Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Talking Stones

This December 6, there will be the same old drum-beating drill about Hindus tearing up an unused mosque in Ayodhya twenty years ago. Independent of the merits of the actions of the group that day, excavations prove beyond reasonable doubt that a monotheist victory-prayer hall was built by trampling upon a preexisting Mandir-like structure, mocking an sacred and pluralistic geography revered by a billion Indians, including non-Hindus. However, come 12/6, another generation of gullible Indian kids who check 'Hindu' in their school application forms will be selectively indoctrinated into feeling guilty for the rest of their life about their amazing,  inclusive faith that attracts new followers everywhere else in the world without any proselytizing. They will receive subtle guidance from textbooks to recognize the trouble that temple culture causes by coming in the way of progress and unity - without ever being allowed to examine the facts. Impressionable youth will be shown pop-cultural examples to let them know that a modern Hindu is a non temple-going 'cool guy' and 'hip girl' who discards the superstitious Ishta Devta of his/her boring parents and subscribes to the supremely intellectual notion of a single sys-admin with super-user privileges.

There is much echoing power in the orchestrated sounds coming from the now-fallen masonry that was erected by a triumphant but murderous tyrant. In stark contrast, the broken Murthis of Halebidu and Hampi have performed their penance in mutilated silence for more than half a millennium now; they once welcomed thousands of despairing innocents into a magnificent Karmic oasis when nearly all hope for natives was lost and desert dogma reigned supreme in the land. However, it's not just these ancient temples that gave so much and asked so little in return, which appear to be so quiet now.  Many temples are strangled and turned into retirement museums called "national monuments". Now even the active, working ones seem to be tired. Like the one I met the other day.

Trash strewn around her, unclean; deserted; the premises unmaintained and uncared for. It seems a lot of Hindus around that area lost their jobs and moved on, so there was a shortage of funds. It's hard not to notice the well maintained Chinese church just a few hundred yards away. Everything there seemed to be shiny and well crafted, perhaps even made in America. Irritated to find that the temple had closed her doors to me so early in the day, I checked the time in my watch and as I turned to leave that depressing place, she wondered if I too would be deserting her? I got defensive. "It's not my job. It's not fair ...", before the sheer inertia of a defeated mind stopped me in my tracks and and the weight of despair dragged me down to my haunches. It is after all an unequal and unfair battle.

Just two weeks ago, I chatted with the young, dynamic, English-speaking priest of that temple who left his wife and little child in Bangalore to serve the small Hindu community here. He had saved enough to make a trip to India last week. It took him more than a year of struggling with paperwork to just get a driver's license here and was left to his own resources. Some priests in domes can conjure up an peaceful mob after a prayer. Others in cathedrals can go one better and have loving human-rights people and media microphones serenade you on-demand. Our priest cannot even afford an Internet connection in his tiny apartment in a lonely land, and is the lowest in the pecking order within the community he serves.  Temple-priests and their children will be encouraged to pay for their ancestor's real or imaginary crimes even as the voices of December will warn you to cease and desist from applying the same sickening logic to others.

Sure, my community wants the services of this priest - just not the profound Sanskrit mantras (and he chants them beautifully and explains their meaning too), but quick mumbo-jumbo at a discounted price. They petition him to provide them with any auspicious date for a family function as long as it is on a weekend. A white American lady seeking solace within Hinduism once showed up at that temple with deep questions for our priest. An avid temple-going, prosperous Indian-American, a dentist by profession, who happened to be there at that time, volunteered to translate the accent. At the end of a very positive three-way conversation, the dentist informed the lady that "Hinduism was the worst religion in this world"... As we cleared some of the trash, I hoped the Murthis would feel just a little better about their American home now. How often do we go to a temple to return a favor?

Many important voices will be speaking for the December stones, and I have no problem with that. My temple stones are not mute, and they need to be heard too. Not by the government, the media, or anybody else, but by us. If we listen carefully enough, we may perhaps begin to rediscover our own voice of Dharma.

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