surrendering to grace

We are working on a new book to be  published soon about a Sant’s pilgrimage to Kailash.  It is a wonderful story written from the travel journal of  Paramahamsa Vedananda Sarawathi Swami, of Andhra Pradesh, India.  It is entitled, Kailash—In Quest of the Self.

This is an authentic journal of one man’s pilgrimage to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar and yet reads like a spiritual adventure novel.  It is magical and inspiring and can be read on many levels. I recently received black and white photographs that Swami Vedananda took of the Himalayas and villages in India, Nepal and China. Even some of the Nagababas granted permission to be photographed. The photos take you along with Swamiji through his challenges and include you in his exhilaration. Anyone who read this book will have some experience of what it takes to complete a true pilgrimage.  It is truly a quest of oneself.

Swamiji’s realizations and the teachings of the Nagababas that he met along the way are as profound as any I have ever read.   I am so very pleased to be playing a part in bringing this book to western aspirants.

There is a beautiful teaching from the Voice of Babaji (as given us through the pen of V.T.Neelakantan) about Kriya Yogis: “The Kriya yogi is no dreamer; he visualizes anything and everything and can make the ‘right’ thing a fait accompli by Guru Deva’s grace. Doubtless there is an impenetrable wall.  Such a wall exists so that we can pass through it. In that unending circular wall there are many indiscernible gates that fling themselves open on surrendering to God’s mercy and Guru’s grace.’

I am no dreamer.  I have learned to visualize.  However, I have always believed that my dharma or all that I am supposed to do need not be dreamed or visualized, for it will become apparent in the challenges and changes brought about by time. I unapologetically live my life walking lightly upon the earth, surrendering only to  the work that comes to me to do.  Sometimes I am given the most beautiful work to do, such as working on this Kailash-Manasarovar book or on the new 9-Volume Edition of the Thirumandiram, which  finally after five years is coming to fruition and will be intoduced at a grand ceremony in Chennai, India January 17th.

The Tirumandiram is itself a pathway to God realization and to realizing the potential of our human nature. Because our human nature has not changed, Thirumular’s words are as relevant for us today as they were two thousand years ago.  Thirumular exemplifies man’s greatest potential.

As humans we have the imagination and the power to devise ways to perfect ourselves.  Thirumular speaks of the alchemy that is possible to us and explains how we can transform ourselves into perfect beings.  He tells us, through surrender to the Divine one can live  a life  open to the grace and thus, see what we are supposed to do on any given day or year or within any particular relationship.

We must however deny the importance of the ego.   We can do this only with a profound understanding that the ego is only a tool of the Self.   The Thirumandiram and Kailash-Manasaravor book  emphasize this absolute requirement for realization.

The Thirumandiram says, “examine the ego, but realize the ‘I.’   Eliminate human suffering by understanding that the ‘I,’ chooses, determines, undertakes responsibility. The merit and demerit, praise and blame in your life is due to something far beyond your individual ego, mind, intellect or personality.”  Thirumular says, “Act without desire for the fruits of your actions and serve the Lord in others, whenever possible.”
The Thirumandiram could also be sub-titled, In Quest of the Self.

Thirumular gives us numerous Kundalini Yoga techniques that reveal the light of our transcendental, ‘I’ self. However, the most important element cannot be taught. Only Trust gives us the ability to hold tightly to the Light (inspiration and insight) of the transcendental Self. Only this will be enough to keep our ego-sense out of our challenges and endeavors.

Life is a process through which we will endure, confront and assimilate lessons. It is a slow, systematic process of spiritual maturity.  And while the ego is striving for all it can attain in this world, something within us has to make sure that we are not missing what we need to mature spiritually.

Who we truly are, and what we came to do, more often than not has to do with our relationship to our Self.  Even when this is the case, we are more concerned with our relationships with others than with our own self.   We care more how others see us and treat us. We rarely consider how we see and treat our own Self.

