Monday, 22 April 2013

the God-loving Atheist

There's this "eye game" I play with babas, sadhus, devotees, and other "holy" men.  I call it a game, but  it's the realest, purest thing I know.

What I do is make eye contact with passing holy men and see what happens.  If their eyes pass over mine without any contact, I find myself making an instant judgement about them - that although they may have all the trappings of holy men, their hearts are cold and closed.

Who am I to judge, you may ask yourselves.  And quite honestly I ask myself the same question. But my heart tells me that I know.  And that if you look, really look, into the eyes of someone, you'll know too.  And I am driven to know.

But sometimes, something amazing transpires.

For example, last night, in the Haridwar Bazaar, on the way back from the arti at HarKi Pairi ghat on the Ganges, I looked, really looked into the eyes of a passing baba.  He was dressed in a ragged, course faded sarong that might have once been saffron.  His hair was shoulder length.  A dirty turban was wrapped around his stringy hair.  His momentum propelled him two steps past me. Then he stopped, turned around, and met my gaze.

And how do I describe what happened next?  If I search my consciousness, I can only say that as I looked into his eyes there was an inner mantra chanting: "The God within me salutes the God within you."

Now what's really strange about this, is that I'm an atheist.  I don't believe in God.  I mean, look at all the horrors in this world.  If there were an omnipotent, all-powerful God, would s/he allow such atrocities to take place?  I don't think so.  But what are all people but composites of contradiction.  I am an atheist who dances for God.  I am an atheist who greets holy men by a connection that joins us together in a God I don't believe in.

So, let me tell you what happened next...

We stood there, in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the men and women and children pouring through the bazaar.  We stood there gazing into each others eyes as families purchased religious trinkets, paintings of deities, soft thick-piled blankets, and milk sweets.  We stood there, riveted, smiling at each other. Smile building to grin. Grin blooming to an ear-to-ear, tooth-revealing beam. Our delight blossoming to joy. Holding eye contact, connecting on some incredibly deep place. A place of pure love. Standing there like in a scene from a film where two people fall in love in the middle of some crazy swirling blur of activity.  The two of us stood there and gazed into each others eyes smiling like fools. And laughing. About what it's hard to say, but there we stood and smiled and laughed, as the rush of people in the bazaar swarmed around and past us.

And then this morning...

I had stopped at the bathing ghat along the Ganges for a glimpse of the river, when my eyes glanced over at one of the sadhus sitting on the steps begging.  This time it was my eyes that passed over his face. This time it was I who started away but then looked back.  Something pulling me back to his face. And he held my eyes.  And I gazed back and met love pouring from his heart, out his eyes with all the love in my heart.  And we started smiling - connecting beyond words, beyond intellect, beyond religion and tradition, and politics and paradigms.  We connected soul to soul, heart to heart.  His eyes like a bubbling fountain of joy.  And then we started to laugh and laugh and laugh.

And then my laughter turned to tears.

I wanted to sob. I wanted to sob so hard I shook off all the pettiness from my bones. Sob so hard I shook off all my arrogance and judgements.  Sob so hard I shook off all traces of stinginess and greed and competition and vanity.

I wanted to sob so hard my tears washed away all my transgressions; washed away my skin, my separateness. That my heart might merge with the heart of all.

But all I could do was let the tears fall, gaze with love at my new soul mate, bring my hands together at chin level and whisper the word Nameste.

He mirrored my gesture and word.
I turned and walked away.  I knew I needed to sit in a cool place by the Ganga and write - write to try and catch the swirl of emotion-packed words bursting from my mind; try to make some literal sense of of what was happening to me, try to move from the ephemeral sphere of light I had zoomed off to and come back to earth.  Ground myself in the black written words on a solid page of a earthy yellow and orange journal.

Passing the Ganesh Temple Ghat, I stopped to pay my respects to that cute little chubby elephant deity whose responsibility it is to eradicate obstacles.

Standing there I gazed down at the shady steps that led to the Ganges and knew it was where I wanted to sit.  I entered the gate, looked at the first saffron-draped bearded man, and through body language indicated I wanted to enter and sit at the bottom of the steps.

He nodded consent, smiled, and pointed to my shoes, which I took off and left.

I walked down a few cement steps, sat down, and leaned my back against the cool wall.

There were six babas. One combed out his waist-length hair, wet from his ritual dip in the river.  One stoked the fire which burned at the bottom of the steps.  One lit incense.  One bathed in the river.  One lay under a ratty saffron blanket.  One sat and stared at the Ganges. I scribbled siren-song notes in my cheap journal.

When the words had climaxed and ceased to flow.  When I had spent myself, my passion cooled, I closed my book, put it in my red, purple and black hand-made bag from Thailand, and stood up.  When I got to the top of the steps, I turned and looked down at the babas.

"Nameste," I called out to them.

All six heads pivoted and turned to me, smiling.

"Where are you from?" one called up to me in English.

"I am from the same place as you," I answered.  "We are all from God," said the atheist.

He laughed and translated to the rest of the babas.  They all stood at the bottom of the steps smiling up at me, laughing, and waving good-bye.

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