It is easy to criticize India. It is dirty for one, so you never feel really clean here. It is best described as a slightly unpleasant, straight-off-the-campground feeling — like there is always a thin layer of grime even after a shower. And it is really hot, which compounds the grime factor. At midday, it is almost unbearably uncomfortable to walk around. The heat and dirt cause make-up to be an impracticality, and you are better off dressing for comfort rather than style.
And there are the cultural differences. You can’t get around the heat by walking around in a tank top and shorts here, for example, because that is not an acceptable way to dress outside of yoga class. Even then, you better be sufficiently covered up as you travel to and fro, or reap the potential judgments of townsfolk.
And the locals can be exceedingly open with their judgments, asking questions and offering advice that would be considered rude by most Western standards. Like when the lady that gave me a pedicure rubbed my stubbly leg and told me to be careful with shaving because it would make my hair grow back darker and thicker. She then pointed to the thick, dark fuzz covering my lower legs and toes as evidence of that fact, and suggested I start waxing instead. Her co-worker chimed in and agreed. I thanked them for the advice, of course, and started to second guess whether scientifically that was even possible. Let’s just say it is much different than America, where we prefer to judge others in silence.
On top of that, it is difficult to get things done here. The modern conveniences we take for granted back home just don’t exist. Something that would take you five minutes in America can take all day here. You could ask me, “what did you do yesterday?” And my response may be, “I made a photocopy.” And you would nod in understanding, impressed that I was able to do that and eat lunch in one day.
Still, I absolutely love it here. The flip side of the above complaints is that it is nice to shelve the worry about outward appearances for a while. Also, open judgment can be a good thing; what you see is what you get and the honesty is refreshing.
But most of all, what I love is that it is so easy to connect with divinity here, because it is a culture of belief; the opposite of our culture of disbelief in the West. When 99% of a population believes in divinity, it seems to raise the vibration of the place, and it becomes easier to perceive it on a day-to-day basis.
India is divinity covered in dirt, I like to say. The people put so much love in everything they do; simple acts become acts of worship. From the man on the street lovingly ironing clothes with an iron he fills with hot coals, to the street vendors hand-pressing sugar cane, to the food, (my God, the food!); love goes into labor and therefore also into the fruits of that labor.
At the same time, things are changing here. It is becoming more Westernized. Americans that have been coming here for years complain prices are going up, and some of the old customs are being lost to modern convenience. I hope that doesn’t translate into a loss of the connection to the divine. I hope India doesn’t change too much.
Change is inevitable, I suppose. Technology and scientific understanding will likely spread to all the corners of the globe. Unfortunately, it seems there is a perceived conflict between science and spirituality. It should not be a competition; a one-or-the-other. We have to learn to live in a way that integrates both.
And now I am headed back to America, hoping that the divine connection I feel so freely here comes back with me. It can be harder back home, because I sometimes feel more alone in my journey there.
Back home I may get a negative reaction even talking about “the divine” or using the loaded term, “God.” We have gotten so smart and rational that what we have really lost is the connection to the direct experience of life. And that direct experience of life is our ticket to the divine.
But what does that even mean? Part of the reason that science and spirituality clash is because our old, literal way of describing “God” just doesn’t pass muster. It does not make sense to think of a bearded man in the sky that is watching over us like Santa Claus, deciding if we have been naughty or nice.
But what about the idea of “God” as the whole Universe, encompassing this Earth, this galaxy, all of existence? Maybe we are each integral parts of this whole; much like the cells on our body are integral parts of the whole that is us. Maybe we are cells in God’s body. Another analogy, to take “God” out of it, is that we are like waves on the ocean; distinct yet inseparable from the larger whole.
Yoga and Buddhism teach us this; that we are all parts of the One; inseparable from it. They teach that our ego drives us to believe we are separate, to judge each other and conclude, “I am not that.” As a result, we live our lives at war with other cultures, at war within our own culture, and we take little consideration for the havoc we are reeking on this Earth and each other. On a smaller scale, separation is the reason we experience discontent with our jobs, worry over money, discord in our relationships, conflict with our children and ex-spouses, and so on.
It would be like the individual cells on your body believing that they are each separate entities, that they know better than the big you what is best for them. They would become a cancer, and we are becoming a like cancer to our planet.
Imagine what changes would come if we started living from the perspective of the good of the Whole, rather than what is good for me and mine.
It is not being falsely positive or dimwitted to live this way. That is, one can be an intelligent, rational thinker, and believe that we are all interconnected parts of the One; and in this way be “spiritual” or believe in “God.” However, to withstand the inevitable ups and downs of life, this “belief” must be based on direct experience, or it is just another belief that we can war over.
To wit: Buddha may have described his direct experience of divinity this way, Mohammad may have described it that way, Jesus yet another way, and Confucious still a different way, and so on. Yet, they were really each describing the same exact thing; it is just that their different cultures and life experiences colored their perception of it. And then those that they tried to explain it to promptly began to fight about whose religion was right because those that they explained it to were not coming from a place of direct experience, but a place of blind belief.
But religion is not necessary; it may even be contraindicated. We simply need to experience the direct connection for ourselves; to live life in the knowing that everything is part of the One; that we are not separate beings. Yoga and other methods focused on direct experience can help us feel and develop a respect and reverence for this connection. Further, the great saints and sages teach us that simply being open to the possibility of such an experience, leaving some space for it rather than completely blocking it out with unwavering disbelief, is enough to get us started on the path.
And once you have perceived life as a beautifully-woven tapestry, all parts indivisible from the Whole, no one can take that experience away from you. The key to the survival of the human race may just depend on a reorientation around this principle. Otherwise, it is easy to envision humankind going out with a bang, at the hands of one form of cataclysmic disaster or another.
Amma told a story of a man whose family was starving in her village growing up. He set off to try to fish for some food, and after hours of trying left the water disappointed. On the way back, he happened upon a turtle nest with enough eggs to feed his family of eight. He took some eggs, just barely enough, yet left a hearty portion behind. He had the thought, “If all of this turtle’s babies are gone, she will be devastated, just like I would be devastated if all of my children died. I will leave some behind.”
This man, though desperate and starving, respected the Whole enough to not take more than he needed, to leave something behind. His thought process may have been naive or overly simplified, but what he was really doing was respecting the entire ecosystem. He was not living simply for himself, even while in great need.
India is like that. People respect the whole; they live less as individuals, more as communities. That is why I love it here. Even though it may be easy to point out the negative parts of India, there is an undeniable humanity here; a love of one another and of life. Imagine what it would be like if there was more of that back home? Imagine if more rational, educated people in the West also lived from the perspective that separateness is an illusion; that we are all reflections of the One; reflections of the Divine. We could live amazing lives, integrating Western technology and intellect with Eastern spirituality. We may even be capable of solving all of the problems of the world.
Let’s bring it on. I’m excited to come back, and to help bring some of that vibe to America with me.