This morning I wanted to call the pundits to my house. Light the holy flames, fill my house with Vedic chants and dissolve my grief like golden ghee melting blissfully on wooden chips.
On most days the puja room in my house is a locked door. I trip past it happily on my way to work, trudge past it groggily on my way to bed. Ignore it most weekends through the clinks of wine glasses. But today is different. I am coping with the death of a 6 year old; I am grieving the loss of a twenty year old. I am dreading a surgery on my dearest friend. Illness, death, loss- a mirror to my mortality. A message that my clichéd haven of two children, a loving husband and a big, warm house are tenuous- oh so very temporary. So very transitory.
I have looked in this mirror before. I have faced losses before. One parent, uncles, grandmother...many painful losses seemingly washed away by exuberant youthful memories. My first beer, my first kiss, the first ride on my Honda, my first paycheck, my firstborn... And yet, yet- when I sat down to meditate this morning, the tears that rolled were not for my friend. They were for me. For all the people I have lost, for all the connections I have had to severe because death gives you no choice. When I closed my eyes and chanted the Mahamrityunjaya I prayed most desperately for myself above all else. As I sat in silence looking at the peaceful smile on Buddha's face, I begged for my sanity above anything else.
And perhaps, that's what God ultimately is all about. That's what praying is all about. It’s about a rock that you sit tight on when the seas start churning. No matter how far out you have swum, when that perfect storm whips up, you are going to swim right back to it. Land is far away. The sea bed is miles below. Your choice is to climb aboard that rock or sink with complete abandon.
I was fascinated when I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The book raises many questions on the existence of a supreme external being, especially when revered through orthodox channels of prayer and religion. It spurred many a discussions in our living room too. We extrapolated at length. What is God? Who is God? Should we believe in God? Is the act of praying important? Is a physical manifestation of our spirituality necessary? Should I teach my children all the little customs and religious practices we often watch our parents perform and join in condescendingly only after a little disbelieving shake of our heads? Ultimately, should I ask my children to pray every morning?
Spurred by doubt, aided by lethargy, blinded by the bustle of daily chores it was just easier to let go. To drop the evening meditations taught by my grandmother. To spurn the morning salutations suggested by my mother-in-law. To start believing in my invincibility. Did I let go of something important? Did I lose something precious?
This morning, in this searing moment of pain, I realize the answer is a crystal clear YES. (Displaying my oh-so-deep Bollywood roots) I am reminded of a scene in Abhimaan
. The hero (Amitabh)asks the leading lady (Jaya) if she believes in religious practices and God. I recall her simple answer "Babuji kehete hain behes mein kuch nahi rakhaa.Vishwaas hi sab kuch hai." (My father says there is nothing to be found in arguments. Faith is everything) While I certainly don't endorse superstition or close-minded fanaticism, there is truth to these words. And it comes shining through in moments when we lose our ability to argue or be logical!
We are wired to look for God when we land in trouble. It’s an instinct as primal as a child hiding behind its mother for protection. But very few of us are evolved enough to find this comfort and strength from abstract spirituality alone. We understand life through our five senses. And that exactly is how we should also understand Death and seek comfort in our conflicted moments. To simply be good and spiritual in daily actions is not enough when the mind is reeling. We need to breathe in the fragrance of an incense stick, we need to hear the chime of the arati bell, we need to see the regal countenance of a merciful God looking back at us with a gentle gaze, we need to feel the stickiness of prasaad on our fingers, we need to taste the cooling assurance of tulasi water...and then, slowly our senses soak in some perspective, some slivers of hope. It’s a sense of sharing and community; Human sympathy and superhuman love reach us in ways we can finally understand. The simplest analogy I can draw is that Vitamin D is needed to absorb Calcium, so is the act of praying for us to absorb God.
So just as I teach my children table manners and find them piano teachers, I must also teach them how to find their faith and keep it. And just as I take myself to the gym and enroll in professional courses, so must I practice
my faith daily, even when mortality does not stare me down with stony eyes. In the famous words of Kabir "Dukh me sumiran sab kare, sukh me kare na koi, Jo sukh me sumiran kare, dukh kahe ko hoi." (We all remember God when we are beset by grief, none of us remember Him in our good times. Had we remembered Him in our good times, why should the days of grief have come!')
So I end now my epistle now. The sun is bright outside my study. I am going to open the windows wide and find my Vitamin D.