The world demonstrates a much higher regard for those who are outgoing, extroverted and charismatic than those who are introverted and have a quiet presence.  Passion is highly praised whereas equanimity is more often seen as coldness or apathy.  Our heroes are those who act and revolt in the world, not those who demonstrate direct perception of it.  Who values ‘direct perception,’ which is without analysis, reasoning or without all the things the intellect creates in order to postpone perception?

Our heros, the Sants and Siddhas value ‘direct perception,’ which is without analysis, reasoning, without all the things the intellect creates in order to postpone perception?  They all tell us to develop introspection and direct perception.  Through it we will find our unique place and role in the world.

Thirumular describes ‘direct perception’ through faith and surrender all throughout the 3000 verses of the Thirumandiram and Swami Vedananda demonstrates the importance of trust and surrender and relies fully on his direct perception while his pilgrimage to Kailash.  Kriya Babaji describes the key to direct perception too, in The Voice of Babaji: a wall exists so that we can pass through it; it is an unending circular wall with many indiscernible gates that fling themselves once we surrender to God’s mercy and Guru’s grace.

Nothing is greater on the spiritual path than surrender to God’s mercy and grace.  Only that will bring us face to face with the self.

The darker shades of Twilight

Continued from previous post

Sunset and dusk is such a grace-filled time of day. The day is departing, passing into night, silencing my mind.  I find it the  time I  am most able to look over my day to see its moments of lessons and learning.  The sunset and descending twilight felt particularly captivating and liberating, seated on the sand, along side Govindan, on this island shaped like  OM.    I felt hollow and empty, cut off from all psychological sources of fear, anxiety, suffering, and also from desire, attachment.  I felt nothing but the dispassion that one feels when one has everything.  In those moments, I felt sure I lacked for no thing.

Swamiji had said that we should contemplate what we most desired before we began the sacrificial fire.  I could only say I wanted the qualities of compassion and righteousness and strength and aloneness.  How to ask for that?  Perhaps that I wanted my third eye to open wide to encompass the inner guidance required to having and holding these qualities within myself.

The puja items had been assembled and the fire was ignited.   All the Indian sadhakas had taken their seats around the fire and Govindan and I were seated a bit back, like a second tier.  Swami told us to slip in between two other people.   He made them all make room for us.  The fire and incense and chanting was very intense, like nothing I had ever experienced previously. Smoke engulfed my senses and my mind became active with thought and visions.  I was not comfortable at times, as it was all so intense.  The homa lasted for hours. When it concluded I was a bit unsteady and nauseous.  We had to take the boat back to the mainland. I was disoriented. It wasn’t until I got into the room, that I remember what a dirty place it was.

I went into the bathroom to wash my face, hands and feet.  Worms were coming out of the toilet on the floor.  I did not look at them with the same wonder that I had witnessed the rat in Badrinath. I was disgusted.  I placed my shawl on the dirty sheets on the bed and tried to sleep. Govindan fell asleep quickly. He has a siddhi that way.  He wants to sleep, he says he is going to sleep now and he closes his eyes and he is asleep.  At about the same time as he fell asleep, I developed a severe headache that cannot be adequately described. The headache was acute pain across my forehead. It wrapped around my head like an Indian headband and squeezed. I took a shower.  I took Tylenol. I prayed. I drank a liter of water. I prayed. I tried to wake Govindan, but couldn’t.   Perhaps I had to go through this by myself. I opened the outside door and sat in the moonlight and talked to God.  I thought I was going to die and surrendered to the pain.

Why did I have to die in such a dirty hotel room?  Again, I tried to awaken Govindan.  It was past 3a.m. when in meditation, I recalled my conversation with my loyal friend and sadhak Linda.  Just before we had left she had sent me a piece of a pink stone, which she had been given twenty five years earlier. She told me that she had been requested to do so in meditation. I went inside to try to find the stone.  It was in a small pouch in my purse. The pain was so bad, I dropped where I was and put the stone right up against my third eye and rolled it toward my right temple. Literally within seconds the pain began to dissolve.  I held it at my temple and within minutes the pain was gone.  Clutching the pink stone I fell fast asleep.

