Showing posts with label Himalaya. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Himalaya. Show all posts

Thursday, August 4, 2016

I Was Lost, and then Found! Life's Little Miracles

All my life and, indeed, one of my earliest memories, was suddenly being unable to find some object I had just had in my hand! As a small child, I still recall jumping up and down with great frustration having had some object, no doubt a toy, just "disappear" in front of me! I swore aloud that the "Devil must have taken it." (Naturally, being a good Catholic fellow, all such things were the work of the devil. When Cannery Row went up in flames on Thanksgiving Day in the 50's, a few blocks from our home in Pacific Grove, I was sure the devil had come up from the center of the earth--so great were the flames shooting high into the air and thick black smoke enveloping the town.)

I recount this story so you won't be tempted, when reading my account below, to think, "Ah, gee, the guy's gettin' old and forgetful!" (While that may, in fact, be true, it is not, by any means, the big picture here.)

Once, in my forties, Padma and I took a trip to Orcas Island. I think we gave a class on Education for Life at the Indralaya Retreat. While sitting outside and enjoying the beautiful ferry ride through the narrow San Juan straits, in and around its many islands, I had (as so many men do) taken the wallet out of my back pocket because sitting on it was uncomfortable. I placed it next to me on the bench and later just got up and walked away leaving the wallet where I had placed it. 

When I got to our hotel room at the famous and classic Rosario's Inn, I suddenly discovered I couldn't find my wallet. I called the Ferry dock (long before cell phones existed) and, sure enough, it had been reported found. They said, however, that I would need to come down to meet the next Ferry a few hours hence. Everything was there, intact--even a $100 bill that had been part of a birthday gift! 

Well, a month or so ago, we hosted visitors from the Ananda Center and Church in Palo Alto, CA. After picking them up from SeaTac on a Saturday afternoon, we stopped to visit the East West Bookshop in Roosevelt Square (corner of 12th and 65th, upper plaza). Afterwards, we sat outside at the adjacent Starbucks to enjoy a cool drink and chat some more. I had my usual blue shoulder bag with me, containing all my valuables, so to speak. In fact, let me digress....

The night before I had, for some unknown but intuitive reason, reorganized all my two-thousand credit cards and shopping cards, library card, etc. etc. etc. At the moment of completing this task, long overdue, I had the distinct thought: "I shouldn't carry all these things around with me all the time!" Well, I was in a hurry and too busy to know how to divide them all. So I simply put them all back into the shoulder bag.

Now, now you've guessed that upon leaving Starbucks I left my blue should bag right there in the open (outside seating) next to the table and chairs we had been sitting at. But, did I notice? No! I had this odd feeling a few hours later going to dinner that something was missing but amidst the chit-chat with our friends there was no time for reflection or listening to that funny feeling in my gut.

It wasn't until the next morning, Sunday morning, on the way to church, that I knew the bag was missing. There was, in my view, at least, nothing I could do. That afternoon we were scheduled to go up to Camano Island for an all afternoon gathering of core Ananda members for lunch, chanting, meditation and discussion. There wasn't a moment to do anything. It wasn't until evening that we got home. Again, nothing I could really do. In fact, I had a friend at East West check in at Starbucks but with a casual inquiry like that, well, why would I be surprised if none of the clerks knew anything about it?

Late that night I sat on the floor of my living room with my banking records in front of me ready to call all the credit card companies. Padma and I checked online: no activity anywhere: checking accounts or bank cards. She suggested that I wait until the morning and come to bed. I did just that.

By now many hours, a day and a half had passed. No phone call, nothing. Still I had this funny feeling: mostly of disbelief that I was going to have to go through this whole process related to two checkbooks and a fistful of cards, driver's license....the whole "nine yards!" Just couldn't believe it. Was I just in shock? Lazy? Frustrated? Or, was there some intuition here?

The next morning I was up early. I was NOT going to waste my time with a phone call to Starbucks during their busiest few hours. I drove back to East West and sat in Starbucks waiting for the line to thin out. But all I saw were the young and very busy clerks: oblivious to anything but waiting on customers. I was about to leave when suddenly out from the back (a door I hadn't noticed) came a woman of "authority!" Right away I knew SHE was the one to ask. But, she was in a hurry to get out of there. I hesitated, and then stepped in her path. "Sorry to bother you, but ...... " Right away before I could finish my sentence, she said, "Oh yeah, I was about to call East West about the blue bag." 

