Yatralogue #9: The Universality of Spirituality
Our sadhana is teaching us that spirituality is truly universal. It’s all about moving from the consciousness of division, suffering, and separation to the consciousness of love, wholeness, and unity.
That consciousness is what we call God. And there are just so many paths…
That’s why we feel equally at home in a Buddhist temple, with a tradition that says there is no God, only emptiness, and we don’t exist. In our tradition we say God is real, and that the true self is God and is eternal, the Paramatma. But we understand that we are all saying the same thing.
A true sadhu is beyond tradition. Like in our scripture, the Chandi Path, one of the main characters is Savarni – He who belongs to all colors, casts, tribes, and creeds.
It is becoming increasingly clear that sadhana is absolutely necessary to live in the consciousness we are seeking.
Lots if it. There’s no way around it.
In fact, more and more it seems the asana is the only safe place where we won’t get in trouble and make more karma for ourselves!
Swamiji says that when we’re in nitya karma (karma yoga, the activities which bring us to union), and arrows from our prarabdha karma (karma created in the past, coming to fruition in the present) come to land, we’re not available to shoot off new arrows. Hallelujah!
In our current sankalpa we are sitting for a five hour asana, which Swamiji calls “maintenance.” We are taking it easy.
When we push, we do between six and nine hours in one asana, and when we really push and have a special opportunity, we can do 10 hours or more.
It feels very deeply that this is only possible with the grace and guidance of a qualified Guru.
Perhaps one day I will be able do it on my own, but for now, this type of sadhana is only possible because of Swamiji, and I am so very grateful.
No one can do this alone, and I think that’s part of the beauty of the Guru-disciple tradition, or parampara.
Swamiji once described it as being like the shamas, the first candle of the menorah, with which we light the other lights.
It is also becoming increasingly clear that this path is not only for a chosen few. Anyone can do this. It just takes a sincere desire to grow and learn.
For those of us who see spirituality as the most important aim of our lives, Swamiji is showing us how to live a life based on sadhana…and how to shape our material realities so that we have the resources necessary to maintain this lifestyle.
This is holistic spirituality, and every one of us has the privilege of walking this path.
Yatralogue #8: Riding the Waves
When you do seva, you earn the privilege to learn from your example. How do they sit, how do they breathe, chant, and worship? How do they spend their time? With what type of attitude do they approach and move through the various circumstances of life?
It’s such a privilege to do seva for Swamiji, experience his rhythm of life, and share that rhythm with him. No matter what obstacles come our way, we make worship the central focus of life, and share inspiration to those around to do the same.
After Kolkata, most of our group was sick with various ailments: fever, cough, congestion, soar throat, general not-feeling-good. The change in temperature didn’t help – we went from hot sweaty Kolkata to freezing our buns off in Darjeeling! (The variety of micro-climates, people, social classes, sub-cultures, languages, and dialects in India is simply incredible!)
In Sikkim, our make-shift temple area looked like a cross between a sadhu’s hut and an infirmary: snot rags and cough drops lay in ready next to our asanas and music stands. Yet we still had so much fun! We even sang the Sundar Kanda in that state, after chanting the Cosmic Puja! It was such an incredible experience to feel sick in the body, yet happy and content in the mind.
Swamiji says that our sadhana breathes, and traveling alongside him allows me to witness how he rides those waves.
In times of greater karma (activity) and interaction with duality, Swamiji keeps the same bhava with which he approaches his sadhana. He is sincere, efficient, focused, and appreciative in all his interactions, and he seeks to complete his work with the greatest integrity and attentiveness.
￼Then, when the opportunity comes to sit longer and spend more time within, he takes it! Every new place we have landed in India is another place for sadhana. And in every destination, Swamiji does the same thing: he rolls out his asana, sits, chants, and seeks to unite with God.
Once we sit down, the focus immediately starts to shift back to the inside, and we remember: this is about the inner journey. It’s quite amazing to undergo the same process of sadhana and inner exploration amidst the changing landscapes. Not only does the importance we place on outer environment begin to decrease. Our criteria for what is a “good place” also starts to change.
