CHAPTER ONE

Samsara, the transmigration of life, takes place in one’s own mind. Let one therefore keep the mind pure, for what a man thinks that he becomes: this is a mystery of Eternity.

– The Maitri Upanishad

 

He had lived a good life and now he planned to die a good death.

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These were his thoughts as his eyes, tearful and deep, as endless wellsprings of fresh water, watched the carcass of his beloved wife Satya, burning brightly upon the funeral pyre.

His senses were filled with the smoldering forest wood smoke, which had been generously smattered and splattered by the Swami with fragrant sandalwood and sprinkled with saffron. The learned and articulate Swami continued to chant the Sanskrit verse of the Vedas, while in the distance were the terraced and lush green Indian Himalayan tea plantations emerging from the thick mists of clouds as the morning sun shone more yellow light on his beloved Satya.

He was surrounded by all those whom he and Satya had loved all of their lives.

Their children and their grandchildren and their great grandchildren all stood silently and stared at the funeral pyre of their mother and grandmother and their great grandmother.

His heart ached, not only due to the loss of his beloved wife, but because his heart was frail and the walls of his heart were like paper and he knew that he had but days to live. The Swami knew this too. The Swami knew that it was only a matter of days before the carcass of Satya’s beloved husband would also be placed upon a similar funeral pyre and that once again, the Swami would pour the sandalwood oil upon the burning wood and once again, the Swami would recite the ritual of the Sanskrit verse of the Vedas, and once again, he would sprinkle the funeral pyre with saffron.

The Swami knew of this inevitability and, from time to time, as he recited the benedictions for Satya’s soul, his eyes wandered up to meet the tearful eyes of Satya’s husband and they exchanged a knowing glance and a hidden understanding.

He and the Swami had known each other their entire lives but in this past day and in these past hours, since Satya had died peacefully in her sleep the previous morning, he and the Swami had become closer still and they had discussed two significant arrangements.

The first arrangement was that of the funeral arrangements for his beloved wife, Satya.

The Swami had calmly and methodically articulated all the procedural and ritualistic events leading up to this current moment whereupon Satya’s body was now burning upon the funeral pyre.

The second arrangement, which the Swami discussed with Satya’s husband, was the arrangement of the transmigration of Satya’s husband’s soul, of his soul’s Samsara Migration.

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The previous day, the day when his beloved Satya had passed on from this earthly life, he and his strong and strapping sons and the Swami, all trekked into the lush and thick treed Sacred Forest, the forest where elephants go to their secret graveyard. There, they met with the solitary Sadhu, who lived a life of meditation and austerity in the forest.

The Sadhu only interacted with the local tea plantation village during the days when there was a birth or a death in the village, in order to offer his blessing and his prayer.

Today, as Satya’s husband and his grandsons and the Swami arrived in the Sacred Forest, the reclusive Sadhu offered his blessings and then pointed out a tree in the forest that should be felled for the funeral pyre of Satya. The axe bearing young men vigilantly wielded their axes toward the root of the tree and cut and felled the tree that was to be used for the funeral pyre of their mother. Meantime, he and the two other elders, the Swami and the Sadhu, witnessed the felling of the tree. The young men then proceeded to cut the tree into chunks of round wood that they then proceeded to carry upon their heads back to the village after saying farewell to the three elders.

After the young men had left, Satya’s husband, the Swami and the Sadhu, all sat near the root of the fallen tree and they began their meditation.

In his own meditation, he considered how the men sitting next to him, the Swami and the Sadhu, were both necessary for him to consult and to seek counsel from, since both bore a complimentary understanding of the Universe.

The Swami, was a man of the world, who looked up affectionately toward the Spirit.

The Sadhu, was a man of the Spirit, who looked down affectionately toward the world.

Satya’s husband was neither learned nor literate.

He had grown up in the tea plantation village and his earliest memories, like that of so many young children in the village, was of sitting in the large reed woven basket of his mother, which was strapped upon her back as she picked the tea leaves during the harvest.

