A Sip of Hinduism

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.


On the River Trail, Part II of IV

It’s a given that going anywhere in this town, and by town I mean Portland proper, its minor burghs, its places of river front industry, and its great area of green-banked river channels, you’re going to be bombarded by birds of the best caliber. We’re lousy with bald eagles, osprey, and herons. And then of course you have a jambalaya of other players, all sorts of bush tits and flickers and warblers and prancers and dashers. Ask Crash, he’s a bird nerd, he’ll tell you.

So it was with an eye on the skies that we set out paddling. What we didn’t expect was to find this little guy washed up on the beach!

He was a painted box turtle, and he was supposed to be in the mellow backwaters of the island we were on. Somehow he’d gotten himself into maelstrom of Columbia. We gave him a little rest and warmth and set him back on the beach.

He charged back in to get hopelessly thrown about.

I fished him out, asked if he was sure, and set him down again.

And again he skittered into the thrash. If you want I’ll tell you that he was probably washed into some calmer waters and is happily sunning himself on a log right now.

Crash has a way with winged creatures besides birds it seems.

Speaking of birds.





How exquisite to possess a form based entirely on the principle of flight. And flair. Where you are a signifier of grace as others observe you, and an active perceiver of the miraculous yourself.

Next time On the River Trail: Flotsam and Jetsam

On the River Trail, Part I of IV

It’s high summer in the Pacific Northwest. Tomatoes hang heavy, rivers run low, and the heat is a golden delectable light. But the sun is well on its way south, leading the geese; the shadows steal warmth, and getting out into the shortening days has a sense of urgency.

Heeding the call, my buddy Crash MacClanahan and I took to the Lewis River for a bit of paddling, a bit of sipping beers on the water’s face in defiance of the coming cold, a bit of marveling at this great cerulean wilderness. Our course would takes us under a railroad bridge, down the Lewis River, across the mighty Columbia to the lighthouse beach at Sauvie Island, back across the Columbia and up Lake River, and at last back down and then up the ol’ Lewis.

This was our noble craft, belonging to Crash and his wife J Motzingham.



The paddle down the Lewis was tranquil as the day was warm, the river bottom at times a mere couple feet below us. After a mile or so we met the Columbia, where the lazy flow of our Lewis collided with the vast heave of history surging for the sea. We dipped into the chop and hauled ourselves across to Sauvie Island. There we landed on empty beach, our seamans legs unused to solid ground. But we managed to  hike sandwiches and beers to investigate the light house point. Ahoy Crash, what do you see?





The Columbia is a major shipping channel. Especially exhilarating are the giant box tankers that charge up and down the river, delivering shiny new cars to massive port lots. I was hoping to see one approaching, and challenge it to a race. Unfortunately they were too cowardly, but Crash did spy a barge and its accompanying tug approaching from downriver. Life jackets on, stow the Newman O’s, back into the drink!





The race was on! We paddled pell mell, laughing uproariously into the spray, visions of being keel-hauled dancing in our heads. Just when I thought it was going to be a razor’s edge finish, the bastard angled for deeper water and allowed us to escape disappointingly death-defiant free. Crash remains vigilant.



Mainly for birds, but also for danger!


Coming up in Part II: Fellow mariners we salute you.