Adventures in India

This is an open journal of some of the things I see and think about while trying to find a place to live in India. It may or may not be interesting. I make no promises.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Back in Korea

Here I am back in Korea.

I have been back for a couple of months. Took the first job I was offered while broke in India. They offered me a round trip ticket so I took it.

I need to work some karma out here, overcome my dislike of those baleful, pink neon crosses shining out above the heads of all the harried workers.

But I am learning.

Earning money to return to Mamallapuram, South India and build a guesthouse close to the ocean. It will also have a free school for the villagers and hopefully evolve to a little sanctuary for people to hang out in for a time in India. Those who want to help out others can teach in the free school for a discount on room and board

I envision a secular ashram with no leaders, just a group of folks who want to take a breather and do a little yoga up on the roof at dawn. It could turn out to Temporary Autonomous Zone, ala Hakim Bey.

We'll see.

I wrote up a long blog about the project last year, which I erased before going to India. I plan to write up another one, as well as post the new designs my artist friend Todd drew in Amsterdam. Brilliant.

But right now it all smacks of bother.

The directions on this blog are all in Korean, so I have started a new blog at myspace.com, http://www.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog

I am sure there is an easier address, but can't figure it out. I am an idiot.

It is a beautiful day today, in the wake of earthquake, hurricanes, and tsunami, and under the shadow of a possible pandemic mutated bird flu, and a giant asteroid due to collide with us in 2012(according to Nostradumus).

But then as Rumi wrote,

"Something opens our wings.
Something makes boredom
And hurt disappear.

Someone fills the cup before us.
We taste only sacredness."

It is an amazing thing, this ability folks have to just carry on.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Suicide

My dear friend John killed himself with a bullet to the head a couple of weeks ago.

He was my best friend, and I knew him for 26 years...I think.

It may have been 29 years....or 38. Maybe it was 72 years, with time off for good behavior. Now that I really think about it, I never knew him at all. He was a beautiful stranger standing beside my bed, urging me on to nobler dreams...he was a phantom guru who taught me what others refused to see.

I have often wondered what John might have been like, had he gone to Wendler Junior High and East Anchorage High, instead of Steller Alternative School...that infamous institution that prized free thinking and radical spiritual exploration.

Most people would assume that with his charm, good looks and athletic prowess, he would have been the captain of the football team, Homecoming King, or some other luminary in the high school hierarchy.

I am not so sure.

John had a natural empathy for the underdog, the outcast, the lost. He bristled at anything he considered unjust. Of course, I fell in love with him the moment I saw him. Later, when I got to know him, I told him it was because he had what the ancient Celts called the "Hero Light" flaming about his head. He had that spark...that rare "something".

Oh yeah, and he had a great body, as well.

I thought I was discreet in my unrequited longing for John.

But he knew...(as I am sure everyone else did). Most heterosexual high school males would have been disconcerted, to say the least. But not John. He befriended me completely, and helped me transform a confused and muddled scenerio into a rich, deep Platonic love...one that will outlast this flimsy cage of flesh.

I remember riding my bike up to his house on the slope of the mountain in the summer twilight. We would sit and eat cheese and crackers and pickles, looking out over Anchorage...and we would talk about the soul, and God, and Truth...and all those mysteries one can only really talk about when one is young and hopefull and foolish.

He was a safe haven, and he invited me to lay down my tired burden of longing and just be with him.

He was the most gracious of friends. He was...is...and always will be my hero.

We would sit on the couch and watch M.A.S.H., laughing at Frank Burns, because we both recognized something of our own petulant selves in his antics. Old Baron, the most noble of canines, lay close by. His big wiener body prone, begging for a belly scratching during the commercials...and he would always get it.

Sometimes, when John was angry with himself over something or another, he would bash his fist into the wall. Once he did this downstairs at his house. And I, moved by an unaccustomed macho bravado, told him if this was good enough for him, then it was good enough for me: I then smashed my fist into the same wall. I broke my hand above the right pinkie. The doctor said it was called a "boxer's break", and there was nothing he could do. John said I was nuts.

But he never did it again in front of me.

One night, I was outside in my large backyard...the mist was drifting in off the little lake. Something was stirring in the sky. I drove my '74 Pinto to his house...tapped on his window and enticed him out. I said it was to return his wallet, which I had for some reason. But John came down with me to the swamp behind my house. And there we watched the northern lights undulate like drunken blue and red and green snakes...all across the sky. Then the shooting stars came, and then the military began shooting red and green flares across the Chugach Mountains.

I remember him standing beside me in the dark, saying, "Wow! Its like a dream." And I said, "That is exactly what it is like.".

John loved lions.

He had a large painting of one in his room in high school. My good friend, Steve Pearson, told me about a lion kept in a cage in Mountain View, as part of an attraction the owner of a hamburger-stand had set up.

