During the full moon dedicated to one’s teacher, walking around Arunachala, at the halfway point — if you’ve started out from Sri Ramanasramam, which is exactly south of the Mountain — at Bhagavan’s Bridge, where Ramana Maharshi always paused on his way around the Hill, celebratory colored lights and statuary form a fortuitous arrangement with our closest celestial neighbor, brightly reflecting the light of the sun, as the stars and planets, sentient beings and whole galaxies, all revolve around the still, unmoving, center — Annamalai.
I opted to walk the 14 km barefoot, in solidarity with the half-million other walkers making the great circle in the cool of a summer’s night. That’s the tradition, suffering transmuted into good karma and other merits. But never feel compelled to sleep upon a bed of nails in order to enjoy a good night’s sleep. The outer tradition is really only a pale reflection of an inner reality. In other words, where is one’s attention? Upon the Feet of the Guru? Most excellent! On every prickle and stab in the soles of one’s feet? Sorry. In that case, the evening would be better spent with said feet up, body horizontal, vegging out on yer fav serial unfolding gloriously across flat-screen, surround-sound, air-conditioned heaven.
We all have our inner, non-stop chatter, sans ‘off’ switch. It wasn’t termed “stream of consciousness” for nothing. But hang on a second. This mental movie appears to be continuously moving. It’s not. It’s actually perfectly still, an infinite series of stills. Slow down and stop, or pause, this incessant chatter and you’ll find, horror of horrors, gaps. Dare you look more closely or, God forbid, get lost in them. They get bigger and without your knowing, you’re gone. This is the great Cloud of Unknowing. Fallen down a wormhole? Who did this to me? Blame Alice of Wonderland.
Thanks to the benevolent grace of a higher power, I looked over my right shoulder and there she was, pale moon rising over the wooded northern slopes of Arunachala. When I finished shooting and turned around, I was no longer alone; a half-dozen cameraphone owners were busy with the same idea.
In navigating the space-time continuum of the Age of Darkness — Kali Yuga — there is a 911 (US residents only), or 108 if you live in India. The supreme being, Lord Shiva, has a staunch devotee who eternally stands before Him, Nandi the Bull. Whisper into his ear your heart’s deepest desire and he’ll pass on the message.
We set out on the inner path late in the afternoon, under a hot sun blazing through gaps in the monsoon clouds overhead. In the distance sounded a faint clap of thunder and a wash of walking rain curtained the horizon to the south. “I wish it would rain down on us,” said one of the party. As we sat upon a rock to catch our breath while climbing over the western saddle, her wish was granted, briefly and gracefully. We weren’t carrying umbrellas. On the other side of the Mountain lay the reward of tapas. Glancing up towards the peak we were greeted by this vista.