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body. week 5.

date. 2024

location: varanasi

Image by Joshua Rawson-Harris

August 7, 2023


I’ve begun my readings in Indian philosophy with a translated copy of the Upanishads from Oxford University. To my surprise, the oldest Upanishad, Brhadaranyaka, begins with a discussion of - would you believe it - death and the body.


In the beginning there was nothing at all. Death alone covered this completely, as did hunger; for what is hunger but death? The death made up its mind: ‘Let me equip myself with a body (atman).’ So he undertook a liturgical recitation, and as he was in engaged in recitation water sprung from him.


In this way death goes on to create the winds, sun, sky, and so on. Finally, death (as hunger) decides to eat all that he has created. But:


Death reflected: ‘If I kill him, I will only reduce my supply of food.’ So, with that speech and that body he gave birth to this whole world, to everything that is here. Vedic verses and formulas, chants, mantras, sacrifices, people, and animals. He began to eat whatever he gave birth to. ‘He eats all’ — it is this that gave the name to and discloses the true nature of Aditi. When someone comes to know the name and nature of Aditi in this way, he becomes the eater of this whole world, and the whole world here becomes his food.


In this way, death created a world on which to perpetually feast. The world becomes the body of death.


Whoever knows this averts repeated death — death is unable to seize him, death becomes his very body (atman), and he becomes one of the deities.


According to the Upanishad, then, we are all organs of the body of death. To ignore this fact is to suffer the blow of repeated deaths. For death comes for us all. But to acknowledge this, is to take part in the atman of death, and like death, to feast on the world, thereby becoming “one of the deities.”


But then, in a following chapter, the Upanishad seems to start over again. Does it contradict what it stated earlier? Or simply restating it in different terms?


In the beginning this world was just a single body (atman) shaped like a man. He looked around and saw nothing but himself. The first thing he said was, ‘Here I am’. And from that the name ‘I’ came into being.


Notice here that the Upanishad adds the words “this world”. In the beginning of this world. This is perhaps meant to indicate a secondary development. First, the birth of the body from death, now the birth of the ‘I’ from the body. In other words, the continued unfolding of atman, a further deepening of atman. Notice still the similarity between Adam’s hineini and the body’s ‘Here I am.’ However, like Adam,


He found no pleasure at all; so one finds no pleasure when one is alone. He wanted to have a companion.


And so he creates a female body to copulate with. (Reproduction/sexuality emerges, not with the body, but with the ego.)


He copulated with her, and from their union human beings were born. She then thought to herself: ‘After begetting me from his own body, how could he copulate with me? I know — I’ll hide myself.’ So she became a cow. But he became a bull and again copulated with her. Fro their union cattle was born. Then she became a mare, and he a stallion.


And so on and so forth.


In this way he created every male and female pair that exists, down to the very ants.


Notice that humans were created before the animals, while in Genesis they arrive last.


Notice how evolution of atman is responsible for all of life, while in Genesis each is an individual creation of god.


Notice the dialectical nature of creation. Even after their initial union, the female “thinks to herself.” Momentum is maintained. Equilibrium never reached.


The Upanishad takes stock:


‘Sacrifice to this god. Sacrifice to that god.’ — people say these things, but in reality each of those gods is his own creation.


Food and Eater — that is the extent of this whole world.


Penetrating this body up to the very nail tips, [Brahman] remains there like a razor within a case or a termite within a hill. People do not see him, for he is incomplete. He comes to be called breath when he is breathing, speech when he is speaking, sight when he is seeing, hearing when he is hearing, and mind when he is thinking.


These are only the names of his various activities. A man who considered him to be any of these does not understand him, for he is incomplete without any of these.


One should consider them as simply his body (atman), for in it all these become one. This same body is the trail to this entire world, for by following it one comes to know this entire world.


It is his body alone that a man should venerate as his world. And if someone venerates his body alone as his world, that rite of his will never fade away, because from his very body he will produce whatever he desires.


