Shiva & Buddha Together

After all the years in which several girlfriends and I sat around planning grand trips involving sky-diving, snorkeling and weeks in Bali – we decided just like that, to set off to Sedona, Arizona. It sounded like the most exciting place on Earth. Like the son said, there is such a matching ring to it, that it is fun to say it together.

Driving to Sedona from Phoenix, Arizona was surreal and giggly. The full moon shone down on the desert landscape with giant cacti illuminated in the glow of the moon. The constellations traveled with us. I gazed out the window, not really knowing how harsh the environment was. It was all muted and beautiful in the moonlight. The cacti stood out tall and distinct, and I was wondering how tall they must have been to stand out like that. I was to find out two days later that they could be as tall as 40 feet tall, and not for the first time I thought of how precious life must be to thrive in environments like these. Arizona is of course very proud of its cacti: The Arizona State Bird is the Cactus Wren and the State Flower of Arizona is the Saguaro Cactus Flower.

Hiking in Sedona is an experience unto itself. The vast expanse is humbling, the red rocks, layers upon layers of it, that were once the ocean bed is mesmerizing to look at. Hiking to a vista point, each of us I am sure had different things in mind. I had my backpack on for no real reason. When quizzed about its contents, I sheepishly acknowledged that I had in there a book and a kindle among other things so I could sit in the wilderness and read. The friends had an amused expression on their face, and teased me about it, but found me a good spot nevertheless in which to leave me to it.

As I settled in to read, there was much head-shaking, but indulgent smiling. I tried to calm my senses to the levels reading requires. I had with me a travel book : The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. The book won the author the 1979 National Book Award in the category Contemporary Thought[6] and the 1980 National Book Award for Nonfiction (paperback)


Traveling through the plains of the Ganges and eventually going up to the upper reaches of Tibet, it is a book that I have long wanted to read. The Buddhist teachings and Zen mode of life are especially attractive to me because of the restlessness that underlies our mode of life. If centuries ago, when technology was not as pervasive as it is now, philosophy saw the wisdom of building in pockets of stillness into our lives and forming affinities with nature, how come we are remiss in finding access to these fundamental things after all our progress?


Do we need Science to point us towards these again? Science has already started acknowledging the importance of exercise, sleep, meditation. For Nature, there are now studies being instituted in various countries to see the effect of nature as we cluster round closer and closer to each other in urban surroundings. Forest bathing as a concept has long been practiced by the Finnish and Japanese. Known as Shinrin Yoku in Japanese effects on our well-being are now being studied from a scientific perspective. Would we embrace nature if Science pointed us to?

While I started out fake reading for a pose, pretty soon, I was transported to another world. Sitting in the hot lands of southern Arizona – the land of soaring eagles, vast expanses and red stone, I was joining the author on a journey to glimpse snow leopards in the Himalayas, passing stupas and taking in the Buddhist teachings on his journey. Shiva’s abode in the Himalayas is fierce and awe-inspiring as was the desert in which I sat.


“Hey Girls! listen to this – Let me read out a passage out to you – see how Shiva comes alive here in Fay Canyon, Arizona?” I said, and started reading:

“Yet in Varanasi there is hope of life that has been abandoned in such cities as Calcutta, which seems resigned to the dead and dying in its gutters. Shiva dances in the spicy foods, in the exhilarated bells of the swarming bicycles, the angry bus horns, the chatter of the temple monkeys, the vermilion tikka dot on the women’s foreheads, even in the scent of charred human flesh that pervades the ghats. The people smile – that is the greatest miracle of all.”

By the time I looked up, there was much laughing and I looked to see that Shiva did not really need to dance in the spicy foods of the Ganges plain, A Shiva-ni was attempting a Shiva Tandavam right there. The poses were fierce, powerful, sloppy and funny all at the same time, and somehow totally at peace with the Garuda-esque surroundings of Sedona.

The giggling photographer looked slightly abashed and said “These girls lost you at Calcutta, and started dancing instead!”

I landed up giggling too, and like a bunch of tickled snow leopards fleeing the thudding of Shiva’s feet, we made our way out of the canyon lands towards our next stop.

I don’t know how much one’s readings can alter one’s surroundings, but I was quite astounded at our next stop. We were in a stupa with a Buddha statue. Sedona Arizona is well known for its mystic yearnings in its rustic surroundings, but I was still pleasantly surprised to find a quaint Stupa nestling in the canyons surrounded by naturally formed stupas of red stone, and a Buddha statue carved of wood.


There probably is a reason for our richest myths and stories to emanate from awe inspiring places in nature, for it is where we can lose ourselves in order to come back to ourselves better.

