I found a mandir once in Kathmandu,
Enclosed in vines, surrounded by a street,
With no door visible, its carvings worn…
And asked which god it was devoted to.
A cow passed chewing something it would eat
Again, the prayer flags flapped, most of them torn,
As briefly through that heat a north wind blew.
My friend confessed the temple a complete
Mystery. I felt the walls – a bull? its horn?
No, not Bholenath. My only clue –
This temple could not be for any sweet
Southern god like Krishna, here unborn.
The panels of its bas-reliefs enact
Scenes from the puranas which depict your
Spirit (in the form of gods and men)
Countering all forces which subtract.
From each deteriorated picture
Details have been lost, but even when
Carved, religion was an inexact
Science, more like questioning than sure.
Information that should not have been
Known appears, an enigmatic fact
Found in Smrti and in Sruti scripture,
Birch bark where a reed was used for pen.
Perhaps, in their debates on the Divine,
Gargi was the first sage to explain
That by nature Spirit cannot die.
Yajnavalkya won, so to refine
Dying – to describe what might remain –
She explained the Atman, which we try
To own – although no Atman could be mine.
In those contests sages could obtain
Gold – she probed their answers, how and why?
Therefore I inscribe this simple line
To Gargi, whose lines the Vedas contain.
Gargi Vachaknavi, hers hereby.
When the Spirit in us can expand
We hear another language for the first
Time, with nouns that we remember well,
But many verbs we do not understand
Because its situation is reversed.
For us, existence means we dwell
Exposed to beings; Spirit has to stand
Naked before time, and bears a thirst
To drink infinity. We may expel
Spirit as discrepant, but command
Summons it at need, so that a cursed
Sufferer had Spirit as he fell.
What if world were all we ever had?
So have many thought, but rarely said it.
That is how they loved, who could express it
Best with private acts or being bad.
Therefore some grasp Spirit and embed it
In their flesh, where in excess it
Burns, a fuel whose power makes them mad.
Others wound their Spirit and have bled it,
As if being crumpled could compress it.
The numinous itself can make us sad
Unless Spirit guides the Heart to edit
Guilt, so that the Head at last can bless it.
Now, my friend Prakash (his name means light, he
Says), and I investigate this stone
Mandir, from what seems the front to back.
I feel an indentation, so does he –
Perhaps this was the door, now overgrown.
Imagine the insides, by now all black.
Heart and Head seem satisfied, can be
Answered, but our emptiness-for-bone
Spirit acts more like that one macaque
Lobbing pebbles at us from the scree
Of the bas-relief he rules alone.
In his carving, Spirit is the crack.
Imagine Silence, deep enough for thought
To reach the end of all things difficult.
Construct a region where there is no
Sound, nor gravity, no light is caught –
The Head encounters nothing to consult.
There the Spirit thrives and feelings grow.
In this domain the Heart was slowly taught
To fill, so that at last it could exult,
Rejecting laws of men it does not know.
Head is not admitted, as it sought
Silence for a mate, with the result
There is no Silence where the Head can go.
Think of every book you ever read
Remembered perfectly, cover to cover.
Plus all books unread, now synchronized.
Then the spoken words, whenever said,
And unspoken, not meant to discover –
Everything we meant was memorized
By Silence, spun into that thread
Spirit sewed her lips with, as her lover,
When he kissed her mouth and paralyzed
Her body, so that some think her dead.
In this lifetime Silence kissed no other –
Taking Spirit to be god disguised.
Gather Spirit though you cannot hold it –
Spirit is much closer than your mind.
Awe may be the best way to reveal it.
Sometimes in raw nature we behold it
As if wilderness had been designed
To find Spirit’s lesions and then heal it.
World never behaves the way we told it –
Dwelling in our cities we must bind
Spirit to deceptions which conceal it.
Spirit bends so far that we can fold it
To a size where we no longer mind
Suffering – although we always feel it.
Spirit walks the void as we walk earth,
Sees no one, no land as alien,
Bonds with everything it finds forever,
Lives less well on plenitude than dearth.
Spirit is the source of meaning in
Sentience, the one to speak whenever
Answers are required of some worth.
We understand that Heart and Head will spin
Stories, but Spirit is less clever.
Never from the moment of its birth
Has it thought to lie. To its chagrin
Head and Heart say anything whatever.
Here and there in Kathmandu, the eyes
Of Buddha stare from buildings at the street.
The stupas are more colorful, less old
Than temples, and make Spirit realize
That Buddha is in everyone you meet,
Hidden, as one lacquers over gold.
Meanwhile, the Upanishads advise
Patience with all paths before your feet.
Follow any way your Head thinks wise.
If your Heart accepts what it is told,
Spirit may be able to complete
Its journey in this present flesh disguise.
Further, make each day a word you said
In the sentence finished with your dying –
Inked with blood and yet you will forget it.
Worship as if all the gods have fled.
Track their traces past the last outlying
Fringe – many you know will falsify it.
Die as if the point of being dead
Were that part of you was always trying
To meet nothing. Well, now you have met it.
Be each time the life you should have led
Before, more free to love. Long crying
Hurts, but Spirit never could regret it.