I could see them from below as I made my way up to the temple.
The two of them sat, a few feet apart, their backs resting on the low fence encircling the shrine. I felt their peace, even though I was still several hundred feet away.
I counted the steps as I climbed, puffing slightly as I breathed in the sultry Penang air. It was late afternoon, hot and humid, and this was my last temple visit of the day.
My mind turned more than once to how delightful it might be to stop for a while and sit in the cool stream that flowed swiftly down the hillside as I clambered slowly up it.
A fat-bellied swami perched cross-legged on the marble entrance observed my final approach to the temple.
Swathed in traditional cloth from the waist down, naked and decorated with religious markings from the waist up, he ignored the several friendly smiles I shot in his direction, and grunted as I stepped past him into the spacious open air “verandah,” which comprised the first part of the temple.
I briefly wondered why all the Hindu priests I’d seen in the last several days had equally large paunches, and why this one in particular seemed so seriously sour. I let those thoughts go, and went on to find Lord Ganesh, whom Shaimlee had told me should be honoured first when one visited a Hindu temple.
I paid my respects to the elephant-headed god, then made my way over to the two young men I’d seen as I climbed. We exchanged silent smiles as I sat down nearby.
The three of us reposed quietly in a row, the only temple visitors at this hour, surrounded by the sounds of the recorded temple chant, cocks crowing, birds singing, and monkeys’ squealing in the jungle.
I couldn’t help but notice that both my meditative companions had their right hands buried from the wrist down in embroidered cloth sacs, like horses’ muzzles in feedbags.
This struck me as curious, and I wondered about the reasons behind the concealment… My question would be answered on the way down to the parking lot.
In the meantime, one of them started chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare, and I realized then that they were practitioners of Krishna Consciousness, members of which I had last seen decades ago in a Montreal subway station, sporting bright orange robes and shaved heads, chanting, drumming, ringing bells and spreading their own brand of religious ecstasy.
This chance encounter at the temple afforded me a great opportunity to find out more about Krishna Consciousness…
So when they left, I gave them a bit of a head start, and then I followed (a comical female version of The Pink Panther lol).
When I caught them up, I struck up a conversation, first of tall to find out about the cloth bags on their hands, and then to learn as much as I could about their practice and their movement.
Of the many things we talked about as we made our way down the mountain, these words in particular will stick with me for a very long time:
You are not this body, you are a spirit soul. So wherever we go we see people as souls, we never see them as American, Indian, Russian or Chinesse, no. We see each person as a spirit soul. So that is what we are practicing.
That sure sounds like a good philosophy to put into practice. No matter what religion or brand of spirituality one espouses…
Click on the player below to hear more of the conversation.