Sunday, January 12, 2020

India: Bengalore

I have been the guest of Murali Venkatrao and his family here in Bangalore since my arrival in the early hours of Thursday, January 9.


We leave for our pilgrimage tomorrow morning early. Thus these last three or four days have been a perfect segue to the pilgrimage.

I don't want to give a travelogue in this blog (note the rhyme), just some highlights and impressions.

We are thinking ahead to one year from now with the possibility of bringing a group here to south India, so there is a definite aspect of planning to this pilgrimage. It is not only personal.

Since my first visit to India and to south India some forty-four years ago (via overland driving from Europe), I have felt very much at home in south India. Second only to the Himalayas (which are by their nature less hospitable year-round), south India holds for me a special charm.

Even its cuisine fascinates me (no gourmand, to be sure). Dosas, idly, sambar, and so much more seem familiar and natural to me. In northern India I have to vary what I eat for a strictly Indian fare there wears on me.

So also is the apparel of the dhoti, the cotton wrap-around sarang traditionally worn by men.

In any case, neither of these brought me here. Being the guest of Murali and his family has been a delight and joy, completely natural and they have been over-the-top kind and solicitous.

One of the characteristics of the geologically ancient south is the sudden and seemingly random appearance of groups of hills. We visited the Nandi Hills, north of Bengalore. The tallest of the group is just under 5000 feet from sea level (though the plains below are already at 3000 ft.)

A giant granite rock it is, with at least two solid granite rock cave temples inhabited for centuries as places of worship. The view all 'round is spectacular, the breezes refreshing, and, on our weekday visit, the crowds insignificant. We hiked up from the parking lot where vehicles have to stop from reaching the top.

The sacredness of the cave temples are what atttracted me the most, coddled as they are by the mountain, the vast expanse of scenery, and the abundant vegetation all around.

Later that day was an adventure into Bengalore itself. While cities aren't the thrill of my life, Bengalore has that south Indian familiarity and openness that feels natural.

Here, too, amidst the modern stores, MacDonalds (well, one at least), fashion and ordinary life, are numerous temples of beauty and sacredness. My favorite was a very simple peaceful compound in the midst of the hubub of the city where a small water pond of fish and turtles is the end point of a water flow that seemingly miraculously flows through the mouth of a stone figure of Shiva's "vehicle," Nandi the bull.

The stream of water (whose source has yet to be detected) pours down upon a Shiva lingam before being directed into the fish and turtle pond below.

There are at least three shrines in the compound and people come to fill up jars of the waters which are said to be healing.

But the atmosphere is relaxing, uplifting, and carries a high vibration (or so it seemed to me).

I'm not qualified to describe whether in detail or in philosophy the steps one takes upon entering a typical Hindu temple or shrine, but they include placing a small donation onto a plate where an oil type lamp gives a flame from which one takes "the light" to himself (at the spiritual eye).

That's probably the simplest thing for me to describe. Worship can of course become very elaborate including when the priest carries the light (after offering it on the altar to the image of deity) and blesses each one at the spiritual eye.

I did several tours of the city, both environs and central area, seeing the large and beautiful government buildings, parks, and historical sights.

Another highlight was a long walk on my first day in the park setting of the Indian Institute for Sciences. In the middle of the city, the park is an oasis of peace and beauty.

Today, Sunday, January 12, Murali, his niece Padma, and I attended the Sunday "satsang" at the Ananda center across town. Meeting Nayaswamis Haridas and Roma and the members there was a treat for us. Murali and I were invited to share a bit about ourselves and our pilgrimage.

Afterwards we were served lunch. It was a wonderful and uplifting experience.

Some of the fun touristy adventures have included stopping by the side of the road to drink from a "young" coconut and eat the soft meat of the coconut after sipping the juice with a straw from the coconut; being treated to some of Bangalore's most famous "Dosa" restaurants, including one in the center of town that is standing room only; fast service; one of those low key but popular restaurants that survive and flourish for decades with nothing more to recommend than the delicious food they serve (no ambiance; quick but unnoticeable service; inexpensive; etc).

I've posted in other forms about the temple right down the street from the house here. Tuesdays and Fridays people come from all over during the morning and then later in the afternoon and early evening for worship. Preceded by drummers, a small pick up truck carries a portable statue of the deity and people come out of their homes and shops to receive a blessing (of light).

Bengalore still has many of its gigantic trees that line the boulevards and shade passers-by from the intense summer sun or the downpour of the monsoons.

In January, they claim it is winter but it is delightful weather. The sun of course can be warm but the mornings, late afternoons, and evenings are perfect.

Our pilgrimage begins tomorrow and more about that in the next posting.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Will there be War (Again)?

We've got Iran and USA (again) at each other's throats. The conflict has been, in fact, going on now, off and on, for many years. America's involvement in Iran is long-standing, at least as far back (as I am aware) when America stepped into the vacuum left by Britain's collapse as an empire after WW2. That involvement centered upon securing oil resources AND thwarting the expansionist goals of Communism. Each of those goals had their "day in court" but just how far does the "end justify the means?" America's role in Iran is far from flawless.

