Yatralogue #13: Coming Forward to Home – by Kalyani
As Swamiji repeatedly says: “We will never go back; only forward,” and
this is the feeling that I have in this moment back with Swamiji.
After a short absence and travels to America, it feels so GOOD to be back in India with Swamiji and other dear family members! I couldn’t resist going deeper into my heart journey, and that is possible only through Sadhana and good association.
This is what we do in our current reality, that is indeed so humble from the outside and rich on the inside. It is the opposite of what the world wants so much to achieve: Richness on the outside with emptiness inside.
We have a lovely ashram life, where everything flows with so much ease and love. The days are filled with an intensity to get liberated from our bonds through sitting and chanting, cooking nourishing meals with simple ingredients, and kitchen satsanghas illuminated by the generous teachings of Swamiji, laughter and many times tears of Joy and Love.
We join together with the same objective to fill our Hearts with love to our Divine Mother, and to learn to melt completely our Ego in Her.
For me, personally, it is still just an ideal, but Swamiji has offered an environment where this can be possible, through emulating what the rishis did to become Rishis!!
It is the magic formula; our blue print to HER. We have a conducive atmosphere for this and a simple life, away from unnecessary gossip, unnecessary shopping, and unnecessary desires, so we have more time for our personal work, finding the balance between Too Much and Too Little that can bring us to perfection.
My days start early, waking up with the music of animals of the jungle in the night, warming water in a pot on the stove to take a short hot shower, overcoming the body comforts, joining Swamiji and walking with him and the rest of our Rishi-like family through a jungly path that lead us to the MahaKali temple. On our way we pass through different plants which include: rudraksha trees, cardamon, cinnamon, pan, supari, and banana trees among others. It is an intense tropical jungle.
Then we sit in the temple.
Today we started a new sankalpa and reached 5-1/2 hours in complete synchronization and devotion. Is there something in this present moment more rich and rewarding then this?
I am finding for me, being close to God is the same as being close to my own self, and it is becoming the most important reality from the many that I can choose from! Swamiji shares so much wisdom and loving care, and inspires for this to become my only reality.
After our sadhana, we walk on our return path to our rooms, and prepare a simple breakfast. The meals are cooked with love, and we share as a family.
We invariably take this opportunity to have satsangha that can vary from mudra insights, philosophy, or just getting inspired by Swamiji’s sadhu adventures. In the afternoons we continue studying individually the meaning of the scriptures, so they can become more alive inside us.
This has even been complemented with Sanskrit classes!! Wow!
Maybe there is never a limit to everything we can use to go deeper into becoming a Rishi! As Swamiji says: if we want to learn from Shiva, we should learn His language.
I look so much forward to continuing filling my days with more sadhana and more love. I hope that can be manifested with the courage to walk firmly in dedicating more time to God, and less to “Me, Me. Me,” learning to love everyone that crosses my path, just like the Rishis did.
Yatralogue #12: Beginning Our Sadhana – by Rudra
With Swamiji’s guidance and inspiration, we have begun a new Sankalpa. Today is the first day, and from today every day we will do more Sadhana and increase the time of our sitting in worship. Swamiji hopes to reach or surpass 12 hours again.
Do we really understand what it is like to remain seated for 12 hours on a cold temple floor in the midst of winter temperatures only thinking of God? Can we ponder that in our minds for a few moments?
It is easily said so rapidly, but this kind of sadhana is not performed so quickly. We have to be in a conducive place to limit our external distractions, eat in a conductive way, and organize our lives around these Sadhana goals and not otherwise. Who in this time of rapid acceleration strives to stop the current of the flow of karma, and reverse it to find the deepest meanings of the scriptures and the Supreme Goal?
Swamiji is such a Teacher, and he says only Rishis strive for That. He teaches us to be Rishis.
Today we did more than 5-1/2 hours of Sadhana. Seeing Swamiji undertaking that kind of Sadhana is a real gift, and to do it with him is an unimaginable boon.
Love and understanding pours out of his every movement, every word, every tune! All that he is doing is an act of Love, and he constantly strives to increase and perfect more and more of this river of love. It seems that Love springs out of his heart in every direction.
Sometimes I see him like Lord Shiva, helping the great Ganges of Love bathe the earth. Not only his Sadhana, but every moment in his life.
It is so amazing to be a witness of this. He always has time for everyone and doesn’t care how “low” or “high” they are, how educated or uneducated, how rich or poor. He has moved beyond cultural standards.
With a kind smile and compassionate look, he makes himself available for everyone all the time with the same intensity as he makes himself available for God during Sadhana.
His patience with us makes me see the Divinity in him. We all can learn to chant scriptures, but how many of us can let go of our needs and egocentric tendencies to become Divine?
Swamiji says that Sadhana is more than sitting and chanting Sanskrit words, but actually embodying the philosophy. Sanskrit is a way of life.
We cannot lose the opportunity when a being of this character crosses our path. I try to be like a sponge here, so in my own small way I can be a tiny reflection of the love Swamiji continually expresses.
Doing Sadhana with him is a rainbow of magic vibrations that cannot be understood by the mind alone.
Yatralogue #11: At the Feet of my Teacher – by Rudra
Today is pratipada of the Krishna Paksha, the day after the full moon.
Swamiji and Shivani finished their Sankalpa, and now are reducing their sadhana as they get to take rest while they get ready for the next Sankalpa, which will begin in a few days.
This doesn’t mean they stop the performance of Sadhana. For them this means they don’t do 12 hours. What a life!
This Swamiji with such a big heart, teaches a way of life that is as old as time. Even if he reads from an IPad, and sleeps in a precarious room next to the temple, his life is the life taught in the scriptures, the ancient life of the Rishis, doing long hours of Sadhana, living in continuous Satsangha, singing to God, loving everyone that he meets.