We no longer seek the comfort and luxury we’re accustomed to, but instead are more interested in finding a space where we can remain quiet and undisturbed, and enjoy the privilege of living in our own rhythm.
We’ve completed the third day of our sankalpa in Kalimpong and are sitting in a five hour asana. In all honesty, I can’t remember what we chanted this morning… More and more it seems the goal is not just to chant the scripture, or to finish chanting the scripture, but rather to go deep inside.
Chanting of the scripture is merely the means. To me, its the difference between “punching the time clock” and seeking to spend time with God, and in the process we purify ourselves so that we’re able to go deeper and deeper.
￼Swamiji is teaching us how to use discipline to let go. We are learning how to enjoy the asana. Swamijis’ presence reminds us that sadhana is not a chore, but a privilege.
This bhavana and dedication help bring the scriptures to life, and inspires us to go deeper into Sanskrit. Even recognizing one word or one verse can help us enter into the scripture we are chanting. And that makes all the difference.
These are the stories of our own journey from the darkness of egotistical attachment to the Light of Wisdom. We are so lucky to have a path, Gurus, and a toolbox for the journey…
Yatralogue #7: Siddhanta Achara
We only have two options: to think about karma or to think about karma yoga, uniting with God. That means Siddhanta Achara.
When we think about karma, we remain in duality. Some of it is justified, all of it is necessary.
The highest of all the karma is Seva, the opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of our love by doing what we are doing without any selfish concerns.
Seva is not transactional; there is no exchange involved. But there is duality and a multitude of considerations: the actor, the acted upon, the intended recipient, the beneficiaries, all the stuff that goes into effective action in the world of duality.
Karma yoga has a different meaning: the actions which bring us to the culmination of complete union. It is different from serving our community or congregation. It makes us move beyond duality into the unity of Yoga.
The actions which allow us to approach and even enter into that union of Karma Yoga are defined as Siddhanta Achara.
We are doing it, and it is working! I cannot resist the feeling that these scriptures are defining our behavior in accordance with the practices we are performing.
The scriptures we have been and are reciting are the ultimate definition of what we are doing! We are the Rishis who gave up our selfishness in order to spend a life filled with prayer.
We are the sadhus who rise every morning with the only objective of reciting more scriptures, the stories of what the Rishis did to become Rishis, to sit longer and stronger, and to make our discipline the controlling influence of our lives.
We are the disaffected materialists, who have less concern for material rewards then we do for spiritual gains, and a longer asana is of greater value then watching the fluctuations in the economy.
This is our story, so we will tell it in the terms most appropriate for us.
With God’s grace we found this two bedroom cottage in the middle of a forest with perfect temperature for today’s climate, outside the town, surrounded by trees and gardens. The owner is so happy for our sadhana that she offered for us to pick any fruits or vegetable from her gardens. So far we have found pumpkins, squash, eggplants, cilantro, cucumbers, tomatoes, guavas, bananas, taro roots, and much much more.
We brought enough grains and dals, so there will be little need for us to go shopping.
We get to be the Rishis from the forest, whose only goal is to become One with the scriptures! This is what our forest looks like.
Yatralogue #6: A Mountain Monastery
The areas of Sikkim and West Bengal we have been staying in have provided such a beautiful backdrop for sadhana. The culture is a unique mish-mosh of Hindu and Buddhist, and many of the traditions (including language, food, dress, and more) are Nepalese and Tibetan. It feels like its own special world.
We’re amidst incredible natural beauty, and are privileged to experience the kindness and warmth of the people. Whenever we venture out to a local shop to purchase milk or other staples, we’re greeted by friendly neighbors and passers-by who want to know about Swamiji, where we’re from, and our sadhana, and they inevitably invite us for tea!
Life here feels different from the western culture I’m used to, where it’s odd to say hello to a stranger on the street, and where everyone is…separate. The lifestyle seems simpler. More connected. More real. As Kalyani put it, “more human.”
A few days ago, Kalyani and I took a trip to town to do the grocery shopping, and used the opportunity to visit a nearby Tibetan Buddhist monastery. We had no idea what we would find there, and it ended up being such a beautiful experience.
The monastery complex was at the top of the hill in the midst of the mountain foothills, and was incredibly quiet – almost deserted, save a few very young monks playing a ball game in the small field at the center of the complex.
