Showing posts with label Shiva. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shiva. Show all posts

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Yin and Yang of Meditation

Meditation has many benefits and no drawbacks (except for those not mentally balanced). But there are certainly yin and yang aspects of meditation. 

For example, meditation can be used for the benefit of the ego: concentration for the mind and vitality and self-awareness for the body. Or, meditation can be used to attune oneself to the higher Mind of the soul. 

Most of what is taught and most of those who practice meditation are seeking ego-oriented benefits such as calmness, inner peace, and mindfulness. Their meditation practice begins with the intention of  "I want.....this or that result." Since this intention is the basis for practically all ego-directed actions, few ever consider an alternative.

Among those who seek higher consciousness, meditation can take the form of an act of devotion, focusing on some form or image such as one's guru, a deity, or even a state of consciousness (such as samadhi, nirvana, moksha, etc.). The devotional approach can remain in the realm of an "I-Thou" act of worship or it can intend to or simply evolve into, merging into one's form of devotion.

There are those meditators who seek spiritual upliftment, consciousness, or even psychic powers for personal (ego) gratification! This can be the initial motivation behind meditation, or, it can be the result of back-sliding when the ego claims for itself the insights or powers which may appear as a result of one's otherwise sincere meditation practice. Such are the temptations that await the dedicated practitioner. 

And, let's face the truth here: the ego is our starting point even while ego transcendence is the well-established goal! A paradox to be sure. 

Let's pause for a moment to consider this "ego thing." Paramhansa Yogananda, the now-famous author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," defined the ego as "the soul identified with the body." Since ancient times and in the highest spiritual teachings of all great civilizations, our true nature and the goal of our existence is to "know thyself" as greater than the ego: as a child of the Infinite! As from the Vedas: "Tat twam asi." ("Thou art THAT!)

Admittedly, the details of what THAT is and how we realize THAT may vary in the fine print of scripture, commentary, and intellectual permutations. But beyond THAT there is no argument!

Returning now to where we left off: "devotion." As devotion is, in an energetic sense, the equivalent of dedication, a meditator (aka a "yogi") may not think of herself as being of a devotional temperament but the intensity of her focused dedication to meditation amounts to the same thing. A meditation intention and practice that seeks to still the mind by way of one-pointed focus on a mantra, sound, or other "meditation-object," and which essentially seeks to dissolve the ego-identity and sense of separateness, can be said to be a form of devotion, albeit more by concentration of the mind than by focusing upon expanding the heart's "natural love," though in fact the latter may be, and ultimately must be, the consequence.

Put another way, progress in meditation takes dedication and devotion to the goal and to the practice. Such dedication is surely a form of love as much as any classical feelings or forms that devotion might traditionally assume.

It can also be said that one always begins upon the spiritual path (and meditation) from the only point of reference we have: the ego! Gradually, as we progress, we morph into self-offering of the little self into the great Self as one's consciousness expands beyond the ego and body.

We see this transformation taking place in the lives of meditators who truly go deep into the practice. We even see amongst some of those who practice yoga postures a certain level of awakening that can rightly be called "spiritual" even if, initially, unintended.

At the risk of going into deep philosophical territory, there is another aspect of the yin and yang of meditation. It goes something like this (using non-technical terms whether from Vedanta, Shankhya, yoga, or Buddhism):

There's a part of ourselves that yearns for stability, constancy, and unchanging reality and truth. There's also a part of ourselves, which like all nature around us, that is always changing and which delights and invigorates in our creativity and engagement in life.

The reconciliation of these two could be described as the awakening of our ever-watchful Self (soul) into the awareness of and participation with the ever-changing reality of creation which swirls in flux around us.

By contrast, the ego, that part of our consciousness which identifies with the body, personality, and the seeming separateness of all created things (physical and mental), isn't so much watchful but wholly engaged. The difference between the ego's desires and emotions and itself simply doesn't exist. As a result, the ego experiences the ups, downs, boredom, and occasional peace in an unceasing and ultimately exhausting and monotonous inevitability. In short, we suffer, for no pleasure can be known without fearing and later experiencing its ending or its opposite. Pain, by contrast, feels "eternal" when we are overcome by it.  

