Recently there is a fashion trend that says that an advanced person should visit places of power. But often people are just trying to pay tribute to fashion. The biblical term “vanity of vanities” does not at all sound nominal for modern man. People love to hustle. They don’t sit still. They make long lists in their organizers of what, where, and when to visit. Therefore, along with the Louvre, the Hermitage, the Delhi Ashvattham, the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, Angkor Wat is firmly entrenched in the minds of those who follow the tribute to fashion and put a tick in the book of life: I have been here, I have visited it, I have noted here.
This idea was confirmed to me by my friend Sasha, a Russian guy from Samara who came to Angkor Wat and fell in love with this place so much that he decided to stay and work here as a guide.
Angkor Wat is the greatest monument of history, architecture and metaphysics, which was discovered by the French in the Cambodian jungle in the early 19th century. The first time many of us got acquainted with the image of Angkor Wat, reading Kipling’s fairy tales about the abandoned city of monkeys, but the truth is that abandoned and overrun by the jungle cities are not a fairy tale at all.
Civilizations are born and die, and nature does its eternal work. And you can see the symbol of the birth and death of civilization here in the ancient temples of Cambodia. Huge tropical trees seem to be trying to strangle human stone structures in their arms, grabbing stone blocks with their powerful roots and squeezing their arms, literally a few centimeters a year. Over time, amazing epic pictures appear here, where everything temporary created by man, as it were, returns to the bosom of mother nature.
I asked the guide Sasha – what did you do before Cambodia? Sasha told his story. In a nutshell, he was a musician, worked on television, then ate formic acid in a huge anthill called Moscow, and decided to move to Samara, where he got acquainted with bhakti yoga. It seemed to Sasha that he was leaving Moscow to do something important and domestic. He dreamed of art with a capital letter, but after learning about bhakti yoga, he realized that true art is the ability to see the world through the eyes of the soul. After reading the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana, I decided to go here to see with my own eyes the great monument of ancient Vedic cosmology, and fell in love with these places so much that I decided to stay here. And since the Russian tourist, for the most part, speaks little English and wants to communicate with his own, so he got a job as a guide in a local travel agency. As they say, not for self-interest, but in order to learn more about it from the inside.
I asked him, “So you are a vegetarian?” Sasha said: “Of course. I believe that any sane person who has a deep understanding of his nature should be a vegetarian, and even more. In the notes of his earnest, persuasive voice, I heard two statements: the first was “inner nature” and the second was “vegetarian and more.” I was very interested to hear the explanation from the lips of a young man – a new generation of Indigo children. Slyly squinting in one eye, I asked in a low voice: “Explain to me what you mean by the word inner nature?»
This conversation took place in one of the temple galleries, where beautiful frescoes of the churning of the milky ocean were carved on an endless wall. The gods and demons pulled the universal serpent Vasuki, which was used as the longest rope in the history of creation. And this living rope covered the universal mountain Meru. She stood in the waters of the Causal Ocean, and was supported by her huge avatar turtle, Kurma, the incarnation of the Supreme Lord Vishnu himself. In places of power, questions and answers themselves come to us if we are in search.
My guide’s face became serious, it seemed that he opened and closed many computer links in his mind, because he wanted to speak briefly and about the main thing. Finally he spoke. When the Vedas describe a person, they apply the term Jivatma (jiva-atma), or soul, to him. Jiva is very consonant with the Russian word life. We can say that the soul is that which is alive. The second part – atma – means that it is individual. No soul is alike. The soul is eternal and has a divine nature.
“Interesting answer,” I said. “But to what extent is the soul divine, in your opinion?” Sasha smiled and said: “I can only answer what I read in the Vedas. My own experience is just my belief in the words of the Vedas. I am not Einstein or Vedavyas, I am just quoting the words of the great metaphysical sages. But the Vedas say that there are two kinds of souls: one is those who live in the world of matter and depend on physical bodies, they are born and die as a result of karma; others are immortal souls dwelling in the worlds of pure consciousness, they are unaware of the fear of birth, death, oblivion and suffering associated with them.
