Monday, March 20, 2017

Pilgrimage to India: Assembly of Email Posts

Dear Friends, [this is NOT the relfections article; that is the blog preceding this one......go down to 'older posts' or click on]

I’ve  put together in one blog article the series of spontaneous emails I sent to the Ananda Community residents in Lynnwood and to our staff at the Ananda Meditation Center in Bothell. I’ve done some editing but not much. Because I only dared send these to a few close friends, I thought to paste them all together and post 'em for whoever dared read them. The blog, as such, is long but rather than a series of articles each day. Read as you feel. It’s simply too much for to add pictures, so, instead here’s a link to photos:

Pilgrimage Begins – Trip to Puri

Friday, February 24 – Monday the 27th No pilgrimage to India can be the same as another. Perhaps we change; perhaps India changes.

We've had a very harmonious group, notwithstanding many have not met each other before. From Will and Wendy from Ananda Michigan (Lansing), to Angela Muir from San Francisco, to recent YTT graduate Sabrina Hamilton and her boyfriend, Aman, (adopted from India), to Helen Moran from Bellingham, Joyce Eleanor in Kriya Prep training, we have a disparate group of souls.

And yet nothing unites people more strongly and more quickly that a shared openness to the presence of God in their hearts, lives, and on earth at those special "worm holes" that descend from eternity!

Yes, good food, exotic surroundings mixed with the familiar (ATM machines, hotel lobbies, and airports), make for a yin and yang spicy intensity that forms bonds in shared experiences.

The airplane trip over was wonderfully boring and familiar airplane stuff...a 14.5 hour flight  can either "fly by" or "hang-over" the earth. Meaning it was happily uneventful. The very brief stop in Dubai gave us a chance to descend from the glaciers of Greenland and, the snow clad peaks of eastern Europe, Turkey to the vast brown desserts of Iran and Saudi Arabia. We left Seattle and headed north for Canada and Greenland. Somewhere east of Britain we descended in a straight line over Scandinavia, Russia, eastern Europe until we reached hazy Dubai.

The 3.5 hr flight to Kolkata was a cake walk after a 14.5 hour marathon. Barely had time for a cup of coffee!

Kolkata immigration was our first experience of India's relatively new online 30 day visa system. Though the airport is brand new and modern, the process was medieval. Partly too few officers, partly the process requires photographing you and fingerprinting you on machines that, well, don't function well, let's just say. 

I think for many of our souls the dusk drive through the streets of Kolkata were something of an eye opener. The bus was very, very quiet.

Hotel group check-ins are always a test of patience: "we were fresh from the plane, a figure of speech, merely: we were dog tired."

We had dinner right away and right to bed. I didn't get past my emails and unpacking (yes, I tend to putter: let's see where best to put my extra Vitamin C) and into bed until midnight or so. About 30 hours up. Sleeping on an airplane is, for most of us, yet another euphemism for a cricked neck, bleary eyes, and a bad hair day.

It was a little after 5 am that I awoke with “boing!!!” My meditation: in front of my 6th floor window as the sun rose over Howrah Bridge was shockingly blissful. I felt as if the vibration of Master (Paramhansa Yogananda), Sri Yukteswar, and so many great saints poured from the outlying districts where they lived like a bliss-carrying mist. (Yes, the air was so thick you could see it and the sun so red, you almost couldn't.)

That day, passing over minor details like a fabulous breakfast, a heart welcoming opening get acquainted, whats-your-story satsang, we visited Mother Teresa's convent where she lived and died. To say it was special would be trite but true. Tears came to all, both from inspiration and overwhelming compassion. For me standing at her room with its tiny writing table and crude bed in which she died was a deep experience.
On a Sunday busloads were pouring into the tiny shrine, chapel, courtyard, and tomb. People from all over the world where the "sacred heart" of Jesus resided both in her and in those she served, the poorest of the poor.

Monday was a travel adventure back to the airport. The flight was shorter than the drive to the airport and the interminable check in and boarding. 

Bhubaneshwar is not quite tropical but certainly exotic. To change our money (probably thousands 27 x $250 avg.) stopped in middle of town at a statuary shop that was worth a stop by itself: Nataraj's, tiny paintings, deities from Buddha to Rama all sizes; hand carved in stone......any way: take your turn: the money changer asks how mucho mucho you wanno and with a flick o' the wrist out comes 1,000 rupee notes in a flash.

Before that we stopped at an eye-popping hotel (same chain as ours in Puri) for our lunch. It was exquisite and our pilgrims were in fine and high spirits. We were surrounded by beautiful art work amidst a tropical paradise bubble.

Nonetheless, by the time we reach Puri in darkness, hot and humid, our puppies were too pooped to peep. Somehow we sat for another meal before collapsing in bed, trying to adjust our air conditioners.

After unpacking, I traded rooms with Angie who had an allergic reaction to what was s'posed to be her room. I didn't notice a thing; I guess I was comatose already. Using trash cans I schlepped my junk down the hall and re-commenced my puttering. It's serious business arranging one's things as if for a permanent stay. It was rather late, again, and the sun pops up like an irritable rooster so there I was, sleep deprived (again).

But of course what you are waiting all this time patiently reading is to hear about our first retreat day. 6 to 8 pm yoga and meditation; went beautifully. After breakfast we had Mr Toad's wild ride: none of the pilgrims had been given a warning or a hint (beyond the prospect of meditating at Swami Sri Yukteswar’s ashram) of what they had to experience first :and they loved it! Hanging on for dear life in 5 or 6 auto rickshaws buzzing through Puri swerving and honking and being honked the whole way!

Immediately after that we had to shift from the utmost rajas to the deepest sattwa guna arranging ourselves around the little mandir where Swami Sri Yukteswar’s body is buried in lotus posture in the sands below the mandir. 

