Kashi, India Nov 2011
how do we find the strength to wake up everyday and face adversity, to face the suffering in the world and in ourselves? i will go ask the crippled woman begging on the corner, ma, how do you find the courage and hope everyday? is the blind human will to survive so strong? who is looking through these eyes? the one who came to taste this life.
i wake up everyday weeping, this morning is no different. what is left of me after all these tears i dont know, i feel like i am melting. my bones are turned to dust. i am less ashamed to cry. the mothers love is demanding, but it is also unconditional. a monkey sticks his dark, nimble hand through the window grates and steals rohan's matches.
i lounge on the crumbling sofa in the lobby checking my emails in the lazy afternoon. i order another pot of hot honey-ginger-lemon tea to soothe my cold. the sharp, acidic smell of cow shit and urine wafts into the hotel lobby and cuts my nostrils. why not, it's 3:15pm, right on time. it's always the right time for cow shit in varanasi. the past and the present collide in the alleys of bovine and human commerce. so ridiculous as to be farcical. i play a tinny version of the o'jays, "people all over the world, join hands, start a love train". and i dance madly, goofily in the lobby of the ganga fuji home and make all the indian boys working there laugh. they are shy. i try to grab their hands and make them dance too. for what is there to do but laugh as it all burns down? in my drunken master, rose colored, heart-shaped sunglasses. isn't it all ridiculous? isn't it all sublime? isn't it all gorgeous in it's brokedown glory? i say yes. tomorrow i fly to goa, and the wheel turns again. the road, the road, the path is momentum, finding stillness in movement. the more the joy, the more the suffering. what is in the center of the tandava, the wild dance of shiva's destruction where he waves his thousands of arms and legs? nothing. nothing is there, only space, and even less than that.
who sees through my eyes? my soul has come to see through my eyes. the dervishes were the mad ones. mad for experience, for all experience is creation. we are the ones who have come to taste this life.
are there people some where who don't burn like this? after dinner, we went for a walk along the burning ghat, where they bring the corpses to be baptised in the holy ganges so they can be freed from karmas both known and unknown. then the bodies are placed on the pyre, the holy fire that has not been extinguished for five thousand years. the souless body burns like one more piece of kindling. "ram nam satya hai". only one thing we know is true, people die. the hazy smoke from the fire rises and shimmies, blurring the landscape into a dream. gray, frothy ashes are picked up and blown in the wind, ashes of another body touching lightly on my skin. where do i begin and where does the other end?
a woman was weeping inconsolably on the steps by the burning ghat. i never see anyone weeping here. i never see women here, just clumps of solemn men like crows. a ragged man sidles up to me and rohan, "want hash?". no thanks. "good hash" he tries again before slinking off. cows brush past me on the steps. lots of indians point to my golden face jewelry, my big nose hoop. they smile, "you married?" they ask. no, i say. "nice indian culture, you looking very pretty" they say. i tell rohan i want to go find my favorite chai wallah from the last trip. we wander down the crooked lanes until we find the vegetable market. our chai wallah has his ancient shop across from the open market where the sad looking vegetables are laying at the end of the day. the chai wallah remembers us. he makes the chai like it is his religion. each god is worshipped in his cups. the milk is boiled on hot coals and he squats before the fire and metal pot all day, crushing the man shaped ginger roots to a fibrous pulp. he measures the green cardamom pods, he looks reflectively as he adds each spice to flavor the tea. there is a picture of his father hanging from the wall across from where he labours in his little pit. we wait patiently for the best chai in varanasi on a hard wood bench under his father's portrait. he said this was his fathers shop before it was his. he was going away to school when his father got sick and he gave up everything to come back and carry on the family tradition. "three generations" he says holding up knobby, long fingers to us. his back is to the street, the wall is cut open with a square there, like a window without a pane, he sits in the ledge. there is a tall skinny doorway where we walk in. through these two rectangles, we can watch the parade of the street outside. six corpses are carried past in the half hour we sit there refilling our clay cups. his shop is on the lane that leads to the burning ghats. "ram nam satya hai" the men carrying the bodies and the men running behind in the procession yell. it is a great disgrace if no one pays for your body to burn. some bodies are just dropped in the river, the unknown, the disgraced. there are men who practice strange tantra who wait for those bodies to float down the river. they take them and use them in a ritual where they chant over the dead corpse and sit to meditate on it. the god shiva is a corpse and so this is a form of worshipping that god, of taking his energy. they say it gives a lot of power. rohan says that shiva is the only god who started as a man. he travelled from the south of india until he reached the icy himalyas, and practiced such severe austerities and deep meditations that he became a god. his naked body is covered in the ashes of the burned bodies, his hair is in dread locks wrapped high on his head, this is where he has put the river ganges to control it's wild flow. he smokes hash and eats medicine plants and meditates in austerity. he is a corpse himself, and represents the passionless observer. he is brought to life by his lover, shakti, who has incarnated in many forms of the goddess. through their lovemaking, the universe is created. shakti dances for the delight of the choiceless witness and he observes her dance of creating the world with love.
after chai, we walk back to the river, the ghats are empty now. the ancient crumbling buildings lit in the fog remind me somehow of paris. of a city risen from the deep waters of the subconscious mind. the impossible architecture floating on nothing more than mere mortals dreams of heaven and a bridge to the after life. the water is dark now, just a black mirror to reflect the half eaten face of the moon. the boats are docked and somehow so charming with all the bright colored paints fading and splintering. everything is crumbing and decaying most beautifully, with no signs of stopping anytime soon. somehow the hungry mouth of time passes it's tongue over varanasi and lets decay be something that lasts forever rather than that is the beginning of the end. the end has begun. the beginning has ended. there is one boat still in the water this late. dark figures move inside. they begin releasing the little bowls made of leaves with flowers and candles inside. they must have released over one hundred lights as we sat silently watching, each brave lamp bobbling in the water. the reflection on the inky water was quite beautiful and stirred something childlike in my heart. how fragile is each individual flame? how enduring is all this glory?
i straddle the razor's edge between the sacred and the profane. my guru says adharma is dharma for me. no law is the law. this is the path of the left hand, the feminine tabboo. breaking taboo to find personal truth and freedom from the conditioning of society. friend, what law is written in tongues of fire on the bridal chamber of your heart? if you dare to look the truth will make you blind, then it will make you see, then it will set you free. in the end as in the beginning, the prophet bowed before the burning bush saying, all is god, all is god. all god is one. i am not promising my students enlightenment or anything else. who can say how the buddha became enlightened? only the buddha knows. the great ones have come and transcended to mystical understandings that were always fresh from their conditioning. they were the rebels. christ turned over the merchants tables in the temple. everyone is buying and selling salvation because it's just so damn hard to be a human and feel your heart in the great, crushing beauty of love and loss. the agreement with birth is death. the great ones have come and wandered in the wilderness, they have wandered away from the religions. and we all blindly go to the temples and buildings to be told what the great ones said. the great ones taught freedom and seeking truth through personal, mystical experience. i hand my student a bottle of whiskey as we sweat dancing on the rooftop under the dark sky of a new moon. i say, "vipassana this!" as he takes a swig. life is the meditation, stay awake soul, stay awake. all is god, or none. the only corruption is the belief in corruption, the soul is the passenger, the soul is eternally pure.
the more the pleasure, the more the pain, the more this life as the river of experience flows through the woman's body from the womb of beginingless time emptying back into the ocean of forever. we are the well that is thirsty for its own water, we are the taste that is hungry for its own taste. our tears too must flow back to the ocean of forever. our tears too are thirsty for themselves.