It is the world of pure consciousness that is presented here in the center of the Angkor Wat Temple complex. And the evolution of consciousness is a thousand steps along which the soul rises. Before we go up to the very top of the Temple, where the Deity Vishnu is present, we will have to go through many galleries and corridors. Each step symbolizes a level of consciousness and enlightenment. And only an enlightened soul will see not a stone statue, but the eternal Divine Essence, which gazes joyfully, bestowing a merciful look on everyone who enters here.
I said: “Wait, you mean that the essence of this Temple was accessible only to the enlightened, and everyone else saw stone steps, bas-reliefs, frescoes, and only great sages, free from the cover of illusion, could contemplate the Oversoul, or the source of all souls – Vishnu or Narayana? “That’s right,” Sasha replied. “But the enlightened do not need temples and formalities,” I said. “One who has attained enlightenment can see the Lord everywhere—in every atom, in every heart.” Sasha grinned and replied: “These are obvious truths. The Lord is everywhere, in every atom, but in the Temple he shows special mercy, revealing himself to both enlightened and ordinary people. Therefore, everyone came here – mystics, kings and ordinary people. The Infinite reveals itself to everyone according to the ability of the perceiver, and also according to how much It wants to reveal its secret to us. This is an individual process. It depends only on the essence of the relationship between the soul and God.”
While we were talking, we did not even notice how a small crowd of tourists gathered around us, along with an elderly guide. These were obviously our compatriots who listened to us with great interest, but what struck me most of all was that the Cambodian guide nodded his head approvingly, and then said in good Russian: “Yes, that’s right. The king who built the temple was himself a representative of Vishnu, the Most High, and did this so that every inhabitant of his country, regardless of caste and origin, could get darshan – contemplation of the divine image of the Most High.
This Temple represents the entire universe. The central tower is the golden mountain of Meru, which permeates the entire universe. It is divided into levels that represent the planes of higher being, such as Tapa-loka, Maha-loka, and others. On these planets live great mystics who have reached a high level of consciousness. It is like a staircase leading to the highest enlightenment. At the top of this ladder is the creator Brahma himself, like a powerful computer with four processors – Brahma has four heads. In his intellectual body, like bifidobacteria, billions of sages live. All together they look like a huge computer raid array, they model our Universe in 3-D format, and after its destruction, having finished their service to the world, they move to the world of higher consciousness.”
“What’s downstairs?” I asked. The guide, smiling, replied: “Below are the lower worlds. What Christians call hell. But not all worlds are as terrible as Dante or the church described them. Some of the lower worlds are very attractive from a material point of view. There are sexual pleasures, treasures, but only the inhabitants of these worlds are in oblivion of their eternal nature, they are deprived of knowledge of the divine.
I joked: “How are the Finns, or what? They live in their little world with their little joys and do not believe in anything but themselves. The guide did not understand who the Finns were, but understood the rest, and, smiling, nodded his head. He said: “But even there, the great serpent Ananta, an avatar of Vishnu, glorifies Him with a thousand of his heads, so there is always hope in the Universe for everyone. And the special luck is to be born as a human,” answered the guide.
I smiled and began to speak for him: “Precisely because only a person can spend four hours driving to work in traffic, ten hours for work, an hour for food, five minutes for sex, and in the morning everything starts all over again.” The guide laughed and said: “Well, yes, you are right, it is only modern man who is able to spend his life so senselessly. When he has free time, he behaves even worse, in search of idle pleasures. But our ancestors worked no more than 4 hours a day, following the Vedic canon. This was quite enough to provide themselves with food and clothing. “What did they do the rest of the time?” I asked caustically. The guide (Khmer), smiling, replied: “A person got up during the period of brahma-muhurta. It’s about four o’clock in the morning when the world starts to wake up. He bathed, he meditated, he might even do yoga or breathing exercises for a while to concentrate his mind, then he would say sacred mantras, and he might, for example, go to the temple here to participate in the arati ceremony.”