Our time there wasn't long: about an hour of meditation but for a very mixed group it was just right. For me, I felt able to go deeper than ever. It was absolute stillness that characterized the experience. Yes, it was hot and even noisy, for the dear ashram is engulfed by apartment buildings gazing down upon like larger than life grouches sitting on the haunches.

But we entered our own world.

Now I take a break while some are off on a shopping experience. We reconvene on the beach at 5 pm to energize, chant and meditate. Dinner of course follows while rest pursues to sleep once again.

Tomorrow AM we go to the beach instead of our sadhana room. We will greet the rising sun with sun salutations,gayatri mantra and meditation.

I hear it's snowing there in Seattle. A contrast I simply cannot conceive beyond the words.

Joy to all,

Hriman and all the souls on our journey
On to Puri

Monday, February 27th:   We were up bright and early in Kolkata and out the door on our bus to the airport for our flight to Bhubaneshwar (sp?). Airport time is all hurry up and wait but we eventually got on the plane and flew less than 1 hour to Bhubaneshwar.

There we boarded our bus and stopped at a nearby hotel, a cousin of ours here in Puri (the Mayfair Heritage) where we had a wonderful meal but even more we enjoyed the tropical gardens, the amazing works of art, and time together.

Bhubaneshwar has a nearby white tiger reserve and another reserve nearby for elephants. Had I known that in advance I would have attempted to schedule visits this week. It is also a city of temples. A smaller city and a less populated stated (Odisha, formerl Orissa) it is generally clean and tidy.

We stopped at a statue store where we exchanged bazilliions of dollares and were much impressed with the beautiful carved statues. Some folks bought some carry-able items.

Then on to Puri which we reached after dark, very tired. Checked into our rooms and had a dinner no one needed.

UP early tomorrow to begin our 6 day retreat with yoga, meditation, our first visit to Karar Ashram (Sri Yukteswar's).

A few minor discomforts here and there but the spirits are high and folks are really getting to connect and enjoy each other's company. 

Blessings and joy to all, 

Retreat to Puri – Sunrise/Sunset Meditations

February 28 – March 1st : Last night, and then again, this morning we moved to the beach for our sadhana.

Each at sunset or sunrise.......the hotel, the Mayfair Heritage in Puri (look it up on the internet), puts out plastic chairs and a large tarp on the sand. Last night we energized to the setting sun; chanted and meditated. It was still light but growing dark quickly and afterward we sat and enjoyed the coolness of the end of the day (no, we don't have snow).

Vendors of conches, rudraksha beads, and stones are a bit of pest but the hotel staff acted a bit as bouncers. A few pilgrims waded into the delightfully warm ocean, headless of what might seem dusk.

This morning up before 5 a.m. and out to the beach, Murali led us in sun salutations in the near darkness but growing light by the minute. Then we chanted and when the sun finally made his appearance we stood and chanted the Gayatri with Swami on Murali's cell phone with a portable speaker. 

We meditated, then, and afterwards many went in for a refreshing swim: given safety and comfort by those who stayed with their things and kept an eye on them. There were some serious crasher waves out there but those who swam loved it.

So, off to breakfast; then later we go to Ananda Moy Ma's local ashram to meditate and meet the local Swami; we may peek in the crematory grounds next door (last night on the beach at sunset a parade of people marched by up the beach beating a drum and carrying a body on a stretcher. Some eyes opened wide.)

We will visit the street where the famous and ancient Jagganath Temple can be found and admired: the city's version of the Space Needle. One of our members, whose name I must keep secret owing to the NSA, is going to attempt to crash the temple by walking in pretending to be a devout Hindu. [Note: she later decided not tol] Likely she will be expelled but this person is determined to affirm certain principles. Search on Jagganath Temple, Puri India; it's pretty awesome. In former times the local king and royalty would pull enormous chariots holding the dieties through the streets in atonement for whatever.

Did I mention that yesterday afternoon certain persons went out for a shopping spree and had a grand 'ol time.

Some little discomforts here and there. But all is well.  Joy to ya'll........

Retreat to Puri: Ananda Moyi Ma’s Ashram & Jagganath Temple

Wednesday, March 1: Was very rewarding.

But the day started in the pre-dawn darkness. Murali led the group in Sun salutations on the lawn adjoining the beach. I went ahead to prepare for the beach meditation that followed.

On the beach Murali led us in reciting to the accompaniment of Swamiji's recording the Gayatri mantra. I did a few chants on the harmonium and we meditated in the cool morning with the thunder of the ocean right there and the rising sun upon us. It was truly blissful: between AUM as sound and AUM as light........

Afterwards, many went swimming: the water here is so warm it doesn't matter when you swim. The waves are real crashers but no one was dismayed.

Then showers and breakfast and off we went in auto rickshaws to Ananda Moyi Ma's ashram.

Some months ago Bhakti discovered that there exists a Ma ashram in Puri. To our knowledge no one was aware of it. It's in an older part of the seaside town: extremely narrow lanes; many decrepit buildings but we did find it.

Murali had previously (from America) phoned the swami who resides at the ashram a while back to vibe the place out as to whether appropriate for us to go, visit, and meditate there.

It was the real deal: off the shelf Indian ashram! Nothing modern or westernized about it....

We had to walk through narrow lanes crowded with cows, dogs, people, bikes and motorcycles: all beeping, honking, mooing, talking at once; walking past little stalls selling everything imaginable and few things not.

Near to the ashram, and as Murali warned us, were the crematory grounds. Though nothing like Benares, Puri is, nonetheless, one of the places in India where a Hindu feels blessed to die there, or at least be cremated there. What was happening at the moment was such that we didn't feel to enter the grounds. It was midday; hot; crowded and family was there with a body doing what they do. 

