Scenes from a Life, Part IV

Arthur Panaro - November 24, 2014

"Face it. Figure it out."

The traveler and his brother were on the road in India.  They arrived in Jamu and found their way to the sprawling grounds of a temple complex of courtyards, shed roofs  and devotional rooms --- chapels, each with an object for veneration. Some rooms were grotto like, with smoke darkened walls and ceiling and the heavy atmosphere of incense and burning candles enveloping everyone and everything in dim shadows. The devotees pelted images with flowers and the statues glistened from the devotional oils and waters that were splashed upon them day after day after day.  The traveler and brother opened the door to a shrine room and encountered devotees singing hymns vigorously and moving in a dance to the sound of tablas, flutes, harmonium, and hand cymbals.  Suddenly the traveler staggered back from the scene into which he had stumbled.

The object of the devotion was a stone Shiva Lingam --- the male member sitting atop a platform yoni stone symbolizing the female genitals. The stones are believed to have healing properties and are important in the worship practices of Hinduism. (  Yoni (Sanskrit - literally "vagina" or "womb") is the symbol of the Goddess (Shakti or Devi), the Hindu Divine Mother. Within Shaivism, the sect dedicated to the god Shiva, the yoni symbolizes his consort. The male counterpart of the yoni is Shiva's linga. Their union represents the eternal process of creation and regeneration. Since the late 19th century, some have interpreted the yoni and the linga as aniconic representations of the vulva and a phallus respectively. (Wikipedia, yoni)

The construction  was embraced by a metal tripod with spindly legs atop which sat a metal pot with perforated bottom which allowed the dripping of a yogurt like liquid that run down over the sculpture.

To his mind came the immediate and stunning thought that Catholicism and probably all of Christianity had purged, expunged, and forbidden worship suggesting or depicting genital sexuality.  Of course the marriage in church of man and woman means sex and is sacramental in Roman and Eastern Christianities, or at least sentimentally in other churches.  Some protestants use the terms “blessing of union” and the progressive Protestants are now consenting to“blessing of same-sex union”.  

The Apostle’s Creed refers to God the Father having his only (“begotten”) Son our Lord [Jesus] who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, standing in, or rather soaring in in place of God the Father at the moment of conception, and this Son was born of the Virgin Mary.  Now there are remarkable aspects to all this, but not much raw human sexuality.  The impregnators, in two forms, are disembodied and Mary, the human part of the equation, remains Virgin.  There is an the act of coitus here, but rather much cleaned up. 

The classical pagan world had no lack of couplings of gods and human females, (also goddesses and men) and the affairs were not always marked with so much purity and modesty --- though some goddesses and heroic humans were devoted to their virginity. 

Certain factions of Christianity depict Madonna and Child --- implying of course childbirth. Churches of the Reformation lineage have steered clear for the most part from holy pictures, including holy mother and child, though no doubt their faithful have no problem sending Christmas cards using US stamps with Mary and baby Jesus.  Ah, but it is Christmas time.  God rest ye merry gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay.   

But now back to the temple complex. Come nightfall, tourists and devotees were given space, catch as catch can, to spread sleeping bag in courtyard or under shed roof.   You were charged a modest fee and a temple watchman would collect it.  The two brothers wound up in one of the courtyards to sleep on the ground under electric lights fixed on tall poles and under the stars.  During the night the tourist slept, but fitfully.  At one point, his eyes came open to find a cow looking down at him. 

The morning would provide him with a rather bizarre encounter that would remain a vivid recollection.  As he was packing up his sleeping bag, he noticed a spot of fresh dung on a corner of the sleeping bag.  There was a lot of dung lying around.  Disturbed and cranky, aloud and also under his breath, the tourist was being observed by a Sadhu, an Hindu wandering holy man who looked like he could have been sent by “central casting” in full costume and makeup.  He was old, sitting on the ground, with thin arms and legs, elbows, knees, and feet kind of sticking out in all directions, with hair like matted white felt.  He was wearing an ample white loin cloth only.  A staff lay on the ground by his side. He was smoking a beedi.  The two had exchanged some pleasantries and maybe some spiritual generalities.  As the grievance and grumbling about the spot of dung on the sleeping bag went on and on, the Sadhu raised his arm, pointed at the spot of dung with long finger.  The holy man looked at the hapless tourist and said: “That is Dharma” and his head and body went back a bit as he gave a good laugh.  

This was heavy stuff.  The tourist stared off into space, and was thrown off balance, and cast into a kind of weird musing.  How could dung be compared to so high a notion as Dharma? But there it was. Dung is reality, even spiritual reality, practice and duty.   Face it.  Figure it out.


“Dharma root is "dhri", which means ‘to support, hold, or bear’. It is the thing that regulates the course of change by not participating in change, but that principle which remains constant.[22] Monier-Williams, the widely cited resource for definitions and explanation of Sanskrit words and concepts of Hinduism, offers[23] numerous definitions of the word dharma: such as that which is established or firm, steadfast decree, statute, law, practice, custom, duty, right, justice, virtue, morality, ethics, religion, religious merit, good works, nature, character, quality, property. Yet, each of these definitions is incomplete, while combination of these translations do not convey the total sense of the word. In common parlance, dharma means ‘right way of living’ and ‘path of righteousness’.[22]” (Wikipedia)

“Dharma is also used in Mahayana Buddhism to mean "manifestation of reality." This sense can be found in the Heart Sutra, which refers to the voidness or emptiness (shunyata) of all dharmas.” (goggle Dharma by Barbara O’Brien. Buddhism Expert)   “The word dharma comes from the ancient religions of India and is found in Hindu and Jain teachings as well as Buddhist. Its original meaning is something like "natural law." Its root word, dham, means "to uphold" or "to support." In this broad sense, common to many religious traditions, dharma is that which upholds the natural order of the universe. This meaning is part of the Buddhist understanding also.” (goggle Dharma by Barbara O’Brien)