The next morning I felt fine, not even tired and told Govindan what had happened.   He asked why I had not awaken him?      We went to an early breakfast and took the boat back to the Island.  Not seeing any of the others we thought everyone else must already be on the island. However, only Swami was there.  He had not yet seen anyone else.  He was packed and invited us to go in his car back to Indore, but didnt have room for our luggage.   We had some tea and by the time we had packed the car the others had arrived.  The group told us that they had accquired a van to return to Indore but there was not room for us and there didn’t seem to be another van available.  We  would have to find another way to Indore.  Swami told them that we would be traveling back with him.  I imagine that he had foreseen the situation.  Swami gave one of the men our bags and said that they had to bring our bags with them. “Fit them in somehow.”  There was some resentment. They left to go back to their van, said goodbye and we left for Indore with Swami.

The drive back was unforgettable.  Swami would stop ever so often to prove to me his theory that there were stones everywhere in which OM is embedded. He said,” they are everywhere I look, you just aren’t looking!”   He would randomly tell his driver to stop the car and then he would go for a short walk and find a stone with the OM…  It never failed.  I asked him if he had a pocket of OM stones. He laughed… I do not know if  he had  the siddhi to engrave OM on any stone he picked up, or if he had the siddhi to find them.  He was a marvel and a wonder and a delight!  At another time, just as he was saying that Babaji is really accessible although always anonymous, a man ran up to our car, saying “Halt!” to the driver. He was a youngish,attractive  man, in modern dress. He came up to our window and folded his arms across my door, poked his head right into the car and said, “Well hello, don’t’ I know you?   …Do you know me?”  I just looked at him and then at swami who was in the front seat. When I looked back he had backed away from the car and gave a quick salute and smile. Swami said nothing and when I asked,  “Do you know that man?” He said, “who?”

When we arrived at Barfani Dham Ashram,  there were a great number of people assembled.  His Holiness Barfani Dadaji was dressed in a dark red long dress and seated outside by a telephone and completely surrounded by hundreds of his devotees.   He seemed to be communicating with  many people at the same time and completely at ease with everyone’s demands  on him.    People were taking blessings at his feet, some were requesting things in person and to others he was talking on  the phone.  The phone would ring again  as soon as he would hang up.    Swami told us to go do pranam to His Holiness and then to meet him inside the mandir.

Swamiji then told us to go meditate in a special room,  as it would be a while before Sadguru Barfani Dadaji would be free to speak with us.  The whole time I meditated I felt Ramanandacharya’s Presence.   He was there with me, not interfering with new thought, nor eavesdropping but as a Witnessing Presence.   It was a warm and reassuring Presence.  After our meditation, we walked back to where Swami was resting to find His Holiness there with him.  And for the next few hours  we were bathed in the Presence of these amazing Holy men.  Swamiji had now broken his Silence and his beautiful voice translated Barfani Dadaji’s Hindi.  H.H. told us miraculous stories of how it was living with Mahavatar Babaji in a cave for months on end and of his other cave–mates.   One rishi he lived with was covered with hair almost like fur, he had endlessly long fingernails that had never been clipped and eyebrows that hung over his eyes.  He looked and smelled more beast than man.   Dadaji chuckled as he reminisced and  then his whole body began to  vibrate with laughter.    We would look back and forth between His Holiness and Swamiji as they related the stories, first in Hindi, then in English.   They  wondered if we knew Krishna Das, who visited H.H.  often and then he  talked about Neem Karoli Baba and how H.H. had awaken him in the early 1950’s to the path he was to take.

We asked His Holiness about the situation with the Himalayan Siddhas and what would be involved in resettling them in Quebec.  Govindan had a long list of all the things that one must provide to sponsor such a move.  Barfani Dadaji laughed heartily at our naivete.  “There is not one thing you need to do for the Siddhas to resettle, as  you put it.”  Presently all is okay where they are now.  There had been a certain state of emergency when I sent that message to you.  However, they have helped to pacify the energies and rectify the impending situation.  However if things once again change, I will notify you.  I have seen your ashram property.  It is a good place with all the trees and water.”