But such grounds are considered sacred just as one feels a special grace at the birth of a death of someone. As they say more or less here: here (at death and at the cremation) the karmas go (as in go to the astral to find fruition perhaps in future lives). Karmas as opposed to kriyas, that is (kriyas being acts that nullify past karma.)

Ma's ashram a block or two further was an oasis of serenity. It was adequately clean and tidy, though ironically no woman's touch was evident. Ma's last stay there was perhaps 1979.

The Swami was delightful. He spoke in Hindi with Murali though he had some command of English. We plied him with questions through Murali. His story is a charming one; we'll reserve that for some future occasion. [Though Ma was still alive, he had an insight of vision of Ma that said wait for her to initiate him. Before her death and because he couldn’t go to see her due to financial issues, she came to him in vision to initiate him. The devotees at Haridwar accepted his story later when he went there to live and be trained; later, he was sent to Puri and has been there, what, some 17 years.] He tells the story in an interview Murali found on YouTube!

We meditated deep in silence together with him. Ma's room is now a little shrine/altar. We had to climb first up and then down darkened hallways to get there: cool in the relative darkness and also feeling very sacred and still. Everyone was deeply touched. Spontaneously people came to him and had their photo taken. He was charmed and each time wanted to see the photo! Very innocent and childlike; the real thing, I'd say. With a toothy smile that would charm a cobra (we haven't seen one yet).

We left reluctantly but uplifted, almost (almost) speechless. I staged a photo of me pulling Bhakti out through the front gate as if upholding my promise to her husband, Bhima, that I would make sure she came home to Seattle!

The trip into the center of town to the gigantic, ancient, impressive and stern Jagganath Temple was harrowing in that it was intense, confusing, and hot. We had a run in with a temple guard (rickshaws not allowed near the temple). A parked motorcycle toppled over onto Aman's foot. The group was separated for a while and the journey was too much for Rashida though she made it. Temple street is awash with people and that's nothing compared to festival times. 

Our guide, Bijaya, talked about the temple: 7000 priests run it; non-Hindus strictly prohibited; 100,000 meals served each day.

I think we are all relieved to get back to the hotel. I was crisped and slept 3 hours straight. There are almost nonstop workshops with Murali; trips to the nearby Ayurvedic clinic for massages and consultations; 3 squares a day in luxurious banquet buffet style; sadhanas morning and night and in between. Fairly intense but surrounded by so much on every level. 

This evening, under the stars and next to the pool, magically lit, Murali regaled us with bits of Indian history on the theme of how plurality (Indian religions) differs from diversity (Judeo-Christian-Islamic) and how that underlying acceptance of plurality has influenced Indian culture; how also, America was founded on principles of plurality (oneness: all men are created equal), Hence a deep and abiding relationship between the two countries exists as Master described and predicted.

All are happy, even those with tummy issues and many friendships are being born.

I need to hit the hay; the sun dawns early (really?).

Have a great day. Our group wants to propose auto rickshaws by Uber in Seattle. You think?

Tomorrow: we visit the ashram of Sanyal Mahasaya: direct disciple of Lahiri. Near to that is the residence of one of the Hindu "popes," the Shankhacharya of Puri, Gowathan Math....this is where Swami took his renunciate vows.

Retreat to Puri: Sanyal Mahasaya

Thursday, March 2: There are statutes (murtis) located at the ashram of now deceased Sanyal Mahasaya. Sanyal was quite young while Lahiri Mahasaya was still living. His spiritual stature, however, was already recognized by Lahiri himself.

Though, like Lahiri a householder, Sanyal later in life moved to Puri and established his residence there, now an ashram.

The center statue is of Lahiri; Sanyal is to the left and Sanyal's wife to the right.

We took turns going into this tiny, tiny room where a portion of Lahiri's ashes are also kept; there we could pray briefly but otherwise meditated in the covered patio that is connected to the room.

We also took turns going upstairs into the residence where Sanyal and his wife's bedroom remains intact; there also to meditate and feel the holy vibrations of these great souls.

A wonderful surprise awaited us; two, actually: the one, a bit hard to take; the other, a great blessing

As to the first: a nearby residence was playing Bollywood tunes at a volume worthy of Bollywood. Our guide, Bijaya, asked them to nicely knock it off for an hour (which, gratefully they did, thus removing the high intensity base thumping that threatened some whose hearing had little scope for further loss).

But the other was that Murali and our guide arranged by happy serendipitous grace to have what is the resident pujari (priest) conduct a puja ceremony for our group. This was an event Murali and I had wanted on our agenda but couldn't so easily arrange from afar.

The kindly Swami did it up right: puja, arati, all the bells and whistles. It was very touching and special for our group. 4 years ago there was no resident pujari nor any temple for that. Turns out this pujari, a kriyaban, had what can only be called a vision of Lahiri who told him to move there to the ashram to do this function. (His family has been for many generations the priests for the local royal family in that region.

Retreat in Puri: Totapuri’s Ashram

Friday, March 3: I can't keep up with all the photos and videos being pass around by our pilgrims on our cool app, WhatsApp. I even have a friend in Germany who was just here with the Italian group sending me cool discoveries they found.

I'm a bit overwhelmed in the communications department. Plus with wi-fi and cell coverage both spotty and slow I could be up all night processing these wonderful things for you, my friends. So, forgive me!

Our retreat schedule has spaces which we need for rest but overall you cannot escape the intensity of India and our various outings to deeply spiritual places; add to that the special and touching interactions with fellow pilgrims; hotel staff and people we meet everywhere; and finally the special internal and external personal experiences.