Is worshipping your body selfish or crude?


Now, this body is a world for all beings. So, when he makes offerings and sacrifices, he becomes thereby a world for the gods. When he recites the Vedas, he becomes thereby a world for the seers. When he offers libations to his ancestors and seeks to father offspring, he becomes thereby a world for his ancestors. When he provides food and shelter to human beings, he becomes thereby a world for human beings. When he produces fodder and water for livestock, he becomes a world for livestock. When creatures, from wild animals and birds down to the very ants, find shelter in his houses, he becomes thereby a world for them.


Just as a man desires the wellbeing of his own world, so all beings desire the wellbeing of anyone who knows this.


But let’s not get carried away. The scope of man’s actions are in reality severely limited.


In the beginning this world was only the body, only one. He has this desire: ‘I wish I had a wife so I could father offspring. I wish I had wealth so I could perform rites.’ That is the full extant of desire’ one does not get anything more, even if one desires it.


Offspring and rites. That is the full extent of man’s hopes and toil.


Now, there are only three worlds: the world of men, the world of ancestors, and the world of gods. One can win this world of men only through a son, and by no other rite, whereas one wins the world of ancestors through rites, and the world of gods through knowledge.


What are these three worlds? And what is meant by these three paths to salvation?



Part 1 - The World of Man - The Form


It is written, one who saves one person it is as if they saved the entire world. For each person, quite literally is an entire world. If I die, my entire world dies along with me.


To give birth to a person, then, is to give birth to an entire world. It is to partake in the ancient mysticism which is creation. It is to join god. It is to create something — everything — out of nothing.


But this is only the form of life. What that child’s world consists of, its content, belongs to the world of the ancestors. 



Part 2 - The World of the Ancestors - The Content


What does your world consist of? What does it feel like? In what ways does it differ from mine? In what ways does it differ from the world of a chimpanzee? A fish? A tree?


This comes down to a matter of ancestry. Our minds, like our bodies, evolve. They take shape over the course of millions of years. It happens on a macro species level, and it happens on a micro individual scale.


When I sit and gaze out on my world, I primarily do not see the world as it is. I see the world as my ancestors have learned to see it. How they’ve created it.


The very act of my sitting here in Varanasi, writing with pen and paper, about the philosophical implications of an ancient Hindu text, is so complex that it feels as though vast swaths of human cultural, political, technological, and economic developments ought to be held accountable.


To explain this very moment, I must first comprehend all of human history. Which leads to the third world, the world of god.


But first a quick word about rites.


Rites are simply actions. But actions properly understood. That is, actions as rituals.


It is generally assumed that one’s thoughts, words, and actions have meaning. I want to eat, so I search for my keys. Simple as that. I need directions to the store, so I roll down my window and ask for directions. Again, simple.


But how did it comes about that you inhabit a world in which food, keys, stores, directions have any meaning at all? More broadly, how did it come to be that any of your actions, thoughts, beliefs, and words make any sense at all? Well, as we’ve seen, it’s all a matter of history, of ancestry. We learn to make use of money, just as we learn to make use of words. The child is not taught by the parents, but by the entirety of the world in which they inhabit. A world which has been carefully and painstakingly constructed over billions of years.


A word means nothing on its own. It takes on meaning by the relationship it holds to other words, and their relationship to the world as a whole. And the world itself? Where does its meaning come from?


There is no promise that your actions make sense. In fact, it’s best to assume that they don’t. And yet, our actions allow us to perform our role within our ancestral world.


Sometimes things work as they’re meant to. Often not. This is not for us or our ancestors to determine.


Judaism says that “Effort does not help, but it also does not hurt.” Effort is not a matter of meaning, but a matter of duty.


Krishna tells Arjuna that Karma — action — is a matter of duty. We perform what we must and leave the rest to god. He calls this ‘disinterested action’. Action, not for the sake of its fruit, but for its own performance. Ritual.


