Aside from a few hair-raising traffic maneuvers, driving from the ashram to KJBF headquarters is usually an uneventful affair. A few days ago, I was gazing outside the car window when my vision filled with flashes of orange. I was struck with curiosity, and each time we have traveled down that road I gained a new fragment of information. I first saw the tree circled by tiny saffron clumps and later peered into a nearby that housed what I could only describe as giant orange blob. I have never seen anything like it before.
I turned to my friend Manasi in astonishment and gawked, “What was that?” I realized that I also lacked a vocabulary for discussing many facets of Indian culture, especially religion. The best descriptive terms I could muster conjured up images of a sponge rather than a sacred Hindu deity. Manasi, a former CMU student from Pune and semester guide, graciously explained to me that this represents the Hindu deity Hanuman but could have represented any other God. She elaborated that the idol has been repainted over and over again, creating its soft, amorphous shape. In Hinduism, any physical substance can have God inside of it, so any fitting material can be site of worship in place of an idol for a particular deity. Even a dripping pile of concrete layered with fluorescent paint.
This concept recognizes the spiritual value of the physical world, demanding that we respect the bit of God that resides in the objects and people around us. Following this idea can change how we see, consume, and interact with natural resources.