We were first attracted to a temple building that was surrounded by prayer wheels, and which was next to an outdoor stupa. The Temple was locked, so we sat outside looking at the mountains, making japa, and enjoying the peace and silence of the monastery.
I was reminded of several verses from Devi Gita that we read earlier in the day, which told us that Mother is Everywhere, Everything, and that every time is a good time for Her worship. As we sat outside the temple, I felt that no matter where we are, we can always choose to direct our minds and hearts toward Divinity. How beautiful!
When we started to make our way back to the taxi, we were greeted by the most wonderful surprise…
There was another larger temple on the property that was open (literally, the doors were wide open, waiting for us!), and also completely empty and quiet. Kalyani and I looked at each other, removed our shoes, and timidly walked through the threshold of the temple. When we did so, we entered into a magical wonderland!
Every surface was painted and decorated with imagery of Buddha, Bodhisattvas, dakinis, and figures from the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon. The artwork was so rich and alive, and a giant mandala was painted on the ceiling above us.
The feel of the Temple was different than Hindu temples we’ve visited, and I loved it! I felt like all the beings on the altar and walls were blessing us, and calling us to go deeper. There was such a full silence, and such a powerful presence. So much inspiration for sadhana.
Seeing as there was no one around to ask if we could sit and worship, we were a little bit at a loss of what to do; we wanted to be respectful of the monastary’s tradition and practices. But the call of the temple was too great, and the vibrations too powerful – we couldn’t help but sit down! At first we sat in silence, meditating and doing japa. Then we began to chant “Om Mane Padme Hum.”
It was so fun to chant here!
We felt completely loved and supported by the Divine Presence in the temple, and felt more and more free and comfortable as we continued to chant.
I felt the undeniable universality of spirituality. It was so beautiful and such a privilege to be in this magnificent Tibetan mountain temple filled with imagery depicting the path to awakened consciousness. Who cares if we chant in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Pali, Latin, Hebrew…it doesn’t matter! God is One, paths are many!
After chanting “Om Mane Padme Hum,” we felt inspired to chant from the Rudrashtadhyayi. Maybe it was some of the imagery on the temple walls that were reminiscent of Bhairav. Maybe it was the Buddha statue in the middle of the main altar emanating peace that felt like Shankara. Maybe it was the fact that we had been studying chapters from the Rudri, and Chapter 3, which is a call to the spiritual warrior within us to rise up, seemed particularly appropriate for the feelings we were experiencing…
We chanted several chapters from the Rudri, still sitting alone in this magnificent temple. And as we chanted the last mantras a very young monk came in and stood next to us. He was so adorable and sweet. We pranamed to each other and shared a smile and a moment filled with mutual respect and appreciation. For me, it was very special to feel accepted in a place of worship of a different tradition.
In order to show our respect, and to express the gratitude we felt in our hearts, we completed our worship by chanting the following three mantras:
Buddham Sharanam Gacchami
Dharmam Sharanam Gacchami
Sangham Sharanam Gacchami
They translate as:
I go to the Buddha for refuge
I go to the dharma for refuge
I go to the sangha for refuge
And it’s true. That was our experience of the temple.
It completely enveloped us and accepted us. We found refuge and nourishment. All the beings on the walls and on the altar were alive and giving blessings. We left with such full hearts, and such a rich experience that lingered in our minds and spirits and further inspired and empowered our sadhana.
Buddham Sharanam Gacchami
Dharmam Sharanam Gacchami
Sangham Sharanam Gacchami
Yatralogue #5: Namchi, Sikikim
We arrived in Namchi, Sikikim, on the night of Diwali, the home of so many dharmic temples, and yesterday was the first day of the Sanskrit New Year, Kartik Shukla Pratipad.
We got up early in the morning, as we usually do, a special task because of the 2018 USA midterm elections, and we ended up staying awake much of the night viewing the results as they came in.
