Tuesday, January 5, 2010

pilgrimage 2010

By consenting to God's will with joy
and doing it with gladness
I have God's love in my heart,
because my will is now the same as God's love
and I am on the way to becoming what God is--Love.
(Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)

5 january '10, Chennai, India

It was a crr-aa-zzy route getting here to India this time, four flights and a full 36 hours--Seoul, Singapore, Delhi, and finally Chennai where I am now. I'm staying at a pretty nice guest house in Chennai with a big comfy double bed and a hot shower en suite, and a host of friendly Tamilians downstairs quite eager to please. In the morning I head to Trichy, where I hope I will be met by prior George of Shantivanam and my old friend Michael Christian HIghberger, from here out known simply as MC.

The few days before leaving California were a bit of a blur. I had been at New Camaldoli for Christmas with the brothers until last Sunday and then, amidst packing and tying up loose ends, I attended 2 and a half days of the annual new year's Yoga retreat up at Mount Madonna. I have been many times now for class and breakfast on Saturday mornings these past years, but this was to be my fullest immersion in Mount Madonna's yoga. My friend Won-Jae Hur from San Francisco came down for it as well, so we stuck together quite a bit. I must say both the asana and pranayama classes were excellent, top notch, and it was good to get refreshed and stretched in my practice. There was also a Bhagavad Gita class each afternoon with Baba Hari Das in attendance. Those sessions ran very much like the Bhagavad Gita classes in town at the Pacific Cultural Center on Thursdays which I attended frequently this past year, where the text for each verse is chanted in Sanskrit and then carefully translated one word at a time; then Babaji's commentary on that particular verse is read before moving on to the next one. After an hour or so, Babaji fields questions, answering by writing on his white board (he has been silent for over 50 years). Always my two favorite parts of this whole enterprise are these: First of all I like the fact that a lot of it is so dry. I think I still have a tendency to think of Asian philosophy and theology as somehow more exotic and exciting; it's kind of a relief to see it not be so. Just like any relationship, a lot of it is the plain old drugery of mundane details to which we have bring loving devotion. And then I always enjoy the question and answer time--I am fascinated by the questions that people ask (again often comparing this to the context in which I usually find myself) as well as by how Babaji answers. Partly because he is writing his responses instead of apeking them, they tend to be pithy and to the point. It is in this context where the speculative becomes very concrete, advice about daily living and practice.

Each year there is also a bhakti night as part of the retreat. This year our friend Sarojani put together a beautiful presentation called "a tapestry of devotion." The first half of it consisted in songs and readings from various spiritual traditions presented by a small choir and several different soloists, culminating in a group dance for all 175 or so of us from the Sufi Universal Dances of Peace. And I was honored to be have been asked to do music for the second half of the evening. I had Steve with me playing tabla (and frame drum on one piece), and John Marheineke playing and singing as well. I had decided to do all India inspired music with the exception of the new favorite "Bismillah," and had printed up a sheet with lyrics so folks could participate as much as possible, even on pieces that don't usually call for participation. In that rarified group I hoped, and was not disappointed, that some might already know or want to learn many of the Sanskrit chants or kirtans that are the basis of many of the songs. It was great fun and I was delighted, nay, honored, to be asked to do it.

Then the next night was our 6th annual (forgive this long title) New Year's Eve Inter-religious Meditation Vigil for Peace at Holy Cross, sponsored by our Sangha and Pax Christi, organized by Shannon Frediani and a small group of others (the environment conjured up by Sarojani et al was especially warm and welcoming this year) and hosted by me, as each year except once. We had as usual a representatives from Judaism, the Friends and Ba'hai, as well as devotess of Krishna from the Caitanya Saraswat Temple in Aptos and members of the Heart Sangha in the Vietnamese Buddhist lineage of Thich Nhat Hahn. At the last minute our Muslim friends could not come so I got on the phone to our friends from the Pacifica Institute and two guys whisked over the 17 to be with us as well. Sarojani led a session representing Mount Madonna, Shannon for Voices of Angels, and then I led the last half hour with chanting, Scripture and a brief meditation. The two nights' events were similar to each other in character and purpose, though ours was much more subdued in tone. I thought they were both wondedful ways to culminate the old year's work and usher in the spirit of the new year. These events along with involvement in the Universal Songs of Peace with Lori Rivera up at First Congregational earlier this month and all the great events in Denmark earlier in November, sure do seem to be the work that I am called to and want to do the most in these years, helping to foster environments where folks from various traditions can meet in friendship and receptivity, through music and silence. It really does feel as if we are doing something concrete and positive for this crazy world.

Now ahead on this trip to India--first stop is Shantivanam where there will be a conference celebrating the centenary of the birth of Abhishiktananda. I have been asked to give one presentation near the end of that, which I have worked on very hard, choosing to speak on the concepts of the purusha and the guru in the thought of Bede and Abhishiktananda. The conference then moves up to Tiruvanamalai, a place very dear to Abhishiktananda, for five more days. After that I have made myself available for the next ten days to our old friend pastor JP in cahoots with Agnete of Danmission. I don't know exactly what I will be doing for him/them, but probably concerts and conferences-retreat days all centered again around the theme of dialogue and universal wisdom. I'll be staying for the most part there in Tiru at the ashram or in JP's dialogue center, Quo Vadis. After that my itinerary is a little murky. These are the possible things laid out in order: probable visit to one of our young monks studying in Banaglore, possible visit to our new sisters' ashram in Indore, hopefully to Delhi for a Sufi music festival attended also by friends of mine from Santa Cruz, maybe going farther north yet to Rishikesh and Haridwar to visit friends there. Or I may just turn around and head back to Shantivanam or some other quiet place for the last two weeks. I have a plane ticket out of Delhi on the 16th of February to Singapore where I will do two weeks' worth of concerts there and in Malaysia before heading home on the 2nd of March.

It was harder than usual to drag me out of the woods to embark on this journey, I think because I have been on the road so much this past year into the Fall and because I keep falling deeper in love with my simple life in the woods and among my friends in Santa Cruz. But by the time I got to Delhi I was in a good frame of mind and had gathered a sense of the mission that lies ahead. This dialectic between hermit and wanderer--let alone community member--is just as mysterious for me as it is to others who behold it quizzically from the outside, but it sure does seem to be the thing right now.