The life of a young bhakta continues to prove an auspicious one. As I walked out of beautiful mountain sanctuary home of my two friends and teachers last night, gazing at the stars in a circle with my wife, my best friend, and two other devotees we had just met, a serene glow of warmth and love had descended into our hearts. The stars shown brightly, as it was the evening of Maha Shivaratri, and therein, a new moon. As we gazed upon the twinkling cosmic motif, encapsulated in a soup of bewilderment, thankfulness and warmth, the light of the sun seemingly far away at midnight on the new moon in February might as well have been shining directly on each of us.
Two days ago my wife and I had been pulled back home from our vacation in Florida, feeling the need to simply come back to the mountain and friends. Little did we know, that we were ostensibly being pulled by an inward force to partake in the most divine, intimate puja ceremony of our lives in celebration of Lord Shiva. For us young devotees; however, this was much more than a normal puja, this was a fully embodied lesson on the art of bhakti yoga; using the essence of sensuous forms in ritual with community, intent, and love to fall into the space of union with the divine. We used form to go beyond form, dipping our toes into the water of the formless reality of totality and oneness.
Our host began the ceremony by asking us about our relationship with Lord Shiva, and our intent for the evening. While we each had something personal to say, there was a running theme of finding a stoic tranquility within ourselves, to not get so caught in the momentum of our thoughts, and lifting ourselves out of our karmic runnels. Our host went on to exemplify the astrological significance of the Maha Shivaratri, speaking eloquently of the new moon and how despite us seeing only the dark side, that on the other side, the moon was fully receiving all of the light of sun, unhindered by the form of the earth. This delicate balance, this knowledge of the full illumination of light even during a dark new moon in the middle of winter was a reality and a metaphor that can permeate even the darkest trials in our lives.
It made me think to one of Siddhartha Buddha’s last days incarnated. He was sitting atop Vulture Peak where he always loved enjoying the sunset, but when one of his bhikkus walked up to him there, The Buddha was on the peak sitting backwards, turned around with his back illuminated by the sun. When the bhikku asked The Buddha why he was doing this, he simply replied, “I enjoy the feeling of the Sun on my back.” Siddhartha Buddha did not need the visual representation of the sun to feel the ever expressing warmth and love that it bestowed upon him, the ever giving, loving nature of light was always there. As Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips so aptly put it, “Do you realize the sun doesn’t go down? It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning ‘round.”
From here, the puja began, something of the like I had never experienced. We all sat in a circle around a large platter, filled with Shiva lingams, murtis of Hanuman, Sita and Ram, and a photograph of our Guru. Our host graciously handed us water so we could each take turns bathing the objects of the remnants of the last puja, a beautiful cleansing which brought us into the present and marked the wiping of a clean slate for us all to start anew, with the moon, as we settled into our intents. The puja posed a visceral, communal opening for us all. Shiva bhajan was played and loosely chanted too, as we all took turns rubbing ghee and honey over the lingams, adorning the puja tray with beautiful smelling flowers and tasty offerings of citrus and fudge as Prasad. It truly was a sensuous celebration of union into divine sound, touch, smell, taste, beauty, and being. All of the sense organs were meeting all of the sense objects within the feedback loop of our individual experiences, creating a unity and oneness in the scene like something I had never touched before within this incarnation. The circle was completely collective, everyone taking part in the tranced, yet ecstatic creation, but with everybody adding their individual flare in decoration and vibration.
Nearing the end of the ritual one of our gracious hosts offered a powerful Shiva bhajan, a haunting melody that washed through the space, instantly permeating every cell within my body, lifting the already saturated scene to a plane beyond individual thoughts, differences, or concepts of time. It was during this powerful melodic prayer that our other host received the most auspiciously timed video call from an exceptionally high yogi, affectionately known as “The Baba.” It felt as if our pure intent put into the puja mixed with the tranced pure white light of the bhav of our host summoned an incarnated representative of Lord Shiva himself. A strange, promising, direct token from the Universe that it was picking up what we were putting down. This was truly a blessing. As soon as the video call was answered, an unmistakable energy pulsated through the room. I was shaking, my wife was shaking, not knowing how to pass the energy, or really what to do, so we just kept singing. In the same way a human’s awareness is so intently drawn into the lapping flames of a fire in the dark, my eyes naturally followed his moving face on the screen of the phone everywhere it went. Every sound he made, every smile he shared, lit me up in a way I have never felt before. His subtle movements were a dance of the divine. We just did puja to Shiva, to the Guru, and now here he was directly, dancing his dance of life.
Something instantly changed in me in that short video call. The song he shared with us after our Shiva bhajan, encapsulated my heart. I feel through just this short electronic meeting, this poignant digital darshan, that my entire reality has been shifted. I can’t explain how. I can’t explain why. I don’t think that matters. I don’t think mind stuff matters. Months prior, I had called one of our hosts from this evening, who is a teacher of mine, and a beautiful friend, and I asked him, “When I visited your home for my first satsang gathering, all we did was eat, chat, and sing, but I feel like my entire world has changed and come into spirit. What is this? Why has everything I’ve ever tried and put a huge effort into with my mind never worked, but I come here and just eat and sing and all of the bullshit just falls away?” He answered quite frankly, “To tell you the truth, I don’t freaking know. I don’t try to figure it out. I don’t know if you can. It’s what our Guru told us to do, and so we do it and it just happens.” This is surrendering mind to the heart, which is the biggest and most important journey of a young bhakta. I don’t know what happened last night. I’m not going to pretend I do. I do know, though, that today is a new day, a new moon in Aquarius, my sign, and that last night a group of beautiful beings came together and embodied an intent within our hearts that manifested into exactly the essence of bhakti yoga, union through love.