But when we rose to greet the new day, we forgot about all the stuff that was going on all night long around the world, especially the politics taking place 15,000 miles away in America, and only concerned ourselves with the sankalpa to chant in the Char Dham Mandirs, an amazing recreation of some of the most important places for Pilgrimage in India: Badrinath, Kedarnath, Dwarkanath, Jaganath, all surrounded by twelve temples for the twelve jyotirlingams, all located in one amazing temple complex on a mountaintop in South Sikkim.
We met pilgrims from all over India: local people, Bengalis from down the mountain below in nearby Siliguri, pilgrims from Mumbai, Chennai, from the north, south, east, and west of India. It was a blast!
￼The priest was surprised when I asked him if we could sit in one asana in the main temple and chant scriptures. “What are you going to do?” He asked.
We will sit here and celebrate the first day of the New Year with Shiva’s name and the Sundar Kanda Path. We know Shiva delights in the Sundar Kanda, and Vishnu loves to hear Shiva’s name. What a way to acknowledge the beginning of a new year!
As we got deeper and deeper into the love affairs with our chanting, we had no idea of how many people were affected by seeing our group of foreigners sitting in one asana with our iPads on music stands presenting the mantras, while we went deeper into our pranayama and the definitions of our stories.
We were the devotees who jumped over the ocean of worldliness to find the true Nature of consciousness. All that we were saying in recitation was equally applicable to ourselves!
￼To be in that environment, in the temples, surrounded by Brahmin pujaris and other pilgrims who had little idea of how to conduct themselves when they visited a place of worship, was an opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of our love!
What a joy to join with other devotees in many places to rejoice in our devotion to God!
Yatralogue #4: Devotee’s Experience
After our celebration of Navaratri in Kolkata with Shree Maa and Swamiji, a small group embarked on an adventure with Swamiji with the only objective to share in Sadhana, no matter if we have been on the road, in a train or anywhere, always that objective has been present.
I am learning an example of a way that I can live my life, we have conducted sadhana in every place that we possibly can, making this our lifestyle. Swami is inspiring me to have more and more spaces between my thoughts, and to fill the empty spaces with the remembrance of God.
This is bringing so much inner peace and more and more the desire to live in that space which is always present and accessible, and most importantly I am getting the tools to make this my reality!
We went first up the Darjeeling side of the Himalaya mountains, where we conducted sadhana in a very unique temple that combined both the Hindu and Tibetan traditions, where we had the blessing to worship Hanuman, Kali and Ganesh among others.
This was very special for me to be in semi-outdoors shrines in the mountains with our asanas and chanting. Following our goal to sit longer and stronger, we continued our Yatra to another town in the foothills of Sikkim.
The Full Moon marked our fist day of this new temple/ ashram where we have been waking up in the early morning to chant along with Swamiji and praise our Divine Mother in the form of Nature.
The Guru takes the form of the stunning and still presence of the third highest mountain in the Himalayas, in the world, and we receive this darshan every morning with the bonus of seeing the moon as well before she goes to sleep.
This has been such a tangible reminder and experience to become that which does not move, and our first Sadhana in praise of the Himalaya was the Devi Gita, which commenced this sankalpa in a very auspicious way.
Swamiji has guided me to experience through this stillness and presence of the Himalayas to be unshakable by any exterior circumstance. Our days feel very full, and I feel content with the simplicity of our current life, so full and yet so simple.
We have established an Ashram and temple that I can call home as I am going closer to my heart. The more that we conduct sadhana, the more that I want to keep going deep into this vast richness…
The world is becoming so silent for me from the chattering of my common mind, and the enthusiasm to keep learning through my own practice about God keeps growing.
I wish I could stay for ever in this Yatra and association, and I look forward to bring this experience with me at every step and learn to live like this no matter where my body is.
I am starting to learn why we are doing all that we do in this path, and where this can take me, so I can put even more dedication and inspiration and make from this my only way of living. There are so many opportunities to improve in so many ways, and this makes me very Grateful and exited.
Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!
Yatralogue #3: Our Daily Life
Our sankalpa here is very simple: to restrain our wandering minds from contemplation of worldly thoughts.
