Tuesday, November 3, 2020

An Ayyappa Vrata to You

These are the times that try the soul. Is there any other kind of time? But you know when there is more at stake. Sometimes everything is at stake. That's what is happening right now.

There is a call for soulfulness and we need ways to talk about that. Gratefully there are ways. You may have to work for this one so be patient, read on, and think about it after you're done. Ayyappa is here to help. Ayyappa is feminine, masculine, both and neither. There are traditions of Ayyappa and there is Rajanaka Ayyappa and, honestly, that is not much like the others. That needed to be said.

On Friday night I made an Ayyappa vrata. A vrata is an ordinance of the will, you might call it simply a vow or a resolution, but its purpose is to hear your beating heart when there's noise and storm and inner restiveness. When isn't there? And who is there to listen? If you bring yourself to the task, then you are Ayyappa and the vrata sings the body electric,

You can make a vrata anytime but its contrary purpose is to bring yourself nearer your core and your boundaries. Something of an oxymoron, no? Yes. It can 'be still this beating heart' or race with it. It can be tune out the noise to hear the silence or it can be listen for all of the voices and everything else that just sounds like noise. You needn't tune out that analogue noise behind the music; you can let it do its job too. 

The aim of vrata is to withstand the storm and to enjoy it; to make restiveness a power to be garnered, like the mekhala, the belt that you see Him wearing so that he assumes a perch, a vantage point, the perspective you need, especially in the bows of toxic tillai trees. A vrata holds you together because lokasamgraha, "grasping for light" is a reason to live, as Krsna reminds when he explains why human birth is remarkable for its gainsaying and chance.

A vrata doesn't require words nor need it be declared for others. Some may notice and ask why you look the way you do or that you seem to be onto something or in the middle of something. Something is different during the vrata that has emerged from the time before and carries into the time after. Vratas need boundaries to make boundaries that can be crossed, traversed, clarified, or violated. That is because you are looking for the space in-between, the serpent's way through, which means there is a way over or into, across the parapet, the barricades of thought and feeling into the dark, towards the unconscious which is not without its own passages. Rarely straightforward and you may get lost but the journey progresses though it surely twists and turns.

Rage leads the way, not as anger but as fury and passion and tears and blood. It's Rudra's roar and Kali's feverish solitude. It is Ayyappa in the forest of feelings where he keeps the company of ghosts. We should let the lyric help us, because it's about ghosts. The ghosts you meet, the ones you love inside you, the ones you hope to meet and the ones you wish you didn't. But they are all there and vrata is to become the sovereign of those ghosts for just long enough to know that you serve them and they serve you, like it or not.

It's your ghost moving through the night
Your spirit filled with light
I need, need you by my side
Your love and I'm alive
I can feel the blood shiver in my bones
I'm alive and I'm out here on my own
I'm alive and I'm comin' home

Vrata is in the first word of Odyssey, the Greek menos. Here is the first line of the poem. Vrata needs poetry because it is the long way home.

Rage---Goddess sing in me and through me
to the story of one skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
the one who twists and turns...

So don't mistake this rage for anger alone, it is what we call in Sanskrit tandava or in Old Tamil tulannku: it is possession and being possessed, all the selves hidden are invited. You're not sure who will come into enough light to be seen but they all recognize you because you have come to sing and to listen to the Sirens and the Great Devi who has sung you into being. It is all of the personas and all of the archetypes because they are all inside you, some never realized, others familiar enough to called acquaintance.

Become Ayyappa to one another. That is something more, even more than friendship if that is possible. And it is.

We would all like to return to a womb of safety if we could but that will have to wait till this life ends. There are no safe places. There are just places where you drop, like the liquid fire---call that place bindu but don't mistake it for the destination or the escape hatch, it's more like the cliff in front of the wall that is you, like you, not you, and always more than you. More confutation to consider but not for too long, you don't have forever until it's too late. Keep going.

She will decide when it's time for Time to be all that remains. You will disappear into the darkness someday. Not today.

