Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Nataraja

Its 01:57am here in Bangalore.  I just drank a cup of tea two hours ago and the caffeine is keeping me awake.  I am currently listening to an audio track by Sri Sri Ravishankar called “Jesus the embodiment of love.”  We are in the middle of diwali here.  Yesterday was the opening of a new dance studio above the apartment where I am staying.  Hip-hop, salsa and a plethora of modern dance styles advertised on the big billboard outside.  I met the young dance instructor at the staircase, with his stylized hair, matching jewelry and trendy clothes and he invited me to come along for the opening party.  As a matter of convenience coupled with curiosity, I decided to go.

The balloons and fresh flowers lined the steps to the studio, from the ground floor, upward, past our apartment and treatment center and paved the way into the entrance of the studio above us, filling it with color and anticipation from those attending.  The dance hall was well decorated and filled with fluorescent lighting.  Unusually, In the middle of the studio sat a pandit(hindu priest) conducting a puja(prayer).  With calm ease, mantras were chanted; a coconut was broken on the dance floor in the middle of the unique display of flowers, fruits and incense.  It was an odd scene for me that defied my initial expectations, but somehow, it felt strangely warm and welcoming as I began to take my seat.  After the puja, blessed fruit and sweet and blessed water was given to all present and the show commenced with a brief introduction to dance and its spiritual origin.  This grabbed my interest and I listened intently, trying to map the spoken vernacular to my conceptual view. 

The young instructor took his place on the dance floor and the show began.  Lyrical hip-hop.  This is the dance style that he was announced to perform.  I watched him as he took to the floor; I watched his cool confidence and calm expression. I noticed his dressing and his body language prior to the dance.  My mind started building its concepts again:  Age, education, upbringing, culture, habits, views.  When he started dancing, though, my attention slowly began to shift.  It shifted from the unique peculiarities of this person to his offering: the dance, and slowly I began to drift from thinking and conceptualizing into feeling, as the rhythm of the music, the smell of the incense and flowers, the colors and the movement began to take over my senses.  The peculiar dancer was no longer there in front of me, there was just his offering: the dance. It seemed to absorb the entire environment into itself and express it more intensely.  I started feeling something move inside me.  A tremendous burst of energy started pouring out from within me as I began to feel the movement and music as it started coming from within.  No longer was the boy there.  As he began to pour himself more and more into his art form, giving his 100%, there was no more dancer, just the dance.   That dance became everything at that moment.  Nothing else existed.   

In India one of the thoughts about God is expressed in the sanscrit: “Nataraja” meaning the Lord of the dance or the cosmic dancer.  Shiva means “that bliss” that transcendental state beyond form, beyond labels and concepts, one that cannot be experienced in any attempt by the mind.  Shiva is also accompanied by other names: Mahakaala (beyond time) Mahakasha (beyond space).  Shiva is not a person or an entity.  It has never been so.  Shiva is an energy.  It is an origin. An essence.  Throughout the ages when people have attempted to express this cosmic dancer, Shiva is placed inside a ring of fire.  He is also standing on a body.  The body represents an inert and static view: the ego, the sense of “I”.  The fire symbolizes the trans-mutative part of Prakriti or manifest existence. The whole existence, everything we experience with the senses, comes from the five greater elements: the spaciousness, the vastness, the (akasha) gives a platform, an invitation to movement (vayu), this movement causes friction, fire (agni,) which in turn combusts, creating (jal), the liquid becomes more stable and concrete and solidifies itself into (prithvi) or earth.  Within the earth itself is a spaciousness (the physics is clear) and so this process continues indefinitely making up the manifest existence from single celled micro organisms to vast universes.    

We are all looking for God.  We decorate this search with color and theories but at its heart, it is an existential search.  It is subjective and also descriptive.  We are looking outside ourselves from within.  We are searching for some unique peculiarities based on some concept.  “God is good.  God is kind.  Generous.  Loving, benevolent, holy, powerful………the list goes on.”  But there are obstacles that we must overcome in order to find him.  Externalities.  And amidst all these apparent things that make up our external environment, these distractions and attractions, these objects, these “people”, these occupations and preoccupations, we hope to find this God, a separate entity.  We grew up in our various religious circles painting us some picture, giving us some expectation of who or what or how this God is.  And we live our lives hoping to have an experience of him/her/it based on our conceptual understanding and expectation.

When I think about this boy who recently danced for us and when I consider every artist that gives completely in their art, I acknowledge that the true artist, when creating, leaves nothing of himself behind.  In that moment of pure expression, if one is truly authentic, sincere and devoted to his or her art then that act of giving, of pouring out, of pure expression leaves no peculiarity behind.  No one remembers the face of Vincent van Gough or Leonardo davinci or Michaelangelo, Beethoven, Vaalmiki, Veda Vyasa, Kabir Das, Meera Bhai.  Their unique peculiarities and features all fade in light of their art. 

The depth of love is when ego has completely dissolved.  There is no longer any “I” that is expressing.  There is only the expression.  There is no longer the dancer, just the dance.  The dancer is lost in the dance.  God is no longer in the unique peculiarities.  If you are looking for God you will not find him.  Because he is no personality or thing.  There is no comparison or contrast.  He is and is in everything.  God has lost himself in his expression and because of great love is continuously pouring himself outwardly.  Love is a law unto itself.  It exists without intention or expectation.  There is a rhythm to this existence.  Everything that manifests must also have its dissolution.  In this prakriti, in this nature there is entropy and atrophy.  The particles combine and dissolve.  The energy dissipates and takes some other form.  Everything is giving itself up, it sacrifices itself in order to take another form.  You are the expression, the very molecules and atoms and particles that comprise you is the divine manifesting itself and once again sacrificing itself.

I keep thinking about Jesus: An echo in the stillness.  A fire in the darkness.  A hush in the crowd.  I keep thinking about his message about life and its transience.  I keep thinking about his message to give up these notions about staticity and inertia, these preoccupations with accumulating and hoarding.  I keep thinking about his message to surrender, to give it up, and to celebrate in the experience of no-thing-ness.  In this is his challenge to discover our divine origin, our heavenly father, our cosmic dancer.  Jesus hanging on a cross, arms spread, saying “father forgive…..” has become a love symbol of the sacrificial nature of existence, a challenge to us all, a dance of the nature returning to the source.  Om Nama Shivaya.