To accomplish that goal, we are making Siddhanta Achara the blueprint of our interaction. Siddhant Achara is the behavior which corresponds to the seven activities spoken of in the scriptures:
- Puja (Worship)
- Path (Recitation)
- Homa (Sacred Fire Ceremony)
- Sangeet (Singing)
- Nrit (Dancing)
- Pravachan (an explanation of the meanings and applications, how to integrate these various activities into our lives)
- Arpana (offering)
We begin our first morning asana at about 6:00 AM, which usually is on the roof facing the Kanchenjunga sunrise.
There is almost no other worldly discussion in our household. Very little time is spent describing chores or household or worldly necessities, and the rest of our time is either spent in chanting scriptures, translating passages, or describing how we could apply this knowledge.
After just a few days, it has grown so quiet inside. The level of energy has risen significantly, and we just feel that Peace, Peace, altogether Peace, up over on all sides and further, Peace, Peace, Peace be to us, Peace to All and everything!
The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music!
We send all our blessings!
Yatralogue #2: Darjeeling
The Navaratri in the Belur Math suburb of Kolkata was wonderful. It was such a joy to connect with so many old friends, and join in the sadhana on such a grand scale.
Shree Maa and I send all our love and blessings.
After the completion of Navaratri, Shree Maa returned to the United States, while I travelled to Darjeeling along with Kalyani, Shivani, Bill and Prashant.
There we stayed very near to the Mahakal Mandir, which we visited each day.
It is a fascinating Temple, constructed, staffed, and shared by Hindus and Buddhists, combining the greatest tolerance and mutual respect.
It was amazing to see so many Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Flags surrounding a Shiva Lingam, while a Tibetan Lama sat next to a Hindu Pujari performing pujas together in their own languages and traditions.
￼We chanted for Hanuman, Kali, and Shiva, and the Temple is delightful!
The priests were so respectful, and did not ask for money!
They continued chanting blessings, gave tilaks and prasad, and welcomed our chanting with great appreciation.￼
Then we moved to Sikkim.
We found a lovely home overlooking the Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world.
This is what it looks like from our roof in the morning, while we chant the Cosmic Puja and the Chandi.
￼Today we completed the third day of our Sankalpa, and we got up to seven hours in our asana.
We pray the whole family blesses us that we continue to expand until there is absolutely no time for worldly thoughts.
Share our love and blessings.
Yatralogue #1: Tapkeshwar
Namaste from Uttarkashi! We’ve been in India a month and a half now, and it feels like so much has happened.
We flew out from San Francisco on August 8, landed in Delhi, moved on to Rishikesh, and then made our way into the mountains. The plan was to use a house in Uttarkashi as a basecamp, from which we would travel to some of Swamiji’s favorite Himalayan pilgrimage spots, namely Gangotri, Badrinath, and Joshimath.
In reality, we’ve spent the vast majority of our time inside the Uttarkashi house. And I do literally mean inside. I think there was one point when Swamiji did not step outside of the house for more than a week.
It sounds funny to tell people we traveled half way around the world to sit in a house. But the truth is, that’s what we came here to do – sit. And the greatest gift that India has given me so far is the teaching that sitting, that sadhana, really is the answer.
When I first came to India, I had no idea what to expect. A friend had told me that India is a mix of the crazy and the sublime, and from what I’ve seen and felt so far, it’s true. India has changed since the time that Veda Vyasa and Vasishta walked the earth. Ganga is polluted, truly impressive amounts of trash line the roads, and even mountain towns are full of people. But the magic is still here. And the first place I felt it was at Tapkeshwar.
Tapkeshwar is a Shiva Lingam inside a cave temple in Dehradun. As legend has it, Tapkeshwar is where the Rishi Dronacharya performed his tapasya and had Lord Shiva’s darshan.
Upon entering the cave and taking blessings from Tapkeshwar, we asked the presiding Swami if we could sit for worship. We ended up sitting for a few hours, chanting Durga Sahasranam, Shiva Sahasranam Stotram and Namavali, Rudrashtadhyayi, and a few Shiva stotrams. After we completed the closing mantras and packed away our iPads and asanas, the Swami invited us for chai and prasad. He told us the story of the Temple and gave us a special tour…
Tapkeshwar changed things for me. It was the first place I visited where I felt, wow, there’s a real charge here that can help you dive deep. This is a place that can support your sadhana.
But where things really got cool was Gangotri…stay tuned!