To summarize: my world is filled with the karma of my ancestors. There is no promise that the way my world is arranged holds any good purpose, or any purpose at all. And yet life asks to be lived. And so one must act. The act itself, for itself, becomes ritual. Ritual which enables us to grasp our natural role in the world of the ancestors.


Part 3 - The World of God - Form + Content


To understand, is to enter the world of god. To no longer perform blind ritual, blind procreation, but to transcend mere action and emerge into a world of good and evil. A world where action and knowledge, form and content reveal themselves as being one and the same. A world of inherent meaning. A world of god.


How and if this is possible, according to the Upanishads, we’ll have to wait and see. But one thing is already clear. To understand the world is to understand your body (atman).


While this is a triple reality, yet it is one — it is this body (atman). It’s hidden name (upanishad) is: ‘The real behind the real’.





January 15


When I began this year of the body, I’d assumed it would be a journey of strength, health, and pleasure. The body is supposed to be sinful, right?


Little did I know.


I’d forgotten Buddha’s sermon at Sarnath, delivered just 10 miles from my home in Varanasi. I’d forgotten Jesus’s sermon on the mount, delivered just 10 miles from where I once lived in Jerusalem.


The body is suffering.


These past few months have been filled with more illness than the rest of my life combined. From every side, infections, food poisoning, viruses, arthritis, fatigue, aches, cramps, diarrhea. I’ve visited a dozen clinics, swallowed enough pills to fund a cartel, and spent more time with doctors than with my friends. Or my professors, for that matter.


I still have my good days. Morning yoga. Occasional massages. That trip to Kerala. I find my ways.


But mostly? Medical issues. And isn’t ‘medical’ just a clinical method of pretending that my probably is with medicine rather than with my body?


Body issues.


I spend all my time taking care of this body. Cleaning it, exercising it, resting it, feeding it, dressing it, heating it up and cooling it down. Doctors appointments, medications, monitoring my ever-shifting symptoms.


But ok.


In every religion there appears a certain school of renunciation. A system of salvation based on the presumption that the body must be renounced. All sorts of bodily suffering has been introduced and willfully endured by nearly all of the world’s saints.


I never quite understood the purpose of inflicting pain in the name of salvation. 


Some initial thoughts:


In suffering, life returns to the ground. The passing concerns that animate everyday life recede, and the question of ‘mere existence’ once again returns to the fore. How am I to endure? There is a great narrowing of concern which simultaneously expands into a widening of perspective.


The hours upon hours that I spent in hospital waiting rooms surrounded by the thousands of other humans who are struggling for their basic life has shown me things that I could never….



And that’s the second point I’ve entered a community of the suffering.


I no longer live among the ‘saved’, the successful, the active.


I now am a citizen of that underworld of hopeful misery. We drag our bodies around from doctor to doctor, procedure after procedure, offering our very flesh for their prodding, cutting, and drugging. We have become sacrifices.


Desperate to become whole again.


When I wait in a waiting room, I sometimes catch the eyes of those walking past. Mothers carrying children. Husbands supporting wives. And countless others like me, all alone.


In their eyes, I catch a glimpse of something. To me, it is the face of terror.


In sickness, I join a community of sufferers. My solitary life of personal ambition melts away into a communal life of organic struggle. I feel closer to those around me. Pain speaks no language.


But perhaps most importantly, my sicknesses force me to turn to others for help.


I hate asking for help. Hell, I even hate giving help. I think everyone should focus on their own burden and quit peeking at their neighbors’ cards.


But what happens when I can no longer carry my burden? I ask for help. From friends. From strangers. From doctors and colleagues and family.


I admit that I am not strong enough on my own, and turn outward for my salvation.


Sometimes, I even turn toward god.