I took John to see it, against Steve's advice. I drove him to see this sad, bedraggled creature, lying listlessly in a tiny cage, and it pierced John to the heart. I can't put into words the anguish on his face.

I felt ashamed of the whole scene...as if I had caged the lion.

John was an expression of what was best in the world, and what is better than the world. Much later, after my self-induced fall from grace, John was there for me.

As always.

Defending, protecting, fighting for me.

He didn't approve of my self-imposed exile, but he inundated me with e-mails, letters, books, articles...encouraging, laughing, cajoling, prodding, stimulating me always to question. We talked often on the phone. The last time was when I called him from India in April.

And already the darkness was gathering.

The last e-mails he sent me were desperate and dire. And yet I didn't do anything.

I didn't see what was in front of me.

When I was desperately sick in Korea...coughing up blood in the hospital and looking at heart surgery...he Riley Lynch and Charles Wohlforth arranged to bring me back to Alaska to be healed.

When I was getting on the plane in Seattle to fly to Anchorage, I heard his voice.. He had come down from Bellingham to see me. He had lept past all the security hurdles and made it to my gate. We sat down together and spoke for ten minutes. He pressed a 100 dollars into my hand, just because he knew I had nothing. We hugged. He left.

And that was that.

I really can't write anything more.

I loved him and always will. Whatever pain he was in i pray he has found peace. I will pray for him every day of my life.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

3 India Poems

The call to prayer
fills the air
at dusk.
The hawk ignores it,
already busy
filling the sky
with slow circles
of praise.

__________________________


The old brick layer
squats and lays
each brick where
it must go.

The World can sleep
safe tonight.

____________________________


The dhobi beats
my pants on a
large grey stone,
punishing neither
cloth nor rock.

Sometimes she
breaks a button,
then I am caught
in between
revelations.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

At the Cremation Grounds

The cremation grounds are always on the outskirts of the village, and so was this one. It was night and there were no street lights around. Monsoon clouds blocked out the stars. There were no cremations tonight so the place was deserted. I sat down on a patch of ground where a cremation had recently occurred. I wore a wrap around dhoti cloth and no shirt, the closest I could manage to the nudity I was asked to practice. I smeared the ashes over my arms and chest, across my brow and in my hair. Chanting a mantra to Kali Ma, All Devouring Time..I fired up the chillum and took in a huge lung full of acrid smoke. Kali dances in the cremation grounds at night. She is the Mother of ghouls and twisted freaks, and delights in the infinite nightmare play of flesh. She haunts the cremation grounds because this is the place where it is easiest for Her to help people wake up. Her devotees sit here to contemplate the truth of their own dissolution. Making a cremation ground of the heart, the devotee traps Kali inside by the intensity of his love. God is enslaved by devotion and destroys the "inside/outside"..."me"/"you" illusion of upon which the whole ego illusion is based. This is the death that leads to eternal life. When the little ego self-destructs in a paroxysm of pure love...then things are seen as they have always been and must always be. When Kali Ma slices of our arms She is freeing us from attachments; when She slices of our heads, She is liberating us from the burdensome illusion of a separate and distinct ego. The atheists only got it half right, if only they took one small step into foolishness, they would wake up.

The ganja explodes at the base of my spine and gently uncoils the white serpent, which starts to rise up my spinal cord, tonguing my chakra buds as it goes. Something is coming towards me in the dark. It is some kind of dog or jackal. It sits down at a distance and we look at each other. We regard one another. We recognize one another. No words pass between us, because there is just an empty cremation ground. Darkness. The darkness or the dog says silently: She only destroys that which is capable of being destroyed. It is a tremendous grace. But it looks terrible. We fear death because we believe this ego identity has some independent reality, and that it should endure forever. But Kali Ma cuts through the illusion with love. She is the innermost prompting of the soul that is always asking, "Who am I?" . She is also the wordless answer, the truth of its being shining everywhere. The jackal starts howling at this point and my back is rigid as a pole and my astral asshole is getting a very high colonic indeed. Out comes pouring accumulated karmic junk and wads of mental nonsense, half chewed desires and vomited regrets, faded self images, stunted ambitions and pipe dreams and Kali Ma just gobbles them up, just pops them into Her mouth like bon bons because all of it is based on the notion of a self that is only conditionally true. I scoop up another handful of ashes and smear it across my forehead. The dog has now stopped howling and is chewing something in the dark and I am not sure I want to know what it is.

So I sit in the dark, smoking my chillum, and hang out with the dog/jackal who is actually Kali but then so is everything including you. After a while I go and wash up at a pump and go back to my room.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Sati

Another case of sati occured a few days ago in a small village up in Uttar Pradesh. This is when a widow lays herself on her husband's funeral pyre. The British outlawed the practice when they were in charge, because they noticed many of the widows had to be encouraged into the act by lots of relatives wielding long sticks.