Yesterday, they finished their Sadhana around 12 noon, and in the evening we all came back to the temple and the villagers gathered around Swamiji at the feet of Kali.
He had so much patience, love, care, and understanding as he answered questions and talked about spirituality. Everyone had a smile in their face! When was the last time this temple saw a Sadhu giving Satsangha?
Swamiji unites two cultures, east and west, and two times, ancient and modern, and he does it in a magical way, because he makes everyone feel seen, appreciated, and Loved.
He alternated his satsangha in English and Bengali with singing to God. We clapped and smiled, and for me, I delighted myself in a timeless Divine vibration.
What I saw yesterday could only be seen in a remote past, in a temple or beneath a tree. What a treasure is our Swamiji.
This morning he brought us to the temple and we did Kali Puja. Swamiji took so much time for us (who are just beginning this path).
He patiently explained the method of breathing and chanting with pranayama.
He is so patient…. he is a great teacher. If we lost the page, he would wait for us to find it; if he had to repeat something three times, he would joyfully repeat it again and again.
I feel no judgement coming from him, but pure love, the kind of love that pacifies the heart, and in that secure place we are allowed to be ourselves, surrender and learn.
After the worship, he talked to us about the meaning of the Guru and the Guru principle. He communicates on many levels, in magical ways, not only with words, and slowly he opens our hearts to God. It is magical in how many levels he works. You can feel the Divine presence in everything he does.
Swamiji then proceeded to show us a way to recognize the Sanskrit words and associate them with the meanings. It was so revealing and instructive, and he does it with so much love. I feel he just loves us because he sees Her in us, in everyone, in everything.
There is a constant exchange of Love here. The people of the town bring us fresh milk and curd, vegetables, blankets, anything we may need, because they recognize Swamiji as a true Sadhu.
Living here with Swamiji may not be modern, nor fancy, but it’s definitely real.
Yatralogue #10: Sitting with Swamiji – by Shivani
Many of us dream of the life of a sadhu. We might not even really know what that means, but still we have that dream: to do sadhana, to do tapasya, to live a simple spiritual life, and to be free and happy in our love for God; to actually leave behind negative patterns and tendencies.
To be in love all the time, without need of an object or recipient for our love; maybe that’s some of what we dream about.
I, for one, gave up on that dream, and stopped believing it could be possible for me.
Now, I believe it is possible for anyone.
To sit in one place without moving, fumbling over Devanagari for 12 hours at a time, is unimaginable even to me. But after coming out of that experience, it’s so clear that such a thing is purely and completely the grace of the Guru. It has nothing to do with individual capacity.
So what does that mean? Grace of the Guru?
The Sanskrit word for grace is kripa, which Swamiji defines as “what you do is what you get.” The root “kri” means to do. (The word karma, which means action, comes from the same root.) “Pa” means get. Therefore, kripa means, “What you do is what you get.”
The Guru Gita says you get everything from serving the Guru with selfless love and devotion. The highest seva we can give to the Guru is to integrate his or her teachings into our life.
Swamiji is fond of saying the highest respect we can give to our grade school teacher is to graduate from high school. The highest respect we can give to our high school teachers is to graduate from college.
Likewise, the highest seva we can give to our Guru is to try, to the extent of our capacity, to live the values they teach, and to practice the sadhana.
And when we get the opportunity, we can be with our Guru in person, and try to add value to their lives in whatever ways we can. Maybe we can wash their cloth, polish their puja utensils, or prepare their breakfast. Maybe can make an App, write an article, or wash and iron her saris.
There are many things we can do to show our appreciation, and we all have so many capacities and talents. All of it brings us closer to God, and closer to the understanding of tapasya.
In my own life, Shree Maa and Swamiji have shown me a path in which seva and sadhana weave into and empower one another.
Maa taught me how to serve with love, and inspired me, to the extent that I was able, to let go of myself in order to serve another. Some of the sweetest moments in my life have been serving Shree Maa, and in doing so, having the opportunity to witness and share in her bhavana, her giving, and her rhythm of life.
Shree Maa teaches us to leave behind our own desires, including the desire to do sadhana, in order to serve the Guru, and play our little, however imperfect parts, in empowering the Guru Kula, the family of the Guru.
Even if we can’t totally leave behind “I, me, and mine,” Shree Maa helps us to experience a way of life and being where, at the very least, there’s an understanding that “I” am not the most important being in this creation. Beyond that, she opens the doors to new degrees of peace that come from that realization; that come from looking to give, as opposed to looking to take. That encourages us to want more.
My seva to Shree Maa empowered me to do seva for Swamiji, and the highest seva for Swamiji is to do sadhana with him.
While Maa taught me to be willing to give up sadhana to serve, Swamiji teaches me that sitting is absolutely necessary to live in the Shiva-Consciousness that we seek. Strangely, I find those two work together perfectly, bringing me to a much better place than I would be with one of those teachings alone.
I know I’ve written this in previous blogs, but more and more it feels that the asana is the only safe place. It’s the only place where I won’t get into trouble!
Even if I can’t control my mind, at least of I’m in one place, I’m not creating more karma for myself. No matter how crazy my mind gets, I’m not moving: I’m trying to focus on God, and hopefully earning the privilege to sit more, understand more, and go deeper.
These last nine days of sadhana have been a magical, intense, and wonderful experience.
Swamiji wanted to chant silently in pumsa bhava (where the lips move, but no sound comes out), which meant that for the first time in quite a while, I wouldn’t actually be chanting with Swamiji. Because of that, it felt to be the perfect opportunity to practice chanting from Devanagari.
With Swamiji’s blessings and help, I have learned to read the Devanagari script over the last several months. I still chant almost entirely from the Roman transliteration, however, as Swamiji chants too fast for me to follow in Devanagari, and I do almost all of my sadhana with Swamiji.
So this was my big chance!
