Yatralogue 4: Swamiji’s Rhythm of Worship (+ Purnima Satsangha in Bengali!)
Swamiji structures his rhythm of life around Navaratris – nine night long sankalpas. Over the course of each Navaratri, Swamiji builds the asana up to 12 hours or longer, and in between sankalpas, he takes 5 days of “light duty,” which gives the body (and mind!) a chance to rest, and allows us to catch up on work and worldly karma, such as going to town for supplies, and updating the website, etc.
This organization gives Swamiji time for two sankalpas and two periods of rest per lunar month: one in shukla paksha (the bright fortnight, or waxing moon, which culminates on Purnima), and one in the the krishna paksha (the dark fortnight, or waning moon, which culminates on Amavasya).
Swamiji keeps to himself throughout the course of his sankalpas, spending most of the day in the Temple, and returning to his room to quietly reflect and do his work, away from as much outer interaction as possible.
Then, upon the conclusion of each sankalpa, Swamiji makes an extra effort to give and share inspiration, especially to the temple community surrounding us, which so graciously supports our sadhana in whatever way they can.
At the completion of our last sankalpa, Swamiji held a small satsangha in the Temple on Purnima. He spoke almost exclusively in Bengali, which is such a musical and poetic language. To hear Swamiji discourse on Sanatana Dharma in his Sanskrit-based Bengali is a treat for the heart, mind, soul – and ears!
Even without knowing Bengali, it is entirely possible to feel the bhava and the love with which Swamiji shares these eternal teachings. And if you’re familiar with Devi Mandir pujas, and some basic Sanskrit vocabulary, it’s amazing how much you can follow along.
Here are a few video clips from the Purnima satsangha. We hope you enjoy sitting at the feet of the Guru, wherever you are! Jai Sri Gurudeva!
Life of a Rishi
Seeing as a Rishi Sees
Give Her Your Best
Dharma Seeks Perfection
Yatralogue 3: Embracing the Light
Most of our blogs talk about how amazing it is to be here doing this sadhana, and sit at the feet of our Guru, listening to the great wisdom of the Vedas, that ancient path that Swamiji is so qualified to share.
But now I’d like to share with you a slightly different story. That is about the work. Our work. The work of everyone who is on the spiritual path. The work of being willing to give up our selfishness. To give up our suffering, and go into the light.
I have a pattern, which I’m sure many of you can relate to. That is, when something gets hard, and when something gets me down, I allow myself to…ummm…shall we say, spiral?
I remember Swamiji once talking about the process of falling down and getting up in a video somewhere on our website. He said everyone falls down, but he is like a yo-yo. He goes down, and he springs right back up.
I’m coming face to face with the fact that, when I fall, I don’t want to get to up. I hang on to my suffering with all my might. Like it’s my God given right to suffer, and I deserve to suffer to show everyone how bad I have it. Wow! How selfish? How self-conceited?
How unfair to everyone around me. A total breach in contract of what Swamiji calls upon us to do if we are to be Rishis: to uplift, to inspire, and to be a constant reminder to all those in our association that they too, are Rishis. That they too, are completely empowered to give up their darkness and live in the light.
K = the cause
La = manifested existence, the gross body
I = the causal body
M (anuswara) = perfection
The cause of manifested existence dissolving into the causal body in perfection.
So how do we dissolve our selfishness? How do we actually, finally, let go of “me and my suffering” and allow ourselves the joy and privilege of surrendering to Her?
Well, if there’s one thing I’m sure about, it’s that no Guru, no organization, nothing from the outside can tap us on the head with a magic peacock feather and give us enlightenment. It’s up to us to, as the Shiva Sankalpa Stotram says, “completely accept the nectar of immortal bliss, by means of the sacrificial fire attended by seven offerings on seven levels of consciousness.”
After our morning sadhana and Devi Gita chanting the other day, Swamiji led us in a meditation through the five koshas.
He took us from the annamaya kosha (physical body), to the pranamaya kosha (energy body, the breath, the life force), to the manomaya kosha (emotional body, the mind), to the vijnanamaya kosha (wisdom body), to the anandamaya kosha (bliss body).
As we moved from the vijanamaya kosh to the anandamaya kosh, Swamiji said something that really struck me…
“Yes, we can go into bliss. We are allowed to go into bliss.”
