Karma Burning: Episode III
Karma Burning: Episode III
The Path to Holistic Healing
By: Tracy Hackett, AP DAOM
The scaffolding was a motley structure that creaked and shuddered as I tiptoed across the clattering plywood sheets to work in my bare feet. It was my tenuous nest that supported my reach toward the heavenly spheres to see and to paint “the god”. It wasn’t an easy task to get it there. The Brahmin priests were dubious as to whether I had permission to access this mystical level and decided to throw a few monkey wrenches my way. They were none too happy that my feet hovered above the Vishnu shrine in the center of the temple, even while doing work within the purview the semi-divine.
Shoes are not allowed in Hindu temples and foot washing is typically done before entering. There is special insult that feet can cast by pointing them in the wrong direction, since they are the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. It is disrespectful to sit with your feet directed toward a teacher, for instance, or to indicate toward or touch something or someone with your feet. The very worst possible case would be to have your feet anywhere near or above the deity in a shrine. Yes, welcome to my world of no possible way to win on that point.
The head priest, Ayyar Swami, was a blue-eyed man with a smooth bronzed coffee complexion and very fine features under coifed white hair. He had been performing pujas (daily rites) in the converted Ayurvedic hospital temple shrines for at least fifty years. His wrought facial expressions and snorts toward me every time I passed made it clear that my presence was not welcome. I, of course, was totally unaware of all of the rules I was breaking and just thought he was senile. Then the priests sat me down, within my first few weeks of trying to get started, since my hard-headedness did not relent to their obstructions and delays for supplies and preparations. I was told “We have done the horoscope for this work and it is not auspicious. Perhaps you shouldn’t do this work. The time is not correct.” My response was “Well, my passport stamp gives me one year to finish this. If you want an unfinished deity picture hanging out in the main temple, that’s up to you.” “We are not concerned for this. Maybe you could get hurt or have some misfortune. We are concerned about that.” “Oh, I see. So the head swami who invited me to do this work is wrong, is he? He said that the timing was just fine. Are you saying he didn’t understand?” “Oh no! No, no, no, we are sure that he is right.” “Great, so the scaffolding will go up this week?” “Yes, this week itself your supports will be there.”
IST was the time zone I was in, but the actual name was “Indian Stretchable Time”. One week in rural India is equivalent to about two weeks anywhere else, if you are very lucky. The scaffolding eventually went up. I set to work and went up at 5 a.m. every day after my 4 a.m. yoga practice in the dark, but got into yet another tangle with my quiet routine anyway. Another thing frowned upon in a temple is a woman during her menses. They sat me down again. “Uh, madame, you know it is not acceptable that a woman go to the temple every single day of the month. You must take off one week every month.” I was not going to capitulate. I was on a schedule. “How would you know where I am in my cycle? Not every woman has one. Not every woman has bleeding for seven days.” The priest addressing me averted his eyes. “It is your honor then that will tell you when to stay out.” “So what is the problem with this anyway, especially since I newly find myself in the semi-divine category as well?” “That may be true, but the blood is a filthy thing and cannot be in the temple.” “Really? So are you saying that ‘the god’ puts a baby in some filthy stuff to grow up in the mother?” “Well, no, but it’s leaving the body, not being used, so it’s become filthy. There is downward energy with it that pulls down the sacred energy in the temple also.” “I see. Wow, that’s amazing this filthy stuff can defy the flow of divine energy like that with such powerful downward movement.” The priest smiled and shook his head with that special wobble many South Indians use to neither agree nor disagree, but merely acknowledge they heard you speaking. I then asked, “So, do you take a shit every morning?” He grimaced at my pointed question and grumbled. “Yes, I thought so. Now there’s some powerfully moving downward filth for you. So, if you will excuse me, I have some demigod work to attend to.” Some traditions are meant to be defied on their prima facie nonsense and inability to meet a simple Occam’s razor test.
The youngest priest, ThirumminiSwami, was a wild-eyed man with unkempt flowing black tresses and simple grace in his gait. His devotion to the Divine was carved in his very figure. He did the puja in the shrine of the pretty little temple I worked in every sunrise and sunset and during the day for many special times of the moon calendar in between. He never spoke to me directly nor through an interpreter, but he gave me blessings and prasad (consecrated sweet food) frequently. There is no mistaking a kind heart no matter the language. He was a beautiful person who was gentle towards me every single day and placed my daily flower gifts on the feet of the deity in the shrine with a smile.