The experience of sitting in the temple for 12 hours, silently chanting – sometimes painfully slowly – each syllable of Devanagari is truly nothing I can describe. Neti, neti.
When we first started building the asana, it took me about 7 hours to move through one full Cosmic Puja. By the end of our Navaratri, I was chanting Cosmic Puja, weaving in sahasranam stotrams and namavalis to the individual deity pujas that come at the end of the Cosmic, and even adding other scriptures and stotrams like Guru Gita. I did, after all, have 12 hours to explore.
And that’s what it was: an exploration. If you know you’re going to be sitting there for the next 12 hours, no matter what, what else are you going to do?
I cannot tell you what I have done in my life or previous lives to deserve such an opportunity, but without hesitation, I can tell you that if we serve the Guru, and if we invite the Guru into our hearts, then undoubtedly, we will become empowered.
Every day we are worshiping, chanting, studying, and translating scriptures, and when we are done, we retire to our own introspection and try to share some inspiration.
It is such a privilege to share. Thank you for helping to empower me to such a sadhana.
Yatralogue #9: Witnessing Tapasya – by Rudra
Yesterday was an amazing day: Swamiji had instructed us to take the day slowly, so we get used to the time change.
When we went to the temple, Swamiji and Shivani were already deep in their Sadhana. One thing is to hear they are doing 12 hours of sadhana in one asana; another thing is to see it by yourself, and it must be something totally different to actually be doing it!
When I think about the amount of Sadhana they did in this nine day Sankalpa I am in awe. What kind of commitment is needed for this? What kind of determination? What kind of will power? What kind of Love?
The day of our arrival, we left our hotel in the morning to make our way towards KaliGhat in Kolkata around 7:00 AM, and stayed there till around 10:30. After that we had breakfast, and went back to our room to pack our things. At around 12:30 PM we departed towards Gokarna (the village where Swamiji is doing his tapasya), and were on the road until around 8 PM.
Can you believe that in all of this time when we were doing all of these things: touring, eating, packing, traveling, the only thing Swamiji and Shivani did was to stay in one place loving God?
Yesterday was so special because we could see and experience the vibrations of their worship. To see two people actually doing what Gurus and disciples have done for millennia….
Swamiji says this is his love affair with God. He wants to spend as much time with his beloved as he can. He wants to gaze into the eyes of the murti, chant Her names, and adore Her….not just from rote memory, or from reading another’s words, but from the depths of his heart.
When their practice was complete, it was nighttime. The villagers and devotees came close to the temple, wanting to experience the moment when Swamiji finished.
He is always giving, taking little to no time for himself, and when he rises from the asana, with all this Bhavana, with all this Shakti, he still has more to give: a simple smile, some kind words.
Everyone gathers around this Sadhu to get a glimpse of God in his eyes.
The amount of sitting, takes a toll on Swamiji’s body, but that doesn’t prevent him from giving Love. He says the ancient Rishis gave love to everyone without discrimination, and that is exactly what he does, forgetting all about himself, giving to all of us. For him all relationships are part of his love affair, so even when he is tired, he sees Her in everything and everyone and loves Her in everything.
Once upstairs he doesn’t rest. He takes advantage of the time before dinner for instructing us and teaching us, and after we leave, he works at the computer.
Sometimes tears roll down from my eyes because this is real, it’s truly happening! I feel it is only by the Grace of the Divine Mother we are here, in the presence of truth that radiates from this Sadhu uplifting everyone who comes to him, also seeking to love God.
Yatralogue #8: Rudra and Kalyani’s Arrival
Kalyani and I were on our way to Gokarna, the village where Swamiji and Shivani were in deep Sadhana and concentration.
It was late in the evening and everything was dark, but the goats and narrow roads were indicating that Swamiji had chosen a remote place in West Bengal for his Sadhana.
Swamiji has been doing up to 12 hours of Sadhana here every day, and it is marvelous to think that in this time and age there are people like him. The jungly smell of the land and the many trees increased the feeling of expectation; it was my first time meeting Swamiji in person.
Once we arrived at the temple the villagers received us with so much love and tenderness. They honored us with garlands, and they played the shank or conch shell! I felt God was receiving us.
The feeling of the moment, in the darkness of the late evening, the sound of the conch vibrating at the gate of the temple and seeing the happiness of the villagers receiving us with such a love, delighted our hearts, bringing to life the saying “Atithi Devo Bhava,” the guest is God. What a marvelous way to understand life.
After our arrival, we went directly to the Kālī Mandir where Swamiji and Shivani had just finished long hours of Sadhana. They were already up stairs, but after such a feat they were not resting. Shivani was cooking and Swamiji was getting ready to do his work with the computer to attend to his many responsibilities.
When we went upstairs to meet Swamiji, Shivani opened the door with a smile on her face and hugged Kalyani with so much love….. ahhhh, what a sweet arrival.
Once we went in, Swamiji came out of his room to receive us and hugged us together for a good long time.
While many Gurus don’t want to be touched, given that they are afraid they will lose power if they are touched, but Swamiji embraced us in a long hug where the Shakti of his Sadhana, the openness of his heart, and the total sincerity moved me to tears.
I felt loved and welcomed, and I didn’t even know this town, the Swamiji, or the amazing devotees who walk with him, and even perform with him 12 hours of practice, and then cook.
What an opportunity we have ahead!
Yatralogue #7: Long Asana Sadhana in Gokarna – by Swamiji
Today is Shashthi, and the beginning of the next Navaratri.
We sat for five hours today, completing the Cosmic Puja and the full Chandi cover to cover at seven verses per breath. We did Manas Puja, and only chanted silently in “Pumsa” bhavana, where our lips move, but no sound comes out.
What a joy to share such silence! Inside and out!
Today is Saptami, the second day of the Navaratri. We sat for 5-1/2 hours, with the Cosmic Puja and PanchaRatna Gita, silently in “Pumsa” bhavana at six verses to the breath.
