Sunday, August 29, 2010
I don’t profess any one spiritual path superior to another. I’ve always had a soft spot for Jesus, and my schools were denomination based in a saccharin-vanilla Christian sense. Regardless of cultural origins we remain unique. The innumerable available spiritual paths exist to accommodate our many flavored needs. Though raised on a blond, blue-eyed Savior, I’m finding my flavor, my reason, and my answer to life’s question in a saffron-soaked India. I don’t want to be a monk for the rest of my life. I do want to learn about the one thing I consider important, the one thing my religious school never taught. I want to learn about the elephant in the room. I want to learn the meaning of life.
I spend months traveling around the subcontinent. I hear of one Saint in the north, stay at that Ashram for a period where I hear of another, and travel thousands of miles south to stay with and learn from a new Guru. They are all great personalities and meaningful personal experiences, but it’s only the philosophy and tradition of Vaishnavism* that’s capturing my heart.
Each tradition is essentially a branch of Hinduism†, and as a whole they enjoy many similarities. The defining difference for me is that while the tradition of Guru exists in Vaishnavism, there is equal if not more importance given to God and philosophy. I’m not OK with a room full of people worshiping in a personality cult. I’m not saying that’s exactly and always what I experience at other ashrams. Though at times enough elements combine to send my spidey-sense off the Richter scale. What attracts me to Vaishnavism is the emphasis on studying ancient Vedic scripture, beyond simply listening to a mortal seated on high. God or self-realization is placed as most important, while the worship of Guru is in relational reverence and gratitude for a teacher revealing esoteric knowledge, and facilitating connection with the Divine.
Worship of the Guru personality alone is a dangerous cocktail. And I’m a cheap drunk. I want to be careful. I’ve come to India to learn the meaning of life, not find a new celebrity before which to fall prostrate. I see many Westerners fall into the Guru-worship trap. While the presence of Guru in Vaishnavism will inevitably produce fanatics, the scriptures offer a constant reminder this is an aberration.
The Sanskrit word ‘yoga,’ means to yoke or reconnect. Vaishnavism is the practice of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. In bhakti yoga one can incorporate the other yogic disciplines such as hatha,* but these are not offered as the goal of spiritual practice. They are seen as favorable breezes on the path, designed to quiet the twitching mind and body, so one can practice spirituality peacefully.
The goal of bhakti yoga is to awaken perpetual love of God. It is the yoga of love, the simplest and yet most difficult form of yoga, because it requires saranagati: complete surrender of the heart. We are blessed in Western culture to have the life of Jesus as a wonderful example of saranagati. Rightwing Christians would nail me to the cross for that statement.
In fifteenth century India, a famous Saint ignited a mass movement of the bhakti faith across the continent. While the West was going through its Renaissance, rejecting the shackles of the Church in order to embrace art and science, India as usual, was doing the complete opposite. India was experiencing a spiritual reawakening. This Saint, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, reintroduced the ancient art of kirtan, otherwise known as congregational chanting. The first obvious glimpse in the West was in the 1960s with the Beatles and the Hare Krishnas. So if you’d like to sue someone for the clanging symbols and exuberant dancing mob, that would be him. The inability of the Krishnas to gently proselytize or keep over enthusiastic devotees in line has at times overshadowed an otherwise beautiful, surprisingly widespread and conventional spiritual path.
Decades later, in cities all around the world, kirtan can be heard from yoga studios loud and unapologetically. Considered the chic of the über chic, it’s not uncommon to spot celebrities and professional juggernauts sitting crossed legged, eyes closed, thumb and pointer-finger joined, swaying in ecstatic throws of chanting. Hare Rama!
* A monotheistic, devotional faith
† A misnomer and legacy of colonialism. The real term is Sanatana Dharma.
* A prescribed set of physical exercises often simply referred to as ‘yoga’ in the West.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
It's a crack. I'm back. Yeah I’m standing on the rooftops shouting out.
Baby I'm ready to go. I'm back and ready to go. From the rooftops shout it out.
Ready to Go - Republica 1996
Not the most brilliant lyrics. They don’t have to be brilliant to make you feel brilliant. Though less accommodating with my own lyrics, when listening to other's music I’ll take simplicity over genius any day if the result is bliss. And right now, I’m in bliss.
I came over as soon as she called cause she’s a living doll. And she’s famous for nothing at all. She’s living life like a dream with a false sense of self-esteem.
I wish she’d trade places with me.
Five thousand dollars a day is what they pay my baby for her pretty face.
Supermodel - Juliana Hatfield 1993
I am officially having the best day of my life. Don’t ask me for a loan. I haven’t won Lotto. Haven’t even bought a ticket. Money can’t buy my bliss. Well that’s not true because it did. On Itunes. I finally got around to downloading a bunch of my favorite songs from the 90s. I already had some but was missing a key player – the goddess Juliana Hatfield.
Cut to today. I’m on Park Ave in New York City. Bloomberg has closed the road to traffic from the BK-side of the Brooklyn bridge up to Central Park South. Pedestrians, joggers, skaters and cyclists own the asphalt – as it should be. It’s one of those days that can only be described as perfect. The sun is warm but the air has a slight crispness, urging the sentient to hurry up and take that beach vacation because fall is only weeks away.
I am, well there’s not other way to describe it… strutting down Park Ave. Tall buildings either side give me a choice. Take the shade, or walk on the sunny side of the street? Lyrics to an old Broadway number whose purport I truly never grasped until I lived in NYC back in the 90s. It's a no brainer. Sunny side.
That I used to live in New York in the 90s is part of the reason why I am having the best damn day of my life. These were the days of Baby Gopal. We had a particular sound. The 90s had a particular sound. This particular sound was inherent in the bands of the day and right now I’m listening to some of the best female-fronted, what used to be called ‘college/alternative’ back in the day. Hatfield. Republica. Letters to Cleo. I apologize to no one. I’m singing out loud. These girls rocked my world then and they’re rocking it right this second.
The best days of my life (and yes I have many) are usually the result of a magic but simple cocktail of circumstances. August Bliss Martini: Gorgeous day. Strutting. Asphalt. Park Ave. College chick-alterna-rock. Singing out loud. Me. Alone. With. The. Universe. I like God again. I was pissed of at Him for a while.
I’m reliving the 90s. I’m blissfully happy. I am so happy that for some reason I want to call my ex. What the hell am I thinking? I can’t help it. He was part of it… until he wasn’t.
Wait it out. Don’t “drink and dial.” Don’t mistake a few sonically-induced errant endorphins for an intelligent idea. And stop being so damn sentimental.
Just living on a Sunday morning, got my toast and tea and I'm warm and I just thought I'd think about… all the things to get and keep getting, never enough, not enough and never ending. I just thought I'd think about....
And it might be...
The comfort of a knowledge of a rise above the sky, but could never parallel the challenge of an acquisition in the here and now, here and now.
Here and Now – Letters to Cleo 1994