One cannot describe sufficiently sunrise and sunset meditations on the beach; morning chanting of gayatri as the sun rises, e.g. Meditations to the roar of the ocean but a hundred yards and with the early morning or sunset gentle sun upon you.

Today's outing was two-fold: the second a surprise as only India can offer.

We drove through some of the poorer sections of Puri, away from the ocean to find the ashram of Totapuri. If you don't know who he is, I don't have the time or energy to explain. There were monkeys all around: don't make eye contact with monkeys and don't think about them either. You think I'm kidding????? Hah! Then you DON'T know monkeys like WE do!

There's a large banyan tree on the grounds where he gave various people samadhi. We took turns meditating "inside" the tree. His tomb is there also (I now suddenly don't recall if cremated or buried). And his bedroom. He was a giant of a man: dreadlocks, enormous very powerful. 

We sat outside the burial mandir on the marble porch and meditated and I did a few chants on the harmonium. Seems Bhakti and I are basically "it" on the harmonium.

Bijaya, our guide, showed us various fruits on the grounds, including cashew, wood apple (Bel fruit), mango trees (no fruit until May).

On the way back we had the inspiration to stop at an ashram temple of Chaitanya: one of the great reformers and influencers in Hindu history who lived in Puri. A real Krishna devotee. Beautiful temple.We participated once again in vary traditional puja and arati with the priests there. 

All 'round were monkeys again. Bhakti had to secretly eat a banana though one of them caught wind of it before she finished, but she escaped unharmed, protected, no doubt by Chaitanya himself. 

The grounds contained a lovely orchard and a swimming pool for the monkeys who were diving, swimming, and well, let me just say it, monkeying around. There were sweet young Krishna cows for everyone to pet and moo over, too. 

Several Americans showed up obviously dressed as gopis replete with all the devotional attire and movements. An Indian woman told us a story of someone who de-materialized right there on the altar and who could still be "seen".  Didn't know what to make of it.

I'm fighting some stuff and am a bit weakened but joyful. Though I could have easily remained in my room and slept longer this afternoon, I had an appointment at the Ayurvedic clinic nearby that Murali had researched. Not only is the clinic the real mccoy (I don't know any mccoy's, do you?), but it turns out the Dr. Treated Swamiji some years ago and the man who gave me my massage was from Italy and they all know Shivani, Swami and many others. For reasons unknown to me, they would not let me pay for my consultation and massage. Dr. Deba Prasad Dash!

He said my body is like a piece of wood and that when I get back to Seattle I need to get massages from time to time. Hey, Padma's been saying that for years! I told them both that and they laughed. I came back covered in oil: even had the drip treatment  on the forehead. WOW. I had an oil hair do that fortunately no one took a picture of.

It's only 8 pm but I am fading fast.

Joy to ya'll.........

Retreat to Puri: Return to Karar Ashram

Saturday, March 4:

Dear Friends,

This morning we went back to Karar Ashram (Sri Yukteswar's ashram). It has become completely surrounded by large apartment buildings, some still under construction. It was cacophonous today but by a stroke of grace as I left my room I reached for my headphones and meditated the entire time in a corner undisturbed.

Between Totapuri - an extreme nondualist-- and Sri Yukteswar - a strict gyani -- my meditations have been extremely focused and concentrated on stillness. The deeper it goes the more it morphs into expansiveness without condition of any kind. It begins with bhakti and soon sheds thought, conditions, definitions, mental motions........deeply refreshing.....all things like heat, flies, noise vanish! Most blissful and I feel rejuvenated. Murali had to tap me to say we had to leave as they close the place at noon.

At the last minute, after lunch, I decided to go on the road trip up the coast to Konark: the Sun Temple. It was a beautiful drive up a relatively quiet beach side road surrounded by forest, orchards, and quaint farms and cottages. I think the drive one way was less than one hour and it was nice to get out of the town a little bit.

The Sun Temple is, I believe, a Unesco World Heritage site and we enjoyed it. Over run with stalls selling stuff and vendors hawking stuff, it was, nonetheless, an impressive 16th century massive temple, partially in ruins. Carvings everywhere, from the erotic to the sublime. Overall very impressive though not for its spiritual vibrations. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the outing and even the drive up the coast through gentle forests and alongside lovely beaches. Perhaps someday Ananda can have an ashram just outside of town.

Tomorrow is Sunday. Our agenda is quiet: a satsang in the morning after sunrise meditation. Re packing for next week's adventure in Kolkata visiting all the highlights of the Masters.

Joy and blessings,


Conclusion to our Week-long Retreat in Puri, India

Sunday, March 5: In the pre-dawn darkness as we do sun salutations or energization on the lawn that leads to the beach, the chatter of the birds is deafening. What they all talk about so early is beyond me; besides, they all talk at once. Perhaps they are describing their dreams to one another. Whatever the conversations are,, they are quite animated. To speak to one another, we humans practically have to shout in the darkness.

The light appears steadily like the ticking of a clock: relentless and unhesitatingly. The mystery part is when precisely will the red orb suddenly appear from behind a bank of distant at sea grey clouds. If the cloud bank offshore is light, the sun can appear ten or so minutes earlier than if the bank is closer to shore or thicker. Thus we worked out a system of alternating chanting with pranayam so that at the first hint of the appearance of the Sun god, we leap to our feet and begin reciting the Gayatri mantra with hands folded. Murali's cell phone and portable speaker bring to us Swamiji's voice booming above the breakers just 50 or more yards from us.

Today our schedule was very light; at the moment, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Murali is conducting the last of 3 afternoon intermediate yoga workshops. At 9:30 a.m., our daily gathering satsang, he gave a previously postponed lesson in Sanskrit: pronunciation and grammar.

