lac mahon, la peche, qc.

lac mahon, la peche, qc.
photo by graham law.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


That was not a form of sleep I ever remembered having before.  I had no memory of crossing over the bridge between worlds, between states of consciousness. 

I arrived at the 1977 Maha Kumbha Mela in Allahabad on the afternoon of February 19th, bedroll on my shoulders.  A strong and steady rain had washed the land a day earlier, turning the whole area into a colossal mudslide.  There was no place to even sit.  So I walked, for hours, taking it all in.  The Naga Babas crouched naked close to the river’s edge, sure to be first to bathe each morning.  A sadhu was buried straight down into the ground, up to his neck.  Another sadhu had a withered arm, raised up, stuck in place.  There was a sea of humanity stretched out in front of me, the earth's largest act of faith, as I’ve heard it called, a profound testimonial to the belief in one life permeating all, and the likes of which I knew I’d almost certainly never see again in this lifetime.  
I walked and walked, watched and watched; the pilgrims, fifteen million of them, sanyasis, yogis, the animals, the life, until I had to lie down.  I felt rather confused, a bit sick and totally disoriented in spite of having already been in India for several months.  Eventually, I just dropped down on my bedroll in the middle of a muddy path.  My last conscious thought, before passing out, was that just maybe I was dying.  It seemed appropriate somehow, alone among millions, on a bridge between civilizations, a bit sad, resigned, it was alright.     
The next thing I knew, I was lying next to a small fire with a circle of sadhus around me.  Someone had placed a bowl of jellabies and curd next to me.  Jellabies are basically deep-fried sugar and flour shaped like pretzels.  Curd is basically yogurt.  I had slept through the night.  A mange-ridden dog was sniffing at my feet, sidling up closer and closer to the bowl of sweets until one of the sadhus threw a stick at it.  I took a nibble at the jellabies, carefully.  The taste of them nearly made me snap my head back with delight.  I ate the whole thing and drank some chai while listening to chanting, not really questioning how I had come to be in the midst of that odd group.  Most of them had matted dread-locked hair, long beards and were dressed in loincloths or dhotis.  I meditated while their chanting continued to fill the atmosphere around me and, in sharp contrast to the day before, I actually felt fine. 
Later the same day, having resumed my wandering, a French couple came running up to me, asking where the bathrooms were.  I told them it was anywhere between the two parallel ropes that ran for miles along one side of the mela.  They looked horrified as they melted back into the crowd, and I felt a little less like a stranger there.  I had crossed a bridge between worlds. 
Gurus, masters, spiritual leaders of all sorts, of all shapes and sizes, seemed to take turns parading through the grounds with their entourage and with varying degrees of pomp and lavishness, each a celebration of India’s long respected Guru Tradition.  One such procession, however, struck me as rather too grand, too ostentatious.  The Guru rode on a massive elephant decorated from top to bottom; red and orange Rajasthan carpets, colored beads and bells, Peacock feathers on its forehead and huge garlands around its neck.  The man was himself an imposing figure, with thick black beard, orange robes and rudraaksh-seed malas.  Behind him, several slightly smaller, less decorated elephants followed, apparently carrying some of his disciples. 
Hundreds of people flocked around that front elephant, trying to touch its tail or feet or stomach, believing that one touch of the mount of the Guru, the enlightened one, would bless them.  The mahout was clearly frightened.  He was having trouble controlling the beast as it stepped sideways, swaying dangerously, and twisting almost out of control.  Meanwhile, the great Guru was laughing, wagging his finger down at the people, seemingly unconcerned. 
I found myself moving along with the procession, keeping pace with the skittish elephant, caught up in the moment.  But, I kept thinking it was wrong to sit up on that elephant, basking in the glory, endangering many lives.  Who was he to be held up so high and mighty when the life is one, when we are all from one source (?)  And then the great man turned right around in his howdah and looked straight at me.  We were frozen in time, for a moment, as he spoke with his eyes; ‘Yes, you’re right,’ he said, ‘but don’t tell me, tell them.’  I stopped dead in my tracks as he rode off into the mela. 
I’m not sure when I really began to understand on a very visceral level that there are in fact no bridges between worlds, civilizations or even states of consciousness, that all forms and phenomena are like so many waves upon one ocean.  I only know that my short time at the Mela went a long way in helping to shape the understanding.    
“Kindness is the bridge between souls, families and nations.”  Paramahansa Yogananda. 

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