Does God hear our prayers?
The crumpled bone bag of a man holds out a tin cup for change, his knees jutting out at sharp angles as he sits cross legged on the filthy asphalt street. I walk past him. Suhkasana we call that pose in yoga class; easy seated posture. I heard his voice crying for money, but I looked straight ahead. The hunger is too great to be fed and giving money to street beggars is like feeding oil to a fire, it flares up and spreads dangerously, unexpectedly. I cringe at the thought of all the beggars rushing at me, pulling my clothes and hair. I cringe too, as I walk away, nothing today brother, I say to myself as I look blindly ahead.
We have gone to Puducherry to get books and incense and see the Sri Aurobindu and Mothers ashram.
Earlier this morning I took a kalari class with Lakshman and Vinod and after fell asleep for a long nap with the sounds of the wet jungle and the cries of gecko lizards calling to each other that sound as loud as birds. We are staying in a beautiful European style house owned by a german man named Igor. There are brown tile floors, refreshingly white washed ceilings and light lemon yellow walls in the living room with a small colonial fireplace. Dark wood doors with mosquito netting and window panes covered with lacy black-iron designs. There is something elegant and delightful about a house like this being dropped in the middle of the jungle. The smell of honey-musk from the jasmine trees lays like a heavy carpet and makes the air thick and sensuous to breath. A lot of the trees here are broken in half, the thick trunks snapped like toothpicks from the cyclone that hit this area a month ago. An Indian friend told us, “Now there will be a lot of suicides from the farmers. The cashew tree takes thirty years to make fruit”. A blight on this otherwise beautiful paradise. The dogs howled in the dark jungle last night, a mourning or a warning.
I can’t tell whether I am dreaming or awake in India a lot of the time, this state of confusion is one of the things I come for.
Am I awake or dreaming? Who is awake and who is dreaming? Is this all a dream? Who am I?
They had a puja last night after dinner. We went up to the top room in the house where they had laid out all the objects for worship. I was so sleepy, I didn’t know if I could stay awake for hours, but they said, “It is a tantra puja, you lay down if you like”. Meaning that tantriks aren’t big on formality and rules, thank God for that.
I sit up for the first part of the ritual. The rain has made the electricity go out and candles light the room as the pujari recites mantras and offers flowers to the sri chakra statue. He passes us small cups filled with amrit, one of the five forbidden things that tantriks use in worship. The pujari says we should have real skull cups, like the Buddhist paintings where the dakini holds the cap of a human skull to drink the ambrosia from. I feel sleepy so I lay down, I feel as if my whole body is being stung by mosquitos. I have felt this way before, I think it is surges of electricity in my body when kundalini is being activated, it puts me in an agitated trance. I fall asleep, or an almost sleeping state, Gabe lays down too and I hear the steady rhythms of his breath so I know he has fallen asleep. We are both curled up like zygotes in Mothers womb on the straw floor mats. I feel the energy move between us, mother and son as we dream a new dream for our lives, undoing the karmas of our ancestors in this altered state of consciousness.
At the end of the ritual I sit up, they give us plates of food to eat with fried fish, bits of chicken, breads and a boiled egg. I eat as much as I can so late at night and wash it down with one more cupful of liquor. I wake up gabe and we walk through the dense jungle to the house we are sleeping in. lakshman goes with us because he says there are a lot of snakes. “Snakes, peacocks and monkeys”. The peacocks can eat the snakes, can eat the poisonous cobra. Before the puja Laksman said, “the amrit (nectar of immortality) is inside the poison. The snake has poison, but the poison is also one of the best medicines in ayurveda”. To separate the nectar from the poison is the alchemy of tantra.
“I’ll fucking kill you!”
Gabe wakes me up by accidentally hitting me with a flailing arm in his sleep.
“Sorry, I was having a bad dream”.
In the morning he says the puja gave him the bad dream by bringing his fears to him. “I think you have to confront your worst fears to conquor them” he says. He is starting to understand tantra. His hands are still scarred from where the doctor in Chennai did surgery on them and I take them to inspect, the brown and dark dried blood red scabs are still deep pockmarks in his skin. But I can see they are healing and in a few weeks all the scabs will be gone. In a few months the scars left from the scabs will be gone too.
In Puducherry, I stop at an ATM on a crowded street, the sky keeps opening grey clouds in sputtering afternoon rain that leaves my skin moist and the exaughst fumes of the auto rickshaws, motorcycles and rare luxery german cars cling to my skin in the humidity. We turn a corner onto a wide, clean street with green trees lining the sidewalks and hardly any traffic. We are off the main Indian thoroughfare and near the French quarter of old Pondicherry where all the European tourists are.
