Gross National Happiness : Happy National Grossness

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I feel the need today to zoom through the littered discomfort to focus on the psychological security this blog is on about.  So here’s the section on happiness.

Years ago I preferred to sleep under the stars on top of the water tank on the roof despite rain.  This was managed with an umbrella fixed poised above my head and a plastic sheet over my body.  Consequently it was with the companionable empathy of a peer this morning that I confirmed with this old sadhu as he woke that he had indeed slept right there where he was on the roadside:

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First I should explain that last night exploded into a feisty electronic storm far more terrifying that those of yesteryear that shot myself and Bibidog under the bed in the thatched hut on the roof where we formerly slept; but I just saw this sadhu shake the rainwater from his green plastic sheet, he had been asleep when I first passed and now on return he was awake for my photograph. Look a little closer at his face:

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He didn’t wake stiff and grumpy although he’s an old man.  He’s not a bit pissed off at the inconvenience of his station.  There’s no kitchen nearby, no coffee machine, no breakfast of his choice, no bathroom and toilet convenience, no clean clothes waiting, and of course to ramify the stage-set just about as far as it goes: no vehicle  – public or private – to convey him into his eventful day.  Nothing, only spaciousness like the sky.

This, my dears, is a happy man.

Here’s another happy man:

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He is sitting in the most recent house he has built for his partner and himself; he builds them from bits and pieces, when the rain comes in through wear and tear he builds another nearby on slightly higher ground.  His partner lost her arm in an industrial accident for which she was allocated twenty thousand rupees which isn’t much.

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She’s the bread-winner here – he gives her comfort and protection in exchange. While she begs with a bowl sitting cross-legged under a lamp-post on the roadside, he sits waiting on a culvert nearby – it’s their regular spot, a post they man all night on FullMoons. She always makes sure the left side of her sari reveals her empty sleeve; this justifies her reduction to beggar-hood and exposes her basic human dignity. In the photo above she has just returned to their home to serve her partner and protector the tiffin tin of breakfast bought with the money kindly given on behalf of her tragic missing arm by pilgrims walking around the holy hill. In preparation for the photo she ensured her empty sleeve was exposed, emphasising a very sad truth.

However this woman has not yet come to terms with her burden despite her good fortune in her kind protector. She hasn’t woken up to her gratitude yet.

And the happiness of the protector – although of course, not total since he is only human, is nevertheless sufficient because he has the upper hand here; characteristically it is not an equal partnership.

Here is another begging couple to recognise as your siblings:

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As you see, they have one begging bowl and are also unified by an ambience of companionable, happy refinement.

The climate as well as the culture conspire to enable a certain sanctuary for the beggar/sadhu community at a holy place like Arunachala, nevertheless there is a genuine abrasive quality caught in the ever-present gesture of hand to mouth: the brute fact that we all need food. The begging bowl nowadays is for money. Money buys food.

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When Ramana was young sadhus didn’t need to make crude gestures, only to stand outside doorways and wait with a bowl; household contributions were made without hesitation, they were made in kind: rice, vegetables, fruit, mats, cloth, vessels – all sadhus need. That was a hundred years ago when people respected the community’s need of recluses and meditators: sadhus, sadhaks. These members lived in quiet places and cooked the food they were given with gratitude. Unlike now, there was a clear distinction drawn between beggars and sadhus: beggars wanted money, sadhus never touched it.

KaliYuga is picking up speed – there are not many genuine sadhus these days.

The sadhu tradition seems to be the safety-valve of this society, it being the means by which an individual can skip all the established stations in life to enter the final sanyasi stage of renunciation from worldly pursuits. In the section ahead called Being in Orange, other aspects of this tradition are revealed.

Here by the embodiment of Lord Siva (the quintessential sadhu), I have known sadhus who never touched money, who moved constantly in a clockwise direction around the mountain, happy celibates who had truly renounced all worldly attachments. Nowadays the best sadhus are obliged to be attached as custodians to a temple or sacred space, although the ancient restriction is they never sleep more than three nights in the same place. These genuine sadhus also have no choice but to accept and use money although – being human, they strongly resent what is essentially a cultural degradation of their ideals: if people give them anything, it will be money. Money is cheap.

You should know that despite the overall palpable GNH of this nation, naturally there are beggars who are definitely not happy; these unfortunates are always at least as, if not more so, dirtier than their surroundings.

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Very few men dressed in orange show such signs even though not all orange uniforms indicate true sadhus.

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Cleanliness is godlyness: when a good group of sadhus form together you can appreciate what excellent housekeepers they are. And these days when a single genuine sadhu takes up and maintains a small sacred space, the result can be stunningly spick, span and intricately well-organised, and the sadhu concerned is undeniably a very happy man:

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Sadhus as a whole do seem to be happy, very happy, even though it cannot always be easy being a sadhu; their life is a triumph over the grossness of their very public street surroundings and it’s not at all unusual to see the grace and charm of a simple devotional life expression:

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