"Breathe deeply," said
Vijaya, "and as you breathe pay attention to this smell of incense.
your whole attention to it; know it for what it is - an ineffable fact beyond
words, beyond reason and beyond explanation.
Know it in the raw.
Know it as a mystery.
Perfume, women and prayer - those were the three things that
'Abdullāh loved above all others.
The inexplicable data of
breathed incense, touched skin, felt compassion and beyond them, the mystery of
mysteries, the One in plurality, the Emptiness that is all, the Suchness
totally present in every appearance, at every point and instant.
breathe," he repeated, "breathe," and in a final whisper, as he sat down,
"Shivayanama," murmured the old priest ecstatically.
Together they moved forward, climbed and, three quarters of the way up
the altar stair sat down side by
side in the penumbra between darkness and the light of the lamps.
Quietly Robert began to talk about Shiva-Nataraja, the Lord of the
"Look at his image," he said. "Look at it with these new
eyes that the moksha-medicine has given you.
See how it breathes
and pulses, how it grows out of brightness into brightness ever more intense.
Dancing through time and out of time,
dancing everlastingly in
and dancing in all the worlds at once. Look at him."
upturned faces, Will noted, now in one, now in another, the dawning
illuminations of delight, recognition, understanding, the signs of worshiping
wonder that quivered on the brinks of ecstasy or terror.
closely," Robert insisted. "Look still more closely."
a long minute of silence, "Dancing
in all the worlds at once."
"In all the worlds. And first of all in the
world of matter.
Look at the great round halo, fringed with the symbols
of fire, within which the god is dancing. It stands for Nature, for the world
of mass and energy.
the dance of endless becoming and
It's his lila, his cosmic play.
the sake of playing, like a child.
But this child is the Order of
His toys are galaxies, his playground is infinite space and
between finger and finger every interval is a thousand million light-years.
Look at him there on the
The image is man-made, a little contraption of copper only
four feet high.
But Shiva-Nataraja fills the universe, is the universe.
Shut your eyes and see him towering into the night, follow the
boundless stretch of those arms and the wild hair infinitely flying."
"Nataraja at play among the stars and in the atoms.
within every living thing, every sentient creature, every child and man and
Play for play's sake.
But now the playground is
conscious, the dance floor is capable of suffering.
To us, this play
without purpose seems a kind of insult.
What we would really like is a
God who never destroys what he has created.
Or if there must be
death, let them be meted
out by a God of righteousness, who will punish the wicked and
reward the good with everlasting
But in fact the good get hurt, the innocent suffer.
Then let there be a
God who sympathizes and brings comfort.
But Nataraja only
His play is impartial to
death and life, of all evils as well as of all goods.
uppermost of his right hands he holds the drum that summons being out of
Look at the uppermost of his left hands.
Brandishing fire by which all that has been
created is forthwith destroyed.
He dances this way - what
the ephiphany !
Dances that way - and oh, the hideous fear,
Then hop, skip and jump.
Hop into perfect health.
cancer and senility.
Jump out of material life into
dissolution, out of dissolution again into
For Nataraja play is an end in itself, everlastingly
He dances and the dancing is his maha-sukha, his infinite
and eternal bliss."
bliss," Robert repeated but questioningly, "Eternal bliss?"
unenlightened there is no bliss, only the oscillation between
a sense of outrage at the
thought that pain mixed with pleasure is an integral part of Nataraja's
dance - our dying as our
"Suffering and sickness," Robert resumed at last.
"Old age, decrepitude, death. I show you sorrow. But that wasn't the
only thing the Buddha
showed us. He also showed us the ending of sorrow."
old priest cried triumphantly.
"Open your eyes again and look at
Nataraja up there on the altar.
In his upper right hand, as you've already seen,
he holds the drum that calls the world into existence and in his upper left
hand he carries destroying fire.
Life and death, order and
But now look at Shiva's other pair of
The lower right hand is raised and the palm is turned outwards.
What does that gesture signify?
It signifies 'Don't be afraid;
it is LIFE ! '
How can anyone
in his senses fail to be afraid?
How can anyone pretend that evil and
suffering are all right, when it's so obvious that they're all wrong!
Nataraja has the answer. Look now at his lower left hand.
using it to point down at his feet. And what are his feet doing?
Look closely and you'll see that the
right foot is planted squarely on a horrible little subhuman creature - the
A dwarf, but immensely
powerful in his malignity, Muyalaka is the embodiment of ignorance, the
manifestation of greedy, possessive selfhood.
Stamp on him, break
his back! And that is precisely what Nataraja is doing.
little monster down under his right foot.
Notice it isn't at this
trampling right foot that he points his finger; it's at the left foot, the
foot, as he dances, in the act of raising from the ground.
And why does
he point at it?
That lifted foot, that dancing
defiance of the force of gravity - it's the symbol of release, of moksha, of
Nataraja dances in all the worlds at once - in the
world of physics and chemistry, in the world of ordinary, all-too-human
experience, in the world finally of Silence, of
Lumière Infinie . .
"And now," Robert went on after
a moment of silence, "I want you to look at the other statue the image of
Shiva and the Goddess.
them there in their little cave of light.
now shut your eyes and
see them again - shining,
And in their tenderness what depths of meaning!
What wisdom beyond all
spoken wisdoms in that sensual experience of spiritual fusion and
Eternity in compassion with time.
The One joined
in marriage to the many, the relative made absolute by its union with the
identified with samsara, the manifestarion in time and flesh and feeling of the
" Shivayanama." The old priest lighted another
stick of incense and softly, in a succession of long-drawn melismata, began to
chant something in Sanskrit.
On the young faces before him Will could
read the marks of a listening serenity, the hardly perceptible,
ecstatic smile that welcomes a
sudden insight, a
revelation of truth and beauty.
"Liberation," Robert began
again, "the ending of
sorrow, ceasing to be what you ignorantly think you are and becoming what you
are in fact.
For a little while, thanks
to the moksha-medrcine, you will know what it's like to be what in fact you
are, what in fact you always have been.
What a timeless bliss!
But, like everything else, this timelessness is transient.
everything else, it will pass.
And when it has passed, what will you do
with this experience?
What will you do with all the other similar
experiences that the mokhsha-medicine will bring you in the years to come?
Will you merely enjoy
them as you would enjoy an evening at the puppet show, and then go back to
business as usual, back to behaving like the silly delinquents you imagine
yourselves to be?
Or, having glimpsed, will you devote your lives to
the business, not at all as usual, of being what you are in fact?
All that we older people can do
with our teachings, all that Pala can do for you with its social arrangements,
is to provide you with techniques and opportunities.
And all that
the moksha-medrcine can do is to give you a succession of beatific glimpses, an
hour or two, every now and then, of
enlightening and liberating
It remains for you to decide whether you'll co-operate with
the grace and take those opportunities.
But that's for the future, Here
and now, all you have to do is to follow the mynah bird's advice:
attention and you'll find yourselves, gradually or suddenly, becoming aware of
the great primordial facts behind these
The old priest waved his stick of incense.
At the foot of the altar steps
the boys and girls sat motionless as
-adapted from Aldous Huxley, "Island"
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