I fell, by accident, into a choir rehearsal for French Catholic mass in Pondy, ruled by one iron-fisted, ultra-competent Sister J., a Catholic nun from Kerala. The choir was made up of Indian women and girls all in traditional Indian dress (the tenors and basses were away on tour), the rehearsal was conducted entirely in French, all the people there spoke fluent French, and they spoke their “oui’s” with the traditional Indian head wobble. Okay! Welcome to Planet Pondicherry!
The sequel, Star Wars:
Imagine a spacious and very tall chamber of white marble, a soaring ceiling with a single ray of sunlight beaming a wide, vertical, laser-like swathe onto a thousand pound crystal. You can taste in your mouth the cool misty vapor which makes up the air of the room, and the murkiness makes it difficult to make out the opposite side of the chamber from where you sit. There are twelve cool marble columns reaching for the vaulted ceiling. Fifty people sit silently in lotus, on spotless white pillows and mats, facing the crystal. They are mostly dressed in white flowing garments. It only remains for Darth Vader, or an angelic twin, to make an appearance.
The overarching theme:
When I was a college student in the 70’s the Hare Krishnas meant all good things to me: Peace, Love, and Free Food. The homily which generally followed the dinner never troubled me one way or the other. But I always loved those robes. Even now I would like to wear one, and walk about barefoot. The trouble is, which organization to pick? Sister J. thought at first I was a Hindu, because I had just come from the temple with S., I had the red blessing on my forehead, and I spoke of having darshan. However, when she found out I was raised by a Jewish mother and a Catholic-turned-atheist father, she proceeded with plan A and Plan B (all the same plan) and wasted no time trying to convert me (S. told me that Sister J. had tried with her also, but finally given up).
In another world, Auroville, and its spiritual center the Matrimandir, was founded on the philosophy of no organized religions, and the elimination of religious rituals, so that contrived barriers between people could be taken down, and common humanity and truth be embraced. The term for coming to sit in the inner chamber is to “concentrate” rather than “meditate” which implies already a link to existing rituals.
Maybe my conversation with P. in Bombay sums it up the best. P. and M. are Jains. P. had asked me what religion I was and I said I still hadn’t decided. Then he asked me if I ever asked for help when I was in trouble– praying for help. I said yes, I pray for help whenever I am in trouble. When he asked me how often I prayed, I said, well, I need help EVERY DAY.