Then we segued into gathering everyone's input as to the previous 5 day retreat. Overwhelmingly the input was positive. Some helpful tweaks were suggested. The key activities were many but morning sadhanas alternated between an indoor yoga sadhana (as one would have at, say, the Expanding Light) (giving me personally some solid kriya time in my room) and sunrise sadhana described previously but including meditation.

Our 9:30 a.m. satsang begins with Keshava describing where we are going that morning and why, along with logistics.

This week, we went twice to Sri Yukteswar's; Ananda Moyi Ma's; Sanyal Mahasaya; Totapuri's; and Chaitanyas; and, the Jagganaught Temple.

Typically we are back in time for lunch near 'round 1 p.m. Then rest time for the afternoon. One afternoon included the 1 hour drive up the coast to the Sun Temple. Other afternoons alternated with the 2 hour intermediate yoga workshop. 4 afternoons included sessions at the nearby Ayurveda clinic where we met, to our enormous surprise, the doctor who had treated Swamiji in Assisi, knows Shivani and many others there. The first afternoon included an outing for shopping. 

Others went in search of statues; others, yet for Vedic astrology readings.

Two nights under the stars and by the beautiful pool Murali gave lectures on Indian culture and the history of yoga.

Somehow we had to "stomach" three squares each day: a herculean task worthy of, hmmm, Hercules? 

Fact is, however, almost all had some stomach ailments, though none were serious. This slowed people down, but just a little!

Now, another early morning on Monday but for the purposes of catching our plane in nearby Bhubaneshwar: destination: Kolkata. There's no one pronunciation of this city, but here's one: Coal-cut-a.

Most of you will know this week's agenda: Tuesday, Mahasamadhi DAy is Master's house on Garpar Road; not sure yet of timings but Hassi's house; Daksineswar; Serampore; Badhuri Mahasaya's; shopping; and so on!

Well, duty calls: a lime fizz with Keshava who just flew back from Kolkata after attending a wedding for one of the descendents of Master's brother, Ananta, in Serampore.

I have more to tell: a wild rickshaw ride invitation to the driver's little home and family that was, while crazy-risky, very touching for the 5 ladies who said yes.

Joy! Hriman-ji
March 7 – Yogananda’s Mahasamadhi Commemoration Day

Tuesday, March 7: What a day we have had! If only pictures and words could suffice. I asked two of the pilgrims -- each whose spouse is NOT on the trip -- "How will you EVER describe and share this experience?" None of us had a real answer.

We bussed to Master's house (4 Garpar Road) this morning. After a brief wait we were ushered upstairs where Somnath and Sarita Ghosh greeted us. They remembered some of us from their visit in August 2015. They were very sweet and heartfelt.

We chanted for a bit; talked about the house and about the mahasamadhi event. Then, with an occasional chant, we took turns meditating in Master's bedroom; the room where Babaji appeared to him on the eve of his departure to America in 1920, and in his upstairs attic room. 
The hushed silence felt more like the air we breathe: more like our natural medium of mind and expression....than something we had to "put on." No one wanted or needed to speak. We drank in the silence like a parched traveler in a desert drinks water at an oasis.

After some time, I have no idea how much time but perhaps 1.5 hours, we went upstairs to the kitchen and dining room where the family served us a fancy and tasty "box" lunch: neatly arranged boxes (the size and shape of a large box of chocolates) with a complete Indian meal inside! Very convenient; neat; and easy to eat.

Somnath regaled us with stories, including stories of the ouse itself; the neighborhood and incidents from Master's youthful life, and the lives of his father (Harekrishna) and grandfather, Sananda. The original painting by Sananda of Babaji is there along with many extraordinary paintings and photographs, including the year Sananda lived in Puri designing and building the mandir where Sri Yukteswar is buried. Ah, the stories! Wish I could have recorded them and in some cases even understood them.

We left refreshed in body and spirit. Our destination was Dakshineswar Temple. 

Owing to construction we could not drive into the parking lot with our bus. Our walk through the hot, dusty noisy and busy streets of Kolkata, near the banks of the Hoogley River (aka the Ganges), and through the dusty haunts of the poorest of the poor in lean-to's, shacks, and homes of branches and leaves was an adventure in remaining centered and alert. 

At last we arrived at the temple grounds. Leaving most everything we carried outside under the supervision of Bijaya's "man," Uttam, we entered the grounds. It was not especially crowded today and the weather, though warm, was pleasant enough.

We chanted in the portico opposite the Kali temple and deity doors: near the same pillar where Master had the vision of Kali on the chapter on converting his brother in law. A crowd of appreciative locals gathered around us.

Then, armed with gifts of flowers we each made our way and presented ourselves before the image of Kali that so often appeared and became real for Sri Ramakrishna, Master and others. I made special offerings: one for Karen Sherman's mother; and another for Padma's birthday, March 8.

We received the red tillak mark afterwards.

Some wandered around: there's a Krishna temple next to the Kali one and 12 small Shiva temples:each with a different aspect of Shiva!

We took turns meditating in the room where Ramakrishna lived: surrounded by pictures of great souls of his day, including Babaji, Master Mahasaya ("M" the author of the Gospel of Ramakrisha) and so many others famous in their day.

We walked down to the Ganges below the giant car and railway bridge that spans the Ganges in hopes of taking a sunset cruise on the Ganges but alas it didn't work out. Instead we watched the sunset, took photos, and relaxed. 

Our walk to the bus wasn't as long as earlier in the day but the drive home in commute hour was more than an hour. By the time we arrived at our hotel, well after dark, around 6:30 or later, my bladder was almost gone and a migraine had formed. 