Puzzled, I asked, "Why East West?" She said I saw all the Ananda stuff and figured East West was the best bet! I said, "Well, you're in a hurry or I'd kiss your feet!" Needless to say, I bought an expensive hot coffee drink and sipped it contentedly all the way home in the car to join my friends at breakfast!

All my life I have found that I need to clasp my car keys to my pants (through a belt loop); clip my cell phone to my belt and hang on to that wallet....I've tried everything: shoulder pouch under my shirt; a tiny wallet with a leather or metal clasp.............let's not even talk about my glasses!!!! Maybe I just move too fast and clearly don't pay sufficient attention to putting things down. I am hardly alone in this.

On a trip to India with my daughter Gita (we did the pilgrimage known as the "Char Dham," visiting the holy headwaters in the Himalaya of the Ganges and other holy rivers), we were leaving the Himalayas driving downstream along the Ganges. We stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant. There again, hung on the chair, I had again left my small day pack with everything I own in it! When I discovered it many miles downstream as we were racing to the Dehra Dun airport for a flight to Calcutta, our guide uses his cell phone to call the restaurant. He finds a cab driver to get the bag and drive in our direction as we drive back toward him: in hopes we'd see each other! OMG! Well, we did  see each other, and I got everything, and I mean everything (cash included) back!

Not sure when my "good" karma will run out but I try my best to stay present with my "things!"

My sense is not so much of "Thank God" for such favors, it is, rather, the quiet, calm, knowing smile that, though I do my best, somehow, at least for now, Divine Mother makes "good," as Krishna puts in the Bhagavad Gita, "my deficiencies." For me the blessing isn't a material one, it is that sense of divine play; the sense that the world we inhabit is far more than we think it is; that "magic" (divine magic) exists for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. It is the playful sense of God's presence in even the littlest of things.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, July 18, 2011

Return to India - Babaji Safari

I am pressing to finish this series so life can go on. So today, while I have some time I can pretend to call me "own," I continue….

On our trip to India I had brought a camping vest that can only be described as a fly-fisherman's special. I don't fish and I'm not sure why Padma purchased this for me some years ago, but I've only worn it perhaps once but something inspired me to bring it to India. However it was many days into our trip that I had the nerve to wear it. Turns out it was perfect for all the many small items I needed to carry with me as we entered temples, hiked, or otherwise travelled about the Himalaya.

Gita, seeing this absurdly out of place item of clothing but admitting it worked perfectly for the needs of the trip, was inspired by it to call our trip the "Babaji Safari."

So I turn now to the spiritual highlight of our Himalayan adventure: the search for Babaji. Virtually anyone who reads this knows that Mahavatar Babaji is the deathless avatar featured so prominently in Paramhansa Yogananda's now famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." Said to be Krishna in a former incarnation, no one knows the date of Babaji's birth in the current incarnation and he is said to have promised to retain his physical form for the current cycle of the ages (not sure what this entails). He is in communion with Jesus Christ and together they send vibrations of the Divine Will to other saints working more visibly in the world for the salvation and upliftment of humanity. It was Babaji who resurrected the path of kriya yoga when he initiated Lahiri Mahasay in 1861 on Dronagiri Mountain near the town of Ranikhet. In India the existence of such an avatar has been affirmed and treasured for centuries. Many sadhus are called or call themselves Baba-ji (revered father) so it is far from clear who is who and one cannot help but ask "would the real Babaji please stand up." [[[1] Babaji often appears as a handsome, clean-shaven, fair-skinned youth and is said to have the ability to prevent others from guessing his identity.]]

Our Himalayan guide, Mahavir Singh Rawat had a life changing experience when he describes how “our” Babaji came to him over twenty years ago and asked him to be the Himalayan guide to Ananda devotees.

That's another story, of course. So back to my own.

We visited Dronagiri Mountain after completing the Char Dham previously described. The town of Rawahat sits at the base of the mountain. We stayed in a newish hotel there that was very nice and adequate for our needs. After unpacking our things one afternoon, we drove up the mountain. There was something very special about this mountain. Perhaps it was the effect of the monsoon season, but it is unlike any other mountain (and we drove up and down an untold number of mountains on the trip). The mountain was mostly thinly populated with pine trees which were separated by what would looked like carefully manicured or mowed lawn and small, neat and attractive walking paths winding through it. The mid to upper part contained a collection of handsome and brightly painted (think "blue") homes. The few small farms were attractively cultivated. The mountainside combined therefore a domestic simplicity with a mysterious aura of an unseen hand.