There were no caveats there. He didn’t say we can go into bliss if we’re already having a great day, or if everything is already perfect, or if we’re already a shining ball of light and love.
There were no caveats. No demands. No lofty standards.
Only that we allow ourselves to accept the invitation.
Swamiji says the role of the Guru is to inspire. I see that in my life in so many ways. Swamiji inspires me in so many ways.
A major one, which I think we can all relate to, is that when we witness him performing yajna or making puja, we feel his sincerity, love, joy, and somehow he always manages to make us smile and laugh.
When we see that, and feel it, it feels good. For lack of a better expression, it seems cool. So that inspires us to do the sadhana ourselves.
But there’s another major way that Swamiji inspires me that I’d like to share.
No matter what obstacles Swamiji faces, he keeps going. He keeps fighting on the side of dharma, love, forgiveness, and all things good. He keeps going. He keeps doing his sadhana, and he keeps sharing love and inspiration with those around him.
So if I want to follow him, I have to keep going through it all. I have to keep walking, no matter what comes my way. If I allow myself the indulgence of sinking into darkness and staying there, I’ll ultimately have to walk away. Darkness can’t exist where the light is.
That’s an incredible gift he gives that, maybe one day, I will be able to show him proper gratitude for.
I am reminded of Jesus’ proclamation that the greatest of those amongst you will be the servant. It’s so easy to think to be the Guru means we get to sit on a pedestal, enjoying adoration and attention. We forget that, indeed, the greatest amongst us will be the servant.
Thank you, Swamiji. I pranam to you, and to all those who strive in the path of Light.
Yatralogue 2: Deep into India, Deep into the Heart
Swamiji often reminds me that over the course of all of his adventures and travels, it’s the people he remembers, not the places.
That it’s the people who make the places. It’s so true!
I was just reflecting on our most recent village excursion…
It was during our five-day break between Navaratris. One of the temple caretaker’s sons had come from university in Kolkata to meet Swamiji. He acted as our guide for the day, and took us through the village on the “forest route” around a pond, under trees, down a few tiny dirt alleys, and across a field, to get to a small Shiva temple where we could chant.
(Even in our tiny subsection of the village there is a small temple on every pathway and every street!)
This particular Shiva temple is part of a larger complex that is beautifully painted with bright golden and red colors. The Shiva temple itself is very simple on the inside, and contains large Shiva lingams.
After setting up our asanas and music stands, Swamiji led us in a Shiva Puja and Path that is a combination of viddhis from the Advanced Puja Yajna.
We began by reading the Sadhana Pancakam in English (the Five Verses in Praise of Spiritual Discipline by Shankaracharya), located right before the Devata Pranam in the Advanced Shiva Puja app.
I love the Sadhana Panchakam, as it so succinctly describes the path of sadhana, and reminds why doing sadhana is a really, really good idea:
Sit down in a quiet, conducive, and comfortable environment, and contemplate the Supreme Divinity. Look into yourself with the fullness of consciousness, and see the bondage of the gross world to the soul… With the strength of wisdom, free your mind from bondage… and after the past karma is complete, with an attitude of one mind, go to the realms of Union with the Highest Divinity and remain there.
After the Sadhana Panchakam, Swamiji led us through the introductory mantras, Shiva Dhyanam, and nyasas (establishment in the hands, body, and directions), after which we made silent japa of the sacred five-lettered mantra Om Namah Shivaya.
We went on to chant the Shiva Kavacham (Armor of Shiva), Shiva Shatanama (108 names of Shiva), and Shiva Sahasranam Stotram and Namavali, along with several other stotrams and hymns.
When we completed our worship, I left my iPad out so I could snap some photos on the walk home. I lagged behind the group a bit, and stopped on our way out of the temple complex to exchange a greeting with a Bengali woman who had come outside her door to watch our strange Sanskrit-loving tribe.
After offering pranam, I asked, “Tumi kemon accho?” meaning, “How are you?” This elicited a huge smile, after which she said something that, although I couldn’t recognize all the words, I knew was about my knowing Bengali.
I used a combination of the word “chota” meaning “little,” and body language to express that I know very, very little, and am completely incapable of carrying on a conversation.
But it didn’t matter.
Just one word and a smile was all that was needed, and in return I received a beautiful moment of connection, of union, with a poor Bengali village woman in a remote corner of the world that I could have never imagined.
It was a moment that will forever be etched in my memory. A moment in which all differences melted away, and there was only love and joy.
