By Ruth Lauer Manenti, from the Introduction to Sweeping the Dust
pattram pushpam phalam toyam / yo me bhaktya prayacchati tad aham bhakti-upahrtam / ashnami prayata-atmanah
Whatever is offered to Me with a pure loving heart, no matter if it is as small as a leaf, a flower, a piece of fruit, or a sip of water, I will accept it. -Bhagavad Gita IX.26
When I first went to India, I was eager to look at Indian miniature paintings from the sixteenth century. I had seen many of them in museums in the West, and I assumed that in India I would find the best collections. But the museums in India are poorly lit, so I couldn’t see anything. What I did find, though, was incredible artistic beauty in a hand-painted spoon, the tapestried seat of a chair, a clay cup, an embroidered shawl, a hand-woven man’s skull cap and carpets made from rags called rag-rugs. So I gave up looking for art in a museum and instead found it in daily life. Worshipping is like this also. We may look for God in the museum, church or temple, but God is not limited to such places: He is everywhere. But how do we find God everywhere? By treating everyone as God. And how would God like to be treated? In this verse, the Lord says bring me a leaf, a flower, a fruit or some water, with devotion. He wants something unpretentious that expresses affection. If we can do this with everyone, we will know the meaning of this verse. One stick of incense, a single good word, food for one dog, memorizing one text, bowing down one time or one warm cup of tea-all are acceptable to the Lord. In 2009, my guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois passed away. Shortly afterward, I asked his daughter Saraswati for something that had belonged to him. She presented me with an old and worn-out shawl. It was folded in her hands, and she extended it toward me saying, “It was Guruji’s favorite. It is very simple. You will like it. He didn’t like the fancy ones.” This shawl, torn in several places, was a perfect offering. It greatly pleased me; in this way, Saraswati had pleased the Lord. Pleasing the Lord releases us of tensions. Making me happy made her happy, even in the midst of such a sad time.
There is a man I know in India who doesn’t have any legs; he is cut off from the hips down. He has a piece of wood he has tied himself to, and he pulls himself around with his arms. He sits in a spot I pass and asks for money, yelling, “Amma, Amma.” He is calling me mother. He wants me to offer him kindness; he wants me to see God in those who suffer. Guruji once told me that that man was God, “disguised.” The word asana means a seat, something to lean on, a support. Offering someone support can take shape in a myriad of ways. These ways can be the threads that tie everything together. Offerings join the giver and the receiver spiritually. Sadly, leaves, flowers, fruit and water are disappearing as we destroy the earth. The best offering we can make in these times is to become vegetarian, a gentle diet that causes the least harm to plants, animals, the climate and human beings. If we continue to clear away the forests, trees, shrubs, prairies, meadows, marshes, grasslands, plants, roots, flowers, creeper and weeds, in order to grow one kind of crop to feed to animals who will be slaughtered, there won’t be any more leaves, flowers, fruit or water in our landscapes. Scriptures are prophetic with obvious and not-so-obvious meanings. Perhaps the Lord is telling us in this verse that leaves, flowers, fruit and water are offerings from the Lord for us to protect and offer back.
My husband Robert and I live in a cabin in the woods. Often bees, wasps, flying ants, even an occasional snake come into our home. My husband knows how to handle these animals appropriately. Without upsetting them, he puts a container over them, slides a piece of paper underneath and carries them back outside. “Sweeping the dust” is a way of saying that taking care of the ground has value. Traditionally, the yogi has always sat on the ground. Only an elder or a greatly esteemed master would be given a chair. Everything rests on the ground. The ground is the support. It’s where we can sit together and tell our stories. “Sweeping the dust” is a metaphor. In that spirit, I offer this book, like a tiny piece of Guruji’s torn shawl. -
Ruth Lauer Manenti, from the Introduction to Sweeping the Dust