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Tuesday, March 29

Capacity for Gratitude

For readers who saw the Joy 2 post before I updated it, Charles Cameron sent photographic proof that an Indian Hindu spiritual teacher today known as Prem Rawat celebrated Holi in the USA with his followers around 1973, and that this included his use of the traditional Holi colored water and powders. 

From the extensive Wikipedia article about Rawat it's not clear to me whether he ever conducted Holi celebrations while he was in India. He eventually became a U.S. citizen, distanced himself from all things Hindu, and converted his organization from a religious to a purely secular one. 

Nevertheless when I wrote, "It's just not done, it's never been done, for an Indian spiritual teacher of [Amma's] level -- or any level for that matter -- to join in the Holi merriment to that extent," I should have qualified the statement by adding "to the best of my knowledge." 

But if I hadn't misspoken Charles wouldn't have written, and I wouldn't have received from him an old biographical sketch that delighted me. It's not every day one learns a fellow blogger applied to be a monk at 11 years on his own initiative:
Born 1943 in Portsmouth, England, Scottish in name and heart, Charles Cameron is a vagabond monk traversing religious traditions.
He was nine when his father, a naval officer who’d fought in the Battle of the Barents Sea, died, and shortly thereafter decided that religion might offer a more reliable version of ‘family’ than biology had, and applied to an Anglican / Episcopalian monastery in Yorkshire to join the community.
Unsurprisingly, they weren’t quite ready for an eleven-year old monk, but his application landed on the desk of the remarkable Fr. Trevor Huddleston, CR, recently returned from South Africa, who took young Charles under his wing, mentored him in monastic values – and introduced him to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Charles went up to Oxford with a love of the arts and liturgy and read theology under Reverend AE Harvey at Christ Church.
While at Oxford, Charles met the young Tibetan lama, Trungpa Rimpoche and widened his interests to include the monastic and contemplative traditions of the East.
[...]
This launched his vagabond monk era, which included time in India. (From a later bio I saw some years ago he eventually married and settled down in the USA.) 

Many years later it seems Charles brought it all home. He turned to his father's defense-oriented outlook by adding his spiritual insights and knowledge of theological matters to Mark Safranski's Zenpundit website, which is chiefly concerned with American defense issues.

I'm now going to take another flyer but this time with the safety net of the qualifying phrase "to the best of my knowledge." 

To the best of my knowledge bhajan singing, as it's traditionally done, is a pretty staid affair; no dancing, no hopping up and down or otherwise acting as if one is at a Pentecostal revival meeting. But at least one time, which was recorded on video, Amma sat amongst an audience of her devotees instead of onstage for the bhajan singing, and allowed the audience to let rip with a bhajan called Mata Rani Ne. I don't know whether she wrote the song but it seems to be greatly associated with her.  

The video shows a bunch of guys got up something like Cossacks with fake beards who are jumping around. (I'll bet they were American.) And there's a group of Indian and Western ladies doing sort of a line dance. 

At one point toward the end Amma humorously claps her face with her hands as if to say, 'What have I done?' But it was all to make an important point. The bhajan is a song of thanks to God (in the female aspect of the Divine Mother) just for putting in an appearance at one's house. From the English translation of the lyrics provided by Maala Nair for another version of the same bhajan at YouTube.
The Empress of the Universe has showered Her grace, all my wishes have come true. The Divine Mother has heard my prayers, all my wishes have come true
She has cleared my path, desires that were blocked have been fulfilled. My mother, my mother has come to take my sorrows away. All my wishes have come true
The Empress of the Universe Herself has come running. She has poured all happiness into my pouch. My mother, my mother has heard my prayers. All my wishes have come true
Today my Mother has come to my house. I have taken a dip into the ocean of happiness. My Giver, my Giver heard my prayers. All my wishes have come true
Here's the video, which is a mix of a few different times that the bhajan was sung, but the real barnraising starts at the 5:20 mark. (That time might have been for a Holi celebration because at one point she's holding an orange Holi water spraying tube, although I don't seen any colored powder.)    



To ask for nothing of the divine but the sight or clear sign of its presence is not easy for human nature, which tends toward the transactional. Thus, we have God treated as Santa Claus (Here's my list), as Boss Tweed (How much will you pay me to believe in you?) or a black magician (Smite my enemies for me).

Yet those who ask only for a personal experience of God, as Amma exemplifies in her teaching mission, gain everything without asking. 

Many people aren't ready to gain everything and that's okay. But even remembering on occasion to be grateful for the thought of the divine is enough to deepen one's capacity for gratitude, which is reciprocated many times over.  

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