‘There is hope.’ Rajaram paused and leaned closer, fixing his eyes on them. They were shining a little now. 'As I first told you, I want to renounce this world of trouble and sorrow. I want the simple existence of a sanyasi. I want to meditate for long hours in a cold, dark Himalayan cave. I will sleep on hard surfaces. Rise with the sun and retire with the stars. Rain and wind, no matter how strong, will be of little consequence to my mortified flesh. I will throw away my comb, and my hair and beard will grow long and knotted. Tiny creatures will find peaceful refuge in them, digging and burrowing as they choose, for I will not disturb them.'


Ishvar raised his eyebrows and Om rolled his eyes, but Rajaram did not notice either of them. He pushed aside his teacup slowly, deliberate-ly, as though performing his first act of abnegation. The wild, romantic vision of an ascetic was a stimulant to his imagination, giving it a graphic turn.


‘I will go with bare feet, my soles and heels cracked, torn, bleeding from a dozen lesions and lacerations to which shall be applied no salve or ointment. Snakes wandering across my path in dark jungles will not frighten me. Stray dogs will nip at my ankles as I roam through strange towns and remote villages. I will beg for my food. Children, and sometimes even adults, will mock me and throw stones at me, scared of my strange countenance and my frenzied inward-gazing eyes. I will go hungry and naked when necessary. I will stumble across rocky plains and down steep hills. I will never complain!’


His eyes had drifted from his audience, focusing wistfully in the distance, having already started their travels across the subcontinent.


--  A Fine Balance 






When the body loses its power (I.e. its knowledge), only then does it set out in search of a soul.



The body is in the details. Find the details, and you find the body there waiting.



Kant took the small step in separating things-as-they-are and things-as-they-appear. That is, souls and bodies. Nietzsche took the giant leap of reuniting the two: souls as bodies. (Not to be confused with soulless bodies or embodied souls.)



Kant teaches us that one must live as if god exists. As if, even in the depths of self-isolation, one is not alone. This is not a matter of preference, but a recognition of moral necessity. It is a categorical faith in an irrational belief. And it is the absolute farthest that philosophy is capable of taking us without contradicting itself. Religion, on the other hand, begins and ends with a singular commitment: god is real. God is not an experience, a structure, a condition or an idea. God is real. And if that is absurd, well, so be it. This is something philosophy can never and should never accept. To affirm the reality of god is to violate the principles of reason, and to thereby deny the dignity of existence. And this is precisely why we need religion, if only as an enduring testament of what can never be. A reminder of a world that never truly existed. A champion of pure desire. Ad d’lo yadah. But Christianity takes it a step further. Not only is god real, but god is right here, all around us. Go on, touch it. We live in the real. The really real. And the real lives in us. No philosopher, at least not since the Greeks, could ever imagine it. 



“I couldn’t feel. So I tried to touch.”



The body = that which is seen. The totality of what is seen. That which is exposed. Exposure. Over-exposure?


We, our bodies, are always being observed, if only by a (nonexistent) god. How else could we exist as bodies?


Simultaneous with exposure comes observation. 


No one, not even the physicist, has looked more closely, more intently, more honestly at the body than Karl Marx. It was as if, in one impossible instant, all of Europe awoke from a thousands year dream. Awoke into, as John Paul II calls it, our own original solitude. (But with solitude comes the possibility for communion.) 


I love to watch the drops of water run down my window pane. Urgently seeking each other out, conscious of the weight pulling them ever more rapidly down toward... If they’re lucky, they commune, even if just for a few moments, and finish their descent together, as one being. If we are to die, let us die together. Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. After the billions of years of evolution that separate us from the droplet of water, our response to death remains the same: Intimacy. 


Intimacy is evolution.



Fashion is no different than uniform. In fact, fashion is always the uniform for a job that has not yet been created. In fashion, we preempt ourselves by donning the costume of an idealized profession (profession in its religious sense “I profess my faith.” From the Latin pro fateri - before confession.)






Student: If there is no god, does that mean I can do whatever I want?


Teacher: Precisely. But first, you have to figure out what it is that you want. 



