For someone who says she isn’t religious, I’ve sure visited a lot of temples, gurdwaras and even Buddhist gompas in the past month. And despite my frequent protest against the cult of religion (don’t get me started!), it’s been a strangely moving experience. Maybe India’s spirituality is rubbing off on me. Maybe I fancy myself writing a profound memoir of faith a la Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (which I just finished reading and highly recommend). Or maybe I’m just at that place in my life where I feel the desire to reach out–both in need and in thanks. All I know is this: on this trip, there is definitely something heavy on my mind for which I am seeking guidance, solace and comfort, both for myself and for those I love. Perhaps it’s this turning point I’m facing that is causing this reaction.
When Navdeep and I first met, he’d talk often about the Sikh spirituality, what it meant to him growing up, what it means to him now. To him, Sikhism is almost more of a cultural calling than a religion. It has such a spirited and sacrificial history, you can’t help but be moved by it, especially while standing in one of the many monumental gurudwaras, like the one in Tarn Taran or especially the Golden Temple.
But growing up for me, it was different. We were raised what I call “supposedly Hindu.” Along with the all-American Christmas trees and Easter egg hunts, we tied rakhis and left all the lights on during Diwali, we occasionally dressed up and went to the local temple, we had Sunday morning halwa as prasad. But when I asked questions about why Ram did this (especially regarding the Sita situation) or Shiva did that, I rarely got back more than a shrug. We went through the motions of religion without really feeling connected to its meaning or power. I was bored to tears in the manditory survey of Eastern religions class at Rutgers, which was so cut and dry, completely just the facts ma’am. And that, along with all the news about Jihad this or genocide that, left me so utterly disillusioned with the concept of religion that I became dismissive about it. Religion is a crutch for the weak and an excuse for the angry to pick up arms and kill others. I didn’t need any of that.
So why have Navdeep and I been popping our heads into endless temples, gurudwaras and other places of worship? Why are we here in McLeod Ganj, the spiritual and physical home of modern Buddhism? Why did we spend the day with a Tibetan monk? What is it we’re looking for anyway?
Speaking of McLeod Ganj, it’s a very strange and entertaining place–there are cooking classes, reiki massage, ayurveda workshops, and endless spiritual teachings here. White women dress up in the traditional Tibetan maroon robes and walk around with shaved heads, reeking of pseudo-spirituality. But then again, who am I to judge them? Maybe they’ve found something real. Maybe they’re still grasping, but feel like they’re getting close. Maybe they used to be cynical like me. (Hey, I’m a New Yorker.) I don’t know exactly where this spiritual quest will lead me–or even if I’m really on one. But I can’t imagine going that far for religion.
Am I lazy in my spirituality? I’m here in McLeod Ganj, the bastion of Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama actually just happens to be in town. Yesterday, we learned that we missed him by just one hour at the monastery earlier this week (admittedly, we were busy doing website stuff). But he’s giving a spiritual teaching tomorrow morning, and it seems a divine force has placed us here in time for it. So where will we be tomorrow morning at eight? On the bus heading out of town. Navdeep and I decided that Buddhist enlightenment wasn’t worth battling a crowd of thousands, especially since you can’t even take pictures. So yeah, I’m a bit lazy in my spirituality.
But all is not lost. We’re taking that bus to Vaishno Devi, an ardous Hindu pilgrimage that requires a 14-kilometer hike up for Devi Ma darshan, not to mention a 14-kilometer (7 and a bit miles) hike back down. So I’m still puttering along on this journey, no worries. I don’t know where it’ll take me, but I’ll definitely let you know when I get there.