In this different world of Calcutta, my ideas of purpose and mission have changed accordingly. My original reasons for this adventure have shattered like a stained glass ceiling of a western cathedral giving way to a view of a sky, here, where the sun rises. The sky of my current mind is grey as skull, or monsoon. My host’s wife, Bhanu Di (the Di means sister and the title is a diminutive of her full name- Bhanumathi Venkatraman), who is a grandmaster in the scientific art of cosmic healing through the transfer of energy, a grand cook, and is currently chanting beautifully one room away, allowed me to listen to a guru who spoke of the "Panch Bhutas," or elements- air as skin, fire as eyes, water as tongue, earth as nose, and sky as ears. All these elements are different here (the air is more humid, the water contains different bacteria, etc...) and have so affected my senses allowing an enlightening change in perspective. A wholly new life lays before me, it is to be a grand few months.
My original purpose for reaching for Mother India’s warm (in the most literal sense) arms was and still done out of and intense yearning for experience, but it is the type of experience desired that has been rattled into a new form like a shaken bottle of coke which transforms from liquid into fizz.
To make absolute, unconditional, surrender to experience is to break away from all comfort, save the comfort of being alive which is not much of a comfort and at times the heaviest burden of all. After an ugly and tragic affair with the New York Police Department in the months prior to my exodus I was a ghost in my hometown moving about in a vacuum, now I feel energized and more aware. When one feels low they tend to be more selfish, and so accordingly my original purposes for experience were much more self-centered than they currently are. This vacuum I had been twisting in is best described by Henry Miller in his book “Sexus” when he writes in his unique voice- “To sit down, to stop and light a cigarette, not to sit down, not to smoke, to think, or not to think, breathe or stop breathing, it was all one and the same. Drop dead and the man behind you walks over you; fire a revolver and another man fires at you; yell and you wake the dead, who, oddly enough, also have powerful lungs.” This is how I had felt in my hometown of twenty years for some time and so I reacted with a passionate rebellion supported with the incredibly selfless help of Louise Nicholson and her charity organization “Save-A-Child” and my current host and personal guru Sambamurti Venkatraman (who allows me to call him Venky Da, the “Da” means brother). And so with their help and my determination we organized this lover’s summer at the sunrise where I am to volunteer and live here at the The Ramakrishna Mission at a school for disabled young girls outside Calcutta.
The world lied before me, unconquered, virgin as our moon. There I was, take me- or stab me to death. Slice my heart, slice my brain, slice my tongue, slice these fingers, slice kidneys, the ears, the eyes. If one single organ is left I shall strive for experience and use it to drag all the sliced up parts to a plane and use them as fuel for the engine if it would bring a single particle of a single toenail to India. My previous lock-step was doomed, I was an insatiable desperado. Show me your rickshaws, bring me to your gurus, wrap me in your colorful textiles, if not I will take them all. Show India to me- I wanted to take it all for myself.
After an arduous flight I was greeted by a gigantic mass of people, huddled to together under beautifully crafted eastern style buildings, covered in dirt. Calcutta at first sight appeared a loud cramped city of ribcages. My dear friends, while this new world did excite me, seeing my brothers and sisters present before me in such a destitute spirit, I felt the limbs of my body quivering and my mouth dry up. My brothers looked hungry, the child had no hands, and I was overwhelmed. All I could do was sit on the balcony of the apartment home of Venky-Da where I am currently staying and watch the streets from above hardly able to breathe, trembling at these huddled masses.
But then Venky-Da came to me with kind words to calm the troubled waters of my mind. I expressed my fears that I would not be able to succeed here, that this city was too much for me, that because I would be working with almost all Bengali speaking people and disabled girls I would fail and contribute nothing. Venky-Da offered me an excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita- “The right is to work only, but never to it’s fruits; let the fruit-of-action be not they motive, nor let the attachment be to action.” My utilitarian attitude of gain experience and save these deprived children was wrong. It is my effort that matters. If one is afraid of failure they will never undertake great activities. We must simply dedicate our full mental and physical energy to what is best for me and others and there can be no failure or even fear of the outcome. “If success you seek, then never strive with a mind dissipated with anxieties and fear about the fruits.” This is what my gracious host calls “the law-of-activity in the world.” The future is not me, I cannot shape it, only the present moment is mine. And so my capitalistic point-system was punctured. My judgment of these Calcutta citizens as pathetic was pulverized. I began to see they are not drudging around in pathetic poverty at all, but completely alive and extremely hard at work. And so for now I withhold judgment and shall only work each day to understand this place better and experience it more honestly, for that is all I can do.
So I began moving away from my selfish motives for private experience after this conversation and realizing the importance of my work and lack of expectation. However, later that night, after a delicious meal of thin Indian pancake dipped in different sauces on top of rice eaten with our hands that was compassionately made much less spicy for my pallet, my host and guru (a Hindi word for a teacher who brings others out of darkness) showered grace-filled knowledge upon me. He explained in very simple terms that God’s creation is God. It is where we can see God and where we get everything we have from. I am intelligent and strong because of God’s creations. The less attached I am to myself, the more attached I am to God. What I can offer can only be offered because it was offered to me. The world offered all I am to me; I am a product of it, therefore the farther I move away from my ego and towards the objective world, the further I move to God. I do not wish to gain this experience for myself anymore, but rather to gain a better understanding of God’s creations objectively. The poet Carl Sanburg wrote, “There is only man, and his name is All Men; there is only one woman, and her name is All Women; there is only one child, and it’s name is All Children.” I am no longer here as Shane to enhance his world knowledge, but rather here as All Human to further experience the reaches of God’s grace and offer all I can to these disabled girls as all I am was offered to me. Vanky-Da told me of a certain Guru who called himself not by name or he, but rather “It.” He explained “rub gold against gold and there will be a reaction, rub gold against led, and nothing will happen.” Perhaps all these citizens of Calcutta living and working so close together are not as utilitarian and materialistic as I first prescribed to them and are far happier than the richest of industrialists. As I said, I withhold judgment for now but shall only work hard as I can to help, and strive to be like an ocean that all rivers flow into continuously and freely for objective experience here where the sun rises.
I am sorry I have written so little of my concrete experience in this first blog but I have been burning spiritually and swirling like a laundry machine inside and so this is what has come out. The mind is the center of activity and so its disturbance has overtaken my physical experience. I promise to describe more outside myself in future updates. I am burning each moment and have been infected by the amazing energy of this densely populated clamorous city. Tomorrow I leave this apartment for the mission; I have been welcomed warmly, warmed up to the food, and fed inspiration and courage. Another reason I have avoided expressing my impressions of India is that it is so entirely different that I do not feel confident enough yet that I can do my fascinating setting justice. Thank you for reading, thanks be to all who helped me get where I am at this current moment, and you shall here from this lover again soon.