Traveling in India on our own after our recent pilgrimage, we were dealing with a long and obstacle-filled day. At times like this, you will relate, the focus is very much on getting the job done and within time constraints. When we reached a point of physical and emotional fatigue that day, and it was a hot and dusty afternoon by then, we stood still together in an open space and prayed. It was precisely at this moment that this Shiva Lingam made itself present to us in our awareness …
“THE EYE with which we see God is the same eye by which God sees us.”
There was, at first, a feeling that we were being watched. When we looked around, we noticed this Shiva Lingam, standing with quiet dignity and presence. Except for the few strewn flower petals on the ground, and the wind-protected lamp, both indicative of active worship, the entire environment for this particular Shiva Lingam is bare. But there was more to this lingam …
Focussed on our tasks, we had passed by this Lingam so many times that day without noticing it. What was challenging was the red tape, being pointed from one office to another, to another, and yet another. All our focus was on getting things done before these offices closed for the day.
Isn’t it telling that the Shiva Lingam was always there, a sign that God is still there, everywhere? That it should penetrate our awareness and make itself known at that very moment when asked for divine assistance is where it gets fascinating. Somehow, the divine is there, waiting for us to tune in. God is self, we like to say. Sometimes, though, the person is so preoccupied with its tasks that it forgets it is divine. Equally important is that we discover that God is also “other.” Pilgrimage is often that time it comes through strongly.
When we have a bidirectional experience of the divine, it is called darshan. When the Lingam is encountered in a temple, the sense of darshan is strong since the Lingam is consecrated with powerful rituals that add to its power daily. Darshan, which translates as “seeing and being seen” at the same time, is influenced by the energy in the temple’s Lingam.
We often have this experience on our pilgrimage because we train and prepare our pilgrims (and ourselves) to practice this awareness of “seeing and being seen.” However, to encounter a darshan of this intensity on a wayside shrine is uncommon. There was also this sense of intervention, of something “other” that penetrated into our consciousness at a moment in which the structures of self were porous, open to divine intervention. When this is the case, the experience of darshan is particularly intense. It happens a lot for our pilgrims and for us, too, in the temples.
When we were traveling with our pilgrims in January, we visited this grand temple built a thousand years ago. We love the evening light here. This temple is a magnificent example of the classic Dravida architecture that originated in our native state of Tamilnadu and was then exported to places as far away as Indonesia. The famous temple at Angor Wat is a good example.
There is a difference though between temples in India and archeological marvels such as Angor Watt. The difference is that temples in India are alive with forms of worship that goes back thousands of years. In the image, you see a few of our pilgrims taking in the experience, especially the light. However, this is after we have completed our spiritual practice.
Enshrined in every Shiva temple of the Dravida style is the Shiva lingam. The lingam is really an emanation of intense, spiritual light. Not everyone knows this. Hindus have such high reverence for the Shiva Lingam, as a representation of the highest Godhead, that they do not have to think about its meaning. For others, the sense that this is a symbol of the highest consciousness in the form of light is meaningful.
When we are on pilgrimage, we have many ceremonies and meditations around the Shiva Lingam. Several of our students can actually chant the Rudram, an ancient mantra from the Vedas used in the classic workshop of the lingam. Many perform the ritual itself, as a healing ceremony around the sacred masculine and divine feminine. It is beautiful to experience these westerners chant this mantra and perform the ritual in India.
A SLEEP OF PRISONERS
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul we ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
Is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake,
But will you wake for pity’s sake!
— Christopher Fry
May your day be blessed with the sense that you are being lovingly sensed.
And we hope you will be part of our 23rd annual pilgrimage to India in 2021.
We prepare you to see and be seen in ways that you have to experience to know.
In One Heart — Russill
Asha and I take a short break on the steps of this temple.