Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Name of God is True

"Ram Naam Satya Hai!
Ram Naam Satya Hai!"
 ~ the chant of pallbearers walking down the lanes of Varanasi on the way to the burning ghats
A possible translation: The Name of God is True; meaning God exists, and he is true.

I'm sitting in a train in India writing this, reminded of how things have changed over the years I've been coming here. The essential nature of the place isn't changing very fast, praise Shiva. I just had a conversation with a guy on the train platform in Varanasi and he asked what was my favorite place in India. When I said that beautiful Varanasi is my favorite, he laughed and said, "Beautiful? How can someone say that?!" I thought he wasn't from here, but he was, but he couldn't understand how someone from the land of wide highways, big cars and beautiful houses could think that. Yeah, sometimes I wonder too. 

I tried to explain how, yes, the West is beautiful and clean, but India is SO full of LIFE! It's all on display, like it or not, and among the burning corpses there are foraging cows and dogs and kids playing kites and building projects and chai makers and head shavers and laughing and not so much crying and a sea of vibrating energy that either lifts you up or washes over you and tries to drown you. Your choice. 

"But everyone is happy in America!" he said. I begged to differ, and he said, "I bet 90% of the people are happy." I said, "The problem in the West is that people think they can manage their way into happiness by having the right set of conditions: a nice car, big house, the right clothes, food, temperature, colors, gadgets, etc., etc., etc. And not a single person has ever achieved lasting happiness from a set of conditions. Money doesn't buy happiness, and neither does poverty." 

"I think we need some of both," he said. Fair enough.


This kid with the 20 year-old expression is about two, and sitting on the gas tank of her Dad's motorcycle. What a beauty.
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For those of us who have been coming to the Sarnath program near Varanasi for years, this is a welcome site. Stone workers at the Thai Monastery have been chipping away at massive stones since I first came in 2000, all with this giant Buddha as the final goal.
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This little girl wearing what look likes underwear is begging from a fancy bus full of Asian tourists.
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My favorite sweet shop in Sarnath, and my favorite gut-busting dessert: longlata.
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This is Christopher Titmuss, former Thai monk and meditation teacher for the last 40 years. In the sharing group at the end of our 10 days together, where I'm normally silent, I said that I remembered resisting coming to my first retreat with him in 1995, (then came to about five more), didn't want to come to the first Sarnath program (which I now love,) and was only moderately interested in the first Dharma Yatra walk in the south of France, where I've been six times (and LOVE it.) I said, "Christopher, you're the father I never wanted, you've ruined my life, and for that I am forever indebted."
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A set-up for a modern Indian wedding. They're getting more gawdy, over-the-top and LOUDER as time goes by. I didn't see any elephants in weddings this year, though.
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Beautiful little kid in the village of Sarnath.
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Ah, Varanasi. Dodging the water buffalo as we make our way to our favorite chai stall on the lanes. Don't worry, folks! There's plenty of room for everyone!
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Jen entertained some beautiful kids for at least an hour, including this kid with beautiful green eyes.
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The nightly "aarti" puja at the main "ghats," or steps leading down to the Ganges River. Thousands of people are watching from the steps, and looking out you see all the people sitting in boats in the river.
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A lovely kid near Vishnu Rest House, where I've stayed since my first trip to Varanasi in 1995.
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So adorable.
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Shivaratri, the Night of Shiva, begins. Mayhem follows. Seriously.
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Why is everyone so keen to drink tea? Cuz it's not tea, it's marijuana-laced lassi, a yogurt drink. On this night, and only this night, virtually the whole town, including families with young kids, drink these "bhang" lassis. 
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A small temple just up the steps from the Ganges.
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Much partying was had by all. 
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This character was in a procession, and so fired up with religious fervor that he was grappling with his friends like they were fighting. But they were just being boys.
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Crazy boys dancing behind HUGE booming speakers.
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He's dressed up as some God, no doubt. The snake wrapped around his neck is real. This guy was off his head, and when the cart came to a stop, he almost pitched forward face first.
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This is Shiva, or a dressed-up version, as he stands next to Parvati, who he marries yearly on Shivaratri.
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Who is this scoundrel? His head looks to have evil thoughts therein. He might be scheming on Parvati. 
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I can't explain it. I guess he's a priest, covered in colors, and offering blessing to people along the lanes.
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A small temple next to a lovely courtyard restaurant.
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This full-sized door isn't. It's a stone carving in the same temple, about six inches high. Amazing detail.
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I can never get a straight answer when I ask about why people wear this wide yellow stripe.
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A nice handlebar moustache.
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Oh, yeah. I love this one!
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Jen is standing in the lane as a body is carried down to the burning ghats. "Ram Naam Satya Hai!"
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The girls having a henna party.
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It's traditional for the oldest son to have their head shaved when a parent dies. It's amazing how fast they can shave a head.
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Sunrise over the Ganges. I don't see many sunrises, so I make sure to take photos when I do!
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The famous ghats of Varanasi. The other side of the river is completely flooded in monsoon, so the city is only on one side.
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I can't explain it, as much as I'd like to. He looked Indian, but his clothes didn't.
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(The End)