Where the road crests the mountain there is, as there is on every other mountain, a tea stall and a house or two. Here we stopped, for there was a well-maintained entrance to the mountain top shrine above. Some society or trust evidently held the property and was sufficiently endowed and energized to keep the property very attractive. An unheard-of covered walkway guided the pilgrim at least 360 steps up the mountain to the grounds of a temple dedicated to Divine Mother.

At this height a silent, drifting, and dripping fog shrouded the trees and grounds in mystery. The silence was deep and profound. Few people were about the place. With our bag of prasad (offerings) in hand, we ascended to the temple for the pujari's blessing. Mahavir had a few words with him and it was indicated that we should descend a few steps to an ancient fern-encrusted tree where a simple outdoor altar to Babaji would be found. Somewhere here on these grounds it was said that Lahiri met Babaji in 1861.

Gita and I sat in meditation upon the concrete platform in front of the tree and the very simple elements at its base that indicated that devotees and other worshippers had been there. It seemed a bit unkempt and ignored but it did not matter to us. We each had a deep meditation. Occasionally fog would drip onto us. At one point Gita offered to me her raincoat because all I had on (from our long day's travel and not knowing we were headed for a meditation at the top of a mountain) was a T-shirt. (It was here that I caught my cold.)

As we meditated we heard the gentle cooing of a dove in the tree above. I think we each felt an inward blessing. I felt an inner smile at the time. I thought immediately that Babaji was blessing us in this way. Of course I had only my imagination and desire to blame for this but I did feel great peace and upliftment. We meditated perhaps 40 minutes or longer.

After some photos, we descended in silence. All along the handrails hung temple bells: it seemed if not thousand or more, at least many hundreds of bells, at least 4 to 5 inches in diameter at the bell opening.

Near the temple entrance at the street below, Mahavir suddenly invited us into the otherwise unnoticed hut (perhaps 6' x 6') of what turned out to be a resident sadhu! Wonder of wonders he was watching television using old-fashion "bunny ears" antenna. It was the news and it looked like the 5 o'clock news anywhere in America or Europe (except in Hindi). All the smartly dressed news anchormen (and women), flashing headlines and so on.

Inside this simple hut was the normal firepit in the center but this one had a range hood, just as you'd see at home. Most huts impose upon their occupants endless smoke-in-the eyes and lungs but this one was very different. Shelves of provisions lined the simple hut as the sadhu sat there in traditional cross-legged style on the floor. (You couldn't possibly stand up straight in this thing). He'd been there for sixteen years, he said (presumably with permission from the temple stewards). What he did there I couldn't say but one never knows what sadhus do with their time, anyway.

He made us a cup of instant coffee with milk and sugar and we talked away (or I should say Mahavir and he spoke). The story of Babaji and Lahiri is well known here and is not considered unusual or extraordinary. I may have asked a few questions through Mahavir but at present I don't actually recall. Our visit was pleasant enough and unusual in its own way. The television remained on the entire time. I asked the sadhu if I could take some ash from the fire (in front of me) as holy or sacred ash (vibhutti) from Dronagiri Mountain. He happily complied wrapping a few tablespoons of ash in newsprint for each of the three of us!

The next morning after chai we checked out and once again drove to the crest of Dronagiri Mountain. There we had breakfast (noodles and paratha, I think, and more chai along with fresh fruit) before embarking on our trek up to Babaji's cave down the flank of the mountain, crossing the Gogash River and then climbing up the other side (don't know if that mountain has a name) to the cave. During breakfast the proprietor (a lively friendly gent) handed us a thick sheaf of internet printouts about the nearby Babaji cave. Gita and I were moved to inner joy when we read that it is said that Babaji sometimes comes to pilgrims in form of a cooing dove!

The morning was bright with sunshine. A young man from the south of India (Hyderabad, he said) arrived (he may have been staying right there at the cafe/lodge as a pilgrim) and explained in good English that he'd been meditating daily for a month at the Babaji cave. I asked him if he practiced kriya yoga but he said he did not. I found that puzzling for some reason but he seemed bright and calmly eager. After we left, we didn't see him again. (Was HE the elusive but young appearing Babaji?)

