Sunday, December 25, 2011

her father is god

is this place, vaidyagrama, an ayurveda hospital/ashram? or ashram/hospital? hard to tell where does one end and the other begins. every day six am a smiling, serene man brings medicine to the door. six fifteen bell rings ripple through the campus. the call to morning prayer and meditation. a full menu of spiritual medicine. indeed. let me count. a collection of vedic mantras. what else? the hymn thousand names of vishnu, one who sustains everyone and everything in the universe. more than one hundred verses. pranayama, breathing exercise. repeating the ganesh mantra 108 times. by the time i walk out of the hall, welcomed by the misty dawn lights i am so grateful that i have this body to sing praises to the one who has taken form of all the organs and systems that make up me.
this morning i walk into the hall and i see something that moves me extra, extra deeply. dr ramdas, the other medical director of vaidyagrama, is leading the prayer. check this out. his little daughter spreads over his lap, a natural crib, sound asleep. dr ramdas begins to chant. my heart instantly melts and soars all at once. his booming voice pulses a golden timbre. the vibrations are steeped in the sweetness and wisdom of knowledge which was seen by sages and seer thousands of years ago. his conviction in the path he has chosen and his resolve in following this timely and timeless tradition are loud and clear and infectious. it is pure nectar. pure truth is truly sweet.
at one point i look up from the text of thousand names of vishnu i see something marvelous to behold. the little girl clings to her father with all her tiny limbs and mind and soul as he sends out sacred sound in all directions dispensing sublime knowledge on how to live a pure life that is filled with joy and purpose. a bright realization appears in me. the man walks the talk. from this little girl’s eye she has no doubt that her father is a manifestation of god. 

this is what a father is ought to be. imagine how the child is being nourished to her core. imbibing vedic mantras while sleeping in her father’s lap. i recognize i am having an experience of thousand names of vishnu, the one who takes the shapes and forms of all. i feel so fortunate to be in the healing hands of such great souls. they have a grand dream and they roll up their sleeves and make it happen. the little girl is learning the life fundamentals by example. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

is it hot enough?

is this hot enough? that is my burning question. what's going on here? okay, let me go back a little. hwubby and i are in an ayurveda ashram/hospital/retreat/resort in the depths of nature half an hour from coimbatore, south india. we are totally cut off from the city cacophony. the road that veers off the paved road and leads to this place is unpaved and winding and narrow. the one floor buildings are made of bricks that are pressed-earth and sun-dried. directions, forms and designs are strictly vedic feng shui correct. i can feel peace and harmony enveloping me in my room as well as walking through the roofed walkways that connect all the buildings.

i sort of digress. we are here for a comprehensive course of authentic ayurveda treatments. ayurveda is the body of knowledge on life and longevity in india that is five thousand years old. i'll have a little to say about 'authentic' in a little bit. to put it simply, as i am a simple person, at the time when i am in this box i'm going through the treatment 'sweating,' sweda in sanskrit. i have a vague sense of what needs to happen in the process. it is to draw toxins into the digestive tract. toxins from undigested food over the course of time, emotional toxins, mental toxins, chemicals ingested through breathing and processed foods, pollutants and so on and so forth.

by the way i already went through several treatments to bring me to this point. loosening the toxins by massaging the body with plenty of herbally medicated oils. and when i say plenty i mean half a glass, not like a smear. opening up the channels by pounding the oiled body with fist-sized balls of dry herbs that are wrapped in cotton and heated. drinking ghee. yes, i'm not kidding. for three days at six am, after invoking grace of the medicine buddha, i drink a glass of melted ghee. warning. full on ayurveda treatments are only for the committed. or one who has tried all other medical options in the west and nothing is working, like the guy who has been taking painkillers for thirty years and now not even massive amounts can do anything. on a side note, he's off painkillers after being here for eight days.

what does the ghee do? it floats the toxins so that they are ready for the next step. which brings me into the box.

here's the preconditioning that i bring with me. this is like the steam room in a spa. so it is supposed to be very hot. but i step into the box and the first thought i have is, this is not hot. the therapist is a 23 year old indian woman. i don't speak her language which is malayanam. she speaks english words. madam. sit. this side. straight. you okay? up. i say, not hot, no steam. she says softly, as everybody here do, coming, coming. then we look at each other, she standing in front of the box, chin touching the top, me desperately trying to feel hot and sweaty. but it is very difficult to tell since i am all oiled up head to toe. but, later, as i reflect on it, the mind is the real problem. i compare this with the spa experience. add to the  fact that i am just learning to listen to the body. when i was going through the ghee drinking the doctor comes to check on me frequently. the first question he asks is, hungry? i am stunned to realize that i don't know. i always eat either because i love to eat or it is time to eat or it is a feast so i have to eat.