The alternative to being awash in the ocean of emotion and change is to dive deep into the ocean of peace within. Thus is born the practice of entering into the mindful or watchful state. In the meditative state of quietude, the ceaseless rising and falling of our thoughts, energies and responses comes under our calm scrutiny. We can see flux for what it is: empty, fleeting, and separate from the Self. The deeper we go into this state the more we realize that we are and can be untouched by the waves at the surface of the sea of our senses (and our mind). 

The Shiva Self, recumbent and watchful, penetrates the center of the Shakti Self of prana, energy and creation even as the Shakti Self, in the presence of Shiva, inclines to be still to receive Shiva within her Self. 

This uniting of Observer, observing and observed
becomes a dance of Bliss, sometimes withdrawn and sometimes immanent in all creation. Even those descriptions which separate God the Father (the Infinite Spirit) from creation cannot fully satisfy the continuum of consciousness both within and without. 

Paramhansa Yogananda's famous poem, "Samadhi," flows in and out of creation even if it is also understood that Bliss stands apart and whole from the creation and serves as creation's Father-Mother. 

But such philosophical niceties go beyond, far beyond, anything practical and helpful for those engaged in meditation practices. Even for us, we find we flow in and out of our own creation (our mind's activity). 

Nonetheless, to experience a state unconditioned by awareness of body and ego identity is powerfully transforming, healing, and enlightening. Few meditators, I suspect, aspire to this state; fewer experience it. But not because it is beyond our means.

For indeed, this unconditioned state is the center of our Being and is always present. Whether by Self-inquiry ("Who am I?") or by inner stillness achieved through meditation practice, it exists perennially behind our mental flux. "Be still and know that I AM God." (Psalm 46:10).

Watching one's thoughts is a frequent instruction given as the practice of meditation. But I wonder how many of those using this technique are not, in fact, drawn forcibly into participating with their thoughts and their reactions to those thoughts (rather than remaining truly watchful and unaffected). 

The challenge of watching our thoughts is that our thoughts are the basis for our separateness. Our emotional response to our perceptions, moreover, cements our identity to those so-called realities. Like the oft given image of perceiving a snake in the dim light of dusk in the path ahead when in fact it is only a rope, we make our share of false conclusions and all too often proclaim, "That's my story and I'm sticking with it." The sense of separateness and its cocoon of beliefs, memories, opinions, desires, impressions, and fears is deeply embedded into our the matrix of our sense of self-identity.

In the East, the mind is considered the sixth sense: separate and apart from the Self. In the West, we think, as Descartes declared, "I think, therefore I am!"

Therefore, because thoughts are the issue, it is generally more useful to have and to focus upon a "meditation object." Universally, the breath is the simplest and most available "object" because we all breathe and no beliefs are necessary. There are other reasons as well. The watching of breath can be with or without a word formula or mantra. 

Other reasons for watching the breath include the observable fact that in the effort to concentrate deeply, we naturally hold or quiet the breath. It is the last obstacle to complete concentration. It is also, ironically, an excellent "object" of meditation for the reason that focusing on the breath can quiet the mind and when restless thoughts subside, the breath becomes quiet. Anyone who is given even a modest amount of training can demonstrate these facts and benefit from this practice immediately.

Thus it is that the breath has become (and likely always has been) the most common focus for meditation throughout time and the world.

But, it remains an "object" until or unless our sense of separateness begins to dissolve. One can say, intellectually, that we enter the breath or the breath enters us or anything else you want to say. But nothing that can be said can truly describe the experience of oneness. (All words require subject, verb, and object and this very logical necessity is inadequate to describe the state of being that is actually experienced in real time.)

The experience of oneness can occur spontaneously and does happen to many people, whether as children or adults. It can happen in meditation even when not held out as a goal or a possibility. But mostly it is best if the meditator seeks the state and has some training and intuition in the possibility.

Nothing is lost in such a state even if on a profound level the ego-mind suspects that it is an existential threat to its separateness. In this, the ego is both correct and incorrect. Testimony of the ages and the sages is that nothing is lost in the realization of the state of oneness and everything worthwhile in life (happiness, that is!) is found. But such is the price of the pearl of great price: the very real-seeming threat of extinction.

No wonder some teachers and traditions describe this state in negative terms: "nirvana" (no vanas, or no mental activities of the ego-construct). Buddha gave no description of the undescribable. The yogis, however, describe the state as satchidanandam: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. 