Govindan was most insistent, “well how does it work!”

His Holiness continued. ”How it works is this, the siddhas feel the energy building and pray to God.  God broadcasts the news. I fortunately am able to hear that broadcast, and I will phone you! H.H.  smiled.   They will not need a Canadian Visa or plane ticket either! Ha Ha Ha!”

What a blessing we were being granted –just to have the attention of these two High Souls.  Jai Babaji.   Before His Holiness left for a rest, I asked him if I could ask him for a great favor.   Ramanandacharya looked at me suspiciously.   I knew from his expression that this was a defining moment – what I asked for would define my sincerity.  At least that is what I gleaned from his look.

I bravely blurted, “I only want, but very much desire to have His Holiness’s blessings on our upcoming marriage.”

Swamiji smiled broadly and His Holiness too smiled and said, “You have my blessings, and if you go on yatra with Swamiji to Mount Kailash, you come back here to Barfani Dham and have your marriage here.”  Another Blessing!

We spent another couple of hours with Swamiji who showed us his photo albums and talked about his path to Mahavatar Babaji.   We talked about the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash and we spoke with the Indians who we would be traveling with on the yatra.  His Holiness told us that he would not be going as he had much to do here and that  Swami Ramanandachary would take us.  But there was so much going on during that day at Barfani Dham.  We were engaged in so much activity with so many different people.  So much was going on just under the surface, emotions and egos and pride and prejudice.  It took months for us to digest it after we returned.  Govindan began to feel ill and very tired.  The large gathering of people was becoming a bit tiresome and a botheration to both of us.  Just the idea of traveling in this caravan all the way to Mount Kailash entangled in the karmas of so many others began to weigh heavily on us.

We meditated deeply on whether we should go or not to go and spoke at length with  Ramanadacharya who told us, “You have to go, You must go!”  He told us that we could go alone, by ourselves, but that was a bit daunting as we had not prepared adequately for the trip alone. We had no idea how to go it alone.   The long and the short of it was that we decided not to go to Mount Kailash, even though it was what we both wanted.

We both felt that we had been given so much in this week at Indore and Omkareshwar.  Ramananda promised me before we left to go back to New Delhi for our flight home that he would remain with me always on my path to Mahavatar Babaji.   He would never leave me.

Just before our taxi came to take us to the airport,  I told him telepathically that I wanted very much to hug him goodbye.  I asked that he show me if that was inappropriate.   He looked a bit shy as I looked up at him, after my silent question.  He put his hand on my shoulder.  I was not to hug him.  He whispered to me to go do pranam to His Holiness.  When I placed my forehead on the feet of His Holiness Barfani Dadaji, he was engaged in a telephone call and in conversation with another disciple. He never looked at me, but I felt love swell in my own heart.

With only a wave to these Divine Beings  I would have called Guru, we left.

I corresponded by email on several occasions to Jadguru Ramanandacharya.   He was very happy about our marriage and kept telling me that I should now change my name to take on that of my husband.   He had been quite adamant.  I kept calling myself Durga Ahlund and he seemed quite put out by that.  We talked of a trip to Quebec to meet Kriya Yoga students at the Quebec Ashram.

Then on February 25th 2004, Jadadguru Ramandandachary Swami Rajeev Lochanacharya Ji, of Yoga Shakti Peethadheswar, disciple of Barfani Dadaji of Barfani Dham Ashram, Malviay Nagar, Indore, Madhya Pradesh and Mahavtar Babaji of Mount Kailash, passed away on just after midnight of Mahashivaratri at 12:30 a.m., while doing puja at Mount Kailash.

Press Release from Hinduism Today:

“Swami Rajeev Lochanacharya was on the holy pilgrimage of Kailash Mansarover and suffered from breathing problems at the height of 20,000 feet. On this yatra he was accompanied by his two disciples, Shri Deepak Rawal of Ahemdabad and Shri Manoj Bhai of Mumbai. Swami Ji crossed the China border on February 14 and reached Kailash Mansarover on the 18th. He did his special Mahashivaratri Puja Archana there. After he suffered from breathing problems/asthma attack, he was taken from Tarchen to Taklakot where he was hospitalized and given oxygen. After receiving oxygen, he was feeling better and undertook puja again at 10:30 p.m. When both his disciples, told him to take rest he laughed and told them, “Nothing is going to happen to me. However if something does happen, make my samadhi here itself.”

