When I was a child raised in an Evangelical Christian church, pastors would ask if I'd ever felt God. For those of you who don't know, Evangelicals are the ones who approach you in the mall and ask if you've found Jesus. I never liked doing that. It felt like I was selling used cars.
Can't say that I was ever touched by God or Christ or the Holy Ghost, but I think something looked at me once.
In college I took a class on civil disobedience in India and Tibet, and we covered a little bit of Hinduism/Buddhism. We took a little field trip to a Hindu temple to get a better sense of how worship is performed in the States versus India.
Typically, temples are outdoors and service one god, but Minnesota winters make that impossible for half the year. So the shrines of Ganesh, Lakshmi, Pavarti, and other deities were all indoors on the second floor, and worshippers removed their shoes on the first.
I don't think the pictures on Google really do justice to how pretty this place of worship is. The shrines themselves were pristine and finely carved. Their steps were covered in fruit, coins, milk bottles, flowers, and incense. Our tour guide explained that these were offerings to the respective gods. Just by putting an orange on the step, Shiva would receive the gift and maybe answer your prayer.
In India, these offerings were never collected or cleaned by the holy people who kept the shrines. Instead, the food and money – blessed by the deity of the shrine – were all left for needy beggars and common animals. I liked that notion better than putting dollars in a collection plate. I imagined it was a bit more satisfying knowing exactly what your tribute became.
Or maybe I was so hungry that the food was distracting me. It looked so good.
The day we came to visit was during Durga Puja, so some of that fruit – especially the coconuts – would be burned in offering. Then Agni, the fire god, would consume them and carry them to rest of the pantheon.
As we were watching the ceremony unfold, a classmate tapped my shoulder and warned me, "Hey be careful. There's a bug by your feet." And there was. It was a common box elder crawling uncomfortably near me.
In a Christian church, I might not have thought twice about squashing it and throwing it in the trash. Neither would the congregation. Here, however, in a Hindu temple where all life had atman – a piece of Brahma, the ultimate cosmic being – and my life was no more significant than any living thing, killing it during a holy week felt disrespectful.
I picked my student ID from my pocket, used it to scoop up the insect, and placed it on a bush outside. On my way back upstairs, I spotted a vending machine with sugar-dusted bread rolls and was very excited that I had just enough money in my pocket. Then I saw that all the other selections were fruits and coconuts. I thought maybe this vending machine was there just for offerings.
I didn't want to goof like that, so I asked the tour guide if I could eat whatever I bought without putting it on a shrine. She told me the machine was acting funny lately, so she gave me two apples, an orange, and a banana from Saraswati, goddess of knowledge and art.
She was a sweet woman. I hope she's doing well.
I know that what happened to me wasn't "good karma." Karma affects what you are born as in the next life, not little fortunes that come to you in this one. I think maybe, if something above me was watching, it liked what I did and rewarded me. But just this once.