Die Woerter meines Vaters

Last weekend my husband and I went to a small burp of a town, not far from where I grew up, where my family’s newest jewelry store opened about two months ago. This one happens to be owned and operated, specifically, by my father. I work at least half of all Saturdays, but this was one that was free of obligations. I had been invited to Chicago for some festivities, but declined because of many reasons… one of which was the visit paid to my father.

Near my father’s location is a hole-in-the-wall, greasy spoon kind of place called Lumpy’s Cafe. The food is really good there. Cheap. Home-cooked. I think the place is only open for lunch and breakfast. Last weekend was only the second time I’d ever even been there. I ordered the same as last time: hash browns/home fries, with cheese and onion. Drink? Milk. Our waitress was the same as last time, also. Her name is Mary. She’s one of those “rode hard and put away wet” kinda people. To say the least , I’m not likely to ever tip her again- which is saying a lot considering I almost invariably tip quite a bit more than most people I’m ever with say I should.

Something that almost never happens… Me buying something for my dad. This breakfast, however, was a belated Father’s Day present. I snatched the bill and went to the register to check out. My dad and Wayne caught up with me. A local or two, who know my dad, started a conversation from across the dining hall. Most of the details of their back-and-forth with my dad escape me now, but one thing was said, that I’ll never forget.

It went something like…

Stranger: “Blah blah blah… and (more) blah blah blah.”  My dad: “Blah blah blah (puts his hand on my shoulder), blah blah blah…This is my oldest and he’s got a good heart!”

<sigh> My dad said I have a good heart.

Normally, if I say something about sent me into orbit, I mean it in the most frustrating of ways. This, however, about put me into orbit, only I was elated.

Anyone who reads the section of this blog titled, “Samyag Akhyate” will learn that disappointing my parents is one of my three biggest fears, next to heights and suffocating. Unless he’s had a lot of tequila, my dad isn’t super gushy or emotionally showy in public. Knowing that about him, I’m confident he wasn’t blowing hot air or otherwise showing off. I feel he’d likely speak similarly of my brothers, but I’m not concerned with them.

My dad thinks I have a good heart. <sigh>

I could have been killed that very minute and would have ascended into the highest of heavens. One of my parents, who can remember back since before I was born, has assessed my life, and my actions, and …my heart, and reached the conclusion that my heart is “good.”

Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve heard similar things for years from others. For the last decade, every place I’ve worked I’ve been almost the only male. This makes for being an easy target. The benefit? When good things are said… I’m often the target. It’s easy to be exemplary when you are the exception. Like being a big fish in a little pond. As a result, I’ve actually become quite accustomed, quite used to receiving praise.

None of that means anything to me, really. But my dad says I have a good heart. And even better, he’s sure enough of this, that he tells others. Most other things are icing on the cake to me. In my book, knowing my father’s genuine soul, this is one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received.

At temple we sing, “Twameva mata cha pita twameva. Twameva bandhush cha sakha twameva. Twameva vidya dravinam twameva. Twameva sarvam, mama deva deva.” I have always tried living my life as if these words are true. It’s incredibly fulfilling when one’s life lives him in this way as well!

Om Shanti

 

 

My dad and me… probably 4 years ago.

 

My “mata cha pita”

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That bitch, Bernice.

I’m all for being ambitious and goal-oriented. Sometimes, I think I subconsciously fear stagnation of any sort in my life, and so I cram it full.

Temple. Home worship. Sadhana. School. Work. School. Work. Dreams of exercising. School. Work. Work. Work. School.

The list is simple enough, I suppose, but it’s practically never-ending. I know eventually that one thing or another will drop off my schedule and I’ll once again know what it’s like to have time for myself and for other things. However, I’m not sure my sanity will arrive with me at the finish line.

Dang.

Atmahatya

I went recently to the wake of a young patient I knew from work, whose life ended on the 18th. Working in oncology, I see death more than many might. It’s not super pleasant, but the more familiar it becomes, the more you realize how personal death isn’t…. at least not inherently. Being born is like stepping into line at the BMV: at the start you grab a number, and in a completely logical and predictable and impersonal manner, when you’re number is reached, it’s your turn. I mean, it’s not any more personal than your fingernails growing.

