Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Rain Gods

Unbearably loud --- not a single leaf stands still,
each one joins the chorus
as the wind hurriedly rushes through.

The dark clouds hover over
as the drumming starts in a distance.
People gather together,
to welcome the first rain.
The lightning strikes
as if all the cosmos are assembling for a grand finale.

I look up at the clouds with folded hands
as the zealous wind envelopes my whole body.
And offer a silent prayer to the Rain Gods.

Thinking of the farmers in faraway hilly lands,
who only have work when it rains,
thinking of their little children with empty stomachs,
thinking of the sad grandfather whose cows ran away,
because there wasn’t anything left for them to eat.

The drumming gets louder as everyone impatiently awaits,
the pitter-patter of the first monsoon rain.
I stretch out my hand and feel the first few drops,
anxiously waiting for the showers after such a thunderous show.

But to my dismay everything comes to,
a standstill.
The clouds disseminate as quickly as they gathered.
The temperamental wind decides to go elsewhere for the day.

Only the faithful drumming in the distance remains.
And the silent prayers,
that have yet to be answered.

But it doesn’t rain tonight,
Or the next day, or the next one after that.
Instead the sun shines brighter then ever,
As if to take back its crown.

Until five days later,
As I sit quietly in meditation ...

I hear a few drops hit the tin-roof above,
and then a few more, and then a couple more,
until they all come marching down.

My heart fills with joy.
I could feel the earth being watered,
little seeds will soon start to sprout.
And while I couldn’t hear the drums of the farmers,
I could feel their heartbeats dancing with joy.
The Rain Gods have arrived.

As I sat there smiling in silence,
I knew at least one old grandfather
will be sitting on his porch
wearing the same smile,
thankful that his cows will have to
run away no more,
for there will be plenty for them to eat.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Going Within

Pagoda at Dhamma Giri (The small arches are the underground meditation cells)

The ten days of silent retreat spoke volumes to me as usual. =) The fidgety mind, the hurting body from sitting on a cushion for twelve hours a day, and the un-stoppable thoughts, all add up to taking a really good look at my “self.” This is as up-close and personal as it gets. Even the intensity and type of thoughts radically changes between the first day and the tenth. The “kind” of thoughts generally seems to be a good measure of my progress.

One thing that became apparent in this retreat is that I have to transform from the inside out. If the deepest core of me does not vibrate with the sound of love, anything that I do at the outer level will be faded by what’s going on inside. And thus, the most essential thing that I can present the world is to continue to work on purifying at the depth of my being. The change has to come from within and radiate outwards, instead of the other way around.

To find “Truth” with a capital T, one has to let go of the “Self.” And how is that possible when a lifetime (perhaps many) of conditioning has made us who we are. The question I ask myself is this: Am I ready to let go of my personalized illusions for a greater gain? Or will I wait until the next pitfall in life to ask, what happened?

And when I do get a glance of the “Truth,” will I have enough courage to look it straight in the eye or will I let it pass me by, hoping I’ll catch the next train.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

What is, is.

The Vipassana Center Gate

Walking through mountains of Maharastra is beautiful even when you’re taking the main highway. We’re stoping over in Igatpuri for an intensive meditaion retreat about 140km from Bombay. The course is full but we ran across some people who know the coordinators and somehow we’re in! This is the largest Vipassana center in the world and I really wanted to do a retreat here. It’s quite powerful to meditate with a thousand other people. After nine weeks of walking, this will be really grounding and will help set the tone for the remainder of the journey.

Each day that I’m here, I’m reminded of what a privilege it is to be able to leave everything and dedicate so much time to learn about one's inner workings. It’s a really humbling experience to be in the hands of the universe, but so far I’ve been given enough strength to deal with any challenges that come up. Doing something like this -- where you don’t know where you’ll sleep tomorrow and what you’ll eat -- definitely increases your faith for the universe to respond. In fact, you rely on it. Or I should say that it becomes obvious that “I” am not the one that controls everything. “Faith” is a word that we’re often afraid of using, especially in the West, but in this journey, it’s the closest word that I can think of for describing this feeling.

I met an interesting old man yesterday, who asked me a riddle: “What I say is not true, what I write is not true, then what is true?” After a while, he laughs and says, “What is, is." What is, IS.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Urban Jungle

Its one thing to walk 44km in one day but to get up and do it all over again the next day can be really taxing on your body. The muscles don’t really get enough rest sleeping on a hard concrete floor with only a thin shawl on the ground, especially if you keep hearing all kinds of sounds at night. Nevertheless, we walk all day through the valleys and the mountains and make our way into Nasik, a large city known for Satya Sai Baba. His ashram is in the hills of Shirdi, about 90km southeast of the city.

