In which I write about a toy. A doll. A temple idol, a spiritual tool.
I’ve had an Amma doll for a long time, and over the years I’ve collected all the outfits and extras, and I keep it all in an old wicker picnic-style basket. I can dress her in her whites, or as Devi, Krishna, or Kali.
There’s also a nightgown, socks, a swim dress, perfumes, a sun dress I made, and a tiny Home Depot apron (in case she ever wants to do some yard work or something). Garlands, necklaces, earrings, belts, a mala. A hairbrush.
There used to be a sweater, but apparently I’ve lost it.
I’ve read treatises written by those who don’t yet grasp what spirituality is or what it’s for, droning on and on about the phenomenon of white women and their Amma dolls, trying to make all kinds of Freudian implications about infantilization and adult women “playing” with dolls, as if there were something wrong with play, something sinister about child-like joy and absorption.
Yeah, yeah, I get it. There is evil in the world (although this is not it), and the dolls creep you out. Whatever. Your mistakes are your own. Or are they?
Because the fact is, this doll isn’t a Barbie, empty of meaning. It’s not a collection of plastic crap that symbolizes only imperialism and consumption. This doll is a profoundly useful spiritual tool, whether anyone who thinks they’re weird is capable of understanding that or not.
When you’re nearly always apart from your guru, being able to play with and cuddle a toy, one imbued with layers of complex spiritual and philosophical information, is a fucking oasis in a desert of streaming services, social networking, avarice, empty affluence, fear, and anxiety.
The process of handling the doll focuses the mind on the guru. Changing the costumes over time creates deep curiosity — why does Kali have a garland of skulls? what issues are there to consider about religion and violence? is suffering different than violence? is death meaningful? what the fuck is a demon: is it a literal bad entity, or a representation of one’s own flaws? is the mind a demon? Does Krishna’s flute, like, symbolize something? maybe Krishna just liked to play the flute? does it have to be meaningful? What’s the difference between information and meaning? what’s it feel like to be enlightened? aren’t the enlightened supposed to be without preference? so why the flute and not something else? — which drives self-education and awakens the understanding that all this shit represents something.
These symbols are not just arbitrary foreign cultural weirdness. They have meaning. They peel like an onion.
When you see your guru for two days a year, and spend maybe 4 minutes of those two days actually with her, you need a conduit, a way to get back, a helpful symbol. When you’re losing your shit because you don’t know what the fuck is going on with your life or what you are or are supposed to be doing, you grab your Amma doll and you have a good cry.
Or, as I frequently do, you bitch God out for this stupid reality in which one has to have a mind capable of suffering in order to want to become enlightened: you cannot even want enlightenment without suffering first! It’s built-in! What the fuck!
Brahman dwells within itself, forever content. In the deeps, God isn’t even aware of us. If he’s the brilliant scientist in the state-of-the-art lab, we’re some random bacteria in the sludge around the drain in the unused third sub-basement he doesn’t even know about.
This occasionally makes me so infuriated I bitch and hiss at my doll, because it’s easier to have a conversational focus in the form of a small item than it is to try to somehow address the entirety of the manifest universe at once, because seriously, where would you even look?
You look at your doll, as a representative of That, and you complain. You lay out your grievances. You pitch a fucking fit. You say you know everything that exists is a manifestation of an inherent quality of the Lord’s, and you know that selfishness, stupidity, and greed are just as much expressions of God as generosity, intelligence, beauty, and sacrifice, and that’s cool, but: suffering! Why is there suffering? Why even manifest as apparent discrete entities with minds of their own when that is itself literally the cause of suffering? What’s the point of us even being here to experience shit when it’s frequently so awful? Why even do this in the first place? How can You be loving if this manifestation with all its inherent bullshit is a fundamental expression of what You are?!
And then you get the brain dump. God, Guru answers. No, you don’t see visions or hear voices, but suddenly you have understandings that you didn’t have before. Knowledge just appears in your head, intact. (I’ve noticed when reading Matruvani that devotees’ stories are often like this. They’re waiting and waiting for whatever outcome they think they want, and eventually they get freaked out and complain to the altar or a photo of idol or guru, and then, and only then, at the final hour, the thing, the outcome, the whatever, occurs.) I think that it’s perfectly fine and okay and even encouraged to natter and nag and bitch at the Beloved. Amma even says several times in various books that one should have a running commentary and be always thinking of and talking to one’s beloved deity. Don’t gossip with others, tell the beloved. Don’t complain to others, tell the beloved. Don’t suffer needlessly and stoically, tell the beloved.
The whole point of and thread running throughout is about where the mind should be. The mind should be not on worldly bullshit, but on any symbol that will eventually lead it inward. Apparently this is called pratyahara, and is the process of withdrawing the mind from distraction and turning it inward toward its source. It’s a pain in the ass, in one way, because it’s hard and tedious and sometimes it hurts. But it’s also effortless, in the sense that at some point you realize that there is no effort, only grace. Because you feel like you’re making effort but you eventually come to know you’re not: you go years sometimes without effort, and then suddenly great strides are made. Your heart is arid and then the rains come, and you’re not the rain. You reach for That when the guru wants you to, and at no other time.
Another irrationality, that, as most of it is in this arduous process of destroying the world, and yet once you know it, you know it. Since there’s nothing to measure, you can’t prove it, but you have experienced it and know it to be true. They say if you take one step toward the guru, the guru will take a thousand toward you, but you also know that shit does not move at all without the guru doing it, because you’re not the doer, you’re not even real. You are your mind, and your mind is a reflection of consciousness.
Just like you know God’s not an asshole but doesn’t really find human suffering all that compelling, in the same way a human being does not find the death of a few skin cells all that compelling, and yet, by the same token, some aspect of God does shit like takes birth and gets nailed to a cross like Christ or dies of cancer like Ramakrishna or crucifies herself in her darshan chair like Amma in order to point us in the right direction. They come and They come and They ever come, these incarnations, and They show infinite love and beauty and grace and They say, look, I’m suffering my balls off here, because hey-what, the suffering of the mind and body is irrelevant. And let me teach you why.
And it’s utterly impossible to encompass, but there it is. The whole thing’s a huge joke somehow. You’re not even here, your you-ness isn’t real, it’s a soup of consciousness your mind is building the whole of reality out of, and your mind is not even conscious itself. It’s a construct! It merely reflects! I’m waiting for the punch line!
Terror is the mind realizing you know it’s not real, and that you’re becoming willing to surrender it to That in order to escape suffering, which is also not real.
I’m waiting for the punch line!