Ummm….but sometimes it is. I’ll try explaining.

The first big reason death is impersonal is that it happens naturally to everything that is born. The crazy cycle here is that we all already know this, but because it’s such a part of life, we’ve become desensitized to it in a bizarre and perverted, forgetful kind of way. Because of this forgetfulness, we’re perpetually shocked by it. And so, we’re entirely unfamiliar with something that has been with us since we were born.

Secondly, almost all people die of some kind of “natural” thing. Think cancer, heart attack, stroke, old age. There’s nothing personal, in any way, about these. I can vouch that this is true, at least from a purely clinical standpoint. When cancer shows up in someone, it’s not a personal attack. I promise. The real problem here is that folks attach their sense of self to their body. Which is why people sometimes ask, “Why me?” Ummm….not you, dummy. Your body. Two different things. When you think you are your body, then you’re bound(as in “caught in the trap of…”) to take whatever happens to your body as a personal attack. Lame.

Thirdly, many folks take death to be so very personal because they view it to be an “end.” Life, though, is not the opposite of death. Birth is. This is why everything that’s born must die. Life can have no more an opposite, than can energy ever actually be created or destroyed. Simply not possible. It should also perhaps be noted that many many times, dead things are born. And so, congruently, birth also does not equate life.

Those are just three reasons I find suitable for a discussion as to why death shouldn’t be taken personally. There are lots more that could be gone into. I know many will disagree with me and I’m not disturbed by that.

However, there is an instance in which I think death is quite a bit more personal than it normally is.  Care to guess?

Suicide.

This is how the young patient mentioned earlier died. He’d had cancer a number of times, beating it each time. He was healthy. Although he maybe didn’t stay cured for long, he was a survivor by most definitions. After the last “win,” it was determined that a stem cell transplant would benefit him, so he did it. He underwent the procedure, recovered, and then sometime after he seemed fully recovered and doing well he had a “nervous episode.” He was placed into psych care, I think, and was never the same thereafter. Eventually he was back into the normal swing of things, and functioned well-enough, but just… different. Same old kid, minus the sparkle he once had. We found out not long ago that he’d taken his own life, and tonight I went to his wake to say good-bye to his body.

For Hindus this word, suicide, is atmahatya. Culturally, atmahatya is frowned on. It’s viewed to be a violation of ahimsa(nonviolence or noninjury or non-aggression). It’s equal to murdering another. And according to lore, it leaves one to become a wandering ghost in the next life, punished in some kind of severe hell until the karma created by the act is spent-at which time the atma is reborn. The form taken is said to be either the form of an animal which is a level or two below humans, or a human life once again where certain karmas that weren’t fulfilled in the prematurely-extinguished life are given another try.

Umm… with all due respect to my chosen dharma, I think this is (mostly) bullshit.

I know for a fact that my religion, in certain cases, allows for suicide. The word we use for it is prayopavesha. Technically speaking, it’s a sanctioned form of starvation with all kinds of rules attached to it in regard to how and when and why it’s permitted. According to multiple sources, it’s meant as a controlled means of leaving this life for someone who has no ambition, no desires, and/or no responsibilities. It’s strictly regulated. But it’s still killing yourself, and herein lies the distinction. If suicide leads the jiva to wander as a ghost in hellish states of existence, then even the sadhu/monk/holy man who consciously ends his life is cursed in this way. Nonsense.

Stay with me.

If I take a gun and choose someone, and then shoot them. It’s murder. If someone comes at me and attempts to harm me, the very same action is labeled self-defense. The difference? The state and condition of my mind, as obviously influenced by my surroundings, when my finger pulls the trigger. Many would argue that the difference has more to do with the circumstance that caused the shooting. I’m certain it doesn’t. In this case and in all other cases, shooting a gun is simply shooting a gun. Doesn’t matter whether you’re in sun or snow, standing or sitting, murdering or defending. The action is literally the same. The only possible difference, as far as a person’s karmic patterns are effected, pertains to the internal landscape of the person when the shooting takes place. (This, among 800 million other reasons, is why emotions should never be any sort of governing force in a person’s life, and why bhakti is something to be chased slowly and in a very regulated manner instead of dove(dived?) into. If my emotions run everything, I’m incredibly more likely to react instead of act.)