Please remember, there are three modes of recitation: Sabda, where we chant everything out loud; Pumsa, where we only mouth the words with no audible sound coming out; and Manas, where everything is heard inside with no movement outside.
From the outside, if we see someone who is doing a manas recitation, we would probably say, “They are not chanting! They are in meditation.”
Actually our concern is not for what we can detect from the outside; it is only for what is going on inside.
How can anyone else measure the intensity of another’s absorption? Only by the smile on their face.
When we become absorbed in Sat Chit Ananda, we cannot help but to smile!
Namaste! Today is Ashtami, the third day of the Navaratri.
We added an extra 45 minutes to the asana today with the Cosmic Puja and the complete Chandi cover to cover at seven verses per breath, followed by the Gayatri and Kali Sahasranamas.
Again She told us the choice is ours, whether to think about the world or to think about the sadhana to remember God.
She went on to say that it is good to think about God when we sit in an asana, but it is even better to think about God all the time!
That means to take the sankalpa to live life like a Rishi, with the values and goals of a Rishi; with the understanding of a Rishi, that everything is divine, and every moment is an opportunity to remember.
That means every relationship is a part of our sadhana, and the spiritual discipline and practice is to treat each other with the respect that we will want to show to the Gods, and always remind each other that we are all divine.
Jesus said very much the same meaning when asked which is the greatest of the commandments, to which he replied:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and all thy mind, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Just like a husband and wife through their marriage vows take the sankalpa to remain a constant reminder to each other of their complete divinity, and to show the love and acceptance for each other no matter what events come about during their lives, the Rishis went one step further, and made that promise to all of creation!
Remembering that promise is called sadhana!
Sitting in the asana is one of the ways in which we remember that promise and do the sadhana.
All the rest of life is the other part sadhana.
The Bengali proverb says that Pain is the learning experience and Pleasure is the examination. It is easy to remember God while we are in Pain; “Oh God, please take away my Pain!”
The real examination is, can we remember God when everything is going right? How often do we say, “Oh God, please rejoice with me in sharing your blessings?”
It’s the next day, still Ashtami. We added another hour with the complete Bhagavad Gita, in addition to what we have been doing before.
Darshan comes from Bhavana.
It does not come from being technically correct. The technicals and accuracy of the vacharth, the literal dictionary meaning of the words, are important only in so far as they inform the Bhavana.
With dictionary meanings we stay in the mind, or at best in the Buddhi or intellect. With Bhavana we get Her.
When we chant, our objective cannot be to translate every word or sentence into our own language as we are chanting.
As we understand the Sanskrit more and more, we understand where we are in the story. We feel the bhavana, we know our goals, we intuit how we are proceeding, but we are not responsible to render a complete word-for-word rendition of the entire text in our native languages.
Understanding comes on many levels: Most important is acting in accordance.
Next in importance is defining what are those actions which we want, so they can be manifest when we are in control. What will be our Ideal of Perfection?
Our company business model is to exemplify the greatest examples of how a Rishi lives in this world with every interaction. Our Sadhana is our business.
Can you imagine getting paid to love God and Her creation?
That is all we need to do! Remember Her all the time. But especially
with the greatest intensity and efficiency when we do remember!
Sitting in the asana gives us the capacity to become free from
reaction. When we can’t move, then what reactions will we demonstrate?
When we rise from the asana, can we remember to manifest the ideal of
perfection in our every interaction? That will be the test of our
How much can we remember?
Today is Navami, the fourth day of the Navaratri. We crossed eight
hours today by adding the entire PanchaRatna Gita to the Complete
Chandi and Cosmic Puja.
There are no words.
We have run out of things to say, as well as language by which to say them. Neti neti is the only description that makes sense.
It cannot be said to be this or to be that. Is there any logic to anything we could say to excuse why we do not stay like this all the time?
It is a choice we make.
We know the karma that puts us into this state of absorption; we also know the effects of paying attention to our worldly attachments and interactions.
Why is it that we are so drawn to the worldliness?
Please forgive us, Mother.
Our nature makes us powerless to resist good gossip, even when we know fully well that there is no consideration superior to remembering You!
Today is Dasami, and we crossed ten hours. We will continue to make it grow…
Yatralogue #6: Walking with Swamiji – by Shivani
Just walking down the street in India with Swamiji is an experience.
Everywhere Swamiji goes, he makes friends. He welcomes everyone who comes his way, and is always ready to share words of love and beauty.
There’s something particularly sweet about traveling with Swamiji in the
places most near and dear to his heart. It’s more than just seeing the places and regions that gave shape to our Guru’s own spiritual journey.
It’s dipping a toe into the bhavana that he carried with him: the fearless adventurer, hungry to learn, hungry to grow, and willing to leave behind everything known and comfortable in order to find true treasure.
Rural West Bengal is a region that always called to Swamiji’s heart, and always felt like home.
I feel the same. I feel this is one of our places…
All of us who love Kali, and Chandi; who love music and the poetry of devotion; who love Nature, and who crave a humble lifestyle with more room for love and kindness, and less room for division, meanness, and the rat race of modern life.
This is one of our places.
There’s a simplicity here, both in the feel of the rural land and village atmosphere, and in the people. The current of Mother worship runs deep.
As Swamiji has already written about our excursion in Gokarna, I’d like to take you back to Rishikesh – one of our first destinations when we arrived in India, and also one of Swamiji’s old stomping grounds.
Whether we walked along the ghats of the Ganga, or through the backstreet alley ways, there was another familiar face, smiling with joy to see the Sahib Sadhu that they had known so many years ago.
It was clear that just as Mother India gave so much nourishment to our Swamiji, Swamiji also gave so much nourishment in return, to this holy land and Her people.