I went right to bed after a much needed shower and woke up just now to write this to you!!!!!

Tomorrow, we bus 2 hours up river to Serempore. Another time; another story. BTW among the lush tropical banana trees, monkeys, and more, it is NOT, repeat, NOT, snowing.

I don't think any words can describe the sights, sounds, scenes, and smells of Kolkata. I can't even begin to do so for an ordinary drive across town. It's simply unbelievable.

Yet, the traffic is surprisingly disciplined. More so than in other Indian cities. Yes, it's true: Kolkatans OBEY traffic lights and largely drive in their own lanes provided your view of a lane is a fluid one.

I skipped dinner I was so exhausted. Many others went out and gamboled about town to nearby cafe's and restaurants. The prior night a few of us went to Chutney's: a banquet of dosa's of every description. Padma would have died and gone to heaven.

I guess I'd better get some (more) sleep.

To Tulsi Bose’s Home: Secret Temple of Kolkata

Thursday, March 9: We had a morning sadhana which was only energization and silent meditation; not the only one we've had but it was the longest and quietest. The others were sunrise meditations on the beach and the meditation length was perhaps a half hour in length or maybe a little longer.

This one being in one of the Lalit Grand Eastern hotel (orig built 1840) was quiet and very still and lasted over an hour in silence.

That might sound odd to some of my friends but a pilgrimage trip to India with a group of nearly 30 people poses some logistical issues and a few philosophical ones. Logistically hotel meeting rooms are extremely expensive worldwide at 4 to 5 star hotels. One morning even here in Kolkata we found shards of tile everywhere and workman hammering away in our room designated for yoga and meditation! (They went away and we put sheets on the floor: standard operating procedure).

For another, any outdoor or more local venue, such as a temple, is always noisy; often a trashed, and likely to be surrounded by curiosity seekers, crowds and any number of serious distractions.

For another, many of our pilgrims are new to meditation; some new to yoga itself; 

But lastly, the quasi-philosophical part, we are here to be still and feel, absorb and give back in devotion the vibrations of these grant saints and holy places. It is not a time to be emphasizing meditation techniques, unless one's trip is oriented specifically that way. Our trip was oriented more towards hatha yoga. 

Even in our typical 30 minute meditations some pilgrims left early.

Not being one who takes yoga classes or is actively deepening my practice of hatha yoga (which, at home, is short and simple), I took advantage of many mornings to have my accustomed longer kriya meditations.

We had a leisurely day today. Sadhana as described above ended at 8:45 a.m. (from 7:15 a.m.); then breakfast; then on the bus closer to 11 a.m.

We drove back to Garpar Road but not for a second visit to Master's home but for a visit to his boyhood friend's home: Tulsi Bose. Tulsi is long departed from this world. Even his son, Debi Mukerjee, is now gone. But Debi's wife, Hassi, survives along with her son, Manash, and his wife. Manash and wife, Mo, live in Chennai where Manash works in the I.T. world. His mother, Hassi, often visits for periods of time there.

What is so special about their house? It is a living temple to the spiritual greats. Over the last 100 and more years, Yogananda, his guru Sri Yukteswar, their many related gurbhais and disciples, the wife (then widow) of Sri Ramakrishna, Kebalanada (Master's Sanskrit teacher), Ananda Moy Ma, and other illuminatos too numerous and distant from us to describe have visited there for satsang, rest, food, chanting, meditation and samadhi!

This living temple cannot be found on any map or web site. Yet it is a treasure against time. Already high rise apartment buildings, just like in Seattle, and in Puri (surrounding and enclosing Sri Yukteswar's ashram), are beginning to rise and will eventually over shadow homes like Masters and Tulsi's built around 1880. 

Thanks to generous members, including from Seattle, Hassi's home is secured for the future both by extensive and ongoing renovations but also by having been purchased by Ananda India, with retained life estate held by Hassi.

There really is nothing like it, except, of course Master's own home around the corner.

So we chanted; meditated; shared a meal; and heard stories for several hours. We arrived in another monsoon-like rain but by the time we left the air was clear and cool!

We got to hold an iron trident: given by Babaji to Lahiri; Lahiri to Sri Yukteswar; and SY to Master; Master to Tulsi for safekeeping. Other relics are held in a museum at the Pune retreat center in Swamiji's home; others yet have been sent to the Shrine of the Masters at Ananda Village.

We sat on the beds once used by Sri Yukteswar and by Masters. We sat and meditated; later ate, in the tiny room where some of these saints were seen levitating; others, in samadhi at other times. 

We can't begin to share the depth of bliss, sometimes expressed as laughter but more often as silent, inner communion that we experienced.

The era of the 19th and 20th century great gurus, itself an expression of former ages, is rapidly vanishing. Almost no one lives who can personally testify as to meeting them. Only now we can tell stories but they are still close. But time is moving on.

We are deeply grateful for a glimpse into the eyes and hearts and the living presence of these saints and masters.

Upon returing to our hotel, many of us went out for strolls and shopping. A group went to Kolkata's famous and infamous shopping bazaar (not unlike Istanbol). Nearly pestered to death by hawkers, and bobble-eyed by endless saris of outrageous color schemes, and everything for sale imaginable, and almost getting lost walking home among the blaring horns and densely crowded sidewalks, we are at last ready to pack our bags for Delhi--after dinner at Chutney's: a haven for dosa fans.

We will be at the newish Ananda Center near central Delhi for a few hours: 8 or so people leave their Delhi hotel rooms at midnight to catch a 4 am plane on Saturday morning that will return them to Seattle by Saturday afternoon: chasing the sun all day.

While, arising at 4 am the rest of us will be bundled onto a train in the old and mystical Delhi training station for Kathgodam: the terminus for our bus ride up the mountains of Himalaya for the hill station of Ranikhet: gateway to Babaji's cave.