Iran (Persia) is a proud and ancient culture: a mighty empire that has risen and fallen over countless centuries. Part of the famous "Silk routes," Persia has seen a wide array of conquerors come and go together with its own long history of emperors and kings.

It was George Santayana (Spanish philosopher, poet, and novelist) who famously quipped that "Those who cannot learn from history are destined to repeat it." He is also known for having said "Only the dead have seen the end of war!"

A fascinating book is "The Silk Roads: A New History of the World" by Peter Frankopan. Tracing world history from ancient times all the way to the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, the author re-casts world history from the point of view of the history of Persia and countries along the famous Silk Routes. His thesis seems to be that much of history as we know it can be viewed in terms of those who sought to find, exploit, control and possess the riches of the near and far East. Oil, he concludes, is simply the most recent version of the wealth for which nations vie and battle.

But there is another and deeper battle involved. There is more to the ebb and flow of history than greed and conquest. This deeper battle takes place on the field of consciousness. This makes identifying and separating the good guys from the bad guys sometimes very difficult. Closed society or an open society? Inclusion or exclusion? Freedom or restrictions?

But for now, it is not necessarily helpful to try to paint a black and white picture. The hands of both America and Iran are stained with blood. Each will claim the high road but neither will confess their "sins."

Unlike the acquiescence of Americans and our representatives to the misleading war-mongering that got us into Iraq, I hope that more people in and out of government and the armed forces will think twice, maybe three times.

Nonetheless, the die is cast. How often have shrewd politicians used the perceived threat of war as a ploy to re-direct attention away from their domestic troubles to rally the nation in defence of a common enemy.

Yes, the conflict will continue and presumably escalate. Those who push the buttons on both sides appear to want it that way. Protest we should but who can say to what effect, given the leadership of both countries.

Life in 2020 is complicated, polarized, and highly nuanced. The need for authenticity and genuine relationships, lifestyles, and guiding ideals has never been greater. The question, therefore, is what are YOU doing to lead an authentic and meaningful life?

Just fussing, fuming, worrying and otherwise living outside your calm center in reaction to this issue is potentially a handy way to deflect awareness away from your own personal issues and responsibilities. These can include away from prayer, meditation, devotion, service, caring for others, focusing on your work, family, neighbours or community.

War will return again and again. If not this one, then another.

So stay calm and focused on what is yours in this life to do. To paraphrase Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "It is better to fail (even die) doing what is yours to do, then to succeed doing someone else's duty."

The greatest contribution we can make to world peace starts with us. It's not like most of us are angry, combative, or prejudiced but we can be nervous, anxious, upset, depressed, gossipy, judgmental, lazy, selfish, or indifferent to the miracle of God who resides within us and all creation.

Pray, meditate, serve, give of yourself heroically just as a warrior in a just war for your soul. Winning your "soul" will send a bright light out into a world dark with ignorance. There is no greater contribution you can make than to be a light unto the world. "An easy life is not a victorious life" Paramhansa Yogananda has told us. Take up arms of self-control, self-effort, faith, hope, and charity!

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, January 3, 2020

Happy Birthday, Yogananda-ji!

Dear Friends,

At Ananda worldwide, the Christmas holidays come to a conclusion each year with our celebration of Paramhansa Yogananda's birth (January 5, 1893). 

In this new year of 2020, January 5 is THIS Sunday and as you may know, the Service is a grand, family service with skits taken from Yogananda's life followed by a festive, catered, Indian banquet! (At Ananda Blue Lotus Temple in Bothell, WA USA)

It would be natural enough for members of Ananda worldwide to celebrate the birth of the one whose teachings and life has inspired and guided our spiritual lives. But Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, taught us to view Yogananda's life purpose in coming to America 100 years ago (1920) in terms far broader than the gratitude natural to those who consider themselves his followers. 

The fascinating and unusual story of Yogananda's spiritual lineage which begins with Jesus Christ and Babaji-Krishna is itself a hint that Yogananda has a role on the stage of world history broader than that of any organization and its members.

Yogananda left his earthly form only sixty-eight years ago. By 100 A.D., how much impact had Jesus' teachings had upon the Roman Empire? Not much, yet, but there were already hints and rumblings of great changes to come. By the time of Emperor Constantine's declaration in favor of Christianity in 312 A.D., one-third of the empire was already Christian!

Yogananda put yoga, and especially kriya yoga, on the American map (and, by extension, across the globe). He is not, of course, the only one but he has left a large footprint. His life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," is still a best seller seventy-four years after its publication. And while we can see hints worldwide of the impact of yoga-meditation and the consciousness of yoga (oneness; harmony; health; joy; cooperation), this influence has only begun. And, as you might, no doubt, agree, it is desperately needed. The Dalai Lama has added his voice to thousands like you and me when he noted that if the children of this world were taught to meditate the problems that beset humanity would soon be solved. 

We celebrate Paramhansa Yogananda's birth and life, therefore, for a far more expansive purpose than it might seem natural for us to do so. And, we hope all of you will do so in your hearts and mind and, perchance, with us as well! 

Happy birthday Yogananda-ji!

Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma!