Friday, January 24, 2003
Yesterday was my last night at the Kali temple, but I'd actually left well over a year ago. As much as I loved the devotees and the devotion, the place had come to reek of significance.
I moved here two and some years ago to be close to this temple. I was an active participant in its daily activities as I looked for a job, and even after I found one I spent many evenings sitting at puja, discussing the temple's future, or hanging around to watch the "X-files" and eat pizza.
It's a good crowd to be with, and I'm sorry I left them so abruptly. But I had suddenly developed an allergy to the place, as I had to cats when I was 12. It was the many superstitious beliefs that come with traditional hindu ritualism and how they determine where the significance lies.
For let's face it, it's only a statue on the altar. Not that it doesn't work as a stand-in for the real thing. It *is* the real thing, but then so is everything else. That's why I had a problem with it. Why should some things be a 'better' real than others? It seems to me that all 'things' must be equally real whether better or worse, not better or worse to be more or less real.
For them it was a question of purity. Most of the customs of hindu ritualism have to do with making things "pure," that is, undefiled by the world. This is done by the chanting of various mantras and other means such as using water from the Ganges River, which is regarded as holy despite the fact that you really can't call it pure. I went along with it all as a courtesy to the group. As much as I tried to rock the boat in other ways, this was obviously their hobby, and who am I to question anyone's hobbies.
But the idea of purity is linked to the idea of power. That made the things on the altar powerful. There was a crystal yantra on the altar that had been worshipped by a Shankaracharya from South India (not to be confused with *the* Adi Shankaracharya.) During puja people would offer flowers on this altar, but not above the line where the crystal yantra was placed. This was not permitted to prevent it from being robbed of the power placed there by the Shankaracharya. All it would take was an inadvertent touch.
That's what holiness is, power through a belief in purity. It's one thing for people to be holy, but a piece of glass shaped like a little penis? But that's what a lot of hindu ritualism is about, keeping things pure to keep them holy. And that's mostly what the temple seemed to be about. I found out that it wasn't what I was about, and so I spent the next year or so trying to get back to SF/Oakland, which is where I'll be headed next week.
And as I leave the beautiful canyon I've shared with them, I wish the Kali kids much success. May they build a beautiful temple and share the bliss of shakta devotion with the rest of the world, and through this come to see the heart they share with all of Ma's creation, their underlying existence as oneness itself.