Soul, mind and ego are mere words. There are no real entities of this kind. Consciousness is the only truth. The forgetting of your real nature is true death. The memory of this is the true birth …
— Ramana Maharshi
At the remains, a humerus still, among the ashes in the grate of the night cremation and again, the light shines at dawn, on the surface of the waters just caressed by the wind. A vortex of ash rises from the embers, on the hair, on the skin, in the eyes, up to the lungs through the nostrils. The primitive red sun from the Ganges to the sky, to clear the morning mists in Varanasi.
On a bamboo litter, in procession, supported on the shoulders by a group of men shouting in unison, another body, now cold, covered with clothes and sprinkled with sandalwood powder is transported barefoot from the stone alleys of the ancient Kashi up to Manikarnika Ghat.
Human flesh not yet decomposed, know, the flame. Here, for millennia, or perhaps even before Time.
The first spark arises from a straw bundle placed for a moment on the central fire of the crematorium, kept alive for generations and therefore considered eternal. Deposited on the mango wood expertly stacked, surrounded by those who have been family and friends, the body that has already exhaled its last breath for hours, the chest and face facing the sky, meets the first lapilli that comes from below, in the direction of the back, the buttocks.
A small pack of dogs approaches, howling. Whirlwind, the first fumes rise, a cow wiggles restlessly near the grate that houses the corpse, everyone, we heard something …
Who am I?
One of the Family … The Void.
Quiet, where thought arises …
The only illusion, separation.
We humans, compared to other mammals or other animals present on Earth today, differ anatomically and physiologically in many aspects. Among these, what makes the advent of homo sapiens among the living beings of the planet truly special is the characteristic development of the dimensions and functions of a part of the nervous system that emerged in the most superficial portion of the brain: the neocortex.
The evolutionary thrust that equips fish to populate the waters with gills and swimming fins, wings with birds to fly in the vastness of the skies and particular dynamics in the development of puppies, through maternal attachment and breastfeeding, mammals to follow the development of offspring, manifests a complex system of information transmission in the human organism … A myriad of cells interconnected in the summit area of the skull through the millennia is perfected to the point of letting faculties emerge such as thought, abstraction, the increasingly refined use of symbols, codes and languages that begin to give shape in the individual to a conceptual cognitive representation of reality, to mediate and contain the power of total immersion in the flow of life.
The ideas of separation in the entirety, of good and evil, of sleep and wakefulness, of life and death, represent formidable individual and collective tools aimed at the survival of the individual and of the communities, but at the same time, they begin to alienate our species from the neutral and equanimous continuum with which energy constantly changes its shape in the universe.
From the sensual union of the bodies, the rhythm, the pulsating blood, the power and delicacy … Up to the possible orgasmic explosion and the dance of procreation.
In the fusion of the egg and the sperm, the echo of the duality of the body expands, organizes itself and if it has space, it can return to being wholeness in the form that manifests itself to our senses.
The embryo in the mother’s womb, while starting to develop and differentiate the tissues, is completely in osmosis with the environment, absorbed in everything conveyed to it by the organism that feeds and hosts it.
The act of birth, although causing numerous changes in the neurophysiology of the newborn, would not seem to immediately make significant changes in the development of the anatomical volume of the neocortex, which from here on, based on the quality of the stimuli received by the baby, will begin to take shape and structure. In the first months of life, the dyad formed by mom and son is in a relationship of total somato emotional resonance. The newborn still does not have the development of the cognitive neural circuits that allow the formulation of the idea of a separate “I”, lives that particular dimension of fusion today called intersubjectivity in the scientific field.
The subsequent stages of the individual’s development (the latter word which once again recalls the sense of undivided, inseparable), are attributable to the presence of competent parental figures alongside him. Adults who are able to tune in to the infant’s emotional motions and needs, in the right ways and times. The ability of family members or parental figures of reference, to remain present to the emotions of the children without dissociating or activating themselves by reacting impulsively to them, allows them to shape their physiology to stabilize their natural capacities for co-regulation and self-regulation of the affects.
In this sense, an adaptive attachment in the developmental age can help to ease the fatigue and confusion generated by identifying ourselves with the myriad of psychological projections, fragmentation and distortions of personalities that rebound in the frenzy of the social relationships of technological societies. contemporary.
A healthy attachment, intended as a human relationship capable of transmitting a sense of trust felt somatically and lived in a way coherent with the environment, can allow the deployment of a functional ego to fulfill the real needs of the person in harmony with the resources of the environment. To then allow the unwitting caterpillar to follow nature and return to hover lightly in the air, taking the form of a butterfly.
Disidentify ourselves from attachments and open ourselves to that space of not knowing that alludes to being.
To that natural presence that characterized our first days on Earth …
When I look at someone I don’t see him alone, in the form and age in which he appears at that moment …
I see the face of the girl who was, under the wrinkles carved in the face of an old woman who walks slowly along the river bank. The joy and pain from the loves, from the parts and from the deaths that will come, in the delicate features of the young woman dressed in orange who sits next to me. The child who plays with the kite by making it fly very high instead already knows about sweat, swollen and powerful muscles, fatigue, furious and penetrating looks.
A flow, a continuous and uninterrupted current that only changes shape.
Studded with unpredictable events and happenings, human existence flows for many like a rushing river between two primordial and wild shores, pleasure and pain.
