Symbols of the world's religions



Don E. Stevens

Baba explained to them that they were all very lucky to be there at that time, as it was the day of the month on which they regularly lit the dhuni fire. This was a small ceremonial fire, used in a variety of forms in several religions, which was lit in a small brazier just at sunset. Baba adapted the ceremony to his own ends by suggesting that each of the sahvasis embody in a small stick of wood one personal attachment or characteristic which he was willing to give up, and then cast the stick into the dhuni fire.

The sun seemed to set unusually fast that evening, for as the fire was lit on the edge of the shelter where the feet of the poor had been washed, the figures of Baba and the mandali grew into a hazy, unreal backdrop for the tiny, dancing flames. This was the first time Baba had been seen at night, and perhaps that added to the ripe air of mystery which laced the dusty heat of the gathering night.

The sahvasis formed into a long, sinuous line leading to the concrete floor on which Baba and the dhuni fire sat. Eruch handed each man a small splint of wood, Baba patted or embraced the man, and then the tiny faggot was tossed into the fire. It was quite simple.

The quiet one, who was almost two-thirds of the way down the line, wondered why many of the mandali were slipping into the queue to participate in the guileless ceremony. Usually one sensed they had been through these things so many times with Baba that there was little reason for repetition.

The quiet one thought over his personal store of stinky traits, almost tempted to single out the most attractively disgusting one of all, but decided to live with that one awhile longer. Instead, he picked the runner-up: his inordinate sensitivity to criticism. This he determined playfully to embody symbolically in the wood chip. He expected no earth-shaking reaction, and participated in the ceremony more on the basis of "when in Rome", etc.

Well, he learned. He should have taken his tip from the unusual actions of the mandali, which would have hinted that something of unusual value was occurring. But no, the sheep calmly walked down the ramp to his slaughter.

As Eruch handed him the wood chip a brief smile of recognition flashed between the two. He moved on two steps to find himself enfolded with unusual tenderness in Baba's embrace, and then he turned around and tossed the stick into the fire. It was done, and he forgot about it as he stumbled on home.

But God and Baba had not. The smoke from that one tiny bit of wood streaked half way around the world, and when the quiet one arrived home a week later all hell had broken loose. Everyone was mad at him for everything he had ever done, and for a few things he hadn't done as well.

After several days of attempting to calm people down and trying to reconstruct his shattered universe he suddenly recalled the dhuni fire. What a sucker he had been! Or stop, had he? If the stick tossed into the fire had precipitated all this, then perhaps that loving embrace by Baba held the antidote.

For weeks, as the kettle boiled and sputtered, he thought of the possible mechanics of this unusual thing that he had apparently brought on himself. Through it all however the warm support given at the time it began kept up his nerve. As affairs gradually calmed down again he wiped the mental perspiration from his brow and wondered how many other unsuspecting souls had walked full tilt into a similar blockbuster.

Eruch, next time whittle the sticks just a little bit smaller!


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