This is the area surrounding Sri Aurobindu and the Mother’s ashram. The Mother herself was French. Sri Aurobindu was an Indian freedom fighter who resisted the British and was imprisoned for a year. He came out of his imprisonment a changed man, a new soul. He refused to rejoin the freedom fighting movement when his friends urged him back. He said it was not the way for him anymore, he had seen the Absolute Truth and had to live for that. The ashram was built around his awakening. The Mother was a French woman who came to visit Pondicherry with her husband, she had been a mystic since a child, and she left her husband to stay with Aurobindu as his spiritual partner. Their relationship is still shrouded in mystery, but it is clear that she represented for him the sacred feminine principal that manifests grace.
We go in the ashram, there is a deep peace and silence in the atmosphere there. We follow lakshman to the Samadhi, the grave where the saints body rests. It is a long rectangle of marble with colorful fresh flowers floating on the top, arranged like beautiful tile designs. I kneel down and put my forehead on the cool white and grey marble edge. I feel silence and prayer rise up inside me. Gabe kneels and places his forehead next to mine. I pray without words to the God I have always known, to the God I knew when I was a little girl before I stopped believing. It does not matter what I prayed, it only matters that I prayed, that I felt something unsayable.
My child, here beside me, God this is my child. A few months ago I was so afraid for him. Afraid he would do heroin with his friends. An old prayer echoes inside me, I remember kneeling in church and repeating after the priest, Lord hear my prayer. Yes Lord. Lord hear my prayer. I look at my child and he is the most fragile thing, whose flame could be damaged or extinguished by chance, by choice, by fate. I look at my child and he is the most enduring thing, who will live like a ribbon of legacy long beyond me. I pray to the Gods of every nation and name, “Hear my prayer, feel my love and protection for my son”.
“Prayer is the smaller Mother praying the the bigger Mother, it is one Mother talking to herself”. One of the books inside the ashram shop explains that prayer is just the One who has broken itself to become many praying back to Itself. Relating the this One as the Mother is a way to personalize and feel close. Does God hear my prayers? Do I hear the deepest desires of my own heart?
The night spreads her dark wings over the humid twilight as the three of us walk along the beach. There is a giant statue of Mahatma Gandhi with an orange marigold mala around his black polished stone neck. We stop for pizza and ice cream. Gabe goes up to a little stand with sodas, toilet paper, tooth brushes and biscuits. He asks the older Indian man with a tilak on his forehead to buy a loose cigarette. The old man says, “Six rupees”. I step up to the counter to pay in silver coins I dig out of the bottom of my purse. Gabe asks for matches and lights up. The old man makes a funny face and Lakshman laughs. He says, “Never in India will you see a mother buying her son a cigarette”.
“That’s because in Indian cuture the children behave one way around their families and another way in society. I prefer freedom and honesty”.
I point to the moon, “Ardha Chanra, half moon” I say to Lakshman.
“No, it is five-sixths moon I think”.
He would know, he counts the days by the phases of the moon.
On the rickshaw ride home in the inky night as thick as water our little tuk tuk passes through the las vegas lights of the city to bravely bumpety-bumps on the unpaved dirt road home.
Gabe says, “I’m lucky, I can get you to teach me meditation. You’re a great teacher”.
“You know it’s funny, ten years ago I wouldn’t have been able to say you were a great teacher, or even a good mother, sorry”.
“That’s okay, it’s true”
“but now you are a great teacher and ones of the best mothers in the world”
“I’ve worked hard on myself in ten years”
“what made you work so hard, you said before it was because you got suicidal?”
“yes. I had a lot of suffering. I couldn’t just fit in the world. I worked hard to find something that I wanted to live for besides being a mother. I knew your dad would come back when you were a teenager and I wanted to be able to let you go, to have your own life without clinging and making you feel guilty for me. You know, a lot of moms tell their kids they love them and they live for them and it should nice, but it also makes a cage out of the love. Makes the child feel guilty if they want to separate from their mother. I wanted to have something I loved so I wasn’t so desperate”.
Maybe I was selfish too.
“but you did make me feel bad at first when I went to live with my dad”
“yea, well, it was a hard time. A lot of hard karmas to live out. You were the child of two teenage runaway high school dropouts, a child of rebellion, revolution, suffering and hope. That’s what I would remind myself when you were in trouble. What else did I expect from the way we were living when you were conceived? It’s like watching history play out through your kid, but maybe things can get better”
“like you made your bed, so lay in it?”
“kinda. Or more like you made your bed so don’t be surprised who is sleeping next to you”