Continuing my interfaith studies at the Chaplaincy Institute, I attended a module on Hinduism this month. I loved it, and find myself more confused about what Hinduism is than before I went. I count that as a good thing. I learned how to pronounce Ganesha correctly (Ga-nay-sha) and that Hinduism is considered a monotheistic religion. I ate delicious food, I sang kirtan with my classmates, and I caught a blink of a glimpse at the millennia of cultivated wisdom that this tradition holds. Phenomenal. The work of Brant Cortright in his work Integral Psychology, and the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, are profound. My reflections, light and small as a snowflake, are below.
“There comes a time when one asks even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, is this all?” -Aldous Huxley, referenced by Huston Smith in The World’s Religions
The more I’ve read of Hinduism, the less I’ve understood. With every step the ground gives way on either side: the path narrows, the cosmos widens. It will consume all the love I am and make me more.
Sanskrit sings in me much the way Arabic did, an ocean of meaning where I float, fingers trailing the surface. My heart is still cracked open from the soaring depths of our kirtan. To speak Shiva is not to talk about Shiva, but to invoke him.
The mind struggles for order and at best finds mandala: a form suggesting a ladder of comprehension that invokes the unknowable. We lodged on Mt. Hood in a snow storm last weekend: hiked on pristine powder, sat outside in a hot tub of water, stood by a fire and looked upon the mountain shrouding itself in winter.
Every pane a perception of water. Every crystal a vast history and potential for stillness and torrent.
I looked through the glass and saw a thousand Hindu gods in a thousand forms emerging into our world and re-entering Brahman.
The Celestial Ganges cascading down on Vishnu’s head,
flowing onto earth.
To gaze lovingly at an avatar of tenderness
before it’s carried back.
Millennia of wisdom in sage bright eyes. They are all here.
My Soul of Atman.
My Spirit of Brahman.
Kirtan didn’t sing in me until Amma hugged me. Traveling to India hadn’t strongly appealed to me until this module, where I studied, tasted, smelled, witnessed devotions to Brahman in a thousand faces. Kali has always attracted and repulsed me, but I find the balance being in attraction now. I love the swords, the colors, the blood, the sharp edges and life in death.
A follower of Kali, and more broadly, Shakti, often devotes oneself to the five M’s: Madya (alcohol), Mamsa (meat), Matsya (fish), Mudra (parched grain and symbolic hand gestures), and Maithuna (sexual intercourse). My studies continue.