The light that morning through the forest was tinged with color and a softness born of what a westerner would say was lingering morning moisture in the air. To say that it was “ethereal” would be more accurate however. I flashed upon the memory of a scene from the movie "Jesus of Nazareth" when Mary Magdalene goes to the gravesite of Jesus. In the morning air it is still and the light is cloud or vapor-like. The colors in the forest were intensely green. Ferns and baby-tears (?) grew everywhere. And yet the grounds had that same consciously manicured feeling and appearance. The Gogash River had, Mahavir explained, become more of a stream than a river in recent decades. He didn't explain why. But it was clear and cool, and very inviting to see and cross. There was that same deep stillness in the air.

The hike finally turned from gentle to more steeply uphill until we reached an odd building with no windows and locked up with a grate. The property belongs to Y.S.S. (Yogoda Satsang Society - the Indian branch of Self-Realization Fellowship). The entire property is well maintained but well controlled. A little further on we came to the place called "Babaji's cave." YSS has not only locked it but blocked up all but the first 8 to 10' of the cave with bricks. Who knows what or who remains deep inside the cave. Mahavir explained that it was ill used (by local peasants) previously and that YSS cleaned it up and secured it. Well, be that as it may, we meditated nonetheless and had a very deep meditation there.

Up the hill further, Mahavir explained, is a cave once inhabited (for about a year) by the Pandavas long ago. For some reason further climb did not seem in order and neither Gita nor I expressed a desire to ascend higher. Instead, Mahavir took us to visit a nearby family farm where we were welcomed with (more) chai and cookies.

I was asked by a friend, "Well, did you MEET Babaji?" We felt his divine presence and blessings and treasure that wordless experience which defies description and which remains locked in our hearts.

Fresh from the Babaji Safari,

Return to India - Devbhoomi - Abode of the gods

Is there anyone who, when seeing distant snow capped peaks, doesn't pause and quietly gasp with longing and inspiration? Imagine, then, if you can, the timeless power of the world's greatest mountain range, the Himalaya, upon the consciousness of generations of Indians living in the hot, crowded, dusty plains of the Indian subcontinent. Did not Paramhansa Yogananda attempt to escape to the Himalaya several times in his early life? Did he not say that in his next life he would live there for a time?

More than this, this astonishing range of mountains which includes jungles, raging rivers, and forests of pine and rhododendron trees along with the world's highest and most majestic peaks has given shelter and birth to saints, sages, and avatars since time immemorial. Here Spirit and Mother Nature unite in a profound dance of life both mundane and mystical not found anywhere else on earth.

The Garhwal District of the Indian state of Uttaranchal is home to the Char Dham of which I spoke in the previous blog. It is especially blessed with the spiritual vibrations of God consciousness as manifested through divine beings and through the masters. Like a carefully nurtured garden, this sanctity is loving tendered with the devotion of millions of pilgrims.

When a pilgrim speaks of Shiva, the goddess Ganga, Shiva's consort Parvati, the monkey-god Hanuman, or the elephant-god Ganesha, as participating in the creation and in the play of human life there in the Himalayas there is no sense of "long-ago" or mere "allegory." The sense of the presence of divine beings, manifestations of various aspects of God's Infinite consciousness (just as you and I, are unique, if not yet perfected, sparks of divinity) is a present-tense reality to the devout Hindu. As a (western) teacher of raja yoga, Vedanta, and Shankhya (India's three main branches of wisdom), I am accustomed to viewing Indian sacred mythology in allegorical or philosophical terms.

But I was unprepared for the strikingly present-tense and devotional expression given to these stories and places by the pilgrims and the degree to which no burden of philosophical extraction weighs upon the Indian heart and mind. Not that abstractions are foreign to Indian culture for as Yogananda smilingly comments in his famous "Autobiography of a Yogi," the Indian is sometimes accused by westerners of "living on abstractions!" Rather, these divine beings, stories, and manifestations of divinity in various natural formations (of caves, mountains, rocks etc.) are very real and treasured by the devout seeker.

