Hurricane season is nearly upon us. We in these disunited States have already endured a spring offensive of monstrous tornado-breeding thunderstorms, sweeping in waves eastward across the land. Depicted on the terrifying animated maps of the Weather Channel the storms resembled broad-fronted blitzkriegs on war charts. The channel treated us again and again to jumpy, rain-spotted videos that pan across jumbles of SUVs and pick-ups, crushed and flatten like beer cans after the bash, all nicely backdroped by heaps of gigantic splinters—the local shopping mall. One of these malls was less than fifteen miles from my mother’s home in tidewater Virginia.
I don’t own a TV, but I still like the Weather Channel. I’m not alone in harboring a long-standing fascination with tornados and hurricanes, as well as floods and tsunamis, windstorms and wildfires, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This fascination, I’m convinced, is a rudimentary manifestation of our innate attraction to God. When you come down to it, all these displays of natural power are a form of revelation. Instinctively, we are drawn to those disclosures of the indomitable higher power which compels us to recognize how very small, weak and helpless we truly are.
This sort of ordinary revelation even has its extraordinary mode, granted Arjuna by Krishna in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. In this epiphany, the expanses of the universe in space and time are shown as if in one place and one time, moving and acting with the unified, coordinated intention of a single intelligent organism—the vishva-rupa or universal form of God. And then this form modulates into a particularly terrifying feature, the kala-rupa, or form of time. Arjuna now witnesses the pending great battle: the warriors of both forces pouring into the devouring maws of the kala-rupa.
Arjuna had asked Krishna to show him his universal form, but then, having seen it, implores his friend to remove that dreadful sight and restore to his view Krishna’s own beloved and captivating countenance.
I appreciate the Gita for its full disclosure, putting on open display the divine feature that is off-putting, even repellent. At the same time, if we accept the full revelation conveyed by the Bhagavad-gita, we have the advantage of knowing that behind this horrific form is Arjuna’s own beloved friend, the supremely lovable and loving Krishna.
The vishva-rupa is an external or superficial feature of the divine, described in Srimad Bhagavatam as merely “the first step in God realization.” Still, beginning steps are important, and what is gained remains as enhanced aspects of higher stages.
Bhagavatam says of the vishva-rupa: “The passing ages are his movements.”
In power and action, the energy of time—the divine kala-shakti—resembles tornadoes and hurricanes. Like them time moves with overwhelming irresistible force, propelling us helplessly along. Time, like tornadoes and hurricanes, moves in cycles. It propels each of us—each embodied being—through repeating rounds of birth and death. In the same way, it takes the universes that contain us through similar repetitions. Within the universe, four great ages (yugas) cycle to produce the cosmological seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter, each full revolution lasting four billion, 300 million solar years.
One of my earliest memories is of a hurricane—called a typhoon in the place I was living at the age of four. This was the island of Okinawa, where only a few years earlier another kind of storm has raged—the so-called “Typhoon of Steel”—the most deadly Pacific battle of WWII. I didn’t comprehend the battle then, but I played ignorantly in its detritus. Unexploded munitions still made many areas off-limits to our play. In the jungle out back I salvaged parts of downed aircraft to bring home as toys. At the beach where I played in the shallow lapping water, grounded landing ships loomed just little a ways off, their bows spread open to reveal a scary darkness.
The typhoon of wind and water struck at night, to rage and howl excitingly outside the thin metal walls of our house, a Quonset hut. Then, even more ecstatically, the windows in my bedroom blew out, and the storm roared right in. I got to watch my father in his pajamas, fighting furiously against wind and water as he pounded nails to board up the wide open frames.
Thick steel cables kept our Quonset anchored to its concrete foundation as it tried to fly away, but our screened wooden porch sailed across the street to crash onto our neighbor’s roof. My little brother Bob and I were so thrilled by it that for years afterwards we would play “Typhoon”: jumping into the bed, burrowing under the cover, all the while yelling as loudly as we could “Typhoon! Typhoon! Typhoon!”
Because of my father’s military career, I moved frequently, but wherever I went I always lived on the brink of war. In divided Germany my father’s Second Armored Division (“HELL ON WHEELS” proclaimed the unit arm patch) endlessly rehearsed for the opening act of WWIII, a mammoth tank battle on the central plains of Germany.
I finished high school in Taiwan, where my father was involved with batteries of Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missiles intended for the Red Army jets that would come barreling in from across the Strait.
We were living on the high ridge of a mountain—Yang Ming Shan—outside of Taipei when a monstrous typhoon struck. Our housing compound had been prepared: Flashlights, battery radios, stocked drinking water, windows left open a crack to keep the pressure equalized, and so on. Nevertheless, when the wind slammed into us on our exposed mountain height, it was clear no preparation would have been adequate. I recognized at once the unforgettable voice of a typhoon in full throat. Soon water soaked completely through the windward walls of our house. Outside the air transformed into a torrent of water thick with hurtling tree parts and hard roof tiles. Power failed. Before the phones went dead we heard neighbors were in trouble—windows had blown out, stripped roofs opened. The typhoon steadily strengthened.
Abruptly, everything stopped. We realized that the eye—the still center— of the cyclone, was passing directly over us. We went out into a sudden eerie silence, speaking almost in whispers and stood with the neighbors all staring in amazement,. The air, utterly motionless, was brimming with ionized energy. It was savory to breathe, as new as the original air of creation. A pearly, ethereal, and shadowless light perfused our ridge top. Overhead, clear blue sky looked down through a circle of shredded clouds.
I was dispatched to check on an isolated house where a young mother was alone with two infants. I trotted over a street paved with shredded vegetation, splintered branches, smashed uprooted palms, and shattered roof tiles, and I came to a place giving a long view over the stripped trees tops of lower slopes to the wide flat valley below. It was now an immense lake. Over its surface the colossal inside wall of the turning storm, bruised black and blue, grey and yellow, was moving slowly away.
I helped the lady as much as I could—her windows had blown out—but very soon the winds would return, this time from the opposite direction. As I ran back through the still center of the circumambulating storm, through the pure radiance and pristine air, I wanted only for time to stand still. But even before I reached my house the trees had began their calisthenics and the roof tiles their flight.
Now I understand that this entire world is a tornado or typhoon, but I also have the directions to find the peaceful center and to stay in it.
The last “cold” war ended only to give way to the next war, and prophets everywhere predict extraordinarily bad weather for a long time to come.
And then there is this: caught on film, emerging from the electrified ash plume of a volcano erupting in Chile, the huge visage of an enraged elephant, its tusks made of lightening bolts. Does this seem to be an omen? Of what?