Tea picker at Jungpana Tea Estate Darjeeling India

His earliest recollections were of the fragrance of fresh tealeaves.

As a young boy he helped his mother harvest the tealeaves on the Himalayan plantation.

He loved the early morning.

He loved the chirping of the Himalayan birds, the plumage of their brightly colored feathers, illuminated against the orange dawn and framed against the backdrop of the distant and silhouetted Himalayan mountain peaks.

He loved the freshness of the morning air and the scent of freshly harvested tea.

He loved the sound of singing.

His early boyhood memories were filled with song.

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The song of the morning birds, and the songs his mother and the other women tea pickers sang as they cheerfully and industriously harvested the tea from early morning to evening.

He loved honest hard work and a labor of love.

Both his parents had instilled in him a work ethic that gave him his dignity. He did not derive his dignity from education or learning for he had none. He had never attended a school and he had never learned to read or write. What he understood well was sense of duty and a sense of responsibility. It was those qualities that had made him a good husband to Satya and a good father and grandfather and a good provider for his extended family.

One day, when he was a young boy, he asked his father why all the women devoted their songs to a different region of the Indian Subcontinent every morning.

He asked his father why the women in the village sang songs to other villages far, far away, and to places they had never been to and would likely never go to. His father responded by bringing him over to an old bullock cart and pointing to the cart’s large wooden wheel.

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His father explained that in a wheel, there is a hub and there are spokes coming out of this hub and that the hub and spokes make the wheel go around.

He explained that the work of the tea pickers, like his mother’s work, was sacred because they picked the tea that would then be made into cups of chai that would be enjoyed by people all over the Indian Subcontinent. That a Himalayan tea plantation was a central hub from which the tea was then distributed around the country through many different types of spokes, such as the spokes comprised of steam engine trains, where the chaiwallas like his father sold tea to the train’s passengers. His father explained that each person has a role to play in life, but that the role of those at the hub was most sacred.

His mother’s role, explained his father, was at the very hub.

That is why his mother and the other tea plantation harvesters sang sacred songs and said prayers for all the regions and all the villages of the Indian Subcontinent. It was because they understood that while the cups of chai that was made out of the tea they harvested was the form, the true substance, the true essence of enjoying that cup of chai was the Spirit that was beneath and behind the form, the Spirit of the Himalayan village where the tea was harvested and sacred songs were sung in the early morning.

As he meditated now, flanked on the one side by the Swami and on the other side by the Sadhu, he could faintly hear the joyous choral harmony of the women tea harvesters early morning song, that filled his childhood memories, and he felt at peace, although his heart still grieved deeply for the loss of his beloved late wife, Satya.

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Precisely at the point at which he felt at peace in the midst of his grief, the Sadhu broke the silence of the meditation of the three elders and spoke:

“You are feeling more peaceful now, so let us discuss your meditation over the next days. What do you imagine exists between this life and the next, between life and death?”

He replied to the Sadhu that he imagined that there was a wall, a demarcation between what was life and what was death, and that somehow, when the time for his passing had arrived, he would traverse over that wall between life and death, and go climb over to the other side.

The Sadhu reflected upon this response for a few moments and then responded to him thus:

“Instead of imagining a solid wall between life and death, ask yourself, in your future meditation, whether you might consider that this wall is porous and permeable, and that there is perhaps a thread of continuity between what you consider life and what you consider death. Ultimately, there is only the Eternity of life, but we all have to meet this and arrive at this in our own way and in our own time. For you, for now, there is a wall between life and death, so think of this wall as less solid and more permeable. Let that be your future meditation.”

After a few moments, the Swami spoke to him as well:

“As you consider the possibility of the this wall between life and death being less solid matter and more permeable energy, less physical and more spiritual, let your meditation embrace this new sense of reality and observe. Observe what seeps through the cracks and crevasses of this solid wall between life and death. What thoughts, what imaginations, what notions? Then, after this meditation, share these new insights with both us and we shall listen and try to see ways for you to navigate into this new reality.”