“What is arati?” I asked. Khmer replied: “This is a mystical ceremony when water, fire, flowers, incense are offered to the Almighty.” I asked: “Does God need the physical elements that He created, because everything belongs to Him anyway?” The guide appreciated my joke and said: “In the modern world, we want to use oil and energy to serve ourselves, but during the worship ceremony we remember that everything in this world is for His happiness, and we are just small particles of a huge harmonious world, and must act as a single orchestra, then the universe will be harmonious. Moreover, when we offer something to the Almighty, He does not accept physical elements, but our love and devotion. But his feeling in response to our love spiritualizes them, so flowers, fire, water become spiritual and purify our gross consciousness.
One of the listeners could not stand it and asked: “Why do we need to purify our consciousness?” The guide, smiling, continued: “Our mind and our body are subject to incessant defilement – every morning we brush our teeth and take a bath. When we have cleansed our body, we experience a certain pleasure that comes to us from cleanliness.” “Yes, it is,” the listener replied. “But not only the body is defiled. The mind, thoughts, feelings – all this is defiled on the subtle plane; when a person’s consciousness is defiled, he loses the ability to experience subtle spiritual experiences, becomes coarse and unspiritual.” The girl said, “Yes, we call such people thick-skinned or materialists,” and then added, “Unfortunately, we are the civilization of materialists.” Khmer shook his head sadly.
To encourage those present, I said: “All is not lost, we are here and now, and we are talking about these things. As Descartes said, I doubt, therefore I exist. Here is my friend Sasha, he is also a guide and is interested in bhakti yoga, and we came to shoot a film and make an exhibition.” Hearing my fiery speech, in the spirit of Lenin on an armored car, the Khmer guide laughed, widening his childish eyes of an old man, and shook my hand. “I studied in Russia, at the Patrice Lumumba Institute, and we, southern people, have always been captivated by the phenomenon of the Russian soul. You always surprise the whole world with your incredible deeds – either you fly into space, or you fulfill your international duty. You Russians can’t sit still. I am very glad that I have such a job – local people have long forgotten about their traditions and come here just to show respect for shrines characteristic of Asians, but you Russians want to get to the bottom of it, so I was very glad to see you. Let me introduce myself – my name is Prasad.” Sasha said: “So this is in Sanskrit – consecrated food!” The guide smiled and said, “Prasad is not only illuminated food, it generally means the mercy of the Lord. My mother was very pious and prayed to Vishnu to send her mercy. And so, having been born into a poor family, I received a higher education, studied in Russia, taught, but now I just work as a guide, from time to time, several hours a day, so as not to stagnate, besides, I like to speak Russian.
“Good,” I said. By this time, we were already surrounded by a fairly decent crowd of people, and other randomly passing Russians, and not only Russians, joined the group. This spontaneously formed audience seemed to have known each other for a long time. And suddenly another stunning personality: “Great performance,” I heard Russian speech with a familiar Indian accent. In front of me stood a small, thin Indian in spectacles, in a white shirt, and with big ears, like those of the Buddha. The ears really impressed me. Under clumsy eighties-style Olympiad glasses, shrewd eyes shone; a thick magnifying glass seemed to make them twice as large, yes, only huge eyes and ears were remembered. It seemed to me that the Hindu is an alien from another reality.
Seeing my surprise, the Hindu introduced himself: “Professor Chandra Bhattacharya. But my wife is Mirra. I saw a wizened woman half a head shorter, wearing exactly the same glasses and also with big ears. I could not restrain my smile and at first I wanted to say something like this: “You are like humanoids,” but he caught himself and said politely: “You are more like a brother and sister.” The couple smiled. The professor said that he learned Russian during the years of active Russian-Indian friendship, having lived for several years in St. Petersburg. Now he is retired and travels to different places, he has long dreamed of coming to Angkor Wat, and his wife dreamed of seeing the famous frescoes with Krishna. I squinted and said: “This is the temple of Vishnu, you have Krishna in India.” The professor said, “In India, Krishna and Vishnu are one and the same. In addition, Vishnu, although the Supreme, but from the point of view of the Vaishnavas, occupies only a generally accepted divine position. I immediately interrupted him: “What do you mean by the word generally accepted?” “My wife will explain this to you. Unfortunately, she does not speak Russian, but she is not only an art critic, but also a Sanskrit theologian.” I smiled incredulously and nodded my head.
