Sunday, December 29, 2013

Visit to a temple

One day we were visiting a temple near our house. It was some occasion, I don't particularly remember. So the place was crowded with people from different paths of life, young, old, locals, some visitors. As soon as we entered the temple, I saw some women filling 'daone' (a sweet that is offered in the name of God and then distributed among the devotees as prasad-basically return gift from temple). I was excited to help too. They were very happy to have another helping hand. So after a quick 'darshan' in the temple, I went and joined the volunteers. What surprised me was none of the people (my friends and relatives) except one came forward and joined me to help. They preferred sitting right in front of the deity seeking blessings.
This bothers me. You are in a temple seeking for blessings or some kind of connection with God. What better way than to offer service? People tend to do things that they have been seeing and doing from childhood. Go to temple, offer flowers, money to God, make promises to offer more money or some goods IF my dreams get fulfilled.
Ok, ok. May be I am being too judgmental. We may not know what people have going in their lives. May be just sitting before the idol brings peace they are looking for. But then I don't see that sincerity in their behavior while in the temple either. They would start gossiping with friends and relatives that they meet, or show off their expensive jewelry or sarees. You can hardly see anyone with eyes closed, calm composure, relaxed. Everyone seems to have a anxious look on their face, as if remembering all the sin they have committed and waiting for God's pardon. The focus is more on, have I completed all the rituals properly? Did I take 1 or 3 turns around the idol. Did I ring the temple bell when I entered. Did I do a saashtaang namaskar (pray bending knees down on the floor, nose touching floor)? Did I get to eat the prasad! Do I have enough to share with my folks back home who are not with me. Did I give enough money to perform some ritual and did the priest say my name correctly before God. Else, God may give blessings to someone else by mistake.
So while I was enjoying talking to the strangers while filling the prasad, the temple bells begin to ring loud, announcing an aarti; basically the time when priest talks to God asking for blessings for people present before him and offers the prasad and distributes it among people. BTW, this is also the time, he goes around with a lighted diya and people make sure they get to touch the diya; otherwise the temple visit will not be complete. Priests collect money (small change) as he carries out this act.
So, as the bells started ringing, people with me left whatever they were doing and ran inside the temple. I had no choice but to follow them. The scene inside the temple was chaotic. There was a big rush, each one trying to get in front so that they can 'see' the idol clearly. My friends and relatives were not behind either. One shouted to the other 'come this way', almost pushing few others along the way.
Here my problem was, how can people not understand that just like how important it is for you to get the 'darshan' and the best spot, so it is for other people too. What if one of your relative cannot stand in front? What if one of your relative cannot touch the diya when the priest comes with the diyas? Don't you see others are humans too and probably God would like some order while prayers are being offered. So let those who got ahead get the best view and be the first to get the prasad. Why this race and fight?
Again this bothers me. No one seem to be considerate of a fellow being. Even at an auspicious place like a temple.
Outside the temple, you can usually see some beggars seeking the temple visitor's kindness and begging for a a few rupees. And usually what is the reaction from the people they get? They are completely ignored or looked at with doubt that these beggars may rob my shoes I left at the door. Very few are kind enough to give some change to them.
Again this bothers me. You can spend hundreds on some rituals and prasad, but cannot spare a little to some needy? I've heard people say that these beggars should not waste their time on easy money but go look for some job and earn money in a more dignified way. But my point is, if you give the same money that you would otherwise offer to the temple, to the beggar instead, will you become poor? Temple has enough money. May be with the money you give to the temple, the God idol will be painted in gold, or worn some expensive jewelry. Why do we need this drama? Why not make use of the money to feed someone who cannot afford a day's meal? May be with the money you give, they will be able to apply for a job.
What is your imagination of God? How do you please and seek God's blessings? Do you question the ways you have been taught? No, then why not? 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

In India...