Wish us luck. I'll email you a dosa.

Joy and blessings, Hriman

Friday, March 10: I've been up all night, mostly owing to getting 7 pilgrims off top the airport at 1 am, after some ticketing drama. It's now 5 am and the train to Himalaya doesn't leave for one hour so we are sitting in silence in a darkened bus waiting to go to the platform.
We arrived at the Ananda Center south of downtown Delhi yesterday (March 9). The center is large and incredibly beautiful and artistically Done. They are all ready packed on Sundays for their service.
Weather here is cool and rainy, as it was in Kolkata. No complaints, though heading to the mountains suggests we will find things chilly and slippery!
We are on the final leg of our gloriously inspired and fun pilgrimage.
Today we are joined by some 24 Indian members for whom any opportunity to travel to the Himalaya is popular.
Signing off, all aboard!

Saturday, March 11:  We had a wonderful evening at the Ananda Centre in Delhi last night (Friday, March 9).  A tour and dinner and a satsang with a send off to home to 7 pilgrims.  I think I said all that all ready. 

Seems to me the last I shared was in the pre-dawn darkness waiting on the bus before entering the Delhi main train station. 

It was biting cold standing on the platform for over a half hour but the train was precisely on time. Pulling smoothly out of the station at 6 am. 

The much bally hooed air conditioning was of no use.  I and Murali had been up all night, choosing to use the time for meditation.  So I tried my best to nap on the train.  Will, Wendy, Angie, Bhakti and I sat around a small kitchen table,  W,W, and I facing the other three with our backs to the direction of the trains movement. So you can imagine just how conducive to deep rest it was. And here I am typing this report after 9 pm. 

After leaving the Delhi metro area we traveled through farmland including rice paddies, all green. 

There was much that was not picturesque, from garbage, to coal, to slums. 

We chatted, read, napped and regaled ourselves on the glories of train bathrooms. One marked INDIAN (a squatter), the other western, both poor choices. 

They served breakfast and then lunch, in that order. No more need be said. 

At last the foothills came into sight and soon we were on our busses chugging up the steep, narrow and precipitous Himalaya roads. With every turn it became more beautiful, fresher, more picturesque, more silently imbued with the breath of saints and sages. I reconnected with our guide from past years, Mahavir!

It began to rain, then pour. It got colder.  Buses have no heaters. We stopped at a awesome ashram, the home of Neem Karoli Baba, guru to the American baba ram Das. Thing is we have to take our shoes off: bare feet on the icy and slippery outdoor tiles.  Brrrrr.

Soon we invaded the roadside tea skip for Chai and deep fried pakoras. Back in the bus for two hours of treacherous mountain climbing. 

Murali read from the "Autobiography of a Yogi" and Bhakti and I alternated playing chants on harmonium,  weaving with every twist and turn off the bus. 

I'm frozen so will stop now.  I don't even think I can handle a hot shower lest the water freeze on me before I dry.  What's a couple of days hiking, on buses and trains without a shower? [I DID take that hot shower but no sooner had I turned off the hot now becoming cool water and my body began to shiver all over again!]

TOMORROW 8 am to Babaji's cave. Will he come? Will the sun shine and the mountains be wreathed in glory? 

Joy to you,


Climb to Babaji’s Cave

Sunday, March 12: Yesterday it was rain, hail, wind and near zero temperatures here in the mountains at Ranikhet. We were all trying to be positive. Going up to the cave in near freezing rain without the right gear was a prospect no one dared voice.

This morning dawned brilliant sunshine. Though still cold, temperatures rose rapidly. We departed at 8 am for the two hour journey to Dronagiri mountain.
The drive through mountain villages, orchards, farms, rice paddies and terraced fields rising high up was buoyed by rising hopes.

Soon Dronagiri came into view. Something magical happens on the mountain. The farms are neat and tidy, their homes brightly painted. The pine forest glistens with an astral light.
Our hike up the hill was at first in and around quaint farms, with goats, herders, children, and signs of peaceful domestication.

Then the trail turns sharply upward into the forest. The Gogash River, really a stream, is temporarily dry.
In groups of 12, we take turns meditating in the cave. It is rather cold inside the cave today, though the sun outside is healing and warm, but diving deep into the silence of Babaji and Lahiri s divine presence banishes all outer distractions. This part remains locked in our hearts or fit only for verbal expression.

I could go on but it's been a long day and tomorrow we travel all day by bus and train arriving late evening in Delhi.
We feel greatly blessed by a day most sacred in every way.

See you very soon.

Monday, March 13: We have had a long travel day but most of it was a joy, at least the mountain part.

We rose before dawn to energize out on the deck facing the Himalayan peaks as they rose to greet and bless us. It was thrilling!

Then, downstairs to the sadhana room for meditation; then breakfast in the blazing sunlight and crisp air and mountain views; naturally photos galore.

Then back onto the bus to wend our way down and out of the mountains: past quaint villages and panoramic views.

As we neared the plains but while driving through a mountain canyon along a river we saw increasing numbers of (mostly) teenage boys covered in the red and blue hues of the Holi Festival. At one point, both funny and slightly tense, our bus was forced to a stop by a band of teens who had placed boulders on the road. The bus couldn't progress; they more or less surrounded the bus thought with laughter and taunts. We were stopped for quite a while trying to be patient; our group had various reactions from concern to delight and we even had convince one member NOT to open the door.

Finally, the stand-off ceased and the boulders were moved and on we went. But in every village bands of people laughed and waved and we reciprocated as they joyously celebrated Shiva's destruction of delusion.

