Sunday, July 17, 2011

Return to India - Part 2

In this Part 2 I will finish with a basic description of the journey itself - it's outer or objective parts before offering more personal thoughts and inspirations.

The trip was divided into two parts: the Himalaya, and Calcutta. The Himalaya segment occupied some 17 days and Calcutta, four days. Neither Gita nor I were familiar with the proposed itinerary which our guide, Mahavir Rawat proposed for the Himalayan segment. At the distance of six months from the trip I confess we didn't pay strict attention to the details.

What he proposed was for us to undertake the "Char Dham" or four-part pilgrimage ("yatra") to shrines near the headwaters of the Yamuna River and the Ganges including two of its tributaries. Traditionally pilgrims go from the western river (Yamuna) to the eastern most river (at Badrinath). The shrine near the headwaters of the Jamuna River is called Yamunotri and is dedicated to the goddess Yamuna. Heading east across the mountains that separate the Yamuna from the next river valley is Gangotri, once the physical source of the main branch of the Ganges (but due to global warming the glacier has receded some twelve miles up). The next shrine is at Kedernath, dedicated to Lord Shiva where the Pandavas (heroes of the epic, the Mahabharata) sought Shiva's blessings and where in later centuries the great reformer of Hinduism, Adi Swami Shankacharya, restored the shrine to its former glory. Badrinath is the final stop of the Char Dham and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu (the Preserver) and, like Kedernath, was restored by Adi Swami Shankacharya.

These are among the most visited and revered shrines in India, but there are countless other places made holy by tradition and by the vibrations of saints and sages over thousands of years. Badrinath includes the mountain village of Mana (the last Indian village before the Tibetan border) where the sage Byasa dictated the Mahabharata. We visited two sadhus: one in a cave outside Gangotri, and another, Tar Baba (wearer of only a burlap sack!), in Badrinath, in a tiny ashram dwelling. We entered three other caves, all unoccupied (more about that later), visited a famous shrine to the Pandavas called Lak Mandal, and a very sacred cave where Adi Swami Shankacharya lived and where a most ancient mulberry tree survives in mute testimony to his divine presence.

There is a deep yet not yet revealed connection between Paramhansa Yogananda and Adi Swami Shankacharya. In Yogananda's autobiography he went into ecstasy upon the mere sight of a temple in Kashmir dedicated to the great reformer. Even more importantly, Yogananda's life teachings take their lead from the one word description given to the world by Shankacharya centuries ago: "Satchidanandam." This is his description of God (and God-consciousness): ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. The core thesis of Yogananda's teachings can be summarized in saying that what all beings are seeking is unending bliss. This defines our true nature and defines the goal of life!

Yogananda told his disciples that in a previous life he was Arjuna, the third of the Pandava brothers and the great warrior-king and chief disciple of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (a chapter of the epic story the Mahabharata). Thus the connection for us with the Pandavas and with Shankacharya.

Despite this grand and traditional pilgrimage I must state that the simple visit to Dronagiri Mountain and the cave of Babaji was perhaps the deepest and most touching of all of the Himalayan journey. Here we meditated near the spot where Lahiri Mahasaya met Mahavatar Babaji in 1861 (the deathless yogi of the Himalaya devoutly revered and spoken of by Hindus and yogis for centuries) and the nearby cave where Lahiri was initiated into Kriya Yoga and began the worldwide work of kriya in the modern age.

Calcutta is a story I will leave for another blog for the power of the simple abodes that I will describe is beyond imagination. Only in India can the contrast between the restless energy of a city such as Calcutta and the spiritual power of the divine manifestations of multiple avatars co-exist. As Jesus was born in a manger, the avatars of Dwapara Yuga congregated in the simple homes on the outskirts of one of the world's greatest and most vibrant cities. Calcutta was the intellectual, spiritual, and energetic heart and soul of the 20th century revolution that began the transformation of India from medieval times to the modern era.

Until we meet in the next blog,