they find peace in Brahman and are free from all sorrows.
I woke up in a strange room yesterday morning around 5:30 to the sound of a loud speaker blaring music, knowing that I had just had a deep sleep but unsure of everything else. It took me a moment to remember that I was in Tiruvanamalai, in a guest room at Joshua Peter’s Interfaith Center, Quo Vadis, and it was the Indian national holiday Pongal. JP had met me at the airport at 10 PM in Chennai and then his driver took us through the night to Tiruvanamalai. It seems I have made that nighttime trip quite a few times now. Just counting myself lucky that I don’t have to do public transport, especially at that hour of the night. Since it was too late for me to claim my room at Sriramana Ashram, I stayed at Quo Vadis. I could stay on there all week, and I think JP would have preferred it, but I already had this room waiting, thanks to MC, and I assumed that the ashram would be a more private environment, not to mention closer to the meditation halls, the mountain and the caves. There will be enough interaction and work in the days ahead.
As I said, it was the feast of Pongal, a Tamilian harvest festival, and a government holiday. Pongal is both the name of the feast and the name of a rice dish. JP says that Christians, while having the day free from work, don’t really acknowledge it and so he, as is his wont, is all about finding a way for Christians to accept it and celebrate. So he had put together a worship service and invited all his friends and followers, complete with stage and sound system and a variety of speakers and musicians. He asked, if I was “in the mood,” if I would play something on the guitar. I begged out for now, as graciously as possible. I got some pictures (picasaweb.google.com/cyprianconsiglio). My young friend Peter was there, the one who had saved my during my guitar string emergency last year, working at a variety of jobs, including alternating between singing with the choir, playing the violin and the harmonium, and we had a warm re-acquaintance. The focal point of the worship ceremony was the clay pot full of milk set over a fire, and the climax came when, during the local Catholic priest’s message (he being one of the invited speakers), the milk pot boiled over, the milk, so I’m told, being a symbol of both purity and unity. Unfortunately I’ve already lost the order of service that was printed up because I wanted to share with you the blessing that I assume JP had composed to end. It began with, “May your milk pot boil over!”
I got my ensconced at Ramanashram shortly afterward. Doc Murthi was as gracious as always and I have a room two doors down from MC’s, who is incidentally not here right now. He is at Shantivanam recovering from Typhoid fever under the care of Sr Mary Louise. Though it is odd for him not to be here when I am, I admit I like being here without knowing anyone. In between work there is plenty of time to myself. I had told JP that I would be happy to do anything I could for him and Quo Vadis, and he has taken me at my word so much so that Ihad to back off that pledge a little. The days ahead are like this:
Friday I will go to Chennai and do a concert at Gurukul Seminary, where my friend Theolphius is, Saturday I will take part in a ecumenical pastors forum at Quo Vadis back here in Tiru, Sunday there will be a concert for a select group of around 150 at Lebanon Center, the main campus of the Danish Lutheran Mission, and Monday JP will get me to Shantivanam. But I am going to come back up here on the 27th overnight for another concert at the Arunai Ananda Hotel where we did the one last year. That one he is advertising widely already all over the city, and I am looking forward to it. The back to Shantivanam until the 5th of February, when I will coe up and do one last thing at Gurukul before heading north for my retreat time in Dehradhun. Honestly, though the traveling place to place can be a little wearing, the concerts ahead these next weeks feel like not a big imposition and I am looking forward to them. They feel like the reason I came to India this time. But I am relieved that he is handling all the travel arrangements and I don’t need to think abut that at all. And I have told him that that is all I am willing to do during this period––he wanted to know if I wanted to give guitar lessons to a group of young people at Quo Vadis––so I can keep the majority of my day to myself.
Today I officially re-donned my khavi dhoti and took my place among the pilgrims and rag tag sadhus around Ramana Mahrashi’s samadhi and Shiva’s holy mountain.
I was remembering the phrase that Kristi used to say in yoga class when I first started: “Find the edge between your minimum and your maximum.” I think that is a good summary of the practical spiritual life all the time. When you get to a place such as this, there is a tendency to hope for some kind of big cataclysmic conversion moment. Maybe. But in the meantime, how does Sri Aurobindo put it?
I have always seen that there has been really a long unobserved preparation before the Grace intervenes, and also, after it has intervened, one has still to put in a good deal of work to keep and develop what one has got… So tapasya of one kind or another is not avoidable.
It’s so helpful to be in a place such as this (or, one would assume, any monastery let alone any religious house) where people are going about the ordinary everyday business of the spiritual life, nothing dramatic or extraordinary, the little monk who sits up keeping watch over Skanda Ashram day in and day out, watering the plants and reading Scriptures, the folks who get up and do their asana practice each day, rain or shine, like the old folks who go to Mass and say their rosary every day of the year, the nun doing her lectio every morning at 5:30 for thirty years. And gradually life gets saturated with the spiritual, like fruit dipped in sugar and meat in salt pervades the food and preserves it.
I re-found a great proof text for the spirit, soul and body view this morning in the Svetasvatara Upanishad, which, all things being equal, may be my favorite:
When in inner union we are beyond the world of the body,
Then the third world, the world of the spirit is found,
Where the power of the All is, and we have all:
For we are one with the One.
When one sees God and the world and the soul,
One sees the Three: one sees Brahman.
The Svetasvatara’s description of contemplation is right in line what I understand the Christian one to be as well: When the seers of Brahman see Brahman in all creation, they find peace in Brahman and are free from all sorrows. What a suggestion: that when we have this experience of God, this seeing of God everywhere, that experience will make us know freedom and know inner peace. We in western Christianity are a little phobic about pantheism and easily miss this “seeing” which will enable that freedom and peace, but the spiritual masters of eastern Christianity (here we go again…) are pretty clear that theoria (the Greek word usually translated as “contemplation”) means to see God in everything. This understanding actually comes from a play on words which is a dubious etymology––theon horan, in case there are any Greek scholars reading––but still…
And then that experience of seeing God everywhere in everything has this tremendous effect on the rest of our lives, the freedom and peace. It’s not just a solipsistic thing, every time we have a greater experience of the Mystery of God––a unitive experience, an experience of the Indwelling Grace––we come back, or ought to come back, to the world, with greater charity joy peace patience kindness goodness generosity gentleness faithfulness modesty chastity self-control. Ordinary consciousness gets flooded with Divine Light.