Sunday, August 10, 2008

Yoga, Helpless Wretchedness, and Memory's Last Word

"If an individual can be credited with reviving yoga in this country (India), it is solely Swami Ramdev [Maharaj]. Yoga can cure even fatal diseases and Swami Ramdev has definitely proved it time and again. Swami Ramdev has spread yoga to such an extent that sooner or later, one has to embrace it." --Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ("world-renowned spiritual leader")

Swami Ramdev has spread yoga to such an extent that sooner or later, one has to embrace it - even if you're a Cloverdale resident asleep at 5:30 in the morning.

Some residents in Cloverdale (small town in British Columbia), woken in the dark before dawn by "amplified East Indian voices", were apparently unaware that a world leading yoga-meister was gracing their stomping grounds with his presence - along with thousands of his followers - down yonder at the Cloverdale Millennium Amphitheatre.

It was a five-day "yoga camp", which Swami Ramdev Maharaj takes all over the world. Sources say the camps are free to attend. Though the Surrey Now reports some paid $500 "to sit closer to the stage". Free for all indeed. Even residents a couple miles away near Highway 10, without paying a penny, were transported out of their sleep and enlightened by pranayam, a quiet breathing exercise - extolled through loud speakers. There were chants, testimonials, and drums.

Swami Ramdev Maharaj says yoga is a "complete medical science, a philosophy of life, a way of life." The cures testified to abound. AIDS, cancer, you name it. He's done the admirable ascetical mile: lived in the Himalayas, caves, renounced worldly pleasure, is a lifelong celibate, has been near death several times, extols compassion towards others as a kind of worship of God - of course the immanent God: God within each person.

Myself, I largely prefer the transcendent God - the One Who, when He does manifest Himself within one, amplifies how wretched one is, out of mere ontological contrast; amplified like the wave lengths from those loud speakers. Because in that wretchedness I am liberated, knowing that God is What, is Who, made me, and Who perfects me, according to His will; and I can love Him in my wretchedness and He lets me do so, loving me even in my wretchedness. The transcendent God: God.

I am not sure that Swami Ramdev Maharaj appeared on the Cloverdale scene in such aurora splendour as seen here. Though I am taken exceeding with what contrast there may have been. Multiculturalism is a sophomoric fantasy, and depends on globalism, which is anything but "multicultural". Localism on the other hand is the only true precedent through which diversity can flourish at all. Take the contrasts of the United Kingdom (minus the "multicultural" invasion of Moslems): take the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh. They are all neighbours, quite fundamentally different from each other, but because of the inherent locality in which their differences exist, they are very much dependent on one another.

But then you have the overseas contrast; the vapourising of borders; this garish machine called multiculturalism. It's as much an unthinking, self-excusing, and in the worst cases, self-aggrandizing byword as tolerance. I say this only by way of getting at the concrete scenario of Cloverdale residents being woken at 5:30 a.m. by the quietism of the Indian guru and his ilk. I am only pointing out the incongruity of the scenario. Yoga is fast becoming the world-wide practise it purports to be (it purports to be for eveyone, atheists included) - but it originated somewhere, at some definite, specific locality.

It can pretend to be globally applicable all it wants. You're just going to end up with concrete incongruities which lend themselves to absurd humour. Or otherwise, where the eastern practices together with the late-stage disinheritance and mediocre collectivism of a western setting conspire in one homogenous cultural milkiness, you get humourless lockstep uniformity. Some locales though still retain a stubbornness: famed Indian guru brings his yoga teachings and exercises and testimonies and following...to Cloverdale.

Cloverdale: home to Canada's second largest rodeo. Home to numerous antique shops, antique auctions, flea markets, events and country fairs in surfeit, horse stuff, zone 6b fields, unconscious twangs, cowboy hats, and one horse track - recently adjoined, with an abominable casino.

There is the Millennium Amphitheatre. These grounds are venue to all sorts of events. Woman Sikh gatherings and Canada Day fireworks and performing bands and singers. Tom Cochrane once sang there. Other more famous singers too. But before, they were also grounds to the ancient "sanskrit" of human folly.

***

I know the Cloverdale fairgrounds well. Because I knew them before and as they were being changed. Much of it is still the same. I remember the innumerable times sneaking into the grounds with my friends as an adolescent, year-round. We knew all the dugouts below certain areas of fencing; knew the mountains (literally, mountains) of compacted gravel that once stood near the Stetson Bowl, where all the rodeo hoopla takes place in late spring. There was a Native kid who would sporadically attend math class, who once showed us how you could position your feet and crouch and slide all the way down the compacted gravel mountains.

As said, the rodeo only takes place once a year, then the Stetson Bowl is vacant. Below the rising bleachers, sometimes finding coin in the dirt which had fallen out of peoples' pockets from when they had sat above, the depression was an encompassing vacuum.

G.K. Chesterton describes it well in his Father Brown story, The God of the Gongs:

“Well,” said Flambeau, “I never murdered anyone, even in my criminal days, but I can almost sympathize with anyone doing it in such a dreary place. Of all God-forsaken dustbins of Nature, I think the most heart-breaking are places like that bandstand, that were meant to be festive and are forlorn. I can fancy a morbid man feeling he must kill his rival in the solitude and irony of such a scene. I remember once taking a tramp in your glorious Surrey hills, thinking of nothing but gorse and skylarks, when I came out on a vast circle of land, and over me lifted a vast, voiceless structure, tier above tier of seats, as huge as a Roman amphitheatre and as empty as a new letter-rack. A bird sailed in heaven over it. It was the Grand Stand at Epsom. And I felt that no one would ever be happy there again.”

We knew one kid whose house was behind the forest that led one to the back of the Stetson Bowl before going to the fairgrounds. We would find salamanders crawling in the moist peat and moss, and we would head out of the forest, past the giant pond that erupts at night with the cannonade of frogs and into the fairgrounds, fooling around.

There was one kid who had red hair. He was the troublemaker. I was with him after school once, down below the bleachers. There was the closed down concession building and next to it a pay phone. We had our bikes. We would sneak into these areas and on to the barren, grandiose circuit of wooden bleachers that rose around us in a stasis of exhaustion, or look down into the vacant stalls that, during the only three days a year that filled the place with crowds, would hold the calves or bulls. In the rising rungs of the seats we would do stupid mock cowboy hoedowns, laughing our heads off.

We were down by the concession building and my friend with the red hair picked up the receiver of the phone and dialled: 911. I was watching him, straddling my bike.

He begins doing a hoedown with the receiver to his ear, and as the thick grey clouds filed overhead those empty grounds, he says into the receiver, still doing his hoedown:

9-1-1 is a joke in your- tooowwwwwn!

9-1-1 is a joke in your- tooowwwwwn!

9-1-1 is a joke in your- tooowwwwwn!

It was from a rap song. Then we skedaddled on our bikes, dragging them under the fence and started making our way up the hill that leads to the school which overlooks all of it: the horse track, casino, Stetson Bowl, fairgrounds, the Agriplex building, the Millennium Amphitheatre, all of it.

When we were well up the hill, we looked back. And there, where the public phone was and where we were a short while ago, in complete contradiction to what my friend had just said into the phone, were two cruisers, like two crocodiles arrived at some point in water where a potential casualty was making a splash, but got away before they got there.

***

I know those grounds well. Something of my wretchedness belongs there - where all kinds gather.

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