I was shocked and heavily pained to hear of the death of the Dearest of the Dear to my heart, Swami Ramanandacharya.  All his disciples were shocked to hear of his death and cremation on the banks of Lake Manasarovar.  I heard directly from a Swami who lives on the island of Omkareshwar that Barfani Dadaji brought his ashes back to Omkareshwar.     On that day the news spread all over the island.

“It was one of the most moving experiences of my life, said Swami Mangalanda.  “Two boats came loaded with people carrying the ashes of Ramananda.   All of us from Anandamayi Ashram stood on the different levels of the ashram overlooking the Narmada and saluted with our hands raised over our heads as they passed, and then went down to meet and show our respect for our departed brother.   In a short time, sadhus from all over the island had gathered at the ghat by Barfani Dham.   Ramananda was very well respected, and had many disciples, both monastic and lay.”

“A beautiful shrine with his picture had been set up, covered with flowers, and the earthen urn with his remains was placed here while the funeral service was chanted. His disciples from Barfani Dham were all having their long jattas shaved off in mourning.  At the end of the service, one Brahmachari lifted the urn over his head and walked to the edge of the river. At this point, everyone spontaneously gathered around him and lifted their hands up to touch the urn, many sobbing loudly.   The Brahmachari waded into the water with the urn over his head, and at this point, many sadhus joined him, walking out into the river. After a few feet they started to swim,  and when they reached the middle of the river, the ashes were dumped into Mother Narmada.   As they mingled with the clear water of the river, many of the sadhus swam in front and bathed in the ashes as they were carried downstream.   Then all the flowers from the shrine were placed in
the river, so that they formed a multicolored carpet covering the whole surface of the water, and all of us present then went in and bathed and offered our prayers for the soul of our respected brother.   I have been at jal samadhi of sadhus before, but this was more moving than anything I had experienced.    The suddenness of his unexpected death, his young age, and the dependence so many people had on him, made the moment very sad.   Although Barfani Dada never shows emotion, I could tell that he was very upset and sorrowful.”

“I later visited Barfani Dham camp at the Kumbha Mela in Ujain and had Dadas darshan. Everyone was still upset and in somewhat of a muddle. Another young Brahmachari, Hanumanprasad, is being trained by Dadaji to try and take on the duties of Sri Ramanandaji, but he is nowhere near the spiritual status of Acharyaji.”

“I, and many, feel as you do that he received a call from Babaji, and this is what prompted his going to Kailash at such an odd time of year when the weather was so bad.   He is no doubt with Babaji this moment in one form or another.   We are both fortunate to have known such a great man.  I would be interested in knowing what the pledge was that he made with you, if you would feel like sharing it with me.”

I share this memorial with all of you who read this blog because Ramamandacharya was the dearest of the dear to me and to so many who walk a solitary path toward God.   His passing brought up for the first time deep contemplation of both death and dharma.   As he told me in July of 2002, “This body will simply do, whatever is demanded of it.”

Om Tath Sath

Enlightened Monks

Over the years I have been seeking, I have also been fortunate enough to find a few Illuminated Beings who gave me hope that Enlightenment was a state of Beauty, both bountiful and bliss-filled.  Early on I knew  I was to go in search of my soul because the each soul comes with some work to do and felt it would direct me in my pursuit of  life.  However for the most part, I only had hazy feeling, an impression, a general direction, an attraction toward a variety of things.  What I was looking for was a clear-cut vision.

There are those few souls who are born with a clear cut vision of what they came into birth to do.   I have met a few of these people who were born for Enlightenment if not born enlightened.   Most of them you have probably met or at least heard of.  So I will tell a story of someone you may not have heard of, a saintly sadhu, I would have called Guru.