In said same canyon we once again stopped at the pristine and beautiful ashram of Neem karoli Baba. In the glorious sunshine, cool air, we entered a Holi celebration in full force. Murali demurred from entering the ashram as, being Indian, he would be easily targeted for getting smeared with colored powder.

But the rest of went on ahead. A few of our members entered the drumming circle which then morphed into tribal like dancing, and consequently they were blessed with the Holi colors. The rest of us attempted or pretended to meditate at the various shrines amidst the cacophony of (not very musical) chanting and drumming and shouting!

Either way it was actually a lot of fun and very interesting. I don't know what Neem Karoli thought of it but I suppose he was pretty tolerant...wherever he is now.

It is a very special place to stop and his life, made famous by his American disciple, Baba Haridas, is also deeply inspiring.

For Bhakti's birthday, it was arranged to have a birthday cake served out on the lawn of a beautiful hotel near a lake where we stopped for lunch. We had an adventure finding the hotel, circling through the small lakeside town before finding it.

But we arrived in time for our long train ride, 5.5 hours to Delhi. Nothing to report train wise except to ignore comments on the bathrooms and to mention that they serve airline style meals which most of us consumed though we had no physical need for sustenance.

At one train stop, we had just been served our dinner, airplane style. There’s a tray on the back of the chair in front, like an airplane; it folds down; the steward gives each a tray with small portions of rice, dhal, curry, chapatti, etc. We hadn’t begun our meal yet. We were, in fact, still full from our luxury meal on the lawn at the hotel for Bhakti’s birthday.

Then, suddenly, with the train still stopped but ready any second to lurch forward, a small boy appeared on the platform and in our window, only a few feet from us (but outside the train). He mouthed his hunger as he eyed our trays. We weren’t really hunger and the site was heart-wrenching. He didn’t look food deprived nor yet unhappy but he was urgent in his appeal. We couldn’t easily even stand up with the meal trays down and on our laps. The train could move any second. What could we do? Several burst into tears or averted their eyes. It was a timeless moment of anguish for all. It was the most poignant moment on our trip for a few of us.

It was close to midnight before I got to bed as being reunited with all of my luggage i spread it out all over the room. It is still that way as I leave now for one last shopping spree in Delhi. Looking for a vest just like the one Joseph Phua got in Kolkata.

We are busy checking airline tickets because of a big drama that took place Saturday morning when one of the 6 early departing pilgrims had booked for the wrong day. One cannot enter an airline terminal without having proof of ticket and passport. We are busy printing things out.

We have both lunch and dinner at the Ananda Center to which we simply walk down the busy street to reach. A final de=briefing satsang before dinner and before that another Murali induced yoga sadhana.

Then just after midnight tonight we check out of our rooms; go to the airport, 15 of us, for our long day's journey home. 4 people leave us at Dubai for other destinations: Will and Wendy to Michigan; Shanti to Bulgaria; Angie to San Francisco.

Others are staying on for additional independent touring:Taj Mahal; riverboat on the Ganges and so forth.

Joy see you soon and on Sunday.

Tuesday, March 14: Our last day in Delhi was once again mostly a shopping day. A few wandered down the street for private meditations in the lovely Ananda Center in the morning. Others came downstairs for a uncharacteristically relaxed and later breakfast. A few busied themselves on going on to other destinations in India: Taj Mahal, e.g., and other tours.

Nonetheless, a fairly large group assembled in a bus for a trip to Dilli Haat: a government organized outdoor shopping bazaar of stalls carrying Indian products from around the country. One still haggles and bargains, however and some are better at this and more comfortable with it than others! The vendors can be a bit pushy, too but overall the merchandise is vetted for quality and variety. So many purchases and treasurers were found.

Then we motored into the posh district of Delhi to a "mall" containing up scale but otherwise more or less representative features of Indian middle class mall:Khan market. Again, treaures were found including two human treasurers: Michelle Phua identified a nayaswami by the blues and it turned out to be Dhyana with Carpani from the Bay Area! Our own pilgrim Joyce who had left us for a commercial tour of India was found with her new group in the Khan market as well.

Nicole and Chad branched out to visit the Bahai Lotus Temple which later they reported was jam packed, though beautiful.

After that back to the Visaya hotel: one or two blocks down the street from the Ananda Center for the beginning stages of the tiresome but necessary packing.

We take a break with a yoga sadhana, our last, with Murali followed by a heartfelt gathering of pilgrims. If there were a theme to the remarks I'd say it focused as much on friendships as it did on spiritual experiences (as at least expected and assumed by virtue to the nature of the journey and the places we visited).

At the end of the sharing Helen Moran from Bellingham revealed that it was her birthday. By "coincidence" local Ananda members were at that moment arriving with their 11 year son to celebrate with cake: TWO cakes, in fact, HIS birthday! So, guess what? Two birthdays. And, we got to have cake BEFORE dinner!

Then the good byes to Keshava, Daya and staff and trudge back to the hotel for final packing and rest before our midnight departure.

By 12:30 a.m. Wednesday morning Delhi time, we assembled in the lobby of the hotel to be driven to the international terminal of the Delhi airport. We were NOT accompanied by our guides, neither Keshava, Bijaya, nor even Murali (who today is taking a 32 hour train ride in sleeping car to Mangalore on the west coast before going on to his home town of Bangalore).

The airport scene wasn't too bad though we were confused by certain things in the terminal. We all got through the long and snaking lines. Some of our pilgrims upgraded to business class for the return journey today!

In a few hours we'll be home. Will and Wendy off to Michigan; Angie to San Francisco; Shanti to Bulgaria. Murali comes home in a week or so and a few other pilgrims return bit by bit.

Signing off and preparing for Sunday's satsang: Hriman and the pilgrims.