Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


577 Enlightenment and the Swami (part 2)

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

This is the second in a series of episodes that deal with death and decision making. Remember that these podcasts are intended to only stimulate YOUR thinking. They are not being presented as THE WAY.

Enlightenment is something that we have all heard of but that is about all. The word comes to us from the East: from another religious belief system. Well, one time, a long time ago a swami told me I was enlightened. I was shocked until I figured out what he meant by it.

One thing about getting your views on religion or life after death figured out is that it frees you to focus other facets of life. Decision making is difficult enough without having continuous debate on this question of what happens after death.

A few years after my visit to Darwin’s house I had a chance to visit Kathmandu, Nepal. I was suppose to be studying the Recess Monkey. But when I first checked into the hotel the proprietor found out that I taught classes in religion and philosophy. She insisted that I be given a room next to the hotel library. “The Swami lives there and I think you will find him most interesting,” she said.

He slept on the wood floor with a book for a pillow. Swami Darmyotie was his name. He dressed in a loose white robe and sandals. He had long white hair and a long white beard. He had deep dark set eyes almost impossible to find. He sat silent, cross legged on a chair in the library and stared out the window for hours each day.

I talked to the librarian, Serine, a Tibetan who had walked over the mountains from Tibet to escape the Chinese occupation of her home land. She guided me to one book and then another over several days. The Swami remained silent.

One day she told me that it was closing time and then added, "Stay and read as long you I liked. Swami will be here”. I read on and then the Swami cleared his throat and said,”You ask many questions”. Thus began of brief but intense relationship.

It was as if he adopted me and guided me from one book to another depending on my questions. Every question led to another book. I read and asked questions. He rarely answered other than to guide me to another book.

He was a man with many titles: Hindu, Buddhist, Guru, Swami, Brahman, Saddu. I found that there is no problem being all of these at once. He was the second oldest Saddu in Kathmandu. People came from all over the world to ask his advice.

One night he asked me to accompany him to a Hindu temple. He asked me to bring a camera with a flash attachment. I could not enter the temple but I could stand on the porch and take photos through the open windows. It was so dark: no streetlights and no electric lights anywhere. He asked me to stay on the porch and move from window to window and take all the photos I could.

Inside were perhaps twenty holy men. They had ash and painted marks all over their faces. There was an alter. On it set a big pan or dish that contained a fire. Torches burned on the side walls. The Saddus began to chant and beat on drums and pans. It was like a scene from and Indiana Jones movie. The head priest went to the alter; took some of the fire into a large flat dish and then presented it to each and every participants. They would extend their hands over the fire and then bring them to their forehead. Then he brought it to the window and presented it to me. I copied the action of the others as my mind whirled. The others then threw themselves on the floor and chanted. Swami Darmyotie was right with them.

The following day I asked Swami about the chanting. He said that it was just what the group did and it didn’t hurt anything so he always participates. “It felt good,” he said. It was then that I lost it. I told him I didn’t understand why he would do that if it didn’t have some sort of religious significance for him. Then I really broke. I launched into my own understanding of religion, Darwin, the universe and the existential position that had evolved in my mind. When I finished I was drained.

Then he spoke quietly; “It is enlightenment”. I crooked my head and said, “What?” He repeated, “It is enlightenment”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He said it again. I was stunned and said questioningly, “That’s enlightenment?” He smiled and again said “yes. And now I will show you my Kathmandu”.

We went to where the untouchables lived. We ate in places I never knew existed. We visited friends of his who were in the state senate. We visited spinners and weavers. Now that I had the religious thing behind me there was life to be lived. Amazing.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not at all sure that I had achieved what we think of as enlightenment. I may have been conned by the good swami. People came every day to see him concerning their quest for truth or enlightenment. He would listen then they would leave with a book. They would leave happy and still be on the chase.

What I came to believe was that enlightenment may have meant to the good swami was that if you had a religion or belief system that worked for you without doubts then you could, “Chop wood and carry water”. You could help the untouchables; the less fortunate. You could move on with your life. You could focus on life as it is: on lunch, on work, on relationships, etc. Maybe that is what enlightenment means; period.

I do know that after my conversation with the swami I never again question my thoughts concerning religion, evolution and life after death. Thoughts of the hereafter was gone forever. My thoughts and decisions were focused on the hear and now. I could move on to lunch, coffee, work, neighbors, community and trying to make my life and others just a bit more tolerable and enjoyable.

This is Retirement Talk.

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