Swamiji truly did what so many of us have only dreamed of.
He travelled alone into distant places, where no other foreigners had ventured, and where he didn’t understand the language, searching for Love and Wisdom and the path of its attainment.
When I asked Swamiji how he first came to venture into West Bengal, he replied that he received a note from his Guru with instructions to meet him in a particular location.
Swamiji laughed, saying he went “Far, faaaar into the interior of West Bengal…” by ox-cart, horse, any other mode of transportation he could find – without knowing a word of Bengali!
For me, to see the places where he performed his tapasya, and to hear the stories of his sadhu life, is such a beautiful blessing. It’s family history, rich with inspiration and joy.
So now, back to Rishikesh…
One morning, after completing our worship, we walked along the river and visited some of the spots where Swamiji used to do sadhana: a banyan tree by the ghats, and the building where Swamiji had an ashram for several years, which he called “Deva Loka” ashram.
At this point in time, Rishikesh was much smaller, and still off the beaten track.
Swamiji would stay in his Devalok Ashram when in Rishikesh, until he was ready to move on to the next destination.
One of my favorite Swamiji Rishikesh stories is about a tree very close to Deva Loka ashram.
This particular tree is where mail was delivered to the sadhus of Rishikesh.
All the sadhus would congregate under the tree, and a mailman would come with the mail and call out each of the names from the envelopes.
Because sadhus often have the same name, several sadhus would call out for each letter, at which point they would all look at it together, see from whom and from where it came, and determine who was actually the intended recipient.
Amidst those sadhus, three spoke Bengali: our Swamiji, Swami Ram Kripaluji, and a sadhu named Gopal Baba.
We passed Gopal Baba’s little ashram on our walk, but unfortunately, he was not at home.
Swamiji held on to the window sill and peered in while calling “Gopal Baba…” in such a childlike and unassuming tone.
As Swamiji peered through that window, I got my own little window into Swamiji’s world as a young sadhu, wandering through India, dedicating his life to God, and making friends along the way.
I’m having the same experience in West Bengal: the privilege to witness the attitude toward life that empowered our Swamiji to gain so much richness and shed so much selfishness.
It’s an attitude of respect, humility, and appreciation; a joyful willingness to learn; a sincere thirst for knowledge and wisdom, and most of all, Love for God.
I pray I can inculcate those qualities, even a little bit more, into my own being.
Yatralogue #5: A Village Excursion – by Swamiji
We completed our sankalpa on Amavasya, and today was the first day we were free to wander outside from the temple.
We were immediately surrounded by a group of young men, and after pleasantries and introductions, they insisted on taking us for a tour of their village.
The people were so friendly, curious, amazed to see foreign sadhus walking down their lanes, in front of their homes, and they were even more surprised when we greeted them in Bengali, and were able to converse with them.
It was a reminder of what I truly loved about India from more than 45 or 50 years ago: the village people took time to meet someone new, and interest to talk to a stranger.
The village paths led through beautiful forests interspersed with ponds, and the houses were a combination of mud huts with thatched roofs, attached to newly constructed brick and mortar houses.
Every now and then we would come to a row of shops, carrying all kinds of merchandise for local consumption.
They were especially proud of all the little temples that inundated the village landscape, and they took extra care to show us every temple in the vicinity.
Gokarna is a large village. I can’t tell you the population, but it has a college and a university.
Even still, it maintains a village atmosphere, with goats and chickens running wild in all the lanes, ducks and geese in the ponds, and bicycles and motor scooters whizzing past as we walked, everyone stopping to enquire about us.
We visited temples for Shiva, Durga, Vishnu, Krishna, Kali, and that was within a three block radius from the MahaKali Temple where we are staying.
Some of the younger children appeared afraid to see us, but most of the older kids and all of the adults were so inviting.
Sanjay, our guide, could not resist to take us to his home. He introduced us to his mother and father, and showed that his two uncles had houses on either side of theirs in a wonderful adaptation of the joint family system.
They are three brothers living with their families in their own individual private homes, one right next to the other. We were happy to take a half a glass of water, but considered ourselves lucky because the Bengali tradition of inviting a guest for “Jal” usually means a glass of water accompanied by a tray of sweets and salty snacks – what we would consider a full meal!
Today was our first venture outside, so we returned to our rooms quite exhausted and took a well-deserved rest. Now as I recall the adventure, I remember what it was like to be a wandering sadhu, meeting new people every day, and forging new friendships, many of which are still so vivid in my memories, some of which endure to this day.
In all my travels the places I visited were only memorable because of the people I met.
To all my friends all around the world, thank you for the amazing experiences of my life!
Yatralogue #4: Life in a Bengali Village Temple – by Shivani
We’ve been in West Bengal for a few days now, and already I could write a novel. I feel like I’ve entered into a magical jungle temple world that is a place of my dreams and of my heart.
After leaving the smog and traffic of Kolkata, Mother embraced us with miles and miles of rice paddies, farms, and lush greenery peppered generously with goats, ducks, cows, blue skies, and golden sunshine.
Welcome to rural, village life of West Bengal! Many people ride bicycles here, and nearly every woman is in traditional dress – beautiful colored saris and chadars.
We took a car here with Sushil, his wife Deepali, and daughter Snigda. Swamiji met Sushil in the early 1970s when Sushil was only 10 years old, and Swamiji was in his 20s. Sushil even spent time with Swamiji and Swamiji’s Guru, Amritananda Saraswati. Sushil first met Swamiji in Sushil’s home village of Bakreshwar, a remote West Bengal village that had only one dirt road with a few shops at the time.
On the ride here, we pulled over at a daba (restaurant) to have a snack that Deepali prepared for us: eggplant and paratha. Two of Swamiji’s favorites! We sat in a structure behind the main dining area that had partially open walls, looking out on miles of that beautiful Bengali farm land scenery. We sat on a low wooden table and enjoyed our snack, while feeling so enveloped by this amazing place and the kindness and simplicity that exudes from every direction in a restaurant that allowed us to bring our own food.
