Monday, February 18, 2013

My Heart is an Altar

Several days ago, after the temple had been closed for the afternoon, we ladies of the Mayapur Academy went onto the altar of Pancha Tattva to do an annual cleaning. When I first stepped onto the cool marble floor of the altar, I just gazed up in wonder at each of the five, magnificent golden forms of the Pancha Tattva.

Please allow me to serve You today, I prayed.

We all grabbed buckets and rags and began our work in reverential silence. I scrubbed the walls and the floor until my arms and body began to sing with soreness. Cobwebs, grime, and soot kept coming off the walls in rivulets.

With each passing minute, I began to feel sick to the stomach. Weaknesses and faults in my heart churned and churned to the surface.

Pain, disgust, sickness.

Hatred, doubt, cynicism.

I felt so humbled, so sad to be feeling such things in the presence of the magnificent golden forms of Pancha Tattva.

But what could I do? I wanted to run, but I knew that there was no hiding from God. So I just kept scrubbing.

When the walls, doors, and marble floors had all been scrubbed to a sparkle, most of the ladies left the altar to wash out buckets. I stayed on the altar. I knelt down with folded palms and gazed up at the face of Lord Chaitanya.

In my mind, I murmured the Sanskrit prayer of forgiveness over and over again. "Oh Lord, whatever worship I have offered to You today is without proper knowledge, method, attitude, with no devotion. Please forgive me. I pray that You may accept whatever little effort I have made. Now I shall remember Lord Krishna and He shall make everything perfect."

Those moments seemed so suspended. I was practically alone on the altar with Pancha Tattva, the doors closed, the temple quiet. Looking at Lord Chaitanya, I felt as though the contents of my heart were laid bare before Him. All of the gunk and beauty.

With that, I offered my obeisance, touching my forehead to the cool marble floor. Then I left the altar.

A couple days later, I attended an international kirtan festival in Mumbai. That first afternoon, I sat in the whorl of a powerful kirtan, in the midst of hundreds of people crying out the holy names of God. Each name that I sang seemed to hang and shine in the air for a moment. My heart felt quiet and peaceful.


I sang for hours and hours; my cheeks began to ache from so much smiling. Through it all, whenever I would close my eyes, engraved upon my mind were the five golden forms of Pancha Tattva.

(photo courtesy of flickr)

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