Jewish law states that in exile, one is prohibited from worshipping with the body. Bowing and mortal sacrifice is only possible when god is present on earth. Today, we must be content with a spiritual worship. Prayer and sacrifices of the heart. In leu of the real thing.


Without a home, it is impossible to have a body. 






The ancient Gnostics found themselves in a demonic, anti-divine universe. Matter was evil. Yet, the truly bottomless pit is opened only by the Cartesian universe with its complete indifference to meaning. Matter is "mere matter," sheer externality. It is value-free. The reason for this indifference of matter to meaning lies in the rigorous reconstruction of knowledge under the guidance of the ambition for power over nature.


Desperately alone in an inhospitable world, orphaned by its own ambition for power, the Cartesian conscious subject is thrown back on itself, it must find all meaning in itself. The most powerful expression of this new kind of subjectivity is Kant's anti-trinitarian personalism.


Kant set out to cure the modern subject of atheism and utilitarianism by setting religion and morality on a new foundation, namely, the dignity of the person.


Wotyla's response is, at one and the same time, a defense of the goodness of nature and of the trinitarian paradigm of personhood. To be a person is to stand in a relation of gift. To be a human person is to live as a body that offers a rich natural expression for the gift of self.


It is typical of rationalism to make a radical contrast in man between spirit and body, between body and spirit. But man is a person in the unity of his body and his spirit. The body can never be reduced to mere matter: It is a spiritualized body, just as man's spirit is so closely united to the body that he can be described as an embodied spirit. The richest source for knowledge of the body is the Word made flesh.


Theology of the Body, by John Paul II






Unlike the mind, the body has both depth and surface.


While listening to a heavy electronic track this weekend, I felt submerged in my body. I felt captivated. Taken captive. I felt entranced. I thought to myself, “wow, this is what my body feels like.”


While listening to a pop song this morning I felt bouncy, present, light and floaty. I felt mobile. I felt free. I thought to myself, “wow, this is what my body feels like.”


-- Incarnadine by Curses

-- Dancing in the Courthouse by Dominic Fike




Live for yourself. Or live for woman (in other words, for god). Everything else is hevel havalim. Everything else is mamon. 






Bodies speak their own language. They speak in colors (tanned, black and blue, red, pale, grey hair), scratches, limps, shakes and shudders, scars and burns, bumps and bruises. Fillers and prosthetics. Missing teeth and missing fingers. A lazy eye or jagged breath. They tell the story of their life. All around me, I see bodies with stories. Sad stories, but stories nonetheless. How sad it must be, to become a body without a story. A silent body. 






While watching the lion gnaw on its prey, I thought: and the body became flesh. 




The world as facade 




Bodies with nothing to do. 




What made Abraham special, what makes Judaism revolutionary (thereby unacceptable), is that Abraham was the first man to choose the spirit over the body. In fact, Abraham was the first man to discover the spirit, and to love it with all his heart and all his soul and all his strength. He made enemies with the body. He made enemies with other bodies. Simply because he refused to worship them. He rejected the body, going so far as to sacrifice his own flesh, his own son. 


Thank god, Jesus came along to guide us home to the body. Home to the wound that births us. 






(Finally, Prajpati said to Indra) "Oh, Indra, this body is truly mortal.

It is bound by death. Yet, it is the seat of the self which is deathless and bodiless. The embodied self is subject to pleasure and pain. There is no escape from pleasure and pain for the embodied. But they do not touch the one who is bodiless."




Vow of silence. Silent of words, leading to a silence of thoughts. 


Bipolar. Find the animal. Be the animal. 





Was reading some Advaita Vedanta today and came across the following sentence: “The world is not the real. It is the real that appears.”


This reminded me of the Catholic idea of the son of god. God, appearing in the flesh to point out that god appears (not only in the body of Jesus of Nazareth) but in the body of the world. Our wine is his blood. Our bread is his flesh. The real that appears. 