At one point, as I stood outside with Sushil looking out over the rice paddies, he told me about how he and Swamiji would take one jhola (bag) each, and walk off into the nature for days at a time, just doing sadhana and experiencing life.
When we made it to the Maha Kali Mandir, a local village temple far into the interior of West Bengal, so many villagers were there to meet us, as well as the few temple residents. They sprinkled marigold petals on Swamiji’s head, placed beautiful sweet-smelling flower garlands around our heads, and led us by the hands to the Temple.
The Temple itself is so beautiful, and has so much energy. Maha Kali is truly here, giving blessings! The complex is a family Temple, which has been cared for by the same family for 60 generations.
We’re staying in a guest house in the jungle right outside of the temple. Every time we walk to and from the Temple it feels like an adventure, as we walk on a dirt and brick path that winds its way through towering trees and lush vegetation, red hibiscus flowers, and jungle ponds.
My room simple has nothing save a makeshift bed that has on it a plush pink blanket, and a pink mosquito net canopy. It makes me laugh, because it feels like a princess sadhu room. Swamiji said the same thing when he saw it.
Right outside my door on the other side of the hall is our makeshift kitchen, consisting of a table with a chula (stove) and propane tank, and an assortment of our usual items….oil, spices, dal, instant coffee, vegetables, and a few pots and pans supplied by the Temple.
We heat water on the stove in morning for our baths, wash our dishes and clothing in buckets, and hang dry everything on the clothing lines at the end of the hall. Life is very simple here.
Swamiji and I have been laughing about how we travel with a whole household – kitchen, office, musical instruments and electronic equipment for holding sat sangha, sadhana items (asanas and music stands), and useful extras like blankets and an electric heating coil for warming water. Yet when it comes to personal items like clothing, both of us have very little!
I once asked Swamiji if it is possible to attain renunciation and realization without having the experience of truly leaving all your “stuff” behind and walking into the sunset with nothing. His response was so interesting to me…
He said that that way of life is not actually so conducive to the type of sadhana we want to do.
Part of why we travel with our own household is so that wherever we land, we are in control of our samsara. We cook our own food, eat the amount we want on our own schedule, and in general interact very little with the world around us.
This is extremely important for long asana sadhana. If you’re sitting 5, 6, or 7+ hours per day, things like when you pee or poo become very important, because you don’t want to break the asana.
Swamiji says if you eat the same thing every day at the same time, you know exactly what’s going to come out and when. It sounds funny, but it’s true!
It’s such a joy to have our own rhythm here, a beautiful temple to chant in, and, more than anything, to be surrounded by people who respect and appreciate our presence.
I’m getting a taste of what life must have been like in the very old days in India, when the sadhus were the pure beings who helped to inspire and uplift the communities, and in return were greeted with so much respect and joy, and were provided with food and shelter and the necessities of life.
It’s an incredible experience to feel loved and respected not for your personality, wealth, social standing, appearance, or anything else by which we measure a person’s “value” in the world. Instead, we are loved simply for being sadhus! For loving God, and for sharing that love to the best of our capacity.
I used to think when Swamiji talked about being “self-sufficient,” it meant to have enough money in the bank that you didn’t have to rely on anyone else. Now I have a very different view.
I feel like the ultimate of self-sufficiency is to be such a giver, to add so much value to people’s lives, that wherever you go, you’re welcomed as family.
Today was the 2nd day of our sankalpa, and we sat for seven hours. Yesterday we completed a six hour asana, and then sang the Sundar Kanda in the evening. It was so fun!
Villagers came to the Temple courtyard to listen and enjoy the bhavana. And as the sun went down, and we sang, Maha Kali seemed to shine brighter and brighter, and Hanuman helped us to leap across the ocean of worldliness. There was so much joy in our little village Temple!
It is such a privilege to be here, and our life here feels so natural. Even without knowing the language, I feel so much at home. We’ve been here only two days, but it feels like lifetimes! Everything is so rich….
Thank you, thank you, thank you, again and again.
Yatralogue #3: Finding Maha Kali – by Swamiji
We passed through miles of fields growing rice. You could see the living standards decreasing as we made progress, and when we turned off on the last 10 mile leg of the journey, the road became even more rutted and bumpy as we got closer to our destination.
The Mahakali Temple is at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of the village, surrounded by lush tropical gardens with bananas, coconuts, curry leaves and hibiscus flowers. The property is surrounded by little ponds, a temple for Durga and another temple for Shiva, and then the main temple with a huge MahaKali with bulging eyes.
That is where we chose to sit.
The whole village came to welcome us. So many devotees were throwing flowers, offering us garlands, and trying to introduce themselves. It was just like the India I remembered from 45 or 50 years ago, where the village people all had time and interest to learn about someone new who came from the outside.
We started our sankalpa with the Cosmic Puja, followed Kali Sahasranam and Shiva Sahasranam, and a myriad of stotrams, which got us to a 6 hour asana on our first day, plus a Sundar Kanda Path in the evening. The second day we passed through seven hours with the Cosmic Puja and Chandi, and then Durga Sahasranam and Mahishasura Mardini Stotram.
Our plan is to continue to make it grow.
The family who runs the temple could not help but to sit with us for the last few hours of each day. When we finish, they all charge forward to massage my legs, help me pack my belongings, and avail any opportunity to participate in what we are doing.
Today was the third day, and after the Cosmic Puja so far we have completed the full Chandi, the Pancharatna Gita, the Devi Gita, and many of our Sahasranam Stotrams. But more important than the quantity is the quality of the sadhana we are performing.
