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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Day in the Life: Faith and Suffering in South India - Page 3

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“People come here to commit suicide,” Father Solomon informs us.


The “here” in question, though, is not easy to reach. I clearly haven’t learned my lesson yet about India and straight lines. After taking the ferry back to the mainland, we pile back into the car and drive… and drive…. The direct route to the southern tip is not accessible by car, so we take a winding detour, and end up parking at a place called the “Spirituality Center.” We are greeted by a man in saffron robes, a flowing white beard, and warm, deep, mystical eyes. His spiritual nature does not stop him from attending to our material needs: he brings out a variety of roasted nuts for us to munch on as we talk.


The Center was established for spiritual seekers from all traditions. In the small meditation/prayer room, there are Hindu, Christian and Muslim symbols, along with the universal message: “God is Love. Love Creates. Love Suffers. Love Unites.” Our host – Swami P. Vincent – tells us we must go beyond all divisions. Beyond caste, beyond race, beyond rationality, even beyond religion. “Religion,” he says, “when it creates divisions, keeps us from reaching true spirituality, which is simply a relationship: between man and God, between man and man, between man and his ecological setting.”


Reflecting a view often expressed in Indian philosophy, he describes how humans are made up of five elements, just like the rest of nature. We are just part of this larger whole and until we understand and have compassion for all of nature, we will not really understand ourselves. The swami quotes extensively from Sanskrit texts to illustrate his point, with helpful translations of course.


Here Father Solomon chimes in that the swami talks to snakes and birds, just like St. Francis. Looking around the center, it’s clear that the swami’s chosen the right place to commune with nature. Thick grass grows on the lawn, and groves of tropical trees provide shade for humans and homes for birds. Looking down the hill from the center, we see the three seas. The sun is starting to set, and a faint line of orange glimmers on the water.


As we leave the Center and walk towards the water, we ask Father Solomon to tell us more about our host. We find – to our surprise – that he is a diocesan Catholic priest. His following, though, is not limited to Catholics, or even to Christians. When people come here to commit suicide, they sometimes hear about the wise man on the hilltop who can offer another path. Some meet with him and many of them – after receiving his advice – turn back toward the land.


* * *


We walk towards the southernmost tip in the fading light of day. Museums and memorials line the road. We briefly tour a memorial honoring Kamaraj, the first chief minister of Madras State, the precursor of Tamil Nadu. Kamaraj educated himself while in prison for his involvement in the Indian independence movement and made education the cornerstone of his reforms when he became chief minister. He introduced free and compulsory education, implemented a free-lunch program for schoolchildren, and distributed free school uniforms so children wouldn’t dwell on caste, creed or class distinctions. A minor figure in the story of Indian independence, Kamaraj is typical of the remarkable class of leaders that emerged out the freedom struggle, rebels-turned-statesmen who dedicated themselves to eliminating the divisions and deprivations that plagued Indian society.

(Page 3 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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