It rarely occurs these days, or at least is not often reported. A few years ago I read about a widower who climbed on his wife's pyre, but that is a rare case. The police have set up guards to make sure people don't erect a shrine over the sight. Worshippers from the surrounding villages were turned away, but local brahmins have said they will build a shrine to her anyway. This may seem strange to Westerners, but what is being venerated is the devotion that transcends the self.

Years ago in college I was the only man in a class studying the Feminine in India. When this topic came up I found myself in the strange position of being the only voice condemning it. The women pointed out the fate that awaited most widows in India at the time: begging or prostitution. I was castigated for blindly applying my Western humanist values to another culture without thinking about all the implications. I just thought how sad it was for a woman to burn herself to death, and how much it must hurt.

The newspapers were filled with editorials the day after the Sati, about India still struggling in darkness after all these years, and how people must be shown the error of their ways through education. But then maybe it is possible to feel a love so overwhelming that a fiery death seems the only possible conclusion.

I have no idea.

I just wonder what that woman was thinking as she crawled into the flames, and whether she had any regrets when her sari caught fire.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Misc.

For the past month or so I have been in a bit of a stupor. A lethargy has slowly crept into my bones and caused them to melt inside my flesh.

Its the heat.

I have been trying to find a job here in India, or at least this has been the cover story. I think the truth is I have been inducted into a cosmic re-education camp. I am getting new wiring. I have been traveling with a young friend from Mamallapuram, Kannan, who seems to be in charge of erasing the old programming. He is from Madurai originally, where he grew up on the streets, and became a bicycle rickshaw wallah. Now he tends a shop near the beach, smokes grass, and initiates eager tourist girls into the Kama Sutra. He enjoys beating me bloody at chess, and regaling me with fantastic tales of adventures in the flesh. And yes, he has an enormous lingam.

I have made few entries here during this month. Here are a few thought fragments.

* There was a full moon here on the 23rd. They shut down the 12 kilometer road that goes around the sacred mountain of Arunachala Shiva, and thousands of folks from the villages came to make the circuit around the mountain. The two lanes were packed with thousands of people all night, special buses ferries people to and from the surrounding villages. Kannan asked me to come along, and I made it a few kilometers before the heat drenched me with sweat. He finally suggested I return and I dragged myself back against the current of pilgrims. Hundreds of beggars and holy men lined the road, too many to take in. And old leper woman clutched my foot and called me "baba".

* There is a perpetual war going on at the ashram where I am staying. The monkeys invade the balconies late in the afternoon, and the young girls on the staff go after them half-heartedly with bamboo sticks and pails of water. A few days ago, I set out my trash can with food in it and they spread it everywhere, creating a smelly mess. Now the cleaning women refuse to give me another trash can.

* Why are young Indian men so beautiful? Long eyelashes, strong features, slender bodies, but strong and flexible. There is a gentleness about them that is so comforting. Of course, I also sat on a bus and watched a gang of beautiful youths mercilessly kick the shit out of a fellow in a village once. The bus pulled away before I could do anything. I probably wouldn't have anyway.

* I saw a Tamil movie with an American actor in it. He was the same guy who played the young kid-turned-vampire in Fright Night. In this film he spoke and sang in very good Tamil, according to Kannan. At one point in the film, he is hunted down by a bunch of local cops for a crime he did not commit. As they close in on him he stands up and shouts out in English, "I am a citizen of the United states of America!". They laugh at him, and take him in. We Americans do put a lot of faith in that mantra when we travel. Every one of us carries, consciously or unconsciously, the assumption that the mojo of empire has rubbed off on us. We are entitled to special treatment; we are deserving of more solicitude and respect than others because we come from the most powerful country on earth. I think I am going to start using it. Any time I am in trouble with the law, or someone cheats me, or I am stuck in traffic in a rickshaw, I'll stand up and shout, "I am a citizen of the United States of America!" Maybe I should make a little gold crown to wear around all day.

* Had a conversation with a young Muslim college student in Chennai. We talked about George W. Bush and US policy towards Muslim nations. He was strong in his conviction that Islam did not sanction any terrorist acts, but also said that Muslim people were hungry for justice. For too long, he said, they had been ill-treated by the West. I asked him if it was possible to create a politics based on love. He didn't think so, even though he also conceded that there was no higher truth. When asked why it was so difficult to bring love into politics, he said, "People are stupid."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

gurus, babas and sadhus (with photos)

When My friend Steve and I went on our first trip to India back in '82, I was looking for a guru. I was nineteen, and had read a few books on the mysterious spiritual teachers to be found in India, and I fantasized that I would find a wise, powerful teacher just for me. He would answer all my questions and lead me on a magical mystery tour through the chakras and across the astral planes. Of course, he would also perform all sorts of cool miracles to put to rest any lingering doubts I had. Then I would become enlightened.

