and complex to be capable of being governed by any statement of belief. The greatest Christian creeds have explicitly recognized this, acknowledging …..the dismal inadequacy of language and accordingly creeds themselves…..
All great creeds end by asserting that creeds won’t do. That’s what you’d expect. If they cant even tell us satisfactorily what God is like, they are bound to fail to tell us adequately how to relate to Him, Her, Them or It.
…..the great Ranganathaswamy temple….. You feel the competition for temple colour and temple size between neighbouring villages. They are a lot more interesting than the thatched huts in which everyone lives. Regardless of my theology, if I lived in one of those villages, my eyes would want to go to the temple everyday for some relief. The temple statues speak of epic possibility in a world where there’s no possibility at all. Their attraction at all levels must be immense.
Kanyakumari’s a happy, tacky, carnival place. Most people are on a holiday lightly disguised as a pilgrimage
‘I see you looking at my book. Perhaps you are searching?’
‘Aren’t we all?’
‘Very true. Very true. What do you look for? Perhaps I can take you there?’
I came to like this very much indeed about India – that you could go in a single sentence from asking a name to asking one’s life purpose. In London it would have taken years and a dozen drunken dinner parties.
………India’s a theatre of cruel slapstick. Wherever you look, emaciated men in loincloths are falling off bicycles, vanishing down holes in the road, being pulled screaming behind auto-rickshaws, absent-mindedly putting their hands into flailing machinery, being savaged by dogs or stepping barefoot in the piles of human dung that are everywhere.
On the bus going out of Kanyakumari there was a dazzlingly lovely girl with flowers in her hair, immaculately made up, earnestly highlighting a handwritten handout called ‘Human effluent: the basics’. Its impossible not to like this country very much indeed.
So why are all the long-term Western travelers here worn, harassed and running in a way that’s unusual amongst travelers in Asia? There’s more transcendental calm in Disneyland than in the backpackers’ doss-houses backing onto the big pilgrimage sites of India. Whatever they’re looking for, they haven’t found it, or if they have, its not doing them much good, and they’d be better off asking in a New Jersey mall.
I sat on the laughably named Super-Express Deluxe bus, watching fat men woo and win beautiful women on the subtitled video. ‘If she becomes an ice cream,’ counseled one singer, in quarter tones, ‘become a spoon.’ ‘A satellite knows about the earth’s fertility,’ a moustachioed Romeo assured his beloved, as he leapt unwisely between some Mogul battlements, ‘my palm knows your features.’ It seemed to work as a chat-up line, for she immediately urged him, ‘Come to dash your nose with mine.’
Randy…….clambered onto the bus and slung himself beside me. I pretended to be asleep, but the video was too fascinating, and he found me out. A few miles down the road he tried to rummage through my soul, and when I said no, took his out and started talking me through it.
He’d been in India a good deal. He knew a lot of the language of Hinduism, and sprayed it incontinently around.
………I looked longingly at the video, where a couple were skipping round a tree singing, ‘You are my first rain. You are the first tide in my heart, I was a dry leaf until you touched me. When you touched, I grew wings.’………. The video relationship had hit rocky times: ‘We asked for flowers,’ the weeping girl was moaning, ‘who threw these pebbles? I want to pull down the cloud, spread it in a basket, and sleep in the sky.’ I knew how she felt.
…The bus stopped at the Asia Big Chicken Centre, a roadside shack that sold tea and bananas, but not chicken.
……He swelled with the peculiar, and peculiarly emetic, pride that that comes when someone is about to be humble and self-deprecating.
……the video couple were united…..They had given way to a sterner, more philosophical pair, who were assuring one another……..that ‘our caste differences are because of our ancestors.’ Once they’d got that out of the way, they felt able to move on quite quickly to the magnificently mixed romantic metaphors of Tamil cinema: ‘A flower comes with swaying arms. Your eyes started to blaze. Why this heat in the vicinity of your eyes?’ And then to the very legalistic bottom line: ‘If you give consent we can exchange our bodies.’