We are not as far from god as we suppose. He appears all around us, all through us. And yet we remain infinitely distant. The real that appears. 






The body demands silence. 


This is why meditation, another word for attention, requires silence. This allows us to become aware of, and thereby inhabit, the body which is the universe.


Alternatively, a mantra may be spoken. The Body of the word, without its soul. 





In the Upanishads there seems to be a correspondence between inner and outer. That which is outside the self and that which is inside the self. And these two spaces mimic each other. For every outer x, there is an inner x. Ultimately, this boundary is disrupted by means of non-duality.



There is also a close attention to celestial bodies and macro entities like fire, water, wind, etc. 


Ritual is the body of action. Any simple act can become sacred by performing it, not as a means, but as a ritual. It takes its place among the trillions of acts that together comprise and recreate the totality of life and our existence therein. 


Action, as ritual, liberates. 





Thoughts while reading Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra


1. The Body is at once that which is most intimate and most elusive. 


Intimate, in that it forever exposes itself. It appears “for” and not “in”. It fills to the brim the vacuum of our awareness. We come into contact…


Yet we remain at a distance. Properly speaking, we can never enter into a body. We learn about the Body like a detective investigates a crime scene. Clues, deductions, traces.


The moment we become aware, we are totally swallowed up by that Body, yet simultaneously totally locked away from it. A terrifying climax. Akin to the moment of orgasm, it is completely full and fully emptied. 


I lay on the couch, softly stroking my thigh. What am i feeling? How can I describe the sensation? I consider words like ‘softness’, ‘delicate’. But those only indicate the kind of touch. What of touch itself? I close my eyes, focusing my awareness on the sensation my touch produces. The sensation of touch itself. It is like two positive ends of a magnetic trying to meet, but always slipping away at the last moment. I allow my awareness to slip back, no longer reaching for my body.


The Body, it seems, prefers its own kind of privacy. Away from the jealous prying of thought. 


Now I stroke the leather couch. Now I smell the burning incense. Now I see the shadow on the wall. Now I picture a woman. Now I taste my tongue. Now I hear the murmurs outside my window. Now I feel my chest rise and fall. Now my eyes burn with tears. Now the Body presses in upon me. Now I shrink to a point. 


That slithering stream of consciousness finally ground to a halt against the immense static of all that is real. It is quiet here. A kind of heavy quietness. An endless collapse, until collapsing itself becomes constant, and thereby unrecognizable.




2. Façade


Thoughts, too, have a facade. 


Listen to the voice speaking to you. Can you hear it? Look at the text you are now reading. Can you see it?


Communication always operates on the level of facade. The more we notice this, the more we can comprehend, and the less we will misunderstand. 


(Misunderstanding being the opposite of ignorance.)


Treat all words and gestures as a mirror. What do they reflect back to us? What mysteries may lay still buried behind them?


A philosopher of history once said that trying to understand the world by looking at the present is like trying to understand a movie by looking at a single frame. We must try to project our selves beyond the facade. Failing that, we must learn to live with appearances alone.


You speak to me. And I listen. I press my ear against the facade of your Being, listening carefully to the echos of your great beyond. 



3. Most of us consider the Body to be at best a reality we must accept or at worst a prison which confines us. 


What we forget is that the Body is a product of our own imagination. Built to serve and protect us from the un-Bodied.


We are its creators. It is the clay we mold to the conditions of our own experience. It is the garment we weave to keep us warm and hidden hidden.


The Body is our friend. The Body is our child. The Body is the only form of art we must all engage in.





Sexuality is what occurs when the body wishes to become the mind. 


Case in point: my thoughts grow anxious. I begin to tug at my penis, bringing my body into a mirroring frequency. 






The Gita provides a path to blend action with wisdom.


- work as sacrifice


“Some yogis offer sacrifices to the gods, while others sacrifice themselves directly into the fire of the Supreme.”