I still have some lung problems from the homas we did in Kolkata, added to which, I became infected by pollution on my return visit to the city. Fortunately, a local doctor has prescribed some antibiotics for me, and I am hopeful to be at 100% before too long.
Even so, we did our seven hour asana today, and we have decided to stay a little longer in the interior village atmosphere, before moving off to another city.
So how do we describe the intensity of absorption? Really deep.
I am surrounded by loving devotees and family members, and that only encourages me to go deeper!
Yes, Sushil is here along with his family, but also Shivani and the family of priests who run the temple; all are doing seva with so much love that it becomes incumbent upon me to go deeper!
When the environment, the people, the will, the devotees, all combine, there is not much left to do but to move into samadhi. I feel that it is not far away.
Yatralogue #2: The Journey Never Ends – by Nachiketa
On a dusky November afternoon, I was waiting at the Kolkata Airport with heightened anticipation to receive the Sahib Sadhu, who was coming to this crowded city after his sadhana in the Himalayas.
As time passed by, my mind was becoming more and more anxious, and I was loitering aimlessly in the airport lounge.
How has this Sahib Sadhu, a successful American, became a monk in India, spending most of his youth in remote caves and temples, is a burning question in my mind, and I had wanted so long to bring Swamiji to my home and spend time in the presence of this Saintly Sadhu.
When at last the plane arrived, I had the darshan of my revered Swami Satyananda Saraswati! At that moment, I felt that an embodiment of true divinity was coming down from the heaven to the earth. After offering my humble regards, I took Swamiji to my residence, relishing every moment I got to be in the presence of my beloved Guruji.
The next day, Swamiji rose at 4:30 AM, took his morning bath, and sat in the asana chanting prayers to the Lord. Afterward, he took some fruits, and we set out to visit some of the local temples. In the evening we went to Maa Jagaddhatri Temple at Tridhara near Rashbehari Avenue, where Swamiji performed puja. I witnessed him effortlessly weave together portions of the Samasti Upasana, or Cosmic Puja, the system of worship for Divine Mother that, along with the Chandi Path and Devi Gita, forms the foundation of Devi Mandir philosophy and sadhana.
Many passersby thronged at the temple to witness the worship by Swamiji, amazed to see this foreign sadhu chanting the mantras with so much love and bhavana. His puja was magnetic! It was clear to all that Swamiji understood the meaning of what he was saying, and although many of us had never witnessed such a puja or heard these mantras, we understood something too. We felt Swamiji’s love for God, and we saw what it is to make puja from the heart, as a way of life, instead of as a religious ritual or obligation.
Because of this, many of the onlookers expressed their desire to know more about Swamiji and his ways of upasana and paddhoti (system of worship). I felt so blessed and privileged to get to play a role in bringing the love and wisdom of my Guruji to my home city of Kolkata.
On the next day, we went to Kalighat to pray to Maa Kali and experience this famous pilgrimage site. Due to a heavy rush of pilgrims, we were not able to enter inside the main temple (Garbha griha), and we were searching around for a suitable site for our worship.
Somehow, we discovered a quiet place, the Shyam-Rai Temple, adjacent to the main temple. Its entrance is through a small wooden gate leading to the temple crossing a courtyard, and there was no one there! Next to the bustle of the main temple, this dilapidated and forgotten spot was perfect for Swamiji to sit and chant. Right away, he rolled out his asana and began his puja, singing Vishnu Sahasranam and other stotrams.
Some pilgrims curiously peeped through to see the upasana of the foreigners. Even in India, Swamiji is such a rare sadhu, and most of us have not yet become acquainted with such sadhana and tapasya.
Upon completing the worship, we returned home where Shivani Maa, a Devi Mandir disciple, cooked us dinner. Swamiji lives on monastery style meals, meaning he eats very simply, and takes a meal only once a day. He prefers Garbanzo beans, urad dahl boiled with vegetables and flavored with ghee, hing and green chilli, and black salt to taste. This agile introvert Shivani Maa is also being brought up as a sadhika, and is one of the disciples learning the upasana of Devi Mandir from Swamiji and Shree Maa.
The next morning I sat with Swamiji for an hour to learn the right ways of Hindu Puja. I had lot of things in my mind to know from Swamiji, but the time was not enough! I did find, however, that one of the joys of hosting Swamiji is that every moment and every time is an opportunity for sat sangha! I so much enjoyed to be the driver, relishing the divine company and joy that was as much present in the car as it was in the temples!
On one journey, we were crossing a bridge naming Jivanananda Setu near Jadavpur-Anwar Shah crossing. Swamiji became so jovial and blissful in crossing that bridge, telling, “Nachiketa is ferrying me across Jivan-Ananda Setu! What a great invention! We will have only bliss for all of life!”
When Swamiji left for his next destination I was really heart broken. The four days he spent with me have been one of the most memorable times in my life, and I strongly believe he is one of the foremost among those initiated into Hindu Shastra. He is indeed multitalented; translating, composing, playing instruments, singing, and writing profusely all at the same time.
I always feel protected and uplifted by his presence, and that in the depths of his love he accepts me as his son, and helps me to combat all the pitfalls and obstacles on my own path to know God.
Regards to this great living legend, and to all of Devi Mandir. What a blessing it is to be part of this world-wide family.
Yatralogue #1: Puja in Kolkata – by Swamiji and Shivani
After arriving in Kolkata, we did the Kartik Purnima Puja at the Jaggadhatri Temple in Bali Ganj, and they had never seen anything like it! As far as I could tell I was sitting alone with a beautiful murti in a wonderful temple. But when I turned around, there were more than a hundred people lined up to take charan amrit and blessings.
How can I describe the feeling of a sahib sadhu, a white sadhu, coming down from weeks of sadhana in the Himalaya Mountains to the Big City (Kolkata is a big city), sharing worship with so many upstanding citizens?
Shivani said it looked like bees swarming towards pollen.
