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Amrita Of The Woods

During a walk, on a cool April afternoon, my friend Alison and I saw smoke billowing out of a building. We crossed the road, went for a look, and found Leonard sitting in a metal chair while his partner Dorrence stoked the wood fire under the boiling and filtering machine.

The room was filled with the smell of sugar. Leonard and Dorrence had been up since 4:30 making the last batch of maple syrup. Their efforts would yield about 40 gallons of the stuff. Leonard said it had been a tough year. The unpredictability of climate change was challenging their total output; thankfully, it had no effect on the finished product’s quality.

After the flannel-shirted Dorrence gave us a tour of the machinery, Leonard got off his chair, opened a nearby spigot, and gave us each a sample in a small plastic cup. The clear amber liquid was one of the most delicious sensations that I’d ever had. Sweet but not cloyingly so, with aromatic tones of the Maine woods.

We licked our cups clean.

Leonard regaled us with the benefits of maple syrup as a substitute for sugar and honey. He prescribed drinking ¼ cup a day because it’s full of antioxidants. It’s also a good source of zinc and manganese, beneficial for the immune system. Maple syrup is also source of phosphorus, sodium, potassium and other vitamins.

I thought of other powerful nectars. The Greek Gods had their ambrosia and they fought hard to keep it from the mortals. And, for millennia yogis have been searching for amrita, the elixir of immortality. The angels and the demons churned the milky ocean to receive its gifts.

In tantric literature the bindu visarga is “said to be the place where the moon resides and when it is full it sheds its nectar or ambrosial fluid down to permeate the entire body, just and the external moon pours light over the surface of the earth at the time of the full moon.”*

In his translation of the Khecarividya of Adinatha, scholar James Mallinson says that khechari mudra lets the “top of the tongue” point upwards “in order to lick at the amrita.

The Brihadarnanyaka Upanishad contains the Pavamana Mantra. It is ancient and oft-repeated. The last line is, mṛtyor mā amṛtaṃ gamaya , a translation of which can be lead me from death to the elixir of immortality.

The week before our visit, Leonard, his wife Rena and Dorrence hosted Maple Sunday, making 60 syrup-frosted donuts for friends. It was easy to see them as Pan-like creatures tempting their neighbors with an easy way to sample their homemade amrita. Since it was so much less painful than taking khechari mudra, where you cut the base of your tongue to receive the elixir, Alison and I bought several cases of the stuff.

--Brette Popper

*Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swami Muktibodhandanda

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