We met Swami Jagadguru Ramananda Acharya in Spring of 2002.  He was a disciple of Sri Sri Sadgurudev Brahmarishi Barfani Dadaji, who was said to be 240-260 years old.   Barfani Dadaji  had close up and personal relationships with Neem Karoli Baba and with Mahavatar Babaji.     Sometime in February of 2002, Govindan got a call from members of Barfani Dham Khalsa.  The call was an inquiry as to whether Govindan would be interested to host siddhas, presently living  in the Himalayas,  at the ashram in Canada.  What?!  Yes!  The story got interesting as the person elaborated that Barfani Dadaji had concerns about the possibility of a nuclear accident due to building tension in Kashmir.  This concern began after December of 2001, when two Pakistan based militant groups perhaps headed by the ISI attacked Indian Parliament killing a number of people.

Govindan gave his consent and his message was relayed to Barfani Dadaji.  No more was heard for several months.  The end of May, he got another call from this same disciple that he and I were invited to come along on pilgrimage with Sri Dadaji to Mount Kailash.  We would leave the first of July.  I was then working for Kriya Yoga Publications in Canada as a book editor, had created a Hatha Yoga DVD, was developing a correspondence course and giving Hatha Yoga Teacher Trainings with Govindan and was then engaged to him  (many changes had occurred during the time between fall of 1999 and April of 2002).

We decided to drop everything we had planned in July and go to Indore to meet with Sri Sri Barfani Dadaji to get the straight skinny on what’s going on with the siddhas.  Perhaps too we would accompanying him on a yatra to Mount Kailash!  End of June we flew into New Delhi and were met by Mr. Vaid, the disciple who had spoken with Govindan earlier. Mr. Vaid was a very gregarious man and generous and invited us and a group of others to spend the day and evening in his lovely home.   We enjoyed a wonderful evening. The following day we flew to Indore in Madhya Pradesh, just a bit west of the center of India.

We flew into Indore and went straight to Barfani Dham Ashram and met Sri Sadgurudeva Barfani Dadaji.  He was the sweetest soul I had ever met.  He didn’t look 260 years old, more like in his 70’s.   He smiled and stared so brightly holding my gaze, that I felt he had gleaned my whole story, within those few minutes.  He said that I was a disciple of Babaji but also saw Sai Baba around me.  I was quite surprised by the Sai Baba reference.  I had only gone to his ashram once for ten days.  Perhaps that is what he saw.  He showed Govindan and I around the ashram, speaking in both Hindi and in smiles.   Through a translator, he told us that he would spend time speaking with us after we had returned from Omkareshwar.  But after lunch we must travel there to speak with his disciple Jagadguru Ramamandacharya , who was there doing tapas.  He was to  come back with us to Indore and we would discuss the Siddhas and Mount Kailash yatra.  We were so pleased and excited to be able to see Omkareshwar and the  Narmada River with all its natural lingams.  We had lunch and immediately left in a caravan with about 10 others, the Indian devotees  with whom we had traveled from New Delhi.

Omkareshwar is an island two kilometers long and one kilometer wide, in the shape of a visual representation of the  Om, about 70 kilometers from Indore.  It is situated at the prayag of the Narmada and Kaveri Rivers.   And it is known for its Jyotirlingam , a self-empowered, self illumined lingam, presented for worship in the Sri Omkareshwar Mahadeo Temple.  There are many Hindu and Jain temples in Omkareshwar, including a rare Temple of Brahma. There is a cave of the Adi Shankaracharya and the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak did parikrama there. Many Sikhs visit the island on pilgrimage. The whole area feels sacred.

