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The "Toy train"

Flowers in India!! So many images. The teenaged flower seller, a beautiful girl with long dark hair, sparkling eyes, old knowing eyes, who usually came to meet me every morning at dawn in Tiruvannamalai, as I began my morning walk around Holy Arunachala mountain. She was always with her bicycle, as often walking beside it as she was riding it, holding the handlebars, the straw basket on the front handle bars filled with freshly made flower malas- garlands- which her mother made at home each day. She'd walk beside me along the road, as we passed the fresh green coconut vendor, still asleep alongside his pile of fresh green coconuts, both he and the coconuts covered with tattered blankets, as we walked by the pond where dozens of orange clad sadhus washed before morning puja (worship), by families of pigs snorting their way through the night's piles of trash... Then, in the evening, after she had sold enough flowers for the day, she would often join me, Jill and Eryka at the open air German Restaurant for a coke. At the end of her day she looked tired, often staring out into space as she sipped a coke. Her flower malas were simple, colorful, yellow and orange marigolds, pink bouganvillas, and, my favorites, very fragrant white jasmine. We often offered the flower garlands to the teachers, to each other, to our rooms for decoration. At the first satsang with Pamela on the roof top of the Sesha Bhavan guesthouse in Tiru, our sangha offered two thick flower malas to Pamela. As Pamela sat in silent meditation, her head seemed to emerge from the cradle of flowers.. At our Shabbot on the rooftop terrace, led by Rabbi Burt, he too was adorned with colorful flower malas. Burt, our teacher of Advaita Judiasm, as he called it! (Advaita is the Hindu Vedic practice of self inquiry, of meditating and inquiring into our true nature, to come to the place of experiencing our completenss with One, God, Self, as you may call it. This is the practice, or perhaps non practice, of Ramana Maharshi, who went to the Holy Mountain Arunachala when he was sixteen, and never left, in Tiruvannamalai, whose spirit and energy is there today, even though he left the body so many years ago. It was Ramana who brought me to India, reading his teachings, attending satsangs (gatherings with the community of practice) with Pamela. Ramana taught that the spiritual practice , the sadhana, at Tiruvannamali, was to walk the path around the holy mountain, Arunachala, said to be Shiva, each morning . This is what i did, stopping to smell great bushes of fragrant yellow flowers, white jasmine, all the while feeling the mountain, its strength, seeing its familiar peaks. At Ananda Ashram, in northern Kerala, a group of women sit together in the Bhajan Hall after lunch every day, making beautiful garlands and buttons of fresh flowers for the altars and to put in the women's hair. I sat with them for a few days, just sitting, smiling, breathing. Often we would sing or chant togather, or just sit in a very loving silence. Each morning in India, in millions of households, in thousands of temples and ashrams, the consecrated objects on family altars, temple altars, around holy trees, are washed with holy water and dressed with fresh flowers. The objects are God, whether it is a tree, a photo on a calendar from a local bank, a painting of Krishna, a statue... Offering the mala is an act of devotion, an act done wholeheartedly, an opportunity to see and been seen by God, to abide in holiness, in the clarity of oneness. In Tiru, The second morning of my walking around Holy Mount Arunachala, the Hindus call this circumambulation pradakshina, pra signifies the removal of all sins da the fulfillment of desires kshi freedome from the cycle of rebirth na spiritual liberation, I met two women from Ramanashram who were lost on the pradakshina path. I showed them the way, winding at one part through the back yards, meaning the toilets, of a small village. We came to a mangificent temple, with two rows of ancient life sized statues of Hindu deities on either side. One of the women, an Indian by birth, showed me how to approach the altar to Shiva. First we assembled a basket of offerings, a fresh coconut, bananas, some flowers, all purchased from a woman sitting in a corner of the temple. Then we rang the bell that was hanging by a long rope at the entrance, touching our heads to the ground. By ringing the bell, we clear our heads of any thoughts, to separate from the worldly distractions, to prepare us to be fully with the offering. The priest appears, often from a dark incense filled sanctuary, and accepts the offering and some money. Then he offers holy water to us to drink and pour on our heads, to again cleanse and purify, inside and out, to prepare us to see and be seen by God- darshan, the purpose of Hindu ritual. He pours the water into our cupped hands, the right hand always on top, from a small silver spoon, probably passed on to him from his father and his father's father who also were priests st the same temple. Then he rubs ash and red powder on our foreheads. And gives back to us the coconut and any other offering, now itself an offering to us. Offered and offering and offeror are all one, turned around, interchangeable... The offering is now prasad, from the temple. In Alampur, a tiny village between Shimla and Chail, in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, our friends Meera and Dinesh offered flowers as part of the meal they served to me, Jill and Eryka. Meera's sister prepared a very special raita dish for lunch. Each spring, for two weeks, the trees in the valley below their house are covered with fragrant white blossoms that resemble star magnolias. Each spring, Meera's sister, a beautiful 26 year old young woman, whose long braid is several inches thick, climbs down the mountain and collects a basketful of the flowers. She climbs up the steep ridge, and up the path to her house. She cleans the flowers carefully, then crushes them with a mortar and pestle, releasing the juices hidden in the fragrance, then delicately cooks them and mixes them into freshly made yogurt. We ate the raita with Meera's fresh chapatis, dahl and curried green beans.The yogurt was a beautiful pale salmon color from the juice of the flower, and its fragrance was a magnolia garden in full early spring. The taste was, well, divine... And flowers were offered directly from Mother India herself. We took many road trips in India. Our last one was from Alampur to Delhi, a trip which began on narrow roads that wind and spin unrelentingly down twisted and steep mountains through forests of flowering trees. Bright scarlet rhododenrons were in their full glory and sprinkled whole sides of mountains, bushes with yellow flowers spilled over huge boulders, great wispy orange and yellow mimosas, astonishingly purple flowered trees, each flower with a dozen trumpetlike blossoms... We were on our way to meet Shantum and Gitu's new daughter, and thought how wonderful it would be to bring them fresh cool mountain flowers. I carefully communicated to the driver, who was navigating the twisted roads with great concentration, to stop, whenever he thought it would be prudent and safe. Almost immediately he abruptly pulled over to the edge of the road, a drop of hundreds of feet into the valley below. Of course he had seen the next red tree; they were everywhere. After catching our breath, we said, well, why not. And climbed out of the car with my Swiss army knife and cut several large beautiful boughs of flowers. The drivers in India quickly become friends because they jump right in to whatever the activity is. He found an old newspaper from under the seat and carefully wrapped the flowers. We had twine that had served as our laundry line in many places throughout India. The flowers were safely stored, and we drove a bit, then stopped at the next tree, then the next. All that was left were the purple trees. At the next spill of purple onto the road we stopped and looked. The trees were tall and hanging out over the cliffs. Without hesitation or words, the driver's companion got out and climbed the tall purple flowered tree that leaned out over the ledge . He cut and we caught. We arrived in Delhi late in the night with a car load of mountain flowers.