I’ve been in New York for eight months, and in that time, I’ve ridden in a taxi maybe eight times, if that. Part of it stems from the sheer price: the subway is always cheaper, even if it takes a little bit longer, involves a little more inconvenience. The subway, moreover, is a better place to experience the city. Without the buildings and the noise of traffic, in the underground, the only thing around you are the train cars, the endless corridors and the people.
The people, after all, are what make the city. They are the endless stream of ‘blood cells’, the microscopic organisms that course through the avenues, the streets, ever-present and ever-moving. On the subway, you don’t just see people, you rub shoulders with them, you trade seats with them, you make room for them. In the cab, there is a boundary of glass and steel that keeps you apart from them, carries you through the crowd with no more than a murmur. Furthermore, it makes you anonymous to others; you become just another person in a New York taxicab. But on the subway, you are forced to encounter the lives of others, and your own life.
It’s important, because we have become increasingly afraid of daily life. When we see bad news on TV, our despair increases, our trust weakens. People get dispossessed just by weather conditions, let alone randomness of mood. We can grow so disconcerted with the world outside, it can take a supreme effort to even leave the house.
Life isn’t lived inside a taxicab. Inside, you are waiting to live. Life happens when you move, not when you are moved. Life isn’t inside the safe interior of a cab, where you pay someone to escort you all over the city; it’s the raw reality of the subway, a vibrant portrait, a landscape of beauty and pain, and we should celebrate its diversity. Life is a gift from God, and we should not cower from it. Our calling is not to a world away from experience, but one of endless, enduring experience. Our lives as Hindus and our lives as people cannot be lived apart; one does not have two minds, two bodies with which to live.
It is important to remember our responsibility to experience, because it is a hard line to balance between the world and Sanatan Dharm. The path of the karm yogi, of keeping the mind in God while the body does its work, is not the easiest to travel. It is too easy to reason that one should run from the world into religion, or from religion into the world; to take the other side for a minute, because to hold onto both is maddening. But nothing is more important that seeing one in the other, that is, understanding that the world is a part of the Divine and that God cannot be considered separate from the world. If we have a duty to find God in this lifetime, then we must look for Him everywhere, the world over, and that is something you cannot do nestled comfortably in the taxi cab. For that, you have to take a few risks, and nothing is riskier than faith. In the end, faith is not just its own reward, its the only reward that matters.