Saturday, April 7, 2012

Beautiful People in Winston Salem

"May I hear a G please?"
"No, G"
There are a variety of accents from India.
Someone suggests,"G, as in God"
"Ah, OK", Rajen plays 'G' on his harmonium, and the song begins.
Akhilesh supports the rhythm on tablas.
I select the 'G' flute from my collection and follow the melody.
This is true Folk Music, the music of the people.
Some are trained in the Indian Classical system, some sing what they have learned from childhood. All of them sing from their heart while the group responds as a chorus. Moments of the performance may be praised in midstream, "Bahut Accha He !", raising a hand while slightly tilting the head to one side.
These people have kindly accepted me as if part of their family.
It is a very tightly knit group. For years they have been gathering regularly to sing and play music of India.
Today is an annual event at Praful's home, celebrating the appearance of Hanuman, the monkey warrior servant of Lord Rama.
Way back in December, Praful urged me to reserve the date to sing a bhajan and give a brief talk.

It is a bit intimidating to speak or perform before such a talented group.
"Mitra, it is your turn, please speak something"
"10 minutes?"
"Yes, 10 minutes, then bhajan."
That is more time than anyone else had taken. I'd better make this good. I've learned so much from these people and want to give something back.
"It's been a year since our last gathering here. I've had a wonderful year, full of growth, learning and opportunity. I hope that your year has also been so eventful." I scanned the audience, many of them senior to me, Mathematicians, Physicists, Nano-technicians, nodding their heads in agreement, still learning, still growing.
"I've been studying habits. They are stored in the basal ganglia region of the brain. Once an action is learned, we don't need to give it much attention. We tend to brush our teeth in the same pattern or tie our shoelaces in the same order every time. Driving a car is so easy for us. Remember when you first learned, how difficult and scary it was to approach an intersection? Now, most of you probably don't even remember driving here. The functions were taken over by the basal ganglia while your mind absorbed itself in other topics." Again, heads nodding in agreement, smiles remembering early driving attempts.
"Studies have shown however, that when people are on vacation, they tend to alter their patterns for brushing their teeth. The stimuli have changed. This is a good time to change habits. We can use this to our advantage.
"Yesterday I was reading about Shabari. She had left home at a young age to live in a hermitage accepting spiritual guidance from the sage Matanga. One by one, the sages achieved perfection, leaving this world. Matanga asked Shabari to remain at the ashram as Lord Rama would be coming to visit, she will get the opportunity to host Him.
Shabari took this service, daily collecting flowers to decorate the path, thinking that "today may be the day when He will arrive". She would collect fruits, tasting each one, discarding those that were not sweet enough. After many years, Rama and his brother Laxman arrived to accept the hospitality of this elderly woman. As she offered the fruits, Laxman questioned,"Why are you eating  food which has already been tasted by this woman? This is impure."
Rama replied,"I have tasted many different things in my life, but never have I had anything like this. You must try some."
The Lord has no need for our offerings, rather He accepts our devotion. The devotion of Shabari surpassed that of the followers of rituals. When Laxman tasted the fruit, tears came to His eyes, understanding the intention of His brother."
The body language of the audience showed they felt the same as I do about Shabari, inspired by her example.

"When we chant mantras, the mind considers, 'OK, we already know how to do this.' The basal ganglia takes over and the mind is free to wander. Shabari put everything into her service, it was not simply a habit. For this kirtan, we will try to break our routine. We will try to keep the mantra in the forefront of our mind, as if this is an entirely new experience. Raise your hands to shoulder height, palms upward, asking for blessings. Keeping them like this will help keep your mind from wandering. Taste each mantra, as Shabari tasted each fruit to see if it was sweet. Offer each sweet mantra to Lord Rama and wait patiently for His arrival."
I was surprised to see everyone cooperatively holding their hands up as requested, eyes closed in expectation,"OK Rajen, key of E"
"No, E.... as in elephant"

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