Saturday, July 22, 2017


by Cameron Young

      Next I met Shintoj. I stayed for several days in a remote part of the jungle in the Christian Communist state of Kerala (a conversation for another time). My final morning there, I had to wake up at 5 am to catch an auto rickshaw, a bus, a train, and then take a cab - all to catch an afternoon flight to Calcutta in time.
  In the jungle, you don’t have ample internet access and not all bus and train schedules are posted online anyways. There’s no helpful signage that guides you to the proper transportation, and if there is, it’s usually in Hindi. This was a common theme during my travels. The beauty of such a challenge was that it forced me to ask people for help. One such person was a man who epitomized the helpfulness and hospitality of the Indian people. We were headed the same direction, and he made sure I got off at the right bus stop, bought the right train tickets, and didn’t get on the compartment where I would’ve had literally no breathing room.

    Then, there was Pankaj Kumar and his mother, complete strangers who, through the website Couch Surfing, opened up their home to me in Kolkata, and provided home-cooked meals and a bed at no cost. We bonded over sports, and he took me around the entire city on his motorbike (Calcutta on motorbike is an unforgettable experience, I should add). Both he and his mom were practicing Hindus, and it was wonderful to see them exercise their daily rituals to signify their devotion to their Gods. Pankaj also took me to the Ganges river to watch him and hundreds of other Hindus bathe there in honor of the festival Makar Sakranti.

     There is a phrase from ancient Hindu scripture: Atithi Devo Bhava which translates to “The guest is equivalent to God.” The people mentioned above, to me, embodied the Indian spirit and the Paramatman or higher self; of selflessness of giving. The Indian people embrace collectivism, and in all of my interactions with them, I found it striking how little the words “I” and “me” were used. Since I was in a somewhat delicate and egocentric place, especially at the beginning of my trip, encounters with people like this were a constant reminder to step outside of myself.
       Perhaps the most holy of experiences, however, was Bodhgaya. I was sitting under the Bodhi Tree, a descendant of the original tree where, according to Buddhist scriptures, Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha first sat under when he reached enlightenment. Thousands of Buddhists from dozens of countries make pilgrimages here every year, and to be in their presence and hear them chant was remarkable.
    As you can tell by the surgical masks people are wearing, Bodhgaya is a very dense and polluted city, with tons of people and little space. My experience here was holy, but anything but tranquil. Yet, here we see hundreds of people singing, and worshipping that which is beyond their individual selves. That is Paramatman. That is the big “I.” That is enlightenment. That is God. And there I was, in all of this flurry of activity, no longer Cameron, the Unitarian Universalist, Buddhist, Liberal, Queer, Caucasian American, but free, insignificant, and one with all existence and non-existence around me.
     We are all comprised of matter which is infinite and never ceasing, and it’s only our individual consciousness that declares us to be separate from everything else. And we have no control of order and chaos, and if we refuse to embrace that, we will suffer. A great truth realized by the aforementioned Eastern religions. 
Image result for walt whitman song of myself      What’s most noticeable of Whitman’s Song of Myself is its free verse style, which at times seems completely random and unstructured, but the closer you look, you see an underlying narrative of his finding divine self within the randomness of the universe. 
    “To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow, All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.” “All truths wait in all things, they neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it, They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon, The insignificant is as big to me as any.” “No words of routine this song of mine, But abruptly to question, to leap beyond yet nearer bring…. The saints and sages in history- but you yourself? Sermons, creeds, theology - but the fathomless human brain, and what reason? And what is love? And What is life?” 
    I could see this same phenomena amongst Indian culture. The divine order amongst this chaos, and the willingness of the Indian people to embrace it as naturally as breathing. It doesn’t always feel romantic and beautiful. Often times, It’s smelly. It’s dirty. It’s loud. But it’s life! No more. No less. Amen.

Amen, Cameron, Amen. 
"Chaos - A system rearranging itself to a higher sense of order."



  1. Hooray for Grandmothers of exceptional children!!! Such a brave, blessed, intelligent, kind, grandson you have!!

  2. Marilyn, Cameron has packed more living into this trip to India than the rest of us will accomplish in ten lifetimes. Thank you for sharing. I could visualize myself in his place, and would have probably experienced a meltdown.

  3. Your grandson's sermon on his India trip was beautifully written and I'm sure it was also beautifully delivered at the church. I know you are very proud of him, Marilyn.

  4. Thank you all who wrote to tell me what an exceptional grandson I have in Cameron. He is very special to me. Of course, they are all very special to me, but some aren't quite old enough to have the experiences Cameron has. I think I've said this before, "Look out world, here they come!"