And, as I commented in an earlier, blog: why not? Our western, scientific minds are biased by the worldview that this earth and its natural phenomenon are the "mere" product of natural (geologic, e.g.) forces. And who would argue with that? But just as the instinct for survival is obvious but tells us nothing about why it exists or how it came into being, so too the existence of extraordinary natural formations and phenomenon is no more intelligently or satisfactorily explained by "natural forces" than is our own existence and consciousness. I asked earlier whether it is not perhaps more reasonable to assume that something extraordinary is the product of a conscious creativity rather than a blind force? What computer would randomly produce a play of Shakespeare or the Sermon on the Mount?

Is the majesty we feel when we see a great mountain (like Mt. Rainier as we do here in Seattle) merely a projection of our own subconscious imaginings? Or, did the consciousness of majesty itself produce such an awe-inspiring sight? Does the peace we feel hiking in a forest come only from us or is the forest itself a manifestation of the consciousness of peace?

Whether the personified deities or their elaborate and sometimes all-too-human stories are the precise explanation is no more the point than our ability to precisely know how or why geologic forces shaped Half Dome in Yosemite Valley! But to look beyond the material and natural manifestations revealed by the senses to sense the interplay of higher, conscious and divine forces is to seek the truth behind all seeming.

In a brief email report I sent from the Himalaya I asked my friends to imagine the mountains of America peopled by "sadhus" (spiritual seekers) meditating in caves and forests seeking God-realization? Imagine such sadhus coming down from time to time into towns and cities of America and being welcomed, supported, and honored as living examples of renunciation and as spiritual teachers.

We have mountains but do we have the Devibhoomi? (The "holy" mountains-the abode of divinity incarnate). I believe the time will come for this, too. Shrines and places of pilgrimage are needed everywhere in the world, but especially in America where the knowledge of such places (formerly) has, presumably, been lost in the mists of time.

At the same time, I was not prepared for the incredible variety and natural beauty of the Himalaya. I don't know what defines a "jungle" for although the latitude of the lower Himalaya doesn't qualify for a tropical jungle, the only word that springs to mind seeing some of these areas is a jungle. All the beauty of such an experience, even if technically sub-tropical, is to be found in areas of the lower Himalaya. We saw so many waterfalls everywhere (it was early monsoon season) that in time we stopped trying to photograph them. Some would descend from thousands of feet up and all the way down to the rivers far below.

In an hour, or even less, we would drive from a river level, surrounded by rice terraces and jungle up a mountain into the cool dripping fog and pine forests! One time I saw a home which contained the likes of mango, papaya and banana trees with geraniums, begonias, roses, and bougainvillea. Even pine trees would mingle with the sub-tropical species along the rivers. Though we did not actually see most of the wildlife (we saw two or three foxes, and many monkeys), there are tiger, leopard, elephant, bears, cobras and much more throughout this region. I was relieved and inspired to see endless natural forests still yet preserved. Wildfires occur in the Himalaya just as they do in forests everywhere in the world and we saw evidence of past forest fires (in the dry seasons). In a trek I did in Nepal thirty five years ago (in the month of May), I was blessed to experience an entire forest of rhododendron trees alive with color!

The gigantic rock walls of some of the steep canyons would rise thousands of feet high and in the monsoon season we experienced richly carpeted shades of deep green. I wondered if my "home" country of Ireland would now seem pale and dry by comparison. This rich and green lushness was one of the specific bonuses we were blessed with for having come in the monsoon. (The sacrifice was the awe-inspiring panoramas of the snow-clad peaks of the Himalaya which we could only glimpse at grace-filled moments through the monsoon cloud cover.) The other advantage was relative cool (if sometimes humid). At the tops of mountains it was like being in Seattle: 61 degrees and light drizzle!

It was remarkable how the temperature and humidity would change predictably with altitude. Since we were constantly ascending and descending mountains (going east from one river valley to the next), we could experience warm/sticky to cool/wet in a matter of less than an hour. (Hence I caught a mild head cold.)

Since this is a blog article with words and since I admit our photos could not and did not do these attempts of descriptions justice, I suggest that it would easy enough with today's internet and YouTube to see for yourself the beauty of the Himalaya.

The next blog: "we are unique, like everyone else!"

Blessings, Hriman

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,


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Return to India - Part 1

My daughter Gita and I returned from India last Tuesday, July 12. The 3-week trip went well on every level, though it had its challenges on every level too. Tomorrow, Sunday, July 17, I will offer a slide show presentation of the trip but I thought to use this blog for more personal reflections than a slide show would allow.