Related to appropriate neurotransmitters secreted in the bloodstream by the body’s endocrine glands, these primitive forces manage and regulate the impulses of approach and departure, instinctively direct our research aimed at the survival of the individual and the species.
What is clear today is that numerous involuntary impulses, behaviors, beliefs and social norms derive from the way we have been conceived and accepted. Ideas such as that of always being the best, of wanting to be the center of attention in any case or of not deserving joy, of not having the right to pleasure, of not being able to really be ourselves, are often caused by maladaptive experiences occurred in childhood.
We know well by now, how much the experiences of the past can condition our present. And we also know how well experiences in the present can shape our organism in a completely new way, right down to the depths of our cells.
Genome transcription changes based on the environment and the experiences we live, the same neural circuits are modeled on the basis of the intensity and time in which we repeat an action or are immersed in a relationship. If this is true with respect to the transgenerational transmissibility of symptoms, compensations and reaction patterns generated by trauma, it is equally true that human relationships based on non-judgment, empathic listening, respect for somatosensory boundaries, compassion and support for the awareness of the subject’s personal power promote changes in the resilience of the community in a prosocial sense. Integration, understood here as an increase in neural connections between the various areas of the brain of individuals, will manifest itself simultaneously and organically in the intensification of solidarity and mutual support relationships.
Can you remember now when in your life you felt unconditional love?
When were you seen and welcomed for who you really are?
Those moments can become the source of natural and deeply human awareness.
When it happens to touch these spaces of openness and deep emotion we get back in touch with the roots of our species.
Love is the quality that nourishes and allows the developmental development of the infant and child. It is the flower that blooms in human relationships as adults when others are not asked to be anything other than who they are.
Every time someone has listened or embraced us appropriately and felt during one of the emotional storms that have arisen in our lives, they have participated in a change in us and in all the people we will meet in our existence.
In academia, the origin of “amore”, the Italian word love, is traced back to India more than 3000 years ago, to the Sanskrit kama considered in the meaning of desire, pleasure.
In the Vedas the divinity Kama personified cosmic desire, the creative impulse and was considered the son of the primitive Chaos.
In the following centuries, this archetype was embodied in Hindu mythology by a handsome young man surrounded by nymphs who, armed with a bow, fired arrows of flowers that dispensed love. Legend has it that one of his arrows, aimed at Shiva in an attempt to ignite in them the flame of passion for Parvati, has diverted Adiyogi from the deep meditation in which he was absorbed at the top of the Himalaya peaks.
Shiva furious at this senseless gesture would have burned Kama down to ash. From there the young archer would become Ananga, the bodyless, even more densely omnipresent on Earth as he is no longer subject to the limits of manifest form.
Less rooted in a philological and mythological sense, but no less suggestive could also be the origin of the word “amore” from the Latin “a / mors” … Without death.
If we understand how every act of authentic love can participate in the transformation of human neurophysiology and be embodied and transmitted for generations through looks, gestures, smiles … Then love cannot be confined to the limited time between birth and death individual, goes beyond each of us and our own physical existence.
When a human being who has drawn on the wisdom of nature dies, he is no longer, in the same way that a river is no longer when it flows into the sea; the name, the shape, are no longer, but the water remains and becomes one with the ocean.
Pungent smell in the air. The meat melts quickly while mango wood has burned the remains of the lifeless body for hours. The bones become incandescent and then suddenly a snap, they crumble. Among the latter, those of the pelvis, the skull and sometimes the shoulders come apart.
At the end of the cremation, the pyre is quenched with a bucket of Ganges water. A final tongue of thick smoke rises from the smashan of Manikarnika Ghat.
The text was inspired and written during a trip to India between the months of January and February 2020.
Ramana Maharshi’s initial quote is taken from the book “Graceful Exits” by Sushila Blackman, Shambhala Publications. 108 stories that tell how the ancient and modern Tibetans, Hindus, Buddhists and Zen masters dealt with death.
Kashi is the name that was given in the Rgveda, one of the numerous Vedic texts dating back more than 3500 years ago, to the inhabited area on the banks of the Ganges where today’s Varanasi stands today. It was called Kāśī (Kashi) from the Sanskrit verbal root kaś- which means “to shine”, for this reason, it was also known as the “City of light”. Hindu texts refer to Varanasi using numerous epithets, such as Avimukta (“never abandoned” by Shiva), Ānandavana (“the forest of bliss”), and Mahasmashana (“the great place of cremations”).
Manikarnika Ghat is the area on the western bank of the Ganges in Varanasi where the bodies of millions of Hindus have been cremated for centuries. Characterized by the presence of different metal structures fixed on the ground and designed to contain the corpses brought here by family members and acquaintances who come from all over India. For millennial local traditions, ancient Kashi is the only place on Earth where the gods allow men to escape the saṃsāra, the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. For this reason, compared to other areas of the planet where death is culturally removed or lived only as a mournful moment of sadness and despair, here the human being makes it a different experience …
The tree of knowledge of good and evil in Hebrew: עץ הדעת טוב ורע, ha-daʿat tov va-raʿ, or simply the tree of knowledge, in the traditions of biblical descent is the tree of Eden, mentioned in Genesis together with the tree of life, from which the original sin would have originated following the infringement of the prohibition, placed by God, on Adam and Eve to eat its fruits.
The quote from the third last paragraph is taken from the book “I am that” Chetana Ed. 1973, transcriptions from the satsangs of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
This article was first published in Matrika
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