My point is that the action itself isn’t what matters. It’s simply an impersonal aspect of that individual’s karma-phala. What does matter is the level and quality of awareness behind that action.

So, in the same way that death is simply death-nothing more, nothing less, I think so is “suicide.” The wisest way to approach this when someone encounters an instance of self-killing, is from a place of atmajnana/atmavidya. You have to know that the body and the person aren’t synonymous. You have to realize that the person and their mind and their emotions are also different entities.

Although there have been exceptions throughout history, most cases of atmahatya don’t occur before an audience. And truly, whether they do or don’t, it’s virtually impossible for anyone other than maybe the most advanced sages to know what’s going on inside that person. As such, it shouldn’t be assumed that the automatic result of suicide is a hellish, tormented, ghostly wandering of the underworlds until punishment has been exacted.

The young male patient, whose body I visited, has moved on- his future dictated by his karmas and self-realization. Aside from whatever karmas were already due to him, I don’t foresee that he’ll be punished for this act automatically. For reasons I’ll never know, and don’t need to know, the components of his past existence as a young man, a cancer patient, a son, brother, and boyfriend… his mind and emotions and physical body… they were done. Just done. The very same thing, literally, will happen to you and me in our own time, although perhaps not by our own hand. He’s quite literally non-different from you and me and shouldn’t be judged by us any more than we’re willing to judge ourselves. At any rate, given that we’re in Kali Yug, I’d wager that most of us hardly know ourselves as well as we should, let alone a young male cancer patient.

I suspect the only (real) tragedy here is that which my mind and emotions and attachments assign to it, which ultimately has little to do with Ultimate Reality.

Om Shanti, shanti, shantihi

vaishnav Ganapatya or ganapatya Vaishnav?

Something has crossed my mind a time or two since my recent vacation … but I’m not sure how to express it. Please forgive me now for any instances of wordiness or talking in circles.

In pretty much all of the Abrahamic Faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i) you’re either in or out. One of them, or not. Then, once the necessary distinction has been determined, there’s a definitive “what kind” which must usually be decided as part of the sealing of allegiance. Reformed Jew or not? Shiite Muslim or Sunni? Protestant Christian or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox? And even after that, further labels or distinctions are often applied. So you’re a Protestant Christian… Are you a Baptist, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, an Adventist, a Lutheran (just to list a few)? (The last few sentences are by no means meant to be exhaustive.)

The catch is that, almost always, you have be “that” or “not that.” As far as I’ve experienced, you can’t well be a Lutheran and a Baptist. Actually, I know that one’s true… I was a Baptist in my teens and recall far too well that Baptists have ironed out to the “T” why all others are likely to fall somewhere short of the pearly gates. That example aside, I’m still going to assume that one can’t be a Quaker and a Presbyterian or a Sunni and a Shiite. You can’t be Catholic and Protestant, can you? Someone correct me if I’m mistaken, but surely not.

As with many other things, Hinduism offers a staggering amount of freedom. There is definitely an expectation that you will assume responsibility for your own progress; even with a guru’s guidance, the work is your’s. Beyond that, in many many instances you’re free to adhere to the sadhana or sampradaya which most closely suits you. And… this may well involve mixing and matching. (This is not to imply that Hinduism is a willy-nilly kind of religious path. Many instances within Hinduism, a person is indeed free to mix and match according to their individual inclinations and karmas, which is hinted at in the staggering diversity shown in the selection of devas and devis from one home’s mandir to another. But they still are required to exercise true bhakti, in some manner or another, to actually have an experiential relationship with The Divine.) With the permisability of so-called mixing and matching within Hinduism, I’m wondering whether a person can can be one kind of Hindu and another kind of Hundu. This perplexes me a little.

As an aside, but related no less, on my Facebook page I indicated that I’m a “Hindu with Buddhist leanings.” What I mean by this is that Hindu is the shape of my face, and buddhist is whatever shape or style in which I chose to grow my facial hair. Yes, the facial hair is a part of the face and at times is more noticeable than at other times. But it’s still one small aspect of the composition of my face as a whole.

