Excerpt from “Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom”, by Acharya Shunya.
Published 2017 by Sounds True
One night, as Baba and I sat inside watching the monsoon rains pouring down, he said, “Shunya, within your body lies buried the rare and potent ability to regenerate.” That year, the monsoon came after a tremendous delay. Everything had dried up in northern India. Even our favorite river, the vast Sarayu that flowed through town, was so shallow that my older cousins would wade almost all the way across to the other side. On this night, the heavens had unexpectedly obliged us, and we listened to the rain pound down almost violently, as if making up for lost time. The sky lit up dramatically with lightning bolts that sparked across the horizon. Ominous and gigantic cloud masses were bursting with deafening explosions above our house.
In my hometown, whenever the thunderclouds bellowed, we children cried out too, beckoning each other to splash in the puddles and streaking through the narrow streets yelling, “Baarish aayi! Baarish aayi!” (“Here come the rains!”) as if our neighbors might somehow miss the spectacle of this huge rainstorm without our calling it to their attention.
Peacocks, who lived by the hundreds in this river town, would spread their beautiful feathers majestically on the rooftops and riverbanks, performing an ethereal dance in the rain that, each year, held us spellbound. That night, I confess, I was a bit overcome by Nature’s sound and fury. I wondered how our family’s cow, Nandini, was doing in the lightning. The cowshed was warm and dry, but would all of this sound frighten her? Should I make her come sit by Baba too? She was only two years old, after all, and I was eight, so like any older sister, I often worried about her.
Later that evening, Baba told me about the powerful storm gods, the unstoppable spirits that “empty the udders of the sky” and bring life-giving rain to the earth. Known in the Vedas as the Maruts, these subtle forces know intimately the powerful medicinal herbs that grow on high mountaintops or deep inside the belly of overflowing rivers. “We refer to such extraordinary elements and phenomena of Nature as devas or devata.” By this, he was saying that they are gods or godly.
“Why is this meaningful?” Baba asked in the way that he did when he fully intended to supply the answer from some Vedic text. He then did so: “By knowing one handful of earth, all earthen articles become known. The Veda reveals to us that one Ultimate Reality, Brahman, pure divine consciousness, is the substratum of all beings, all worlds, and all gods – and having known that, nothing else remains to be known. To a mind that has been initiated into this macro-understanding of divinity, the various forms of Nature – the five elements (ether, fire, air, water, earth) as well as the stars, sun, moon, clouds, rain, lightning, storms, rivers, mountains, planets, and, of course, our beloved mother planet Earth – are all revealed to be identical with the common truth of our existence. Truly, these are illumined forms within the common web of divine consciousness.”
“See Shunya,” he said, “how the Veda has given us the original vision of oneness even amid the plurality of our experiences. There is neither a multiplicity nor hierarchy of gods. There is merely the recognition of oneness and sacredness everywhere.”
I liked his message that we live in a world charged with devas. Even if I did not have the words to express my Baba’s teachings that night as the Maruts drenched my home, my Baba was putting into words my own spiritual intuition. He gave expression to the experience of sacredness in every nook and cranny of our existence. I had felt this all along, even though I wouldn’t be able to express it in words until many years later.
Every morning I enjoyed wading into River Sarayu. “She is my very absolute favorite devi,” I had concluded in my eight-year-old heart. There was also our aged Peepal tree, which is also renowned as the Bodhi tree, under which Gautama Buddha had gained enlightenment. Every morning, my mother would chant a special Vedic hymn, the Aswatha Vriksha Stotram, to this most sacred tree of Hindus, evoking its myriad blessings. I was told that my numerous sage ancestors, beginning with Rishi Vashishtha from Ayodhyā, had meditated under its deep foliage, and we always approached it with the words, "Vriksha rajaya namaha," meaning, “I bow to the deva of trees.” Besides, that was my favorite tree to climb. In fact, my own list of devas was endless. I was grateful for and reassured by these devas and my feeling of connectedness with everything.
Amid dramatic lightning, and our evocative conversation on gods and goddesses, we sat in serenity sipping a warm drink made with Nandini’s fresh milk. My mother added saffron, turmeric, and other herbs according to my Baba’s medicinal recipe. Baba continued talking in his quiet and deeply reassuring voice – both his voice and his words taking away my fear of the thunderclouds. He explained that although they are fierce and often their will is almost demonic, the Maruts are actually divine healers. What they do benefits all that live on Earth. Human beings, animals, and plants would all wither and die if the Maruts did not force the clouds to release, drenching our planet with life-giving moisture. “See Shunya,” Baba said, “soon all will be green, juicy, and filled with sap.”
As Baba described Nature’s “divine healers,” a wave of joy arose in my heart, along with a desire to thank the loudly bellowing Maruts, but the hot-spiced milk flooding my mouth made me gulp instead. I kept quiet, listening to Baba. In my child’s mind, I did not know if it was story time or teaching time, as they were often one and the same with my Baba. I just knew it was something important, something I would need to tell the whole world about one day.
He spoke then about how our barren and dried-out Earth, exhausted from the burning heat of a parched summer, was being restored to a moist and green abundance. I knew that tomorrow, on my walk to school, I would find tiny flowers and grasses and herbs that had not been there the day before. Overnight, a bleak landscape would have burst into life and colorful splendor.
And it did. For the rains are messengers of life and the promise of continuity, herbs, fertility, abundant crops, health and happiness to all.
“As human beings,” Baba said, “we too can be rejuvenated. We need to mindfully apply God’s special ingredients.” By this, my grandfather meant the special foods and herbs that have but one dharma (purpose), and that is to rejuvenate. As the rains rejuvenate the Earth, any part of the body treated by these sacred and natural medicines can become rejuvenated. We will be bursting with health, in all its awesomeness, in the same way the Earth bursts forth with new life when there is rain. This is a natural law.