Buddha in a Lotus

International Yoga Day is approaching and consequently there was an intense discussion amongst our diverse group, that involved yours truly foraging in the murky forests of my Indian-not-at-all-devout-Hindu upbringing and serving up dubious explanations. As we leaped and scoured the real and mythical worlds alike, the venerated Vanars would have been proud to see us. We started with lofty enough topics, but ended up – well, see for yourself where we ended up.

International Yoga Day
International Yoga Day

The discussion started with Yoga-in-the-park for International Yoga Day. Why must it be so early? said a colleague and I sympathized. Regular readers of this blog know that I am not at my brightest in the mornings. I am best left alone to peek out from behind my coffee and quickly pull myself back into the cup, peek from the c., pull back in, and then slowly, like a snail, venture out into the world.

I deplored the state of affairs in India and how we deify the early-riser and leave the poor late-risers feeling somewhat inferior and catching up with the early-risers for the rest of the day. We traipsed around early morning rituals and temples and why meditation in the first place.

Just as I was patting my back on the spiritual plane the discussion could reach from the lofty stepping stone of Yoga,  it slid straight down the slide to idlis, dosas & sambhar. It was like playing Snakes & Ladders in the thick Madhuban forests, I tell you. From the spices of the foods, it was but a natural stop at yogurt.

After moving to the USA, I like flavored yogurts such as strawberry or apricot yogurt, but I also told them about the slurpilicious plain-yogurt and rice. There was a sticky moment when folks could not see the appeal of plain yogurt against the Apricot yogurt, but I scored a goal by bringing up mango pickles.

When you bring yogurt and rice up to a South Indian at lunch-time, she can’t but help talking of mango pickles. Other colleagues of Asian origin chimed in with durian and jackfruits, and we all sighed collectively at the exotic fruits and tropical vegetables of the East. Some bright person then said something about lotus roots and another said that Buddha sits in a lotus.

Spiritual-plane-wise, we were getting back up from the hard fall into dosa, sambhar and curd rice territory, so I felt I had to wade in.

“For some reason, the lotus holds a special place in Indian Mythology”, I said.

I turned and looked at the awed expressions on my co-conversationalists, and this gave me the confidence to plunge on. It is a knack. When people expect something profound from me, as if they are making up their mind to see whether or not I am intelligent, I say something like this and dash all hopes.

“Most goddesses I know like to sit in one. Although the lotuses I have seen are pretty small – I don’t know how goddesses sit comfortably in them. “

“Really? Goddesses sit in lotus too? I don’t know much – I have seen some pictures of Indian Goddesses, but never saw that – maybe hard to make out from the saree and all, but Buddha I know.” said a colleague who has taken the Myth of the Mystical East to heart.

I summoned up the picture of Saraswathi and Lakshmi in my visual eye. I don’t remember seeing their saree flowing over their lotus seat. I mean, they were caparisoned in beautiful garments and jewelry, but the lotus was apparent too. I have never seen the saree flowing all over the lotus hiding it from view. Have you?

Somewhat befuddled, I prodded on. “No, I am pretty sure the Goddesses sit in lotuses. I do remember seeing some stylistics paintings of Buddha in a lotus, but mostly he is under a Bodhi tree, looking happy, right?”

This must have been interesting to watch, if it wasn’t me, sinking deeper and deeper into the mire. Anyway, neither of us backed down, and both of us were equally sure of our lotus occupants. The birds stopped twittering to watch the great philosophical debate. Apricot yogurt or plain yogurt with rice: Which one would emerge the victor?

Buddha in Lotus?
Buddha in Lotus?

“Really? I don’t know. I have always seen Buddha in Lotus Asana – except for some statues in Pier 1 Imports, of him lying down.” said she.

Wait a minute. I knew what was going on. I observed, deduced and felt that faint feeling of relief and comprehension dawn on me and the birds twittered again. I asked, “You mean the yoga posture Buddha sits in? Lotus Asana?”

“Yes! Isn’t that what you have been talking about? “

“Oh when you said you couldn’t make out the lotus in the Goddesses, you meant, you couldn’t make out whether their legs were truly crossed in Lotus Asana with the saree and all that?”


And then, I laughed as I told her that I was talking about the seat in which the goddesses sat, although, I conceded they may have been sitting in lotus asana too.

So, both of us were right. You can have apricot yogurt or plain-old-curd-rice-with-mango-pickle. Yes, in the Lotus Asana, if you like.

Maybe that will remind us to be truly humble while talking of Lotuses or anything else. We are, after all, a fraction of the small blue dot in the Cosmos, like Carl Sagan said.

Now, if you will excuse me,I need to practice my half-lotus position for International Yoga Day.

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