A Christian Among Hindus
In Vrindavan, sadhus (holy men) spend each day walking the parikrama, the dirt path that circles the city. Barefoot and chanting the names of God, sadhus are thin–yet energized–treading the clumsy, rubble-filled road more quickly than anyone else.
Their walk encompasses their day’s schedule–with little rest and reliance on the generosity of others for food.
Pilgrims who visit Vrindavan are urged to also complete the same, challenging path with bare feet. Most pilgrims can finish in six hours, but with blisters and injuries from the treacherous walk. For these devotees, accomplishing this devotional act just once is plenty of sacrifice. The sadhus, however, with their callused feet and open hearts, make the journey each day.
Practices of austerity like walking the parikrama are some of the closest reconciliations that I’ve found among Christianity and Hinduism. For centuries, pious Christian mystics have undertaken analogous austere practices with goals akin to the Hindu pilgrim’s quest for devotion (love of and service to God).
If I’ve found that austerity is the common element that assists me in reconciling these two traditions, then what is (exactly) it about austerity that makes one (me) feel closer to God? Philosophically, what is austerity supposed to do? Practically, what does one actually experience?
Over breakfast, Fred and I discussed the post and he asked me what acts of austerity I had performed since arriving in Vrindavan. I’m ashamed to say that my feeble efforts at devotion are nothing similar to the sadhus and ancient Christian aesthetics.
Still, absorbing the deep devotional life of Vrindavan’s Hindus has been sacred nourishment for my fledgling attempts at Christian austerity.