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Indian Temple - There is Something Holy there

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The guru sent me to visit the main Shiva temple with a guide: Tejpal. Up until a recent time the temple was accessible only to Hindu-born Hindus. Now it has been decided that no one has exclusive access to God and the temple is open to anyone.

The son of the man who built the Taj mahal went on a conversion mission to turn India to Islam, and one of his strategies was to tear down major Hindu temples and erect a mosque in its place just like the Roman Christians did with pagan temples.

Half of the Shiva temple remains, and half is a pretty much unused mosque. The Shiva temple is one of the most ancient and important in India and was recently threaten with a bombing.

I was searched 8 times and went through 3 metal detectors and constantly watched by hosts of armed men. No one escaped the scrutiny, and somehow, like everything in Varanasi, it all worked together in a mad frenzied elegant movement like cells flowing in a blood stream.

I was awestruck into silence. My guide asked, "are you ok?". "Yes, I am happy.". "You feel the something special holy. We all feel it here."

My throat constricts with unbidden emotion and recognition of the subtle something holy that is bleeding out of every 3000-year-old step that mothers and children are touching with reverence because every inch of this place is sacred ground. I shuffle along shoeless in the ant column through dirty water, flower-strewn floors, and shallow dark, congested tunnels...till at last, I come to THE place. I think it's a lingam. I don't know. I can't see through the tears, and the ancient pit and its inhabitant is covered with garlands and garlands and garlands and yogurt and honey and water, and I don't know what.

There is only a moment to kneel and touch the water as hoards of devotees clamor behind waiting to embrace the energy at the center where the lord of change and renewal is highly likely to meet your heart's request.

I can barely remember the rest. When did I get that red dot on my head? How did I get my shoes and camera back? I know we left them outside security where we bought garlands and offerings and gifts to take back to the guru as the sign of our pilgrimage.

There were other temples, shops and rickshaw rides, eggs to buy, sugar bags with ants crawling around inside and crafty dodging of police as the guide overloaded the auto rickshaw and we laughed, and the guide held my hand for a moment and smiled with understanding.

Earlier that day a staff member at the ashram told me about the sad changes she had noticed in Vanares over the last 10 years. She told me about her concern that this incredible mystery on the earth would slip away. She told me about the McDonald's that opened and was so successful that they took in enough money in one week to open a second and they have plans for more. McDonald's in Vanares? What could that be compared to? I can't think.

Everywhere I look here life is incomprehensibly complex and diverse. Beautiful beholder see what you want. Badly broken systems, beautiful, brave beggars, dark-eyed god-crazy sages, and God. At the Ashram Seva is the thing. Respect is the way. Obedience is voluntary.

The Guru talks to us about the importance of Seva. He explains that some people serve in Seva to complete themselves, to fill an emptiness within. He explains that Sadhana (spiritual practice is what fills us and when we are full there is an overflow and that overflow when directed to others, and worthwhile pursuits constitute Seva. "But," he says, "Anywhere is good to start."

Next: I had never heard an Aum singing till now.

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