After staying in US for over 3 years, we shifted to India in March 2013. While in US, for last couple of years, I had tried to make positive changes in my day to day life, by taking up meditation, reading, being with nature, involving myself in volunteering activities whenever possible. My motive was to find out the secret of being happy, how mind and emotions work, learn what it meant to be free. I was reading and following some of the gurus by reading their biographies, their teachings etc. I was very excited to come to India, most importantly looking from my search for life's meaning path that I thought I was on. I don't claim to have taken up the right or best approach or techniques. But I knew I was eager and willing to put effort to know the unknown.
I knew that when we move to India, meditation, volunteering activities, interacting with people, sharing, caring, giving, learning would become less of an effort. For example, I thought getting involved in some volunteering activity in India would be easier as I would know more people, also there are more people who need help. I thought meditation or listening to scriptures or being part of satsangs would be easier than it was in US. I want to share how it turned out.

Meditation had become a regular practice for me and I was not sure if I could continue the same when in India. When we reached India, we were put up in our company guest house for a month. Every time I sat for my practice, either there were people upstairs, downstairs making noise, someone screaming, cars stuck in traffic honking non stop, some construction sound in the background. I was not used to do my practice with so much noise pollution. I thought, may be people in India who do practice meditation must be experts to be able to filter out this noise.
In office I found out that there is a meditation room open 8 am to 4 pm and was extremely delighted. With lot of time spent in daily commute, it was next to impossible to dedicate regular time at home sitting quietly concentrating on thoughts and mind and breath! So office meditation room was a blessing. But the attraction soon faded off. First day when I was in middle of my Oooommm recital (in my mind, eyes closed), a heard someone bang the door as he/she made her way in the room. Then thomp! thomp! threw her heavy bag on the floor. Psst, psst made some sound like she had a bad day (btw, the day had just started). Then started doing yogasanas making panting sound at every posture she changed. How inconsiderate! Obviously I was so annoyed. Why are we allowing yoga exercises in the mediation room? Can we keep separate hours for yoga, I inquired. But to my surprise, all I got in response was, we should adjust.
I thought to myself, I should be accommodating. I should try to come in some other time in the day. But somehow, whatever time I tried for next few days, I was disturbed by that girl (somehow it seemed like we both followed each others timings for few days) or someone else. Soon, I learned to ignore the distraction and do what I had to do. But I noticed one change in me. Initial few days, I tiptoed in the room if I saw someone sitting in meditation. But now I did not try to tiptoe or push the door slowly as I entered. I knew people did not care; no one either complained if I shut the door hard, or were grateful if I tiptoed. Unfortunately, I had become like one of the others. Well! Soon after, I did not even feel bad that I did not care.
Talking of distractions in that room, one day I was sitting in one corner calm and relaxed, counting my breathing. Suddenly I hear a fart! Loud noise and then such bad odor, I could puke. I wanted to get up and run. But I felt irresponsible if I stopped mid way, so i continued and fought the smell like a warrior. But all the while I only thought, why the hell people don't clean their tummy before a workout or meditation, or just walk out if they feel the urge. I was so annoyed! But I braved the storm (in fact one other time too) and learned to adjust.

As soon as I joined office, I got informed of a volunteering drive in campus. Mainly the idea was to collect money from people in the office and help needy students with books and stationary. I was very thrilled and was eager to be part of the initiative. The event was a success and the intended needs were met. But I was so surprised to see the participation and volunteer numbers who stepped up. Mere less than 100 out of 20,000 odd people volunteered. Even whose who did, did not show the eagerness to help. Some did not show up in meetings, were too shy to ask for money from people, could not contribute any ideas that could help the cause, were least bothered to know what was happening and how the event was progressing.
When we went for collection, the responses we got from people was even worse. Why should we contribute? Explain to us how the money will be spent. What is the guarantee that the students need what we are giving them? Well, c'mon! All the information is available online. Do you think the money will be misused? Then don't give, but don't dishearten those who want to! What I struggled to understand was, why was it so difficult to trust such an initiative? We were part of the same company, all information was transparent. What else?

I think this post may end up being too long. I'll continue in my next.