The sand man sprinkled twelve hours of dream dust through the mosquito net last Tuesday. Good timing, as I was deliriously sleep deprived - mind was spinning the gerbil wheel a million syllables a minute to keep up with life on the planet. Restored by five o’clock the next morning, I slipped into my yellow flip flops and had a cup of java with my first chant of the day, a chant to Narayana, the name given to the creator of the universe, according to the Vedas.
I am glad I don’t have to subscribe to a pantheon of beliefs to reap the calming and inspiring benefits of chanting! These days, I have a direct relationship with Essence, and that is enough for me. Lately, I can patiently listen to great pundits and amateurs expound on clever or profound explanations wanting neither to jump in with my own story nor strangle them for inflicting me with some logical (or not) improvable philosophy or scientific explanation.
I appreciate the practical these days. If something helps me be more forgiving or kind, more accepting of my humanity and less apt to cling to illusion, then I’ll look into it. I appreciate that the Buddha was repeatedly asked what he referred to as the 10 unanswerable questions. Like, “Where do you go when you die?” His take on the whole thing was that thinking about it contributes to suffering and since it can’t be answered, the practical approach is to stop asking. Glory Allelujah and Right On!
So, I started the day with Artharvasiropanisat. And after morning classes, I had my first chanting lesson. Akhila, my teacher, informed me that it was one of the most auspicious days in the year and those who chant to Narayana are assured the wide open doors to heaven. I don’t really know what heaven is, but since I don’t want to suffer over it, I don’t ask and figure it must be a good thing.
One good thing was the rickshaw ride I took with my housemate, Xenia. It started raining that afternoon and she coached me on haling and negotiating the little yellow vehicle. These “cars” start with a hand lever beside the driver’s seat, similar to the pull chain on a lawn mower. We covered our mouths from the fumes and got a lesson in horn honking. Slow down? Honk. Stop? Honk, honk. Someone coming? Honk. No one around? Honk. Someone honks? Honk. He serenaded us all the way to Mylapore, a part of Chennai. There were no traffic closecalls that tempted me to pray to God and we stayed dry enough to enjoy our destination, the teaspoon-sized bookstore.
This shop is down a small road across from the Madras Sanskrit College on the second floor of what appears to be a residential building. It is three closet sized rooms loaded with more books about more Gods that even God could shake all her fists at. Turning around in this place was a hazard resulting in a toppling tower of hardbacks. I only did it once before I found a stool to perch and search on. There was no room to share with other browsers. How could I have doubted the existence of heaven just hours before when it was one rainy rickshaw ride away? And they kept the doors open past closing for me!
Laden with full bags, we dodged beggars and raindrops back to the main drag, a busy avenue lined with appliance shops, trinket stores and household bazaars. Xenia let me handle the rickshaw for the ride home. Walking home from the rickshaw stand, we passed the coconut lady. She sits on the main road behind a mound (get it?) of coconuts and slices off the coconut top with her machete, puts a bendable straw in the open end for her customers. The milk inside is loaded with minerals and good things for the blood. I was drinking the nectar of the gods…
Rain tucked me in that night. I fitfully dashed through a dozen dreams. When I awoke, I was not inclined to chant to Narayana. Looking at the lake sized puddles in the road outside the gate, I was grateful this is not rainy season. I suited up in my LL Bean raincoat and water proof Tote boots for the morning haul. We were told that rain this time of year is unusual and considered a blessing.
The day before, the whole city was chanting, ringing bells and wearing flowers in honor of the special day. Intuition or something led me to chant the password to heaven. And the rains came from out of the blue. While I do not have an explanation and realize coincidence or serendipity, cold fronts and pressure gradients, prayers or pujas might have delicately balanced themselves in the clouds to become drops of rain, I do feel a renewed appreciation for something that I do believe in. Something I witness often and can rarely explain. Something that is the ingredient common to all religious, scientific and poetic explanations for how it all came to be. And that… is mystery.