Nachiketa called it a complete victory!
For me it was such a delight to share the love of Rishis bringing the bhavana of their devotion for God to devotees, wherever they live.
We did not need to change anything.I tried a new cloth, but immediately dripped charan amrit on it, so it was just the same as the others.
The devotees were so loving and appreciative. The inspiration was shared by all.
A Devotee’s Perspective…
As we made our way down the mountain, Swamiji was beaming about what a privilege it would be to behave like Rishis, coming to the City to share our love and realization after many weeks of sadhana in the Himalayas.
Swamiji likes to talk about “the cave.” Wherever we go, we try to stay in the cave, in our personal love affairs with God, and to the best of our ability, communicate the bhavana of that space. Not by trying, if you will. Simply by…being there.
Swamiji is a Master of staying in the cave. Wherever he goes, he makes it about God…
… Our second night in Kolkata, Swamiji performed a special Kartik Purnima Puja at the Jaggadhatri Durga Temple in Bali Ganj. The scene was so magical! Kolkata is full of beautiful lights wrapped around the trees and lamp posts, and even in the midst of this crazy city, there is a certain bhavana that you can taste in the air: you know you’re in the land of Ramakrishna and Devi worship.
The Jaggadhatri Temple itself is a small, intimate space down a short alley way. Upon the completion of the puja, devotees seemed to be spilling in from all directions to join in the arati and take blessings from Swamiji. Swamiji was on a roll! He gave tilak, prasad, and tied a string, all with mantra, for every person who came to him. There was such love in the air, and it tasted so sweet!
After our Puja at the Jaggadhatri Durga Temple, the devotees were so excited and inspired that they invited Swamiji to share sat sangha the next day. They recognized him as a Rishi, and wanted to learn as much as possible from this Sahib Sadhu before he wandered to the next location.
The next evening, when we arrived at the sat sangha hall, there were only a few elderly ladies seated, waiting for the program to begin. After offering his pranams, the first thing Swamiji did was move the chair that was set up for him in order to place his asana on the floor.
After taking his seat, Swamiji began to gossip with the ladies in Bengali, telling about our tour, where we had been, and what we had been doing.
Within a few minutes, devotees and seekers began to spill in through the small doorway, and even after the hall filled up, the devotees kept coming! Swamiji continued the conversation as effortlessly as it had begun. He spoke to and greeted every guest with the utmost humility, as one who came with no other purpose than to share his pure love of God, hoping to inspire others to cultivate that same love in their own lives.
Swamiji was also greeted with the greatest respect, appreciation, and joy! This Bengali group was so happy to have Swamiji among them, a sentiment they expressed with contagious brimming smiles and jovial laughter.
Swamiji continually apologized for his lack of language skills, saying again and again with folded hands, “If you understand what I am trying to say and the bhavana with which I am communicating, my skills will be sufficient. If not, I will switch to another language.”
Everyone assured Swamiji they could understand his Bengali perfectly, and leaned forward in their chairs, listening intently.
Swamiji guided us through the full range of feelings and emotions contained in and expressed by the viddhis of the previous night’s puja. He brought the meaning of the puja to life, communicating through his bhavana the mystery, possibility, and reality of falling in love through worship.
Swamiji explained how we take the energy from our heart and install it in the murti in the viddhi called Prana Pratishtha. He then took the energy from the murti and put it on a flower, and passed the flower around the room, giving everyone a taste of the pure love and bhavana of the deity.
Next, he drew the yantra on his chest, and invited the Goddess to take Her seat. He made Prana Pratishtha to the deity in his heart, and meditated on Her with japa. He then took the Goddess from his heart, put Her on a flower by blowing the breath of life onto the flower, raised the flower high into the air with stapana and upasamhara mudras, and ceremoniously placed Her on the yantra right there on the floor in front of him.
The whole assembly rejoiced in the bliss of this worship, fell in love, and joined in tears. It was amazing to me how Swamiji was able to conduct himself with the same sincerity and love that he does when he performs puja alone. In doing so, he invited the whole room into the depth of that experience.
When he sang “Tara, Tara, Tara, and tears will fall from my eyes!” he actually began to cry! We, too, felt the wellspring of emotion bubble up within our own hearts.
Afterwards was even more magical and joyous. These Bengali devotees, who had just been dipped in the rasa of worship, covered Swamiji with sweet-smelling flower garlands that were so heavy he could hardly stand.
They gave so much prasad that we could not think to carry it all home: fruits, sweets, flowers, nuts – even a case of Chocolate Horlix! (Everyone laughed heartily together as the stream of prasad offerings continued – especially the Horlix!)
We distributed as much as we could to our newfound friends, and continued to share the next morning with the neighbors and helpers of the house where we were staying.
It’s been such a transformative experience to watch Swamiji move through all that he does.
From chanting in one asana in the forest or in a cave, to translating scriptures and the inner meaning ofworship into more languages than I can count, to using this knowledge to inspire so many devotees in so many places from all walks of life.
Afterwards, he stays up most of the night answering emails and conducting business so as to support Shree Maa and keep the Devi Mandir non-profit up and running.
It becomes more and more apparent to me that Swamiji seeks to worship the Divine Mother, the love his life, through all that he does. He doesn’t shy away from karma or cut corners. When it is time to engage and time to share, he gives as much of himself as he possibly can. And in doing so, he hopes to earn the privilege to sit in one place for greater and greater lengths of time.
Tomorrow we will be traveling out of the city, to the villages in the interior of West Bengal. We will meet Sushil, the author of the book Sahib Sadhu, at the Bolpur Train Station at noon, and I am so excited to hitch onto a journey that began more than 40 years ago, and most probably many lifetimes ago!
Sushil was a poor teenaged Brahmin pandit from a one-road interior village when he first met Swamiji. He ended up embarking on a journey that completely transformed his life. I can definitely relate!