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The Sadhu’s kind countenance smiled and nodded agreeably in acknowledgement of the Swami’s words. Then the Sadhu added:

“We can now resume our meditation once more.”

All three men then sat again in silence and in lotus position around the root of the fallen tree trunk that was now being prepared for Satya’s funeral pyre.

The Sacred Forest was quiet with the presence of life and of Spirit.

As he began his meditation once more, Satya’s husband considered first how deeply he respected both the Sadhu and the Swami that sat silently and diligently and supportively upon either side him on this journey through his grief for the loss of his beloved wife.

Flanked by the Sadhu upon one side and the Swami upon the other, they together became his wings to the next world, to whatever he was to encounter from this point onward, to whatever transpired and to whatever was to be transmigrated

The Sadhu and the Swami had traveled and traversed very different journeys to arrive at this sacred Himalayan enclave where Satya’s husband had grown up and lived all of his life.

The Sadhu was born an illegitimate child in a brothel in Calcutta.

The women in the brothel cared for him as a young boy, and he was unsure who his mother was. When he was seven years old, one of the more ruthless and devious madams of the brothel secretly sold him off into child slavery, and he was soon working on a loom in a dimly lit room crammed with many other children his age, toiling all his waking hours to weave carpets that would be bought by bootleggers and barons of the criminal underworld.

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When he grew bigger and stronger and his hands were no longer small and nimble enough to weave the carpet threads, his hands became obsolete for carpet weaving; he was sold again, this time to a stone quarry where he toiled all his waking hours in the merciless hot sun, carrying heavy stone blocks that would be used in the building of houses and schools.

The Sadhu had witnessed the most debased and debauched forms of human cruelty and violence in most of his adult life, and yet his kind countenance betrayed not the slightest trace of malice or bitterness or even sadness. His face was radiant with Spirit and his eyes shined brightly with kindness.

Years of the practice of solitary meditation in the Sacred Forest had allowed him to transmigrate through the utter darkness of his human experiences and brought him to an authentic sense of forgiveness and serenity. His sense of harmony and calm was earned through discipline in the cultivation of compassion and because it was earned it could endure and sustain him and had the potential to sustain others who sought him and meditated with him.

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The Swami had been born into the Brahmin caste of a noble family in Bengal.

Having grown up in a privileged household of man-servants and maids, of cooks and gardeners, of sumptuousness and elegance, he had lead a charmed childhood of private tutors and mollycoddling parents and smart and successful siblings. As a young man, the Swami’s intellectual interests were vast and varied, from the Bengali poems and playwrights, to philosophy and mathematics, to the disciplines of horticulture, painting, engineering and architecture.

He had enjoyed many decades as a professor of Sanskrit literature in Bengal as well as an abundant and flourishing family of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren until his own wife had passed away. It was then, after the passing of his wife, that he had decided to relocate to the serene and scenic Himalayan tea plantation where he now lived, in order to serve the local community as a Swami and perform the necessary rituals at weddings and births and funerals.

The Swami was known for his gift of composing poetic eulogies for the dearly departed and had composed a beautiful poem for Satya and her family.

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Now, during his silent meditation, Satya’s husband considered how fortunate he felt to have encountered the Swami and the Sadhu on his present life’s journey, and how they had both been so generous with their friendship toward him. He had lead a relatively simple and uneventful life compared to the two men seated in meditation on either side of him. He was, after all, just a humble chaiwalla, the son of a tea picker and a chaiwalla. His had been a life of constancy and contentment. He had never known disruption or corruption as the Sadhu had, nor had he experienced the expansiveness of intellectual curiosity and accomplishment, as had the Swami.

Satya’s husband was a simple man with simple tastes and simple needs.

At the age of fourteen, he began his own apprenticeship as a chaiwalla, under his father. He learned from his father how to gather and mix the rich soil of the red earth and mold and fire it in the brick lined village kiln, in order to make the earthenware cups for the tea-drinking customers.

