“I had no idea there were so many religions!” Kyrie said this with sincere excitement more than with any confusion. Just a basic, Wow. Larkin agreed. Simply listing the world’s religions in preparation for this year was already opening our eyes and minds. But, as this past weekend approached, and it was time for us to begin our exploration of Hinduism, my knees started knocking a little bit. What have I gotten us into again? How am I going to do this well? Help!
Help arrived, unsolicited and not unmagically, via a book on Hinduism mailed to me last week from a kind reader of this blog. These words caught my eye. “In the spiritual world, say Vaishnava poets, ‘every word is a song, every step a dance.'” Such a beautiful description of spiritual mindfulness, and such a pretty photo of a dancer across from it. A dancer! I recalled my good fortune several years ago in working with an incredible Austinite named Anuradha Naimpally – a preeminent Indian dancer, a fellow activist for the arts in our community, and as lovely a soul as you could ever hope to meet. Larkin loves to dance. Just LOVES it. Kyrie also has found a blossoming confidence in dancing this past year. I asked, “Would you be willing to visit with my girls about your faith?”
Anu could not have been more gracious. She wrote, “I love to talk about what is at the root of my passion!!!” We met with her this past Sunday, and it will definitely take more than one post to do justice to all of her wise words. She began by explaining that there is never a divide between the physical and the spiritual in Hinduism, that Hindus celebrate the body and life. They see our physical lives as a gift and an opportunity to be appreciated and honored, not transcended or denied. They see “daily” life not as a distraction from the spiritual but, when lived with spiritual intention, as a direct path to and with the spiritual.
She also explained that while Hinduism obviously has lots of gods, these are generally not understood to be literal and separate deities but reflective of the illimitable aspects of Brahman, the “Absolute” energy of the universe, so that Hinduism is basically monotheistic. Her description of Hindu temples sublimely summarized all of this. She described a temple as a mini-cosmos. On the outside, the many carvings and voluminous images are all about the “transactions of daily life,” everything from family to work to sex, you name it. Entering the temple, the images become more “inward,” more about our interior lives and more about our ultimate aspiration to God, whose image, in whatever form, is at the center of the temple. The further you go inside, the darker it gets. You begin to physically squint, trying to see, and this is a metaphor for how it is hard to see God. She said that at the end of a ceremony, the priest waves a light around and around the image of the god, symbolizing that with spiritual effort you “see” God more fully. But! By that point in a ceremony, most of the worshippers’ eyes are closed, each aspirant deeply into their own prayer or meditation, and this is also symbolic because this is how you really see God… not with any eyes, but with the heart inside.
My girls sat, rapt, their sandwiches uneaten and their hands dancing in the air as they asked questions and made connections. I sat, relieved and full of gratitude. I sit here now, with four more pages of notes and two new books to consider, thanks to Anu. Namaste!