We sit on the cool stone steps of the Bhandara Temple, in the shade of that two-thousand year old holy shrine. Eyes closed, body relaxed, I can hear the birds on the roof stir. Jwala's keeps her voice low, a practiced meditator and Jain devotee. Feel your feet. Now your ankles. Now your thighs. Now your hands. Your fingers. Now feel your hair. It is blowing in the breeze, can you feel it? Can you feel the color of your skin?
Yes. Yes I can. Wow, I can actually feel the color of my skin.
How is that possible? she asks as I open my eyes. I don't know. How is that possible? Where is your soul? she asks now. I touch my chest, over my heart. Yes, it is there, but it is not limited to your heart. Your soul, your athma, the divine spark that makes you who you are is everywhere. It is in your feet and your fingers, it is even in your hair and the color of your skin. And when you attain knowledge it is not in your mind. Knowledge is a part of your soul. And your pappa and punya, the good and bad that you do in your life, are carried with you on that soul. That athma is all throughout your body. It is chayathanyanaya: filled with light and energy.
India and I have a love hate relationship, our good and bad moments coming in rapid succession everyday. But one of the things I love about India is what it is teaching me about my body and its relationship to my soul. Up until this point I have spent my life taking my body for granted unless forced up against its limits. This means that for twenty four years my body has been either a non-entity or an enemy in my life. But India in all its heat and smells and overwhelming visions (good and bad) has taught me that my body is not a prison in which I am trapped or against which I fight. My body is the medium which I experience everything in my world. Before now my body has been the limitation and modern technology has supplied me with the tools, like air-conditioning, with which to fight it. But here, where my body is left to its own defenses, my body is my only tool. Today I hiked a sacred mountain in bare feet. My body and I are forced to live with each other here, and we have decided to join forces.
Bhahubali achieved enlightenment after meditating for a solid year. He stood still, focused entirely on the inner soul for so long that creeping vines mistook his limbs for trees. Now, thousands of years later this superhuman act of detachment from all things material is memorialized in a 58 foot nude statue. Nudity, in fact, is sort of a theme in Jainism, the religion we have come to this pilgrimage site to study. Everywhere you go another nude statue representing an enlightened and liberated soul stands meditating in eternal detachment. The result is that the human body itself has come to represent all that is most sacred in Jainism. The most important statues and idols in Jainism have no ornaments, no jewels or silks headdresses, nothing more than the simple perfection of the human body.
So much of my life has been spent fighting against my own body image, loathing it for its imperfections and flaws. Seeing my body only in terms of aesthetics, and that always negatively. Comparing it to what it is not, loathing it for what it cannot do. Maybe that is why, today as my chubby, wrinkled, beautiful friend tells me about my true soul, I can feel her words even in the color of my skin.
"No camera has ever matched the wonder of the human eye. No pump was ever built that could run so long and carry such heavy duty as the human heart. The ear and the brain constitute a miracle...These, with others of our parts and organs, represent the divine, omnipotent genius of God." Gordon B. Hinkley