A Lesson about Hinduism at the Barbershop

matti ariaratnam

December 23rd, 2016

I went to get a haircut today. I wasn’t expecting it to be a spiritual experience. Let me preface this text by saying, I currently do not know if I identify with any one religion… Before I walked into the barbershop I was singing a song I wrote several years ago. It was as if it was an unassuming prayer that day:

Don’t make a sound because

I’m trying to hear.

The truth, you see,

is so quiet dear.

The barber was standing alone in his shop. A bright red Santa cap adorned his head. His presence revealed his gentleness and patience. He moved slowly as he began to cut my hair. We began talking about politics and how despairing the new president elect situation is, how people are wrongly killing in the name of Allah, and how discouraging this past year was. I eventually learned that this man was Hindu, and also knew a little bit about Christian texts. He said that according to the Hindu religion, we are in the age of ignorance. We are like children and it will take a very long time before we understand anything—millions of years, apparently. He said many things that I can somewhat recall. One thing I remember him saying was when we listen to good things, when we take in good things, it will promote good things in us which then traverse outwards to others. If we listen to good words it will be good for us, as our souls travel their many lives.

Since this man practices, and has an understanding, of Hinduism, I asked him about the Bhagavad Gita; this is because my Grandfather performed a version of the text, composing the music and the song in which it was delivered. He made a recording of his composition and of this text in Sri Lanka, and I will never forget when I discovered it at my Aunt’s house and heard his voice for the first time. I remember becoming incredibly overwhelmed with emotion. I knew nothing about this text, and there must have been something very important in it for my Grandfather, since he spent so much time on this song and work. So, I tried to learn more. The meanings of this text are vast and beyond me. It would probably take a lifetime (or many lifetimes) to truly understand it… This is how the barber explained the story to me.

The main basis of this story is that Arjuna is about to go to war. This is because Arjuna and his brothers were supposed to inherit back a kingdom from a temporary reign; the interim rulers were essentially the uncle and cousins to him and his brothers. Krishna suggested that the temporary reigning king give five pieces of land for the five brothers and their family could have the rest. This king refused, saying that he would not even give the space which a small needle makes in the ground. Krishna warned them that this decision would bring on a war, with no winner or loser, only the spirit of death.

When Arjuna was about to fight, he saw that the enemies were his father-in-law, cousins, his teachers, the people from his community, and friends. Upon realizing this, Arjuna refuses to fight and Lord Krishna comes to him and sings, explaining the world to him. This is where the meaning of the text ‘Bhagavad Gita’ comes from: Gita meaning song, Bhagavad meaning Lord. It is the Lord’s song. Krishna sings to Arjuna for eighteen chapters, until Krishna opens his mouth, revealing himself fully to Arjuna. Krishna shows Arjuna that Krishna is everything and that we are mere instruments in everything. Krishna has already killed these men who were choosing to be greedy over land. He showed him that their souls enter new bodies and their cycles will continue. Their souls will never die.

The barber said that we can only be humble these days and take the name of the Lord with us. He explained to me the importance of meditation and how we must meditate to clean the inside of ourselves: our hearts and souls. He discussed how we don’t have enough time to do this anymore and this is a problem.

As I reflect on this year, I have to accept that the world marks me and I, in turn, leave a mark on the world. I think my prayer is this: I will remember no matter how hard the world strikes me, how distraught and lonely I feel, how much suffering I see, how depressed I feel and how useless I feel in all of it, I will remember to be gentle, speak slowly, listen carefully, be patient, be loving, graceful, and try to understand and listen to those around me. This applies to those who seem evil or full of hatred. The world has treated and shaped these people in ways that force them to take drastic action; in ways that I do not agree with and I am saddened each time I hear about another violent attack, shooting, and bombing upon anybody in the world. These people are my brothers and sisters. On both sides of the conflict. We are a part of the global community. We are all interconnected and our actions make waves. Just like Arjuna was at war with his family, we are also fighting our own family.

I am remembering how important it is to be kind, to love, and be gentle. We must express these acts of care because we all need them. We need to know we are loved. We need to be held and touched. We need to know that we are needed and mean something to someone else. My soul is connected to yours. My spirit and my heart want to listen. I pray that I can give the bit of love that I have, to you and others, and hope that this can melt the hardening of our hearts. I am hoping that by keeping my ears open I will be able to keep my heart soft; which I am now learning is not a weakness, but a great strength.

Perhaps our ears never shut to remind us to listen, not just to orient us to space and sounds around us, but also to listen to our inner-self, our hearts, and our souls. In these  trying times, in these ignorant times, in these times that seem full of despair and hatred, I wish you peace.

I normally wouldn’t share an experience like this, but after the barber told me about how we need to read good things to grow our inner-selves, I felt it was important.I have never cried after a haircut – maybe once because my hair afterwards was horrible – but today I wept.

With love,


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