Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Wake up call.

It seems, strangely enough, that as we grow older, the less fearless we become. Should a lifelong sadhaka not be more ready and willing to risk or even embrace death, to take risks for Truth, Love and Justice?

Perhaps we become more fearful because we discipline ourselves all our lives to crave security. Especially if you have been a parent you habituate yourself to creating an environment where everything is stable and secure, as best you possibly can. And you often have to struggle very hard to do so. When you finally get to retirement age, you are often so exhausted with it all that you just want to rest, or like the shastra says, finally do a little bhajan, or just sit back and enjoy the fruits of your work, or just go on tranquilly in your own way.

Ah what dreams the world will only rarely permit!

* * * * *

A day or two ago, I posted the following on Facebook:
Last night I had a minor bicycle accident. I swerved to miss an oncoming tempo as I turned the corner at Chaitanya Vihar and Burja Road, and I fell into an uncovered drain, which has been sitting there for more than two years, inviting precisely the kind of accident that happened. Three pairs of anonymous hands pulled me out. 
Luckily damages are minimal, but I have bruised ribs that are going to be painful for some time to come, elbows, knees and ankles scratched up. It took me fifteen minutes to come back to external awareness. Moreover, my yoga training in breath control proved to be of great practical use at this moment. 
I can't tell you how many times I have had premonitions of this happening. That hole is such an obvious danger. So as I went flying into it, it was almost like déjà-vu. I don't think I felt any emotional shock at all, though the physical shock required a few minutes of deep samadhi to recover from. I had a small bicycle accident.
When I put this information on the internet, my sister commented, "Wake up call!"

I am actually very fortunate in my life to have had very little in the way of real traumas. I am in pretty good health for my age; I still have the stupid overconfidence of a teenager.

But in the period following this event, I was reminded over and over again how fortunate I have been in terms of health and welfare. On the very day I posted my little personal news item on Facebook, Raghunath Giuffre, an old Dallas Gurukula student who now lives in Hawaii, recounted a horrific story of being beaten by a deranged tenant in a building he rents out. Luckily, his injuries were not life threatening, but nevertheless extensive enough to be quite grim.

Then, just a few days later, I met Sadhu Das, who only a few weeks earlier had been mercilessly thrashed by some thugs in Mayapur. He was saved from the point of death by expert doctors. A great deal of plastic surgery was required to repair his face, but he looked fully recovered except for a few scars. He generally seemed in good spirits, even though the affair had left him with a debt of Rs. 80 lakhs (US$ 120K).

Indeed, it seemed that in the wake of my little mishap I met a great number of people who had had sudden, unexpected close brushes with death. My misery was small indeed! But even hearing from others of their experiences is like a chorus to my own little wake up call.

When I came to India, seven years ago, I did so in a spirit of complete surrender. I was ready to "live under a bridge" so to speak.

I have to confess that it was my own selfish desire for liberation from the entanglements I was so enmeshed in, from the deep dissatisfactions with the way my life was going at the time, Nevertheless, I certainly felt liberated, in some way restored to my svarupa. Whether as a bhakta, or as a yogi, I was somehow back in India, where for reasons unfathomable to me, I belonged.

This time, in 2007, I still benefited from the protections of a wealthy ashram catering to Western practitioners, making the staying in India very much an insular experience, like a spiritual Club Med. It was quite comparable to the very first time that I came to India (1975) and stayed in Iskcon Mayapur.

But in those still early Iskcon days, we lived in the insular world of the Western Hare Krishnas in India. Prabhupada's intention was that Westerners should filter India through him alone, and in those days Mayapur had its own mood with a distinct flavor of the heroic pioneer out on the frontier. Occasionally it seemed to me that we were that far off from the mentality of the British Raj, getting things done in a backward nation, among the corrupt and thieving lying natives. Gung ho! White man's burden and all that!

In Rishikesh the mood was much more Westernized than that, and thereby even more isolated from India. The Western "yogis" come for meditation, but they are not about to give up their identity as whoever they happen to be in their Western context, nor do they feel it to be necessary. They live in a bubble, but it is the bubble of their European or American identity. They pay for the privilege.

In either case, bubbles. Other universes, other dimensions, new created dimensions in the teeming cacaphony that is India of the here and now.

So in both cases I was being protected from the "real" India by an environment that mediated India to me by first tendering a particular sanitized or idealized version which was guarded carefully behind guarded walls. In the bubble.

But this had benefits. It meant that my merging into India society (in my first phase in India) could be done slowly, descending down the slow slope into the multiple different worlds that constitute "real" India. I could do it without losing my starry eyed faith in the grandeur of ancient India and its grand myths of yoga and God-realization.

I could do this primarily because I was not attached to any woman. When I returned to the West and made an attempt at marriage, I adopted the conventional European style to which my parents were accustomed, not excessively romantic, functional... ultimately alienating, I lived a life of such compromise to my sense of ideal self, rightly or wrongly conceived, that I had to leave it behind.

And when I left that world, the fabricated artificial dream of middle-class America, I was almost obliged to do so from a position of absolute severance, a kind of cerebral hygiene. But also from the spiritual position of vairagya, of complete renunciation. I gave up expectations and also, more terribly in the eyes of the world, my responsibilities.

So now I live like a retired single person; no one depends on me other than those who pay me to do their work. Fortunately, they are very tolerant of me, for I make certain not to treat my work like a business.

There are moments, however, of financial shortfall, or reminders of mortality, that thrust one into worldly awareness and call into question one's expectations. And what should one expect if one lives like a retired person when one literally has nothing? No financial cushion, no sponsors, no donors, no protectors, no possessions whatsoever. Yet, by some grace of the Lord, whenever I wanted to do bhajan, I always could. All facilities were given. Why not just go on living this way even with the inevitable lurking just over the horizon?

The fact is that I have lived more or less like a retired person all my life. This is why any attempts I made at being a householder have been such failures. A hermit, or a sannyasi in the old fashioned concept, a yogi, whatever, would live in insouciant dependence on the grace of God, or at least that was the ideal. And the householder must learn to live like that also, but it is rare that he can, for he has responsibilities.

In the West we talk about a social safety net, and even now, the temptation is great to return to Canada to at least benefit from whatever pension the government gives out to seniors, for the little security it provides. And of course universal health care means another kind of freedom from worry.

Now in a few days, I will get my real wake up call when I go to Canada for the first time in several years. More changed than ever, but still basically a sannyasi, or in other words, still a penniless bum.

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