anyway, there i am in the box. i don't feel hot or sweaty. instead i feel anxious. maybe the steam system is not working, just like so many things in india. it's almost twenty minutes already. i have to talk to the doctor. the mind is really going. then my therapist points to my forehead and says, sweating. i can't believe it. for a moment i think, you must be just wanting to get off work. my body is not hot at all. finally i decided i am not going to do anything that may cause this girl to lose her job. i'm just going to let this go and find a way to bring this up to the body. what could happen, really? maybe i'll have to get another day of this treatment.

after treatment i run to the room. i say to hwubby, i don't know if it was hot enough, i don't know if i was sweating. he says, you're like ant in a hot wok.

i call dr harikrisnan, the equivalent of attending physician in the west. he's not in his room. i run to evening prayer to catch dr omprakash who is a young ayurvedic doctor who takes care of my block. i say, i'm just beginning to know my body, i may be wrong....i pour out my burning concern. dr. omprakash listens calmly, as always, his head gently swaying. he says, it's fine. i say, how so? he says, in a nutshell, it's not like a spa, hot steam. it's mild. if your forehead has fine sweat, it's working. your body has oil, you can't tell.

aaah. this is not a spa. this is not about pampering on the superficial level and temporary effect on the body. in a spa steaming is in and of itself something. hwubby would say, i'm going to the steam room to relax. here, steaming is a preparatory step. it lead to something else. it has to be preceded by another thing. the whole process aims to have a profound effect on the person as a whole, body, mind and spirit. it is so radically different from western medicine. think about it. there's a doctor for almost every part of the body. even a doctor who specializes in treating the hand. to put it simplistically, western medicine is about drug and cut.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

fresh coconut meat. pop rice.

i've had quite a range of indian food thus far, three weeks into india. let me see. from humble home cooking to posh hotel  and fancy resort. honest to the gods and goddesses, shiva, vishnu, parvati, laksmi, and so on and so forth, i love them all. having said that my top fave is some simple, humble home cooked food from my hostess in pune, sadhana's modest corner kitchen. what's so great about it? how about fresh, finely-grated coconut meat? i've never liked coconut meat. dry, stale, funny taste. my ayurveda advisor back in bay area says to me again and again, suk wah, you should have coconut in your food. i say, yeah, yeah, yeah and can't help rolling my eyes. so you might think when i smell something that is unmistakably coconut when sadhana is serving food i would say to myself, uc-oh. no. no. no. without a doubt it is coconut but it smells fantastic and fresh. it is a mound of fine white mash. sadhana puts a nice dollop over dal and rice. i take a spoonful and, wow, i say, this is coconut? this is coconut and how do you do it? what sadhana does is this. she shows me a simple instrument that has a small curved knife hanging. she cups the inside of the half coconut shell over it and grates and grates and grates. at any moment if she loses attention there'll be a cut on her hand. it takes quite a bit of hard work to fill up a small bowl. i'm not kidding. this finely textured coconut meat is worthy in any king's court, appropriate to be served to the gods and goddesses. it lifts a mundane dish like mung and rice to the

my fave way to have it is to spoon it over popped rice for morning meal. i'm definitely going to make this at home. so easy and so good. soak some pop rice. i can get it from an indian store. just 5 min will do. stir fry for a couple of minutes in a little ghee with popped mustard seeds, sesame, channa (a kind of small bean), cilantro. pair it with chai. wowo. i'm in heaven.

sadhana also shows me how to make a great snack. don't soak. just stir fry pop rice in a little oil with a little cumin, sesame seeds, nut bits - optional. hey, say goodbye to potato chips.