I remember sitting in a hotel room with Steve in the early evening. "So Tim," Steve said to me, "When you meet your guru, what are you going to say to him?"

I didn't have a clue.

I can't say I never met my guru, because according to Indian tradition everything can be considered a guru. In that hotel room in India, my friend Steve became my guru. And I still refer to my friend Sheldon as my "guru", because he asked me a question the first time we met that opened my soul, "Tim, what do you think love is?"

The guru is said to dwell in the heart, and sometimes...due to a confluence of karmic and celestial factors, takes on a self-aware, human guru form. This is a great thing when it happens. But in India it is said that it is the student's loving heart that allows the guru to work. Even if the guru is a "false" guru, the love of the student can cause a spiritual awakening.

Anyway, not all holy men in India are considered to be gurus. The following three babas are ones I met in Varanasi and felt a strong connection with. All three of them gave me their blessing and a small gift.



This fellow is a priest at a small Kali shrine near the Ganges river. Usually the priests are fat brahmins with shaved heads, who seem more interested in monetary offerings than prayers. But this fellow moved me very much. On the morning this photo was taken I had brought a garland of one hundred and eight red hibiscis flowers to offer to Kali. After he drapped the garland around Mother's neck, I dropped a small offering onto the puja plate. "Is that enough?" I asked. He smiled and said in perfect English, "I am just happy when someone brings my Mother a gift." We spoke for a bit and he invited me to a puja he was performiong that night at 8:30.

I got there a little late and things were already swinging. Drums howling, the priest clanging a huge bell and waving a flaming camphor stand. A small crowd stood on the steps as folks drifted past us, and the priest clanged his bell and chanted his chants and waved his flame and the drums beat louder and louder. Then I saw that the priest was quietly weeping, his face wet with tears, shoulders shaking helplessly, his eyes closed in the ecstasy of love. Everyone standing before the shrine felt his pure devotion and pressed forward eagerly.

The puja lasted about forty-five minutes, and then exhausted, the priest began to give out puffed rice as blessed prasadam from Kali Ma. I was dithering with my money trying to find a small enough offering not to embarass myself with a huge note. People were dropping coins onto the tray and scarfing down the blessed rice. By the time I got up to make my offering the rice was gone and I was bummed. Then the priest reached over to Kali's feet and picked up a large sweet and offered it to me. I took it very gratefully and bowed down low. He smiled and held out his hand in a blessing.

Next day I brought another garland to the shrine for Kali. He told me that every day the temple made food to feed the fifty beggars lining the walk. I told him I was trying to get a teaching job in India. He said, "I will pray to Mother for you; you will surely get it." "Oh no!" I said, "I don't want that, I want the pure devotion to God I saw on your face last night."

He just smiled at me, and chuckled gently.



I was struck by this fellow the moment I saw him. He was always smiling and often I would see him sitting and chatting and laughing with friends. Once in the evening I saw him striding along the ghats and a huge crowd of children were up above him on one of the balconies, cheering him as if he was a pop star. He laughed and waved at them happily. I learned that he is an "aghori". These folks are very powerful, and conduct secret rites in the cremation grounds in order to pierce the veil of ego-illusion and realize reality. They are said to possess great psychic powers. But this guy seemed pretty easy-going.

I saw him sitting by the river once talking quietly to a small group. I sat down and listened to him, not understanding a word, but enjoying what he was saying. Later on I got up during a pause in his discourse and gave him some money. (Babas need to buy things too.) He touched my head and gave me the longest, sweetest blessing. The next day, he saw me walking in the crowd and called me over to sit by him. He gave me a banana (blessed, of course) and told his friends something about me. One woman looked at me and smiled, "Very good," she laughed, "very good.".



This is the famous "Standing Baba". One of his students called me over to the little temple where he hangs out. Literally. He hasn't sat or laid down in tweleve years. He has a chest high swing he draps his body over when he sleeps. At other times he leans on his staff. The first time I saw him I said, "I love you; I want to be your wife." He smiled (understanding me/not understanding me?)and gave me his blessing. I spent a lot of time with him,and he taught me how to invoke Shiva before smoking ganja in a sacred chillum. He would never let me rub his legs, since his special attendant had that privilage. But one night during a blackout, as we smoked and chanted, he relented. Before I left, he blessed a handful of ganja and gave it to me as prasadam.

I took this photo in the dark, and yes...that is my finger in the upper left corner.



Some say that the great majority of holy men in India are charlatans and fakes. I don't care; so am I. Who is not a fake, in the image they present to the world and to themselves? There is only one thing to be done, and we are all doing it (no matter how circuitous the route): discover who we are. This has been the inner driving force of Indian culture for more than 8,000 years. This is why the aghori baba wears flowers in his hair.