Notes From the Hindu Underground

Hi, Boomers,

I’m home and the emersion back to reality has not taken place yet. Hey, the day is almost over and maybe I won’t be jarred back into the daily news. A weariness is beginning to creep into my bones and my mind is fuzzier than at noon when I wandered through Ralph’s trying to come up with a week’s worth of food. Not Whole Foods? Okay, so I had a bunch of Ralph’s coupons that needed to be used up.
While my body is shopping and organizing bills and juggling next week’s marketing activity and classes, my mind is still back in Bali. I’m still flush with the warmth and generosity of spirit and daily offerings of gratitude that encompasses this most unique Hindu society. Despite the hundreds of motorbikes and taxis flooding the streets at all hours, the rhythm of Bali resides in the beats of one’s heart. Care, kindness, and gratitude is the mantra chain. Karma determines your way into life and your way out of life.
One of the most unique experiences I had was attending a cremation ceremony. The funeral was held in a small village about 10 miles outside of Ubud – the city where I stayed – and it began in the home of the deceased. We were served water and cake before the ceremony began. There were relatives and villagers milling around or sitting. Music was playing; children were happily wandering around; the ladies were gossiping and the men were organizing and erecting the very tall edifice where the deceased body was to be placed.
When it was time to gather on the center road in the village, we all moved into the street and watched the finishing preparations. On the very top of the funeral edifice, a beautiful young woman, dressed in Balinese ceremonial clothes, sat perfectly still. She was a member of the deceased family. Below her was a life-size black cow made out of wood; upon that cow road an important person from the village. He looked like a cowboy in a western movie. He was happily showing off to the villagers how much fun he was having atop that cow.
In this particular funeral ceremony, only one man was going to be cremated. The deceased was considered to have some wealth in the village and so he was allowed to have his own separate cremation. Sometimes many people are cremated at the same time if they do not have the means for an individual funeral. This was an unusual event.
My friends and I hung out with two adorable Italian men who spoke English very well and so we all walked together down the pothole filled street, wind blowing dust around our bodies as the oppressive heat made our throats dry. I thought we should be sad at this moment, but no one around us was sad. Everyone was joyfully talking and laughing and it all seemed so, well, perplexingly not like a funeral.
We walked into a large field and the villagers stood back as those who prepared for the cremation did their work.. The black cow was situation on its own platform and was separated from the edifice where the body was held. Actually, the body was wrapped much like a mummy in ancient Egypt and placed in what looked like a casket. Then men lifted the casket and carried it to the cow where it slowly slide into the body into a carved out cavity inside the cow. Evidently, the cow had movable parts and functioned somewhat like a crematorium. In the ensuing half hour, piles of wood and straw were placed around the cow. Still, the crowd talked and continued to carry on as if they were standing around at a market place.
The family approached the funeral pyre to pay their last respects. The wood and straw were beginning to burn. When the cow was sufficiently burning, I walked up to the sacred cow which housed the burning body and paid my last respects. I knew from my yoga and study of Buddhism that this was a moment of transition for the deceased. His soul was moving on into the spiritual world and he would, of course, come back into another form. If he had lived life with good karma, he would return a happy man. If not, his life would be full of struggle.
I asked our driver, Wayan, why there were no tears. Why there was no sadness. Why were the villagers were totally relaxed and peaceful. The sense of balance in the crowd was pervasive. There were no high or lows; the energy of the villagers was uniquely tranquil for just having seen their beloved relative die.
Wayan told us about the Hindu philosophy of death and dying; it is much like the Tibetan philosophy of living and dying. For Hindus and Buddhists, death is a transition after life. That transition has meaning because the energy of the soul does not evaporate. The soul lives, it resonates in the universe at the moment of death. Death is a happy time in these unique cultures. It is a time to assess karma and give gratitude for life on earth. For those who are close relatives of the deceased, a wife or a daughter or son, then there may be tears shed but not in public. No one mourns or long.
I am still feeling the vibe of peace and non-violence at the core of the Balinese society. I sensed no anger; I sensed no impatience; I sensed no judgment. There is little crime and not much drug use. There seems to be a lack of coveting of things or fighting over the spoils of events or situation. The island of Bali and its people are embracing and loving and the the richness and textures of this most magnificent and lush environment and its spiritual people will have a long lasting influence on my soul.
I didn’t do any yoga while I was away. My friends asked me if I missed the practice. But I told them that my practice was more meditative and not so physical because we were hiking most of the days and the physical exertion was vigorous. So my thoughts turned inward many times a day as I let my mind wander and absorb the purity of the air and the stillness in my environment. Can you imagine meditating in a rice field? It’s heaven. And Bali is surely as close to paradise on earth as it gets.
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