The purity and clarity of the language of the professor’s wife struck me from the first words, although she spoke clearly “Indian English”, but it was felt that the fragile lady was an excellent speaker and clearly an experienced teacher. She said, “Look up.” Everyone raised their heads and saw the ancient stucco bas-reliefs, which are very poorly preserved. The Khmer guide confirmed: “Oh yes, these are Krishna frescoes, some of them are understandable to us, and some are not.” The Indian woman asked: “Which ones are incomprehensible?” The guide said: “Well, for example, this one. It seems to me that there is some kind of demon here and some strange story that is not in the Puranas. The lady said in a serious voice, “No way, they are not demons, they are just baby Krishna. He is on all fours, because he is a newborn Gopal, like a baby he is a little plump, and the missing parts of his face give you an idea of him as a demon. And here is the rope that his mother tied to his belt so that he would not be naughty. By the way, no matter how much she tried to tie him up, there was always not enough rope, because Krishna is unlimited, and you can only tie the unlimited with a rope of Love. And this is the figure of two celestials whom he freed, residing in the form of two trees.
Everyone around was amazed at how simply and clearly the woman explained the plot of the half-erased bas-relief. Someone took out a book with a photo and said, “Yes, it’s true.” At that moment, we witnessed an amazing conversation between representatives of two civilizations. Then the Cambodian guide switched to English and quietly asked the professor’s wife why in the Vishnu Temple there are frescoes of Krishna on the ceilings? And what does that mean? The woman said, “We have already told you that in India the Vaishnavas believe that Vishnu is some general concept of God, such as: the Supreme, the Creator, the Almighty, the Almighty. It can be compared to an emperor or an autocrat. He has such opulences as beauty, strength, fame, knowledge, power, detachment, but in the form of Vishnu his main aspects are power and wealth. Imagine: a king, and everyone is fascinated by his power and wealth. But what, or who, is the tsar himself fascinated by? A Russian woman from the crowd, who was listening attentively, prompted: “The Tsar, of course, is fascinated by the Tsaritsa.” “Exactly,” replied the professor’s wife. “Without a queen, a king cannot be completely happy. The king controls everything, but the palace is controlled by the queen – Lakshmi.
Then I asked, “What about Krishna? Vishnu-Lakshmi – everything is clear, but what does Krishna have to do with it? The professor’s wife continued imperturbably: “Just imagine that the tsar has a country residence, or a dacha.” I answered: “Of course, I can imagine, because the Romanov family lived in Livadia in the Crimea at the dacha, there was also Tsarskoye Selo.” “Exactly,” she answered approvingly: “When the king, together with his family, friends and relatives, retires to his residence, access is open only to the elite. There the king enjoys the beauty of nature, he does not need a crown, or gold, or symbols of power, because he is with his relatives and loved ones, and this is Krishna – the Lord who sings and dances.
Khmer shook his head approvingly, then one of the attentive listeners, who had already participated in the conversation, said: “So the bas-reliefs on the ceilings are a hint that even Vishnu has some secret world that is inaccessible to mere mortals!” Khmer replied: “I am deeply satisfied with the Indian professor’s answer, because most of the scientists here are Europeans, and they are atheists, they have only an academic approach. What Mrs. Bhattacharya said seems to me to be a more spiritual answer.” The professor’s wife quite decisively answered: “Spirituality is also a science. Even in my early years, I received initiation into the Gaudiya Math from Vaishnava teachers, followers of Sri Chaitanya. All of them were excellent connoisseurs of Sanskrit and scriptures, and their depth of understanding of spiritual matters was so perfect that many scholars can only envy. I said, “There is no point in arguing. Scientists are scientists, they have their own approach, theologians and mystics see the world in their own way, I still tend to believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle – between religion and science. Mystical experience is closer to me.”
Fried spring rolls with peanuts
Vegetarian soup with rice noodles
On this we parted. My stomach was already cramping with hunger and I immediately wanted to eat something tasty and hot. “Is there a vegetarian restaurant around here somewhere?” I asked Sasha as we walked down the long alleys of Angkor Wat to the main exit. Sasha said that traditional Cambodian cuisine is similar to Thai food, and there are several vegetarian restaurants in the city. And in almost every restaurant you will be offered an extensive vegetarian menu: papaya salads, curry with rice, traditional mushroom skewers, coconut soup or tom yum with mushrooms, only a little locally.
