Spiritual Materialism

Yesterday four long-awaited over-sized wooden crates arrived from Jaipur, India. It was an interesting dance getting them through customs, and they weighed so much we had to rent a U-Haul to get them home. So we shopped a little while we were in India, I don’t see the problem here. It took three strong men and one tough little lesbian to get the final crate off the truck and up onto our front porch. There, we unloaded a white marble bas-relief of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. Hanuman is the open-hearted god of selfless service and devotion, and this carving is beautiful and exotic.  We came across this sculpture as it was being carved by a lanky young sculptor just outside of Jaipur. He was very skilled at his craft, working hard in the hot sun, chisel in hand. He was crouched in a sea of marble gods and goddesses, but for some reason, this particular Hanuman called out to me. Even though the artwork was incomplete, it was love at first sight. It was tricky buying an unfinished product in India…well, actually, it was tricky buying a bottle of water in India, but that’s another post. Like most purchases on the Indian subcontinent, any real shopping begins with a hot cup of chai tea . This particular purchase actually required about seven cups and almost all the men in the area to sit down and confer on every possible detail of the transaction. The conversation that ensued was done in a delightful mash-up of English and Hindu, of course.

The problem was not that the men wanted to negotiate only with another man. Jaya Das, one of my traveling companions, is a great negotiator and he does that well in any language. And negotiation is an Indian art form, an expected and even relished dance of push and pull.  No, the problem was, that while all that negotiating and tea drinking was going on, I kept getting up and wandering around the place, finding more deities to add to the ever-growing soon-to-be-purchased pile. Not that you pile deities, but you get the idea.
Is this spiritual materialism? Do I get credit that we were buying, in part, for our ashram store? You see, I love all the forms of God. I am a yoga monk, an interfaith swami who grew up Catholic, loving the art and architecture that celebrates the sacred.  God the Mother, God the Father. Hindu, Catholic, Buddhist. The ocean, the sky, the laughing eyes of a child. It’s all God to me, so the more forms to celebrate the formless essence of love, the better.

I love the idea of a monkey as a form of God, because I love the idea that God is in everything. I loved that in India, animals are everywhere. No wonder all the yoga poses are named after animals.  I love that the humble monkey god is seen as deep, powerful and utterly devoted. So devoted in fact, that he gave up his form as Shiva, the stunningly handsome king of the yogis, to take the form of a lowly monkey to teach humanity about humility. But I also adore the idea of a playful rascal monkey deity who stole the sun to play with it like a ball.

So negotiate we did. We bought Hanuman. And Shiva. And Laxsmi, and Durga and Ganesh. We bought deities in brass and wood and marble. We got a little carried away, but I have never met a form of God that I didn’t love. What’s a yogi to do? I loved every dirty,dusty, shakti filled moment. Now, where to put Hanuman?