Nowadays many people visit India and it becomes increasingly accessible and (relatively) comfortable each year as India continues its explosive entry into the 21st century. Even up and into the Himalayas the development is intense: the mountain-clinging dirt roads (still very dangerous) are being paved, bridges replaced or added, electricity goes practically to Mt. Everest along with the ubiquitous cell phone towers, and hotels and guest lodges multiply like spring wildflowers. I don't know how many pilgrims ascend to these mountain shrines during each season (May-October) but it's many, many thousands. We were never alone. (One is never alone in India, at least physically. Even the path up Mt. Everest is said to resemble a parking lot, at least during the limited climbing season.)

We went by car belonging to our guide Mahavir Singh Rawat and driven by his driver Sitendra (having a driver for one's car is very common in India). The higher one goes and the deeper into the Himalaya the more likely the road regresses to dirt and rock. This is true also when one leaves the main "highways." We saw young men, two astride a small 125cc motorcycle, blasting up the mountains from the hot Indian plains far below to some of the highest shrines, along dirt, rock and rutted roads oblivious to the simple fact that one badly placed stone could send them hurtling down the precipitous cliffs in a nanosecond! (Imagine young men in their twenties in America heading off on pilgrimage together to visit ancient shrines high in mountains, eyes bright with joy and devotion?)

Ours was not a trekking holiday, nor yet sightseeing in the usual way. My daughter Gita had returned a year and a half ago from an Ananda group pilgrimage to India but she did not have the time to accompany the group into the Himalayas. Mahavir, the guide, mentioned to her that he did guided tours for individuals and small groups, not just the larger official Ananda tours. So upon her return she asked me if I'd be interested in returning with her. As I had been to India three times including (35 years ago) an extensive visit (including to other parts of the Himalaya), she could be sure I would say YES! And, of course I did. But it took some planning for we needed to use up whatever airplane miles we could muster to afford the trip. So Padma, my wife and resident booking agent, handled the flights. Gita had or researched the contacts with the families in and around Calcutta who are related to Yogananda and his life there; and Mahavir outlined the traditional "Char Dham" yatra (pilgrimage) to the four very sacred Himalayan shrines.

I admit that some deity or another veiled from our minds the obvious intensity of that itinerary which in retrospect meant some some 15 or 16 very long days of driving on mostly dirt and rock roads on treacherous mountain passes and cliffs. It meant stopping before nightfall at whatever available pilgrim style lodgings were at hand, and and where showers, hot water, (Western) toilets, towels, soap, toilet paper and mattresses were scarce or nonexistent but flies, cockroaches, large flying beetles, and mosquitoes formed local welcoming committees. I've never had chapati and dal three times a day for several weeks. It can wear on you.

But none of these considerations were uppermost. This was an opportunity for Gita and I to spend quality time together in an energetic commitment to the quest for Self-realization. We meditated together each day; chanted together walking or in the car; were enraptured by the stunning and ever changing beauty of both the lower and higher Himalaya, and entered into the pilgrim's way of devotion through "puja" and "arati" (traditional and ancient Hindu rituals) at sites held sacred for millennia by the presence of great rishis down through the ages and the devotion of millions of pilgrims seeking divine consolation for their world-weary hearts.

Lastly, for me this "Return to India" completes a cycle of spiritual seeking that began in India for me in 1975 but which, at that time, could not be completed because I had not yet found my spiritual path and guru (Paramhansa Yogananda). So, in going back now, at age 60, I went seeking to contact the spiritual roots of both India's timeless tradition and the prior incarnations of Paramhansa Yogananda and the line of gurus who sent him to the West.

Mountains have kindled in human hearts a yearning for the heavenly realms (whether as a place or state of consciousness, or both) since time immemorial. In India, the bounty, beauty and grandeur of nature is not seen merely as the product of impersonal random geologic forces but as the obvious result of the interplay of Divine forces personified in the gods and goddesses in interaction with the rishis and avatars. An unusual rock formation, for example, comes quite naturally with its own story. Do we not teach (in metaphysics) that all matter is created, sustained, and dissolved by its most elemental substance: consciousness? Is it not more reasonable to assume that a "cathedral" like Yosemite Valley was formed by conscious Divine beings than to say it "just happened?"

This trip was a pilgrimage and a true pilgrimage is a journey within. Perhaps in the next blog or two, I can share with you at least some aspects of my inner journey and its evolving realizations.

Blessings, Hriman