In that fleeting instant when we were free of differences, and free of separation, God was there. Shiva was there. Sanatana Dharma was made manifest. We were Savarni…He (or She!) who is One with All Colors, Castes, Tribes, and Creeds.
Shree Maa and Swamiji teach us that Devi Mandir is in our heart, and that every one of us is a priest and priestess in our own home. In our own temple.
Each one of us is part of a great network of light, holding up the flame of devotion in the midst of a time permeated by wordliness, attachment, and selfish desire.
But to be a sadhu alone in the world is also incredibly difficult. And for me, after so many years of feeling like a salmon swimming upstream against a massive current of confusion, to be so embraced by a culture, and surrounded by love, doing sadhana with my Guru, is like the most wonderful homecoming.
Here in this Shyamarai Kali Temple in a remote village of West Bengal, everyone and everything is empowering us to go deeper.
With Swamiji as our guide, we are walking in the footsteps of the ancient Rishis, in the same places they did, doing the same things they did, living, to the best of our ability, with the same bhavana they did, embraced with the same love and devotion that they were.
(In the midst of writing this post, I just left my room only to find Jayanti delivering a freshly-filled copper water pot that she had taken great care to polish. It was gleaming with her love and devotion! She had also left two neatly wrapped pieces of pumpkin on top of our “refrigerator” – aka basket of vegetables with a towel on top – along with fresh dhanya pata (cilantro) and chiles for Swamiji. My heart melted…)
I believe this experience of India is one that can only be found in out of the way places…deep into the country, deep in the villages, and deep in our own hearts.
Even more so, I believe this experience of India is one that, for most of us, can only be found alongside a Guru who has walked this path, and who can guide us to both the inner and outer destinations we truly seek.
I am filled with immense gratitude and reverence for Swamiji, who ventured into these distant places alone, without knowing the language, without a guide to protect him and be with him every step of the way, and who is now sharing such a treasure and privilege with those of us who sincerely desire to touch this way of life.
Om Namah Shivaya!
Yatralogue 1: The Sweetness of West Bengal
Bengali people are incredibly sweet. Mishti.
You don’t always notice it, because they make you feel so at home that it starts to seem natural, like nothing out of the ordinary. But that doesn’t make it any less special. It’s just that it’s that special all the time.
Nachiketa, a devotee who visits regularly from Kolkata, says that Bengali people will accept you as their own.
That is totally my experience, and I couldn’t have put it in better words by myself.
Even if you don’t know a word of their language, they’ll embrace you as their own. If you do know even one word of Bengali, they’re overjoyed. I can’t help but smile right now as I picture all the faces that light up and beam any time one of us speaks a word in Bengali.
Yesterday, Sushil took me to a nearby town to procure some items, such as urahd dal for Swamiji, some nuts, and a kosa kosi (the water pot we use on the altar for puja) for Rudra. I used a Bengali word with one shopkeeper (the word mishti, actually, meaning “sweet”) and he threw his head back and laughed, exclaiming with a giant smile, “You are Bengali!”
Sushil proceeded to teach me to say, “Bengal is my home.” Amar Bangla bari. That made everyone laugh and smile even more. It was so joyful!
As this is not a tourist area (very few people speak any English at all), we are, without a doubt, the only foreigners you will see amidst this backdrop of the rural Bengali landscape and its people.
To be the only outsiders, and to feel so embraced, loved, and held by the culture is an amazing experience. I feel more at home here, and more loved, than I ever did in the United States. I feel like more of a foreigner in America!
Here, we are sadhus, and we’re embraced as sadhus. People see Swamiji’s tapasya, and they understand that it is something special. They regard Swamiji as an ancient Rishi, and they offer him the deepest respect, which they extend to all of us who are even attempting to practice and learn from this true Guru.
Just the other day, the main pujari at the Kali temple where we’re staying said to Swamiji that over the course of his life, he’s met thousands of sadhus, but no one like Swamiji.
It feels to me as though village India maintains more of a connection to old, Vedic India than the cities. True, there may not be sadhus like Swamiji (he is indeed a rare treasure), but the Indian cultural roots of Sanatana Dharma, tapasya, and rishis performing tapasya are still alive in the minds and hearts of the people.
They continue to hold sadhana and spiritual discipline in high esteem and regard, and when they see it, they treat it with the highest respect.
Jai Tapasyananda! Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!