He learned how to mix the brew of the tea with the right proportions of milk and sugar with a dash of the secret spices that were his father’s own recipe.

From the ages of fourteen to seventeen, he apprenticed on the steam engine trains of the Indian Railway with his father, serving chai to countless passengers through countless corridors and countless compartments, listening to the singsong of countless chords of chatter and banter, and enjoying his apprenticeship thoroughly until he could become a chaiwalla in his own right at the age of seventeen.

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It was then, at the age of seventeen, when he could earn his own living and be his own man as a chaiwalla, that he was betrothed to his beloved Satya.

In his meditation, his thoughts reflected toward his wedding day, when all the women who worked in the tea plantation harvests gathered together, and sang sacred songs at the top of their gentle voices to him and to Satya, as the newlywed couple, and he recalled how his mother garnished his neck and Satya’s neck with brightly colored garlands of fresh and fragrant flowers.

The joy of his wedding day seeped into his soul like a bright and burning light and dispelled, if only for a moment, the dark and heavy grief that he had been feeling at the loss of his beloved Satya.

The Sadhu spoke and once more broke the silence of the meditation of the three men:

“Like the solid wall that you feel exists between life and death, the darkness and heaviness of your grief regarding Satya’s death can also seem solid and impenetrable. And yet, now and then, you will have glimpses of light. Glimpses from a memory perhaps, like the memory of your wedding day, when a shaft of this joyous light of recollection, seeps disarmingly through the darkness of a seemingly solid wall of grief. Think about that more, for therein lies the Truth, the Truth of a principle. For, if your seemingly solid and impenetrable wall of grief can be momentarily broken with a recollection of joy and light, then perhaps you should consider this wall to be a little more porous and permeable than you may have at first considered. And if this is true for your wall of grief, it may, in principle, be true for the walls that exist in other realms, such as the wall that seems to exist between life and death.”

The Swami smiled in respectful acknowledgement of the Sadhu’s words and then all three men continued on with their meditation.

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As Satya’s husband continued to meditate, his thoughts went first to the uncanny intuition of the Sadhu. The testimony of the acuteness and of the Sadhu’s metaphysical antenna was demonstrated through his ability to ‘converse’ with Satya’s husband’s own meditation. The Sadhu had intuited that Satya’s husband’s grief was melting; that the walls of grief had momentarily crumbled. How did he know that? How did he know what Satya’s husband was feeling and thinking?

Both the Sadhu and the Swami had explained to him before they began their meditation, that although this kind of phenomena may appear to be a trick of mindreading, it was in fact something more profound and something much deeper. This was a manifestation of a finely tuned sense of harmony, which aspires to the silent harmony of the Universe, the harmony that maintains the celestial order and Oneness of the planets and the suns and the galaxies. In that profound sense of poise that reflected the silent intelligence of the vast Universe, there is no more possession and no more territory.

Satya’s husband’s grief becomes communal as does the Sadhu’s silent serenity and the Swami’s intellectual vigilance. In this silent and meditative harmony, thoughts are no longer owned but shared openly and transparently, not verbally but nonverbally, through metaphysical intuition.

It was said that in ancient India, during the time of the composition of The Upanishads, the anonymous Himalayan yogis that composed the verses of this profoundly poetic prose were similarly in tune with each other’s thoughts and intuited a sense of harmony that was reflective of the harmony of the Universe.

The Sadhu and the Swami had explained to Satya’s husband that when the two of them meditated together in the Sacred Forest, they would often feel each other’s concerns and cognize each other’s deepest thoughts. Periodically, they would break the silence in order to initiate a dialogue of a verbal communication that seamlessly aligned with the nonverbal communication of their joint meditations. This was the experience of the Sadhu and the Swami when they meditated together in the forest.

Now that Satya’s husband had joined the Sadhu and the Swami in meditation in the forest, the three of them together experienced this finely tuned sense of harmony as their thoughts became triangulated.

Satya’s husband felt the silent power of this magnificent triangulation.

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