Friday, October 25, 2013

Faith and Rain

Originally posted on Tumblr, May 19, 2011. Edited October 24, 2013.

Krista is my go-to friend for exploring new things, both of us constantly craving strangeness and trying to outrun the iron fist of convention. Today, we decided we’d introduce ourselves to a new faith: the Hare Krishna movement.

There is a Hare Krishna temple located conveniently near my house, and at the encouragement of a colleague of mine who is herself a devotee, Krista and I paid the temple a visit.

We passed through the gates, hesitating slightly because we felt like intruders, but the devotees were warm and welcoming. A woman named Parvati led us in and asked us gently to remove our shoes, a request we willingly obliged.

Stepping into the temple, the first thing I noticed was the brown figure of a man, sitting cross-legged on what seemed like a throne. He sat at the far end of the room, completely unmoving. I looked to Krista, and saw by the look in her eyes that she too could not tell if the figure was alive or inanimate.

While the figure did not move an inch, his presence was so imposing that I felt compelled to keep my head bowed and my voice low. It felt as though his unblinking gaze reached into my heart, drew out the darkness there and wrote it all over my face. His presence made me feel somehow that by merely standing there, breathing, I was sinning.

Later on we realized that the figure was not a real person, but a statue of the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement. When we came closer and I could see that the figure was not of flesh and bone but of shiny stone, I suddenly felt like I could move freely again - no more condemnation.

The devotees excitedly (but in gentle tones) told us more about the movement - its origin, the deities that they revere, the lifestyle they live. I liked the saris that the women wore. I liked how colorful the religion seemed to be, how their supreme deity - Krishna - comes in many forms. I liked the fact that he had a lover, Radha, the goddess of supreme devotion. I liked how their story sounded like a magical fantasy epic, kind of like Harry Potter, but with more sex, more trickery, more grotesqueries, and less teenage angst.

Later, when we awkwardly joined the devotees in their worship ceremony, I also liked how their voices soared and finger cymbals played and drums hummed to sing praises to Krishna. I liked how they all started to dance. I liked how the object of their worship was a basil plant. I liked how jubilant they were over this basil plant.

It was, in fact, quite a party - much different from the stilted Catholic choruses I’ve known in my younger years, different too from the less-formal but still restrained worship sessions of the Born-again church my family attends. In their temple, worship was a celebration.

After singing many rather exhausting rounds of the Maha Mantra, the temple guru emerged. The party suddenly fell quiet, and the devotees scrambled to their spots on the floor, surrounding the chair where the guru sat.

He began his lecture. How he spoke reminded me so much of a priest’s homily, or a pastor’s sermon. Benevolent, but instructive. That’s when Krista and I decided that we should leave. We thought we could slink out of the sermon quietly, as one can do at a Catholic or Born-again church. But at the temple, no move went unnoticed. We interrupted the guru’s lecture in the process of leaving. Thankfully, they were all so nice about it. They even insisted on feeding us dinner before we left. Thunder rolled threateningly overhead as Krista and I ate the temple's vegan spaghetti.

We left just as it started to pour, and because my house was so nearby, we were unprepared for rain. Not wanting to go back to the temple after having interrupted the sermon to leave, we sought shelter instead beneath the overhanging eave of a nearby house.

We spoke then, Krista and I, discussing what we thought and how we felt about what we had just experienced. It turned out we felt the same: we were both still searching.

When we fell silent, both of us reached our hands out to catch the raindrops, which were by then falling in sheets.

I had never felt more prayerful in any church or temple than I did standing there, in that strong shower, soaked to the bone with rain rolling down my arms. Lightning flashed all around, threatening to strike us, kill us, and I truly feared for our lives. But at the same time, I was thrilled by the touch of the water and the blackness of the sky, and the lovely, glimmering sheen that the crystal raindrops had cast upon everything.

"I love the rain," Krista said.

"Me too. The world changes when it rains," I respond.

Then I knew that whatever magic or energy it was we believed in, whatever faith we were searching for - that moment was a glimpse of it, and we had come closer to catching it than we ever have before.

Almost exactly a year after this happened, Krista and I searched for something to believe in yet again, this time at a Jain temple in Alipurduar in West Bengal, India. Instead we found a refreshing silence. Something to believe in, we found everywhere else.

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