I said: “But I still would like a purely vegetarian restaurant, and preferably closer.” Then Sasha said: “There is a small spiritual center here, where Vaishnavas live. They plan to open a Vedic cafe with Indian and Asian cuisine. It’s very close, at the exit from the temple, just turn onto the next street.” “What, are they already working?” Sasha said: “The cafe is under launch, but they will definitely feed us, now it’s lunch time. I think even for free, but probably you need to leave donations. I said, “I don’t mind a few dollars, as long as the food is good.”
The center turned out to be small, the cafe was located on the first floor of a townhouse, everything was very clean, hygienic, to the highest standard. On the second floor there is a meditation hall, Prabhupada stood on the altar, Krishna in the local Cambodian appearance, as the founders of the Center explained to me, here are the same Deities, but, unlike India, they have different body positions, postures. Cambodians understand them only in local performance. And, of course, the image of Chaitanya in his five aspects of Pancha-tattva. Well, Buddha. Asians are very accustomed to the image of the Buddha, besides, He is one of the avatars of Vishnu. In general, a sort of mixed hodgepodge, but understandable to both Cambodians and followers of the Vaishnava tradition.
And with the food, too, everything was very understandable and excellent. The center is run by an elderly Canadian who has lived in India for many years and dreams of reviving Vedic culture in Cambodia. Under his leadership, two Malaysian Hindu novices, very modest guys, they have an agricultural community and a farm here. On the farm, they grow organic vegetables according to ancient technologies, and all food is first offered to the Deities, and then offered to guests. In general, a mini temple-restaurant. We were one of the first guests, and, as journalists for Vegetarian magazine, we were given a special honor. The professor and his wife came with us, several ladies from the Russian group, we moved the tables, and they began to bring out treats for us, one after another.
banana flower salad
Vegetables fried with cashews
The first was a papaya, pumpkin and sprout salad drenched in grapefruit juice and spices, which made a special impression – a kind of semi-sweet raw food dish, very appetizing and, for sure, wildly healthy. Then we were offered real Indian dal with tomatoes, slightly sweet in taste. The hosts smiled and said, “This is a recipe from the ancient Jagannath Temple.” “Really, very tasty,” I thought, just a little sweet. Seeing the doubts on my face, the elder recited a verse from the Bhagavad Gita: “Food in the mode of goodness should be palatable, oily, fresh and sweet.” “I won’t argue with you,” I said, swallowing my plate of dal and pleadingly hinting at the supplement with my eyes.
But the elder replied sternly: “Four more dishes are waiting for you.” I realized that you need to humbly endure and wait. Then they brought out tofu baked with sesame seeds, soy sauce, cream and vegetables. Then sweet potatoes with some incredibly delicious horseradish-like sauce, which I later found out was pickled ginger. The rice came with coconut balls, lotus seeds in sweet lotus sauce, and carrot cake. And at the end, sweet rice cooked in baked milk with cardamom. Cardamom pleasantly tingled the tongue, the owners, smiling, said that cardamom cools the body during hot weather. Everything was prepared in accordance with the ancient laws of Ayurveda, and each dish left an increasingly unique aftertaste and aroma, and seemed tastier than the previous one. All this was washed down with a saffron-lemon drink with a slight aftertaste of cinnamon. It seemed that we were in the garden of five senses, and the rich aromas of spices made exotic dishes something unreal, magical, like in a dream.
Fried black mushrooms with tofu and rice
After dinner, some incredible fit of fun began. We all burst into prolonged laughter, laughing non-stop for about five minutes, looking at each other. We laughed at the big ears and spectacles of the Indians; the Hindus probably laughed at us; the Canadian laughed at our admiration for dinner; Sasha laughed because he brought us to this cafe so successfully. Having made generous donations, we laughed for a long time, remembering today. Back at the hotel, we held a short meeting, scheduled shooting for the fall and realized that we need to come back here, and for a long time.