I went to India in 1966. There was a particular presence that lay beneath everything I experienced in the villages and in the cities such as New Delhi and Varanasi. It was not something that was spoken about very much. This was the awareness that each individual person regardless of station in life was an immortal spiritual being who had lived before and would live again. It was not a viewpoint that was pushed. It was just the way it was. Somehow I could feel this. It was a presence in the tiny village in the state of Madhya Pradesh I would visit. It was palpable in Benares, a city on the sacred Ganges River where people would go to die. At night you could see fires burning beside the river. These were the burning ghats (Ghat in Hindi means bank as in river bank). This was the sacred burning of the body on the shores of the Ganges.
The city of Varanasi
This presence and awareness was not morbid at all. On the contrary it appeared to create a peace in the people that permeated the environment. Even though there was upset in the country and pervasive poverty, this reality created a calmness that could be intensely perceived. Somehow, this awareness entered into me and became part of my viewpoint of life. Here is a poem that was inspired from this time.
GRANDMA EXPLAINED TO ME
“You are a spirit, child”.
(she explained in simple grandma words,
Accentuated by ancient grandma hands,
Illuminated by the great light
That shone from her grandma eyes.)
“After this body is burned
I will come to visit you.
I will look in on you
To make sure you are ok,
To make sure you are fed,
To make sure you are appropriately
Cared for and loved.
I will visit you.
You will know it is me.
The same grandma
Who speaks to you now,
Will be the grandma who visits you then.
The only difference will be
That this withered frame
Will not be with me.”
This is how she explained it to me.
“this withered frame will
Have been long since burned
It’s ashes placed in an earthen urn.”
It was with grandma,
Between the layers of her labor
These lessons we learned.
Louis Alan Swartz is the author of Constructed of Magic and Other Poems on the Immortality of the Human Spirit. He has dedicated his life to helping others find their ability as immortal spiritual beings. He has traveled extensively in Africa, India, Europe, and the Middle East. He lives in Los Angeles with Connie, his wife of twenty-eight years.