Having spent the week and a half in tribal villages, I’m a little excited about being in a city. I can check my email, exchange some books, and finally get a map of Maharashtra. As we get closer to the city, people seem really different. They no longer stop and smile and ask us where we’re headed. When you ask for directions, as if they’re too lazy to lift their hands or speak, they just nod their heads in the right direction. No small talk, no curiosity, and no sense of connection, unless they can sell you something. Only billboard ads for the latest clothes, cars, jewelry, matrimonials, and health insurance. Coming from a place where people don’t know if they’ll have food tomorrow, this all seems a little self-centered. Although I’ve been a part of this, there’s such a striking difference after being away for some time. All the foods I haven’t seen for a while, sit right there in front of me. Sweets, samosas, fresh juices, and restaurants are serving everything from pav bhaji to pizza. I quickly calculate what I’ve spent for the day and I’ve got about 6 rupees left in my budget. I have no choice but to observe all my food cravings. =)

It’s an absolute urban jungle, and to be here is to be a part of it.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Not in the Lonely Planet Guide

Valleys of Maharastra

It was a long 44km after crossing into Maharashtra. I was surprised to see that people look distinctively different from Gujarati’s -- different facial features, different dress, and different personalities. Most of the villagers along the way understood very little Hindi and we couldn’t really make them understand the concept of a walking pilgrimage. In spite of that, there were smiles and curious looks as we walked through the valleys and the green mountains.

Before leaving Gujarat, we were warned that there were no known places where we can stay or people to profile along our route to Nashik. A small village called Nanasi was in the middle and there was possibly a school where we can find shelter for the night. We finally reached the village around six in the evening and came to the largest village we’ve seen today. It had electricity and couple of stalls of random food items. We were starving but decided to figure out where we can spend the night before eating. The villagers told us that there was a school about a kilometer away that would let us spend the night. We walked up to the school and to our disappointment were told that we couldn’t stay there because the principal was out. After pressing further, someone told us about a Shiva Temple about 4km away that “might” let us spend the night. The thought of walking another 4km was grueling and the thought of sleeping in the fields without any running water even more discomforting, but onwards we charged with our achy muscles and tired feet.

After what seemed like a really long time, we found ourselves talking to a guy in the next village who understood some Hindi. He told us that there was a Shiva Temple about another kilometer from there but there were no rooms at the temple, and that we should’ve stayed at the large village that we just came from. What? This was a huge test of patience. There was no food in this village, no room, and no one offered us a place to stay. We were sweaty and exhausted from walking all day.

Just before sunset we reached an old Shiva Temple with a bright blue dome over it. The temple was a small room with stone sculptures inside and an old well in front of it. There was one more tiny room (8x10ft.) for the priest, other than that there was a large area in front of the temple covered by a tin roof. The priest had gone somewhere but Bharat, one of the teenage boys from the village, came in to inquire about what these outsiders with strange looking backpacks were doing in a small village like this.

We asked him if there was a place to shower and he proudly said, “Yes,” while pointing to a metal bucket and the open area next to the well. Okay, maybe we can just wash the salty sweat off of our hands and faces. But how do we get the water out of the well? And this wasn’t your typical well in the villages where you tie a rope to a bucket and lower it down. It had large pieces of rocks around it in a square shape and wobbly big rocks leading down to the water that served as steps. Nipun asks Bharat to help him and they both go down and bring back two buckets of semi-clean water. By the time we’re done cleaning up whatever we can, the priest returns and Bharat helps us explain that we need shelter for the night. The easy going Sadhu only understands some Hindi but he happily lets us sleep on the floor underneath the large tin roof, with all sides open. Thus far we’ve had heat and only heat, but this mountainous area is actually cold. I ask them if there are any blankets that we could borrow. As I stand there, practically shivering, Bharat innocently reassures me that it doesn’t really get cold at night. He still agrees to bring couple of blankets later on.

The priest had already finished his dinner but he kindly asked Bharat to get some raw materials for a simple rice and eggplant dinner. But realizing that we’d have to collect wood and start a fire before the cooking began, we passed on the several hour ordeal. Since it was already 8 o’ clock we opted for going to the only stall in town and buying some biscuits, jaggery (brown sugar), and peanuts. We just wanted to get our sore and overworked muscles to sleep. Since there was no electricity we were in “bed” by 8:30. Although my body was exhausted, I lay there wide awake with nothing between me and the concrete floor but my shawl.

According to the friendly priest, the temple has existed since the time of Rama (as in the ‘Ramayana’). Throughout the night, I was worried about the snakes – after all, it is a Shiva temple =) -- and the sounds coming from well next to us and the animals that could walk in from the nearby fields, but in the morning, I felt almost fortunate to be in a place like this. I walked into the cave-like temple and it really did look ancient with its half-broken statues and old paintings. Afterwards, the priest even made me a syrup-like, milkless tea at 5AM, which I drank under a “rudraksh” tree (whose fruits are worn around the neck for its healing qualities). As I left with a very positive feeling, I remember thinking, “This place would never be listed in the Lonely Planet Guide to India.”