“For him the act of offering is God, the offering itself is God. By God it is offered into the fire of God.”


- Skill in action


- Equanimity in action


“Treating alike pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, then get ready for battle.”


- yoga. Performative action? Action that achieves more/other than its aim. Like shaking a hand or offering a smile. 


- Action as contact / interaction


“The yogi experiences easily the infinite bliss of contact with the Eternal.”


- action as playfulness / art


“All these things spring forth from bliss itself.” Upanishads


- Action as prayer. 


“Action, as ritual, liberates.”





Listen to every Taylor swift album start to finish 








If I’ve learned anything at all from my studies of Indian thought, it is that the breath is where it all begins and where it all ends.


We cling so desperately to breath; so desperately, that millions of us inhale cancerous fumes into our lungs a dozen times a day just to feel, to feel the breath. To feel the breath.


We are terrified to lose touch with the breath. To drift aimlessly out into the open space of it all. In that small seething cavern we call the lungs everything is fine, everything dances to the rhythm of our own beating heart. 




Eastern thought speaks of three layers of reality


  1. Illusion. As in a dream. An appearance without any underlying reality.

  2. Consciousness. As when awake. An appearance with an underlying reality.

  3. Wisdom. But what is this third level meant to represent? Just reality, without any overlaid appearance. That is, the body. 





Where does god intersect with the body?


Where does god intersect with the word?


Can god be captured in these fetters of flesh and spirit?




I live with the constant suspicion that soon I shall die. 


My only question is whether my body or my mind will be the first to collapse.


No time for work. No time for marriage. Into the forest I run.


Vanaprastha. The third stage of Hindu life.



May your tears of sadness be washed away by your tears of joy.





Good things take a while to happen. Bad things happen all at once.





I found my priest. And she is a Thai masseuse.


Growing up, I always thought that massages were meant for relaxing. I’m not sure where I got that idea. Perhaps because they always seemed to be offered at vacation resorts or because they have dimmed lights and soft music.


Once I got sick though, and began visited the agurvedic center in Varanasi, I began to see massages as medicine. Or health treatments. They were meant to restore my body.


I arrived in Thailand two days ago on my way back from NY to India. I lived just off Khaosan for two months back in my college days. It’s changed so much. The neighborhood I lived in, Samsen, was once a quiet local neighborhood but is now filled with hostels, gleaming restaurants, and windowed cafes. 


And so I wasn’t that surprised to discover that the massage parlor I would visit back then seems to be under new management. But no matter, I booked an hour session, more for old times sake than anything else.


During the 60 minutes of pulling, pressing, prodding, and bending my mind and body were flooded with new thoughts and feelings. I’ve tried to record a few.


  • just like the DJs in Brooklyn, the masseuse is the new priest. Perhaps the old priest as well. I was not asked to confess my sins at the door, or encouraged to embrace a new faith, but was quickly and quietly introduced into a complex of rituals for which I was the idol. No, my body was the idol. I was the devotee.

  • The bed, the alter. My gown, the robes. The panting, the mantra. The pain, the devotion. The masseuse, my prophet.

  • She brought me into contact with… something. Something nameless. Was it my body? Was it hers? Was it the world? Or my Self? The wordless prayer demanded no answers. In fact, it demanded nothing at all. 

  • Religion is not primarily to be found in houses of worship. It is to be found in homes of relief. And care. And relation.

  • A god so secret, we do not even worship Him. Or rather, we worship him by ignoring him. We worship, so to speak, out of the corner of our eye. With a glimpse of a smirk, a twinkle of an eye. A shadow, that lives only by the effect of some real thing. 

  • To worship god is like staring into the sun, rather than at the world it illuminates.

  • I paid my alms, pressed my palms together in bow, and departed. After the darkened chamber, it was bright outside in the Bangkok afternoon. I wasn’t given any answers. Nonetheless I found I had no more questions. 





I’ve been with you since before the beginning.

--  Tiruvaymoli

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