We checked into a dharmshala, which was extremely unkempt.  I was used to simple but the conditions were appalling.  Neither Govindan nor any of the Indians said a word, so I kept my thoughts to myself as we dropped our bags in the room and locked the inside door. The outside door hinges were so loose that a hefty yank would open it.  I carried my valuables with me, so I set out to visit the town without concern. The village was strangely familiar, as if I had once seen it in a dream.  We ate lunch with the group, but the group energy was getting tiring. And we were growing irritated by Mr. Vaid whole felt it was his duty to  herd us  here and there.  To be to quite frank there was some growing hostility.  The group wanted to stay on the mainland and visit the Temples and bazaars and then do a parikrama of the island.  All we wanted to do was take the boat across the Narmada to the island where Ramanandacharya was doing his tapas.  Govindan and I decided to break free of the group and so tarried a bit too long in a shop.   Everyone was relieved I am sure.

We took the boat and went across the River and arrived at the spot just below at Gayatri Temple and Ashram.  The Gayatri Temple had  wonderful energy,  puja was done several times daily.   There were several lovely little rooms available for rent for sadhaks.    An adorable little girl came running toward us, as we walked up toward the Temple.  She was the daughter of the priest of the Temple.  I asked her in English if she knew where  Swami Ramanandacharya stayed.  She beamed the most beautiful smile and grabbed my hand and ran me toward his hut.  Swami was inside when we arrive. The little devi called his name and he came out immediately.  Jadguru Ramanandacharya was a beautiful man of about 40 years, but looked no more than 30.  He must be a Hathayogi, I thought, he was very strongly built, which seemed a bit unusual  for a sadhu of his attainment.  He must have heard my thought, as he looked to have frown a bit.  He seemed to know that Govindan was coming but seemed disturbed by my approach.  He picked up the little girl’s hand and kind of danced with her, twirling her around. There was so much love there between these two, I was charmed!

Swamiji was in silence and had a small chalk board on which he would write. Would you take tea? He asked turned toward Govindan.  Yes! Definitely I answered before he had a chance to decline the offer.  Swamiji smiled and nodded toward me and went into the hut. Two young men came out to have a look at us before going back in to make the tea.

The little devi helped to serve us tea.  And then for the next four hours we sat still and transfixed by Swamiji and the stories that he so easily chalked out on his little board.  In the beginning he ignored me and spoke only with Govindan.  I was amused by this pattern, but persistent in my questions and within a fairly short time he had allowed me entrance into his world and by the time we had finished our tea I felt very close to him.

He talked about his meetings with Yogi Ramaiah, Govindan’s teacher and about staying in the small Kali ashram in Grahamsville, New York and about the parade that he was in with Barfani Dadaji in New Jersey, when Barfani cleared a totally overcast sky filled with rain clouds into a day of endless sunshine.  I asked him what bestowal of the title Jagadguru meant.   He shared deeply about belonging to the Akhil Bhartiya Digambar Ani Akhara Sect and being so humbled by their bestowal of the Title Jagadguru.  There was no sense of pride, he was only trying to explain what I had asked him, in all honesty.  I was stuck in my depths by his purity and siddhis.

He shared with us about his meeting in Mount Kailash with Babaji and how Babaji had given to him a technique to give to all people… a very simple technique of chanting AUM twice a day for a particular amount of time in a particular rhythm.  He said that it was all that most people are willing to do that would be of definite benefit.  He asked us for the photo of Babaji and Mataji seated in Santopanth Tal. We promised to send it to him and also a t-shirt with the same photo screen printed on it.  We were all very happy.  He called for more tea and biscuits.

At one point he was sharing that Babaji was actually an incarnation of Hanuman. And suddenly, just as he began to tell the story of Hanuman and the connection to Babaji, monkeys in the jungle started raising hell and rushed in towards us as we were seated on the porch of his hut.  I quickly grabbed for my purse and Ramandacharya, turned to me, put his palm upward to me as to say, no fear.  And wrote on his slate, “I won’t let anything happen.”   And to my absolute surprise, the monkeys only came as far as the wall on one side of the hut and sat down… and quite in an orderly fashion as if they just wanted to hear Swamiji tell the story of  Hanuman again.  I swear this is the truth. And in addition, the little birds that were already seated there in the same way did not move one iota when the monkeys came.

Govindan and I looked at each other and at Swamiji and at the birds and monkeys and shrugged and then just sat silent to read the story…He still wasn’t  talking he was only writing the story and had us all man, woman, child and beasts mesmerized.

