The Familiar Feeling of Moksha
By Ariel Fugate
As hundreds of people bathe around me, though the water below stays murky, a mysterious clouded brown, my mind’s eye clears. I have made it to the Ganges, India’s holiest river. A place of mediation and prayer in a country of busy streets of honkers, cows and offers of Chihuahua bobble heads. It is here I find a familiar feeling, my first in India: the desire to be washed free of sins, wrongdoings and bad karma.
Among those bathing in the Ganges, the wealthy and the poor, the mothers and merchants, street children and backpackers, that morning and every morning, I identified. The feeling people find there is the same feeling countless others, including myself, crave at different points in our lives.
In India, in Hinduism, a bath in the Ganges River brings you moksha – freedom from samsara, or the cycle of life. For the people bathing, this is their moment. They travel from all regions and corners of the country, unflenching on hot and crowded trains, buses and rickshaws.
Thousands come everyday. The taxi driver who overcharged us last night will probably be here this morning, doing what is necessary to clean his consciousness. The pilgrim from South India may come here, moving into the hospice home above the river, waiting to be released from this life, the ultimate moksha in Hinduism: being cremated at the Ganges. It is what makes Varanasi known as the city you go to die.
Moments comes when we all want a clean slate or fresh start, to turn over a new leaf or begin a new chapter. As many ways as there are to say it, there are to do it. In every religion, every culture and every place, there is a way to escape your past. In Catholicism, devotees go into the nondescript confessional room. Behind a shade, they openly confess and are forgiven by the person on the other side. Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan to feel rejuvenated. All ways to be cleansed, to put something in the past and be freed of mistakes or bad memories.
For me, my Ganges River moment was when I moved the 500-odd miles out of state to North Carolina, my life-so-far’s biggest yatra, or pilgrimage. I wanted to feel renewed, to have a new energy and optimism for life. I was looking for new perspectives from people who thought differently than people I had been surrounded by since kindergarten. It took me to India to realize what I was looking for had a name: moksha.
Just when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to start anew, even after this move, I was accepted into the Caldwell Fellows program and community. I now have friends that renew me every day, give me new perspectives and a full life. I am so glad to have found this release.
Every conversation with a Caldwell Fellow is a bit of freedom from samsara and every potluck like a bath in the Ganges. : )