Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Travelling Pista

||Aum Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||

Harichandra Ghat -Varnasi
||Aum Namo Narayanaya||

 For me, the beauty of travelling lies not only in the visiting of intriguing places of interest or your general tourist attractions... but also in the ability to discover, understand and participate in the culture indigenous to the land. Travelling to India however, can be a daunting task to imbibe or receive a particular cultural hallmark. Travelling across the subcontinent, the mind can become overwhelmed whilst feasted by the varied cultures unique to that particular region of India. Disciplined to the national identity of India and its framework of governance... yet they in their own way present their own dialects, customs, traditions, dress, colloquial slangs and mannerisms which gives the traveller the impression of visiting many countries within the country. Being of South Indian descent, I am particularly fond of Chennai and derive a great degree of comfort and ease while staying there, and through this ease have managed to pick up a lot of the local mannerisms and ‘slang’ language as used by the locals. One of the colloquialisms that is commonly used is, periah pista - for one who acts in a very egotistical manner. The word pista normally refers to a tycoon or influential person in the community. Therefore they have also accorded that name to the cashew nut also which is regarded as the “King of Nuts” in the region. So when somebody who is nobody acts in an egotistical way, they tease and ask why he is behaving like a periah pista (big tycoon).

In case at this point you are wondering where this is going in terms of a spiritual angle, let me then put your mind at ease by going to that day I boarded my flight to Varanasi. It was an overcast, misty day with huge potential of rainfall and my mind was too busy defending itself against the extreme cold that emanated from the Himalayas. Taking bath in the icy cold waters of the Ganga in Rishikesh didn’t seem to prepare me for the cold-front being experienced. As faith would have it, the 90 minute flight did not offer a catering service but ran a little snack shop for those who wanted to purchase. At this point, I nostalgically recall how Swami Vimokshananda would joke how budding chefs would use the opportunity of His visit to present their culinary skills. Not wanting my stomach to be the guinea pig, I scurried through my hand luggage for some snack that would appease my stomach.

Within a few strokes, my hand caught hold of a pack of cashew nuts bought in South Africa... delight overshadowed my countenance and I didn’t waste any time in dispatching these well roasted nuts for digestion. As the plane bounced against the turbulence and groaned towards our destination of Benares, I started to read the packaging of the nuts to offset any boredom that may creep in. It was amusing after reading through the packet to see at the bottom a label saying product of India. After all the intense processes of harvesting, cleaning, roasting, seasoning, packaging and transporting it throughout the global market... this packet has found itself being eaten back in India.

This was indeed profound to me as I gazed at the various ghats  while my boat bobbed about on the haze-covered-Ganges as the current ushered us towards the Harichandra Ghat where everybody seems to want to be cremated.

It was Valentine’s Day two days before I departed and by divine grace, I was having breakfast with revered Swami Vimokshananda, which has become a ritual before I depart on any pilgrimage. Over our tea and delectable treats, Maharaj dispensed a profound message which seems to have unpacked in Varanasi. He said that at the ultimate, the devotee will realise that the highest form of the worship is manas worship (mind) and that what whatever ritual done as an external practise must eventually be internalised.

 Varanasi is acknowledged as the world’s oldest city and the city of liberation... where if your remains are cremated there you will attain salvation. Therefore at the Harichandra Ghat, the mortal remains of millions since time immemorial arrive at unscheduled times via road, rail and air queuing to be reduced to ash by a flame called the holy fire which has been alight for thousands of years. Swamiji reminded me how Master himself had a vision of Lord Shiva Himself lifting each soul to liberation.

It at once reminded me about my pista nuts which returned home. As we are born... we grow up, get educated, travel the world in search of lucrative jobs... we may forget our religion, values and culture in the process. We may think we are great in accordance with the amount of wealth we accumulate, amount of degrees we have or even status in society; but one day, we all will return home to that neutraliser called death: the end result of cremation being an indiscriminative collection of ash that is swept into the flowing Ganga.

As per Maharaj’s instruction on internalising this process, I am inclined to think that liberation is possible when we come home to the fact that... irrespective of your religion, financial status, caste, nationality or whatever divisions you may see with the wordly eye... moksha and liberation shall and will only be achieved when you offer your mind in the holy fire sacrifice of selfless service, commitment to truth, righteousness, searching to the ultimate knowledge, dispassion for worldliness and compassion for human and animal suffering. When the mind attains this state of Varanasi amidst the greed, lust and illusions of the world... then alone Kasi Viswathana will emerge from your heart itself to liberate you from the anxiety you suffer.

May Lord Shiva help us all offer our minds into the holy fire of Kasi, is my sincere prayer.

With affection and prayer
Yogan Naidoo

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