It works to be a Hindu with Buddhist leanings because, technically although often just barely, Hindu and Buddhist are two distinct and different things. As long as you have apples and oranges, you can say you prefer apples with orange juice or oranges with apple juice. But there’s no such fruit as oranpple (orange-apple) or an apprange (apple-orange). And so, it might be said I prefer apples with orange juice. I’m clearly one thing, with a side of another. Point taken?

What about being two kinds of the same thing, can you? “I’m a staunch Baptist, but also follow Lutheran doctrine/dogma.” Umm…probably not. But what about within Hinduism? Is it possible that a devotee can be a Shaivite and a Vaishnav? What if I’m a dedicate Ganapatya (Ganesha is Mahadeva), but join a vaishnava sampradaya? Conflict of interest? I somehow doubt it, but I’ve yet to encounter the logistical specifics. Someone help me out here!

Om Shanti

Ganapatya for life? Probably so.

Saturday, the second, was the eight-year anniversary of my spousal relationship with, Wayne. We left Indiana the night prior, June 1st, and drove that into Nashville, Tennessee. We were on our way to Florida where we’ve planned a week-long resort stay. It was my idea that we should make mini trips on eaither side of our maha trip- mostly because I abhor places like Florida or California, the specifics of our Florida trip weren’t my idea and I suppose I needed “me” stuff on either side as a means of bracing for the misery that is Florida, and also for recovery afterward. 🙂

The first of these was to visit the Sri Ganesha Temple in Nashville, Tennessee. We arrived in Tennessee very early Saturday morning, our anniversary. That same morning, after checking in and sleeping some, we awoke, exchanged rings, and did some mapping of Nashville. We had already planned to visit The Sri Ganesha Temple for a scheduled Shani Maha Pradosham that evening.

Let me just say now that Wayne is a saint. He’s not Hindu…or anything really; maybe Agnostic? Likely Atheist. But he’s very patient and at times willing to put up with, literally, hours of what’s essentially religious nonsense to him. We arrived at Sri Ganesha and toured the place on our own.

The temple grounds are pretty simple, but pretty great. Within the temple there is one main/maha garbhagrha (btw, I suspect I’m about to misuse that word, but whatever), where Sri Maha Ganapati is housed. I don’t know exactly what His dimensions measure, but He’s got to be at least 7ft tall. Four arms holding noose/goad, axe, broken tusk, and modaka/coconut. He’s entirely black, save his eyes. He is absolutely fantastic. No joke. To say I’ve been changed simply by gazing at Him would be to speak an understatement.

There are two smaller garbhagrhas to either side of Sri Ganapati. On His right, His father Siva is housed in the lingam form. It’s rather impressive, and aside from the Nataraja form, the lingam is my favorite expression of Siva. On Sri Ganesha’s left is housed Venkateshwara, a form of Vishnu. On the external walls of each of these three garbhas are mid-height nooks which are also garbhas in their own sense. Each of them house not only the other 31 of Ganesha’s 32 forms, but also a handful of other deities like Nrsingha, Sathyavan (?), Lakshmi, etc… In front of where Ganesha, Siva, and Venkateshwara are housed, along the outside walls of the main temple area, are six other pujasthanas. In these are housed Durga, Shubramanyan, Parvati, Radha/Krsna, Laskhman & company, and Jagganath & company.

We visited each one. I explained just a little about each to Wayne as we made our stops. We noticed, not unlike in Indiana, that I (we) were just about the only non-indian(s) there. On that day, there was another white man there. He sat quietly near the back of the main area, rudraksha mala in hand, absorbed in jaapa. According to his chosen tilak marking, I could tell he is a Saivite. With our initial walk about done, we settled near where the Navagrahas were stationed and waited for the Maha Pradosham to begin. This puja was lovely and lasted just over an hour. Afterward, I offered obeisances to Ganapati once more, purchased a few gift murtis (miniature replicas of the Mahamurti) for friends, and we left.