Some aver that bliss is a passing phase on the path to nirvana; some say (as Yogananda does) that samadhi IS the state of bliss. Well, no matter because all who have achieved it say it is the end of all striving, the end of suffering, and the summum bonum of existence. Let us not split the hairs of Holy Grail!

In this, there is neither yin nor yang. Nor is this state the annihilation of our functionality in the human body and in this world. Quite the opposite: freed from the delusion of the limited ego-self, we are free to act in harmony with the divine Self.

The awakened Mind then participates freely in the swirl of creation's eternal flux. Stability at the center; movement at the periphery. A dance choreographed by the Higher Mind of God.

Yogananda stated "I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He."

And why not? Is not both the outer world and the inner world a ceaseless flux inextricably linked in both energy and form? We only separate ourselves in the limited realm of the five (six, actually, including the mind) senses? Our sense of separateness is an illusion, one not difficult to unmask by paying attention, even by reason, and certainly by intuition: for those courageous enough to enter a brave new world.

For those who might benefit from several excellent videos on this subject (and much more, both science and metaphysics), I direct your attention to the movie Inner Worlds Outer Worlds. It can be viewed in four half hour segments for free on YouTube or the entire move for $3.99:

Aligned with this is another movie called simply Samadhi. It is followed by four guided video meditations. Although these are strongly influenced by Buddhism terminology, Vedanta, Sankhya and Yoga terminology are also included. References to Egypt, native American, Christian terminology are also presented. 

In search for "Samadhi." The two-hour movie is in two one-hour parts and in various languages as well.

Similarly, four guided Samadhi meditations are excellent and are based on watching the breath. Search on Samadhi meditation.

While I personally and most of the readers of this blog practice the techniques taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and therefore don't "need" the resources above, they are well done and in their essence are not contradictory to what Yogananda taught, though their emphases and terminology may differ in parts.

Joy to you!

Nayaswami Hrimananda

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Bad Karma" - Another Word for "Sin"? What is "Karma?"

In the Book of Job (in the Old Testament of Jewish and Christian faiths), Satan comes to God and wants to make a bet! (Yes, really!) Satan says, "God, I see your faithful servant Job down there on earth. But I bet you that if you let me take away his wealth, his health, his reputation, and his loved ones, Job will lose faith in You. You wanna bet? Hmm, hmmm, hmmmm?"

So, as you can imagine, God couldn't turn down this one from the old buster, the devil his-self! So He, the Almighty, says, "Satan, you're ON!" So, sure enough, poor old Job, innocent as a lamb, loses his health, his wealth, and his loved ones. Then his so-called friends come to him and say: "Job, old boy, what great sins did YOU commit to deserve this obvious displeasure of Jehovah?"

Poor old Job protests his innocence. Despite all his suffering he holds on to his faith in God's wisdom and goodness. God, in the end, therefore wins the bet with Satan. Whew!

All of Chapter 9 of the gospel of St. John describes a curious incident in which Jesus comes upon a man "blind since birth." Jesus is asked by his usual taunters, "Who sinned, this man, or his parents?" Now, mind you, the poor fellow was blind SINCE BIRTH. So if it was he, he must have sinner in a past life! While Jesus here has a perfect opportunity to endorse reincarnation, Jesus ducks the issue and says, "Neither has sinned!" Jesus explains that this man was born blind for the glory of God! What!!!! You kidding? Lucky guy, eh? Jesus then heals the man of his blindness. The story that follows is very touching and poignant but not needed for this article.

So what do we have here? Let's pause for "station identification."

Old Age'ers (fundamentalists) might tend to think that misfortune heaped upon a good Christian is a sign of God's disfavor. Some Christians, to turn this around, think that material success, health, wealth, position, and a loving family are a sign of one's virtue and one's finding favor in the good Lord's eyes. New Age'ers might tend to view a fellow meta-physician's troubles as a sure sign of some past bad karma. Neither view is necessarily correct.

The law of karma, it is said, is exacting. Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the famous "Autobiography of a Yogi") said the metaphysical law of karma finds expression in Newton's third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In Vedanta and metaphysics, this is the law of duality as well as part of the law of karma. St. Paul wrote, famously, of the law of karma saying "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap." (Galatians 6:7).