Monday, December 12, 2011

when i think i know, i know not.

here's a smarty pants episode. i think i know a bit about indian customs. after all i have had a guru, who's indian, for two decades. right? wrong. here's how it goes down. there i am in satara, india, in a museum which was created by a local maharaja. it houses an amazing collections of objects and paintings including copies of mona lisa and works of rembrant. this maharaja really traveled around the globe. so after browsing through a series of probably hundreds of elaborate and intricate paintings that depict the story of ramayana i am more than ready to...pee. a quick glance tells me my hostess is sitting on the other side of the spacious courtyard. i say to myself, hey, i can handle this, i'm just going to pee. so i go straight out of the museum and ask the security at the entrance, toilet? with gestures supplementing his english he says, go around. i think, okay, no big deal, i'll just go around. turns out i have to go around a couple of corners, almost the length and breadth of the museum. at times i am trodding unpaved mud path between knee high weeds. finally i enter a block of brick structure. it is clean. four stalls. the one furthest from me is closed. i go up to the first one, gives the half-closed door a gentle push. what do i see? a cubicle tiled wall to wall. a faucet. a tiny trench against the wall. no hole. i go to the second stall. same thing. third stall. same thing. by now i realize i have two options. turn around, seek clarification. but i am already feeling i can't hold it for the long walk back. i take a deep breath. it takes quite a bit of washing everywhere to clean up the mess.

later that evening i ask sadhana, my hostess. she says, those stalls are for people to wash their feet and even bathe before entering the museum. she is absolutely certain that the fourth stall is a latrine. i will never find out that one but i know this much. when i think i know, i know not. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

where madness and harmony coexist

you can't get a better setting to practice staying present than this. picture this. dusk. no street signs. no road lights. bustling city hub. people heading homes from work and school. peddlers determined to sell anything to anyone who's even willing to say 'no.' i mean, a battery-operated helicopter this toothpick kid is relentlessly pitching to me while i am waiting for our car to emerge from this dark hole of parking place. at one point i see this tiny motor bike navigating through a galaxy of motor bikes and roaring streams of vehicles that are incessantly honking and barely colliding into one another. seriously. so many times i think i am about to witness a car accident. then, at another point i see this family of five all tucked nice and cosy on a tiny motor bike. they come and go fast. yet i have no doubt i see they are all smiling sweetly and leaning into each other like they are having a group hug.

i don't hear anybody yelling. wherever i look i always see a face that exudes tranquility and friendliness. whenever i glance over to the driver since i am sitting next to him i honestly don't recall ever seeing him not looking calm and composed. yes, indeed. i am in the land of yoga. the atmosphere is permeating with the sense that woven into the wild and vibrant play of consciousness is the experience of quiet happiness.

hwuby says, i love india. i say, i agree, madness and harmony coexist beautifully. now i have an experience of the statement 'it blows my mind.'

Friday, December 9, 2011

why no road rage?

how many hairpin bends our driver has negotiated so far, an hour or so climbing up the nilgiris mountains in karnataka, south india. i sit in the front seat next to the driver. i don't play video games but i kind of guess this is somewhat like playing advanced level in a game  that is all about moving at high speed through hair raising traffic and road conditions. i have my ipod on govinda jaya jaya all the time. that helps because at least i don't have to be bombarded by the sustained horn everytime the driver spins through yet another almost ninety degree narrow-as-can-be turn. this is actually not a dangerous move compared to the times when moments before our car is about to make a sharp turn a huge truck that is loaded with goods like sugar canes appear from around the corner and our car is on the outside, up close to the edge. the bright side is i get to have spectacular, unobstructed vistas. i recall my great grand-guru, bhagavan nityananda, roamed south india in his younger days. i let my vision relax into the expansive lush green landscape that is shimmering in the afternoon sun. aaah. all this is my guru. all this is my guru. all this is my guru.

later i ask hwubby, have you noticed there's no road rage in india, at least the parts that we have been in so far, pune, satara, coimbatore, mysore and so on an so forth? he says, yes, there is the spirit of sharing, acceptance and surrender and totally present, whereas in america, with all due respect, it is like, i am not going to share the road with you and i am multi-tasking while driving.

it's true. scanning the environment there are so much chaos and craziness constantly unfolding and material poverty is visible and rampant. yet when i pay a little attention and look a little closer it i never fail to experience a sense of tranquility and harmony suffusing the chaos. whoever i make eye contact with i always receive a kind and sweet smile in return. whoever i interact with he/she is welcoming, patient and more than ready to share and help.

all this, all this and all this is for me to anchor myself into who and what i really am. it's never about what i have and don't have. the same state of peace and contentment and joy exist in all.