You're not alone, crows. You have each other because while you make the vrata alone, you travel in murders and parliaments, following the moon it's called, like wolves of the moon, lupi della luna. Watch where you walk because there are nagas, snakes beneath your feet showing you the way if you are careful to honor their danger. The road is not smooth up the mountainside, towards the boundary, into the core.
Embrace the fury---in Sanskrit, the manyu, the samrambha. (It's not that you need yet another word here but words can help. Samrambha is a commingling of vehemence, eagerness, ardor, impetuosity and care. It is rendered auspicious by choosing character in a potency of choice.)

Keep going, use intrepidity and, at the same time, try to be still as the naga who knows when to move and when to still. Instinct commingles with choice. Manifest the gift of your sarpadrshti, the serpent's vision whose light is ahi, literally made of anxiety made an asset. Everyone knows that the world is filled with terrors and all the rest of the unexpected, uncontrollable, unfinished possibilities that surely come. Most ignore this but never the Ayyappa.

Your vrata can only be a private matter because it is your resolution at work and it is your darshan because it is you doing the seeing. Darshan means to place oneself nearer the boundary to peer into the light of the heart's sanctum. That womb follows the roots of banyan that grow up and root down again. Sometimes you are pushed or you have to wait to have your chance to see. Sometimes you are invited in but you never trespass. That would be unseemly, that would not be Ayyappa.

It's personal, it's not selfish. Sometimes your darshan is help others have their darshan. And while seeing appears to be the most important operative metaphor---since darshan is the seeing that looks into the dark using the slightest flame as your guide---it is never far from all of the other senses and feelings you ordinarily possess; you come to look and hear and touch and smell and taste and in all of these ways to test the will.

Your resolution for darshan is an experiment in the making and in being made by determinations and choices, even promises, but nothing is guaranteed, and going without certainty is always best. Resolve needs no certainty because it is an experiment in virtue, not in goodness but in courage, in the heart. You may fail but you won't fail to learn something if you are willing to wait and think and fast. (Do remember Hesse's Siddhartha here, okay?)

This vrata is for Ayyappa to become Ayyappa so a word more about that. We'll keep it simple for now. In Tamil ayya is the word you use to address someone you don't know politely, kinda' like "sir"or "hey you" but in a particularly kind way. It is also the word you use to honor the ones you know and love best. Instead of using their given name you say Ayya as if to say Beloved.

Yes, with that kind of love and affection unmasked but made easy and comfortable in any situation. It is a signal of care and approbation and tribute to friendship. It is a way of deferring without submitting, of offering distinction and esteem without being maudlin or insipid. Hear here the voice of MLK, Jr. calling you "brother" or "sister" and you hear Ayya. The extra -pa on the end is still more affection and you can add that in Tamil to nearly anything you love or use it as it's own word. It's like the -ji ending that we borrow from Hindi, same same, in Tamil -pa is -ji. Got that, Ji? I hear you, Pa.

Ayyappa means bringing some decorum and decency to a world in which there may be none. It is the choice to be more than what the world made or even what it seems to demand. When you realize that the natural world has no care but provides what you need and society and culture move you but can't make you, you can become Ayyappa.

For Ayyappa is the decision to be better and more than you have to. It is to live with your wounds and cares and passions and losses and victories---all with the choice to be decorous in a world that can defile you. It is not so much rising to the occasion but the determination to respect, to love life and to love others' lives as if they do too.

To make an Ayyappa vrata you need only say Saranam Ayyappa, "Refuge is Ayyappa" as you approach your boundaries and make pilgrimage to the liquid fire that flows in your living veins. See others as Ayyappa even if they do not. Dignify this fragile humanity we share and act as if there is more in all this strife than selfish interest. Then say it again to yourself when no one is listening but you. You don't ever have to say it aloud but say it when you need to make a resolution that will not end even when the time of the vrata concludes. Then do it all again.  I am off to cast my vote, to try to help end this nightmare.
 Saranam Ayyappa.