The next morning, we returned quite early. This time we were just the second ones, after the pundits/pujaris, to arrive. Before entering, we toured the outside grounds a bit. We then entered. Jagannath Puja was just finishing and things were set for Saraswati Puja, which was scheduled that morning as a benefit to recent graduates.

The best part of that morning for me, and something which has truly tattoed my mind and soul, was the Ganesha Abhishek. It took place after the Jagannath Puja and prior to the Saraswati puja. After entering the temple, I made pradakshina. I then sat before the Mahamurti for darshan. Jai Sri Ganesh!

They were in the process of waking Him. The door to His garbhagrha was opened, but a curtain still kept Him veiled. Then it was pulled back. He was utterly bare. No malas/garlands. No pushpam/flowers. Nothing. He was literally absent. His image was there, and it was still magnificent, but it was obviously just gross matter. After the unveiling, which was rather unceremonious, some rites took place: chanting, incence… the whole bit. Then the abhishekam began. The panchamrtam were poured over His image in their usual order. At specific times in the puja a pause was made. During this pause, tilak/vibhuti was applied to His forehead, flowers were placed on Him, and incense was waived circularly while the pujari chanted. Then the abhishek would continue. The whole thing was amazing and felt very good.

At this point, Wayne whispered a question to me… Something like, “Is this done every day?” He just couldn’t fathom something like this being someone’s pride and joy; their “job.” I nodded, smiling – I’d be in Bliss if I could do that. Of course, this is coming from someone who intended to become a monk immediately following high school, and only didn’t because at the time I thought all monks were necessarily Catholic! At this point in my life, I’m happy being a grhasta/householder, but should the stars align it’s definitely not off the table,

After the panchamrtam, the cutrain was pulled closed again. During this time, actually just prior to the curtain being pulled closed (for anyone unfamiliar with the process), the gross material changes. I mean this pretty much literally. It’s at this stage that the difference between an image/idol and a murti is made. I really can’t explain it further.

So the curtain is pulled and Maha Ganapati is out of sight for a while. During this time I found an excellent, auspicious, opportunity for jaapa. I got about three rounds in before the closing of the abhishek was conducted. The curtain was, again, withdrawn. Now, He’s dressed and has malas/garlands. It was like seeing Him for the first time-although it obviously wasn’t the first time.

I literally almost cried. That annoying lump in your throat was as far as I let it get, outwardly. This previously gross matter was transformed. I’m picturing a young girl. She takes her favorite Barbie doll and dresses her. Nothing. It’s a doll. Now, picture the same girl with the same Barbie doll. She dresses her, and then the doll’s eyes blink. She’s awake now; brought to life by a combination of the process (puja) and the devotion (bhakti). The Velvetine Rabitt. Pinocchio. Pixar’s The Toy Story. It’s all the same: inanimate becoming animate. As a Hindu this is foundational. God is simultaneously in everything as the indwelling, timeless Essence of all that lives, and yet is also beyond all that can be found in the worlds of causation. And so, in our tradition, we’re able to “wake” matter up -to call a condensed and concentrated portion of The Divine to be near us.

That morning Ganesha was near. Ganesha was veritably palpable-well, indeed He was physical! He stood, adorned and adored, right in front of me. Immense and immensely dark. I could have used 10,000 words to ascribe attributes to Him and still fallen remarkably short of anything adequate.

A previous post here on Ardhanarishwar dealt with G/god having attributes and being attributeless. Neti, Neti. It’s true. I expereinced this first-hand while receiving Sri Ganesha’s darshan and observing His abhishek. Om Ganapati!

Om Tat Sat Om

Neti, neti … or, God simply isn’t.

I work in an outpatient cancer treatment center. We offer chemotherapy and radiation therapy to patients who have cancer. As well, we are hematology specialists and see many patients with blood disorders, some of which, as with the cancer patients we see, will eventually claim the lives of the patient.

Resultantly, with death looming, many of our patients are (or become) very religious or spiritual. The spiritual ones I notice the most. They come in, always pleasant-even when near passing. They’re rarely stubborn or difficult when it comes to scheduling or handling their bills. There’s a kind of peace that seems uncommon. This “vibe” that I get from these patients communicates a type of universal, non-sectarian wholeness(…maybe that’s not the right word, but I’m not sure what is…) that carries them and doesn’t seem to waiver.  Then there are the religious.

