I believe in the Grand Master Sensei upstairs. I do.
I like to think that He conducts the Universe from a friendly call centre with angels at the operating desks. He takes an interest in our insecurities and idiosyncrasies; He shakes his head in dismay when we ignore the massive signs He places in front of us. He gets angry when we behave like marauding, malevolent idiots. I believe He too likes Nutella and ‘One Simply Cannot’ memes. And I think He is simultaneously saddened and amused by us all.
I recently embarked on a Hindu prayer called Navagraha. Navagraha refers to the 9 planetary Gods in Hinduism – Surya (Sun), Chandra (Moon), Mangal (Mars), Budha (Mercury), Brihaspati (Jupiter), Shukra (Venus), Shani (Saturn) and Ketu and Rahu (points of intersection of the sun and the moon). It is believed that these celestial bodies affect our lives in a good or bad way. The Navagraha prayer is performed to counter any negative effects of these planets. It involves a fast over 9 Saturdays – no alcohol and no meat and a visit to the temple to conduct the ritual.
I’m currently in week 4 of the prayer and it has been something of a comedy of errors. On day one, my spiritual knuckles received a rapping because I wore pants and a hoodie to the Lord’s House. When I asked for a reminder about exactly what to do with the offerings one makes at the 9 statues, the priest gave me a blunt response, effectively slapping this religious ignoramus over her uncovered head.
This week’s temple visit was also particularly embarrassing. The ritual goes like this: Remove shoes. Walk around the main temple three times. Place your fruit and milk at the altar. Stand in the queue to perform the Navagraha. Make your offerings. Perform the chants. Sound the prayer bell. And leave. As I began my walk around the temple, I spotted the priest in his traditional garb. Instead of bringing my hands together and saying, “Vanakam” – the traditional Tamil greeting, I found myself giving the priest a gangster-type nod and a small smile. Immediately, this strange Holier Than Thou Voice rang out in my head: “What is wrong with you??? You can’t nod at a priest!!!”
I sheepishly made my way to the Navagraha queue. Usually, people perform the prayer one party at a time and everyone waits patiently – some pass the time playing with their cell phones. Finally, my turn arrives. I face the sun and start to pray. But halfway through my deep conversation, I am rudely interrupted by a man. He looks at me and as he touches the feet of each statue hurriedly, he says, “You don’t mind if I just do this quickly? I don’t want to disturb you”. And before I know it, I blurt out the line that catapults from head to tongue: “You already did!!!”
Dammit. Here I go again. So I quickly close my eyes and apologise to the Lord for my impatient little rant. I ring the bell and quietly leave.
I wonder whether I am an awkard Hindu or just awkward. Surely my parents taught me well?
They did, indeed. They taught me that my temple can reside in my heart along with my God. They also taught me that the clothes on my back matter not and that awareness and genuine intent certainly does.
Why do I do this Navagraha? I think it’s because I like the symbolism and inherent power of the mantras. I like the physical space of the temple and the peaceful vibrations that emanate from within its walls. Perhaps what I’m slightly less enthused about are the subtle judgements and the parochial human encounters.
I’ve also been thinking about why I make these spiritual faux pas. Apart from my obvious clumsy nature, I think it’s because I’ve always had an informal relationship with my God. He is omniscient, right? So, it’s no point me polishing up my thoughts or my dress sense when I’m in His earthly house. The attempt to ‘stand on ceremony’ would be somewhat hypocritical, especially when I tend to shoot the breeze with Him every now and then.
My God knows me. And I like to think He likes me and my woolly hoodie just the way we are.