So look at what we have: by the law of karma one would naturally think that Job and the man born blind since birth must have done something to have earned their suffering. But by Jesus' explanation and by the story of Job, there appears to be a third option: a divine source. I call this the "Third Rail."

Think of karma as a pendulum: good and bad karma. (Never mind, for now, which is which. For the moment just think that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Or, to quote from Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "What is day to the yogi is night to the worldly man; what is night to the yogi, is day to the worldly man.") In the centerpoint of the pendulum lies, however momentarily, a rest point: a point from which the pendulum begins, and ends, its motion. This point we call God.

According to the dogma of man's free will, we understand that God has given us the power to choose good or evil. ("To eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.") This is like pushing the pendulum for the first time. It begins with the appearance of material and ego-active desires, likes, and dislikes. In this we abandon the God's eye view of Oneness: seeing God in all and, as a result, seeing "through" the illusion that the senses, matter, and ego have any intrinsic reality and attraction (or repulsion). 

Once the pendulum swings into motion, the interplay of good and bad karma, action and reaction, will keep the pendulum moving essentially forever until, suspicious and wary, worn and torn, we decide not "to play" the "Great Game" of ego.

When the prodigal son of Jesus' story in the new testament decided to return to his father's home, he had a long way to go on his journey. But his decision to return is the starting point. It says (and not just once) in Revelations (3:12), "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." This "pillar" is like the shaft and center point of our pendulum.

It is then by our choice that we begin to slow the pendulum and with sustained effort and divine grace that pendulum will come to rest in God, in our own center. God will not step into our lives as He has in Job's or that of the man born blind since birth until we invite Him into our lives.

This "third rail" of divine neutrality is God's invisible hand giving to the devotee what seems like troubles and suffering but which, if the soul will "overcome" the test with faith in God, with wisdom and equanimity, it will be the means by which the soul will not have to "go no more out" in repeated reincarnations to continue to work out its karma (whether good or bad). 

The threads of past action (karma) are subtle. The question of karma vs. grace may be somewhat a false dichotomy. Think about Job, or that blind man. Nothing in their respective stories suggests that they are souls already freed from karma ("saints," you might say). That means that they certainly have karma to overcome. Thus the fact that they each encounter troubles can logically, at least, be attributed to such karma. 

Where God's grace (the "Third Rail") enters is the timing and nature of those troubles: testing their faith and equanimity at time and in a proportion they can digest. By passing their tests with the flying colors of faith and equanimity, they have become free of some of their past karma. You see: BOTH-AND. Both-And is the nature of Infinity (while EITHER-OR is the product of the play of duality and the limited view of the intellect using logic and reason). Nonetheless, there is an element of divine intervention. It is the "good" karma of reaching upward to God: we make one step in His direction and He takes two in ours. "Faith is the most practical thing of all." I once heard my teacher, Swami Kriyananda say that when I was still quite new and it puzzled me to no end. I think, now, I understand it much better.

The worldly person will usually attribute blame to God, or to life, or to others for his troubles. He is miserable or angry when trials come and seeks however he can to get away from trouble and find pleasure and happiness. So, for this soul, the pendulum continues on and on and on until it seems like an eternity of hell.

When troubles come to you, as in every life they must, "what comes of itself, let it come" and stand tall "amidst the crash of breaking worlds" with faith, hope, and charity (even-mindedness). When success, pleasure and human happiness arrive on our doorstep, accept them gratefully but also with equanimity, for all "things must pass." This is the way we must face our tests and our successes if we are to neutralize our karma. In this way we convert what might seem to be our "bad" karma into the "good" karma of soul wisdom and eventually freedom in God. 

Krysta Gibson, editor and publisher of the New Spirit Journal, wrote an article (that inspired this one) and I thought you might enjoy reading it too:

Meditate on a great pillar, a shaft of light, as the symbol of the inner spine. This is, in part, the meaning of the Hindu "lingam" (a stone pillar....too often, but incorrectly, likened to a phallic symbol). This "pillar" is our own center, our subtle spine, to which if we withdraw mentally and with good posture gives us psychic protection, spiritual fortitude and insights.

Om namoh Shivaya!

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, July 18, 2011

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

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