The religious are an arguably different kind of folk. There are sometimes people who are both spiritual and religious. I feel safe saying that, as far as the norm in humanity is discernible, it’s usually difficult for humans to be both effectively. I dare say that those majoring in spirituality are less attached to religiosity. Conversely, humans excelling in areas of religious practice sometimes “miss the forest for the trees.”

In terms originating from my own religion, the religious are more likely to excel when it comes to bhakti(devotion). Sadly, I think more often than not, their bhakti is truly a quasi-bhakti since it’s often based in exclusionary dogma and other hateful mind patterns. I think it may also be directly dependent upon religious tactics(sadhana?). I also think many people claim to be “spiritual but not religious” as a means of feeling less guilty about being lazy. This cop-out works because no one usually questions it. Both ends of the spectrum have their shortcomings. You need both, balanced, to make progress.

And, while I’m not intending this post to revolve around bashing one or the other, I have an experiential confession to make: The religious are the only ones who ever say “God is good.” This is troubling to me currently.

The problem isn’t that the spiritual think God isn’t good. The problem is that the religious too often view God as partisan, sectarian, sway-able. As far as I’ve noticed there are only two times “God is good” is ever uttered.

The first, less selfish or dangerous, is when someone/a group of people is thankful. Just, simply thankful. This in theory is harmless. Afterall, shouldn’t we all be thankful? Of course we should be. The only error I see in this is one that involves assumption on my part. Knowing “people” as well as I do (having worked in public careers all my life), I’ve come to understand that it is VERY rare indeed to come across a truly selfless act. Most of the prayers that rise from a human heart, regardless of the best intention, derive from some kind of selfishness. If you look closely enough, you’ll see the same. Then, later on, when these wishes are apparently granted by G/god, the resultant conclusion reached by the beneficiary is “God is good.”

The second instance when I’ve noticed this being said can potentially lead to further egoic and ignorant behaviour. People say “God is good” when something bad doesn’t happen to them. The saddest part of this is that it usually means something bad happened to someone else. The upside here is, again, thankfulness. An appreciation for all that one has. But what about those who experienced whatever it was, the avoidance of which caused someone else to think G/god is so good for sparing them?

So here I go… G/god is not good. G/god can’t possibly be.

Before I go further, let me clarify that when I say G/god I don’t mean any divine conception at all which might be labeled to be one’s ishtadevata. Ishtadevatas, in their own ways, are incredibly vital to the human reaching for G/god. But even at that, they are essentially Ultimate Reality dummied down. This is for another post. For now, I’m essentially referring to what Hindus call Brahman.

The Brhdaranyak Upanishad gives us a great example. Summed up, this example of how to define Brahman is “Neti, neti.” This word, neti, is a kind of conjunction. The cleanest translation of neti seems to be something like “not this.” The idea here is that if you take any attribute or quality, and hold it up to the Divine, you’ll see that G/god is so very far above that attribute or quality that the only reasonable answer is, “Neti, neti,” aka not this, not that. Any quality or attribute we attempt to apply to G/god will fall infinitely short. This is because any quality or attribute is essentially personification/anthropomorphism (kind of).

The principle of Neti, Neti infiltrates some of our higher sciences these days. In many arenas, something is defined or measured not by its actual qualities/characteristics/dimensions, but by those qualities/dimensions which are clearly NOT applicable to what’s being studied or defined or measured. Sometimes, when deciding on dinner it’s easier to say what you don’t want, right? In that way, you end up not only knowing what will be for dinner, but also finally come to the actual experience of that dinner.

And so, you see, G/god can’t possibly be good. And in like manner, G/god can’t possibly be bad. Neither is any other term that could in any manner, in any context be applied to a human. It’s for this same reason that I’ve struggled for many years with the Christian concept of Heaven… pearly gates, streets of gold, harps, the whole shebang. How can anything that so closely resembles an earthly experience be true Heaven/Bliss?

G/god is no different. No?