Friday, February 27, 2009

Puppet Play

In an article in the NY Times i came across a couple of quotes written by the recently deceased Pulitzer prize winning author, John Updike.

Updike describes the facts of life as “unbearably heavy, weighted as they are with our personal death. Writing, in making the world light — in codifying, distorting, prettifying, verbalizing it — approaches blasphemy.”

In other words, Updike says that our mortality makes every other thing in the world-- whatever its apparent beauty, value or power-- seem superficial and facile, like trivial chatter. Think of this chatter as a kind of blasphemy against reality! Certainly to glorify this chatter is a kind of blasphemy!

How true, but how difficult to avoid it. Authors like Updike made his name and fame from it, and the rest of the world feed each other with it. It is practically the bread of life. To be indifferent to all of it (including the blah blahing most devotees enjoy) is a great achievment.

Greater yet than tolerating and being indifferent to this chatter, is to be attentive and active on a platform beyond it, on the plane of seva. To be jolly and cheerfully situated on that higher plane of divine service, of hearing and chanting, is possible only for a sadhu. I don't care what anyone's dress is or how articulate they may be. I am not impressed with their scholarship or renunciation or popularity.

I bow down only to those who are steadily situated on the plane of seva to sravanam and kirtanam. And i offer my respects to those whose hopes and prayers are to one day reach that plane. To all others, let me do my best to endure their petty blasphemy in a myriad of forms and appearances.

Here is another golden quote from Mr. Updike:

“Nature dangles sex to keep us walking toward the cliff.”

We are sexual puppets moving towards a cliff which happens to be our own death. Sex and death are intimate relations with each other. (For those who cannot see the connection, think of it another way: sex is the cause of birth, and birth is the cause of both sex and death.)

Our imaginations are the background score to this puppet play, filled with undelivered yet vivid promises of sex, drugs and rock and roll (choose your particular variation). Nature is the puppet master who moves us on the strings of the impressions in our minds. The false ego is the puppet master's faithful assistant who spins a personal web for each of us that blinds us and keeps us from seeing our soul and from seeing what lies just ahead.

As we finally approach the cliff in our forgetful play, fear appears and grasps us by the neck. We sense a bleak outcome and experience the anxiety of another impending death. 'Oh shit,' we say, 'I'm not ready to die.'

The rare ones who yell out to us in the puppet theatre before we walk off the cliff, shout: 'the house is on fire!' At their own risk, they warn us and try to awaken us. But these great souls are either marginalized as "freeloaders" or madmen, or are co-opted into plastic prophets by the chela priests of religion. Some of the best atheists are the clergymen and commissioners of the churches and temples of this world.

Unbearably heavy, this conspiracy of illusion, this play of puppets. To all who are sincerely trying to get off the stage and to help others too, i say: Sadhu, sadhu! Bravo! Well done! Jai to you! Send me your blessings!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Actions Louder than Words

In an article just published in the Sampradaya Sun on Scroll Paintings in Lord Jagannath's Orissa, Part 2, the author, Asis K. Chakrabarti, extols the virtues of what he calls, "Jagannath Consciousness."

Here is what he writes:

"Jagannath consciousness has become ubiquitous, radiating near and far. He is the symbol of universal brotherhood. His principal preamble is, 'Humanity on earth is but one family.'

"It is precisely for the very reason that various sects and religions such as Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shakta, Buddhist and Jain traditions have transcended barriers to mingle and blend immaculately in Lord Jagannath. Lord Jagannath also encompasses the animistic tribal religions. Before Him, starting from the tribals, others like the Brahmin, untouchables/chandals, sudras, or even the Muslims - all have become His children traversing on a single path."

If the author of this article really believes what he writes, then let him explain why it is that no one is allowed into the Jagannath temple at Puri unless they can prove they are Indian-born Hindus. It is easy to use flowery language. Let Mr. Chakrabarti and the respectable brahmin priests of Puri display a universal vision of brotherhood under the fatherhood of Lord Jagannath by acting as servants rather than as racists. By excluding others on the basis of skin color or nationality, they are proclaiming that Lord Jagannath, under their care, is not Lord of the Universe, but Lord of a racist religion.

For us who are not born in India, it is no problem to pay our respects to Lord Jagannath from a distance, and to benefit by tasting His transcendental prasadam. Maybe it is better for us in order to understand our own fallen condition. Even Haridas Thakur, the namacarya personally selected by Lord Caitanya, did not complain about not having darshan of Lord Jagannath, due to his being born in a Muslim family.

But if the servants of Lord Jagannath want people of the world to take notice of the true personality of their master, Parambrahman Sri Jagannath, then they would welcome every innocent visitor to His temple. With their open minds and hearts, they could show the world the non-sectarian munificent spirit of pure love that He is.

The same prescription applies to anyone who wants to impress others with the value of their belief system. It is actions, not words, that count. Don't talk the talk unless you walk the walk. The words we write and the truths we speak are only as eloquent or as egregious as our behavior.