The Jivamala
The Life of a Shiva Devotee

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Section XL - Building Shiva's Temple

Ishiji grew older, and less demanding. I had no idea children were so demanding - I could see why my father and uncle lost patience. If I looked like this, I was unattractive indeed.

However, he did not notice my disapproval, for I was patient with him, and did not punish him when he acted badly. Amba loved him no matter what he did, and always held him, and played with him. He kept the fair skin, and his hair was long and wavy. The village women vied for his attention as if he were a little Krishna. He appeared to have no renunciant inclinations at all.

He grew old enough for his initiation and I asked my teacher-priest if he would initiate my son. He came from a large lineage, and was popular, and this would give Ishiji a choice later for spiritual friends and connections. My own guru was far away, and would not be useful in this way for my son.

He did prayers with him, and helped with the haircut, and offered the new robe. When he gave him the chief prayer, far away from others, he said Ishiji had a look that was far away, and then swayed and fainted. When he returned to awareness, he said he had seen his father's god standing on a mountain watching him. He looked back, and they watched each other. Then Shiva raised his trident, and lightning came forth from it, and he fell unconscious. When he came back [to consciousness], he said that he knew Shiva was his own god too, not just his father's.

He seemed changed after that - less playful, less demanding, and less self-centered. He asked to learn how to worship the lord, and I taught him puja and arati (ritually offering fire or light), and [methods for] placing the gods in places that had been purified. He sang with me at night, and his voice grew strong and melodious with heartfelt tremors.

Sometimes he would pretend to be Shiva, stand in his positions, act out his stories, tie his hair like his, and try to ride the local bulls (who were not happy with this turn of events). He made a pile of dirt in the woods that was his secret cave, and he practiced making amulets and facial markings.

I needed to teach him - he was a curious child, and wanted answers much as I had when I was a child. But what was he to become? Should I teach him to be a priest or a sadhu?

I asked Amba what she thought. She was unhappy that he was old enough to be taught. She liked him as a baby. But she said, "You have always asked the lord for advice - ask him now. If our child is really his devotee, the lord may have plans for him."

Section XLI

So I went out at night, and prayed to the lord. At first I could not find him, but then I fell asleep, and then I found myself in Shiva's cave of crystal lingas. He was everywhere and nowhere. Then a great crystal in the middle of the cave opened with a red light, and the lord came out, with a leopard skin instead of a tiger skin, with a writhing black snake around his neck and arms.

He said,

I am pleased - you have done as I commanded. When you die, I will give you the choice of afterlives: you may serve me here, or take on a new body as a devotee and sadhu, or live as an ancestor with the ancient ones and watch the universe as it changes.

You may train your son to be a priest - he is growing up in priestly caste after all but that is not his fate. He will love me with all his heart, and that love will spread, and my worship will grow. In your last life, you accidentally disrupted my worship. In this life, it is your fate to spread it. I chose you because you were a sadhu, and also for your karma.

You have served me well, but you are not going to live a long life. In a few years you must die - you will not see your son grow up. Your wife will be a widow. Plan for this.

What is your choice of afterlife?

I did not have to think long. I said, "Lord, I am your servant, now and forever. If I have the opportunity, I will serve you in your paradise."

Shiva said,

I thought you would say that, but I wanted you to realize that your future is your own choice - it is an important gift, and one sought by many sadhus. By worshiping me, you have gained the goal of lifetimes of meditation

As for your son, teach him devotion, and find people to help him. You are both part of a greater plan.

Then the cave blurred and vanished, and I was out at night in the forest again.

I was disturbed that I would die soon - my gurus had lived to be older. But it was the lord's will. I needed to do something to cement bonds [between my son and the people] in the village. I thought of holding a blessing ceremony for the village - Amba could cook for the people, and I would teach Ishiji prayers for health and happiness. I had heard of one of these years ago - the priest [who held the ceremony] was popular for years afterwards. This would help my son.

So I arranged it with Amba, who loved the idea, and got some of the other women involved. We fed the village in the lord's name, and gave blessings and puja. Everybody was happy.

Section XLII

I invited my teacher-priest to the celebration, and fed him well. I also gave him gifts of cloth and tobacco. He said, "Child, you are not of a sociable nature. What is the real reason for this [celebration]?"

I said, "Teacher-father, I believe that I will die within a few years - my lord has called me to him. I want to help my son and wife, for I will be leaving them alone. I wanted the village to think well of them. I give you gifts in hopes of your blessing my son.

He said,

This was not necessary - your son is a spiritually developed soul, and I am sure that the gods will look after him. But I have initiated him, and if anything happens to you, I will declare your wife and son to be extended family, and I will help them in life. Now what did the lord say to you?
I told him what happened, and he looked serious. He said, "I see why you are concerned. But you need not fear for yourself - you have the god's grace. And I will care for your family. Is there anything else that you want to work on before your death?"

I said, "I am here to spread Shiva's worship. I have made a temple, and people sing and do puja to him now, but I wonder if I should do more."

Section XLIII

I spoke with my teacher-father the next day who said,

I have meditated and prayed. I believe that your actions have been suitable. I think that what would please the lord is to expand the temple where you could worship him. Now you have a small room. I have land that was left to me by a dying moneylender hoping for blessings, and I have ignored it. There would be room for a much bigger temple there. Let me see what I can do.
It seemed that many people wanted to do something for him. When he announced that he wished to build a temple to Shiva for the glory of the town, people became proud and volunteered to help. The brickmaker took children of other but related castes, and taught them some basic skills so that many bricks could be made. He called in a stoneworker from another village, and they talked about how temples were made. They wanted to have a high roof, to symbolize Shiva's hair, going down in step form, to symbolize jata (Shiva's matted hair). It would be laid out in a square, but with a large courtyard in front of where the statue would be, so that Shiva could look over the multitude. It would be important to get a statue with a powerful gaze so that people could perceive the lord's presence.

The temple made the waste land into a valuable place. The soil was poor, so little grew there, but it was perfect for a temple. It was measured and balanced and organized by large pieces of bamboo, and it grew like a child's toy. People from other villages came to see it as it went up, and later as it was white-washed and painted. Then we had to find a statue of the lord, and some of his companions.

It took almost a year. I was conscious of time, for I knew that my end would come soon. The statue was an old one - one of the old men had a dream of a lost Shiva statue, and several people in the village went out and found it. It was worn away, left long ago in an area where rocks had fallen. Perhaps this was why the lord valued this place. They brought the statue back on a wagon, for it was too large to carry. It was an old statue for a new temple, and my teacher-father and I together officially called the lord down into it.

I took my son along and once a week, my wife would make food for the workers, and my son would give it out to them. They all came to know him. But as he grew, his interests were more in the spirit. He would go out at night and chant, and the sound of his voice blessed this town.

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