Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ant's Eye View

Last night, in the small “café” at the orphanage where we take breakfast and dinner each day, we watched a movie called “Fierce Grace”, about the life and work of Ram Dass, American-born academic and spiritual guru. Ram Dass, formerly Richard Alpert, was born to a wealthy Boston family, and later got booted out of a professorship at Harvard with his buddy Timothy Leary for conducting experiments with psychedelics during the sixties. He followed a counter cultural exodus to India, where he met his guru, Neem Karolyi Baba (called “Maharaji” by his disciples), who transformed his life and set him on a path of spiritual study and teaching. Ram Dass returned to the States, wrote the world-famous “Be Here Now”, and attracted thousands to his parents’ sprawling estate for mass meditations, yoga, and mindful frolick (much to the indulgent bemusement of his wealthy railroad tycoon father).

He travelled, he taught, and was revered. Then he had a severe stroke, and recovered fully. Then he had another one, which left him partially paralyzed. He calls it “being stroked by God”, and has since dedicated himself to helping others deal with grief, loss, disability, and aging, reframing them as spiritual paths leading one closer to the God within and without. We watched this movie at the behest of Dwabha, who floated into dinner last night on what I can only describe as some sort of “love buzz” from having spent the entire day with her guru, Siddhi Ma, who was also a disciple of Maharaji, and just arrived in Rishikesh.

Let me make something clear- I’ve never witnessed Dwabha “floating”. Striding, storming, and surging, yes. She had spoken of Siddhi Ma to us during our mountain retreat, explaining that “Siddhi” refers to the extraordinary acts of manipulating time, space, matter, and nature of which her guru is known to be capable. Dwabha has often asked her for guidance and support in the past, only to be told “It is already done”. And it was.

This kind of divine intervention is taken as a matter of course for many Hindus and Buddhists, who are oriented to see the face of God in all beings, and believe that there are many humans on earth who have enlightened while still in physical form (become, in a sense, God-realized) in order to help the rest of us along. Siddhi Ma, a contemporary of Ram Dass, is such a one. What’s more, she’s in town, and she wants to meet us. Dwabha requested her blessing for our journey of inner work last week, which Siddhi Ma granted, and Dwabha believes that she has come to town earlier than expected in order to meet us before we leave. Perhaps it’s like a baker’s desire to poke at the cake with a piece of straw after it’s come out of the oven to see if it’s done.

Throughout last week, I would rise at 6am each morning to meditate in front of the small altar cobbled together on a window ledge. Siddhi Ma’s picture adorned it, beside images of Krishna, Ammachi, Ramana Maharshi, the Buddha, and of course Maharaji. She is slight, and has the kind, wizened face of a storybook grandmama. Dwabha claims she can stop time, move mountains, multiply fruit into an endless supply, and change the weather. This I have not seen, but the woman had Dwabha crooning and trilling like a lovesick schoolgirl, and for me this is a testament to the supernatural.

Our Z Meditation teachers lament that India is full of gurus, but no students, which is why the ashrams and temples these days are so full of Westerners (who have students, but few teachers). As I shoulder my way through the streets of Rishikesh, I can’t help but note that most of the people holding the malas and mumbling mantras are saddhus and Westerners, with their dreadlocks and Ganesha graphic t-shirts. I doubt the autorickshaw driver, with his sticky green hair oil and petrol-blackened hands has the leisure to spend crouched at the foot of a muslin-swaddled master on the banks of the Ganga. Still, the hasty comma of kum kum between his eyebrows and the plasticized image of Hanuman swinging from his dusty rearview mirror hint that siddhis and gods walking the earth may be more at home in his reality than in the hash-expanded consciousness of his Western passengers.

One doesn’t need to travel to India to witness things that cannot be explained by the “rational mind”, but somehow I feel much more in the way of those things here. Perhaps I can’t explain them because I don’t know what I’m looking at. To an ant, the Taj Mahal doesn’t even exist. It’s just one enormous slippery expanse of mosaic white, with a lot more of the same all around. I’m not sure what to expect from my encounter with Siddhi Ma, but a vicarious night with Ram Dass has me hoping that if I find myself standing in front of a human equivalent of the Taj Mahal, my eyes and my mind will be big enough to see it.

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