Then Swamiji then did another  wonderful thing and showed us his mediation cave.   The cave was dug deep into the ground and quite low on the hill. And even though there were often great monsoons on the island, the cave remained dry.  He said that even he was amazed at this.  There was a beautiful Durga Murti and  photograph in his cave that he wanted me to see.  He allowed us to meditate there.  We must have been there about an hour.  It wasn’t until we heard the Indians arrive that we were broke our meditation.  It had been a wonderful blessing to have been able to mediate in Jadguru Ramanandacharyas cave on the sacred island of  Omkareshwaram.

Mr. Vaid and his group were all seated on the porch as we climbed out of the cave. They seemed rather put out at us, for so many reasons, I am sure.  Mr. Vaid was lying on Swamiji’s hammock and turned away from Swami. The others were just talking to him about their day.  I was deeply disappointed in these people.  Not one of them showed the reverence due this youthful sadhu, who was a Divine Manifestation of  Pure Light and Force.

The group started to tell Swami about the Kailash Yatra and that he had to go back with us the following morning. Mr. Vaid passed him a note from Barfani Dadaji.   Swamiji wrote on his chalkboard that he would do whatever  his Sadguru Barfani Dadaji wanted him to do. And would travel with us back to Indore in the morning.

The group wanted a homan (purifying fire ceremony) that evening and Swamiji said that he would officiate.  He said though that we must first meditate on our deepest desire and to make it a good one, because whatever we asked for that evening would be provided. The young men had prepared a meal for all of us of rice and dahl.  It was delicious but the sweet energy of the afternoon had been disturbed by this demanding group.  Even though they had told us that they were all disciples of Ramanadacharya I sensed a lack of respect.

As I was accepting another tea, I asked one of the young men if he always stayed with Swamiji.   He said that two people had to be with him at all times. They had to care for him because he would often go into samadhi so deeply and remain there for days on end. They were told by Barfani Dadaji to stay with him, protect him and make certain that he ate and drank water.

Ramananda Acharya had come to Barfani Dadaji only after he had finished his university studies. He was a unique sadhu with an unusual dharma. I asked him if he wanted to be in the world to teach us what he had learned. He admitted that he did not care about teaching. “This body will simply do, whatever is demanded of it.  I will do whatever Barfani Dadaji or Babaji requires of me.”

The day had been amazing one. So much had happened.  I wondered what the night’s homan would bring.

To be continued-

Walking through the open door

A door gently swings open…and a force arises from deep within.

The Badrinath/Santopanth Tal pilgrimage blessed me with Faith in something beyond my understanding, which was taking control of my life.  Surprisingly, that truth, rather than disturbing me, brought me immense gratitude and relief.  My doubting nature was dissolving.  There was no thing to question, no thing to fear.

To my surprise others around me began regularly to mention my deeply devotional nature.  “Did I seem that?”  “Was I?”   I did not have a religious nature. I would never think of displaying my devotion outwardly.  Yet, that must be what I was feeling.   I yearned to swim in that inner vast, calm, equal-minded consciousness, which often accompanied my thoughts, perceptions, and enthusiasm.  A channel had been opened through that yearning (the devotional heart?) to an underlying calmness that regularly acted upon mental agitations in my mind,  quieting it, redirecting it, widening it.   It allowed me at times to perceive directly without thinking first.   It filled my heart with love.  That love would often overwhelm me and  engulf others, even strangers in it.

In Santopanth, I had been initiated into a relationship with my inner Self.  I realized this relationship was the one I had yearned for all my life– the most constant and most intimate one I would ever have.  How could any external relationship ever come close to it?  No one would relate to me,  moment to moment, every minute of my life, the way the inner Self does.  It had always been there dominating and directing the experiences of my life. It was my own inner Self that determined when I should feel pain, pride and selfishness or joy and love, beauty, kindness and compassion.  And now my inner Self had determined the time to unlock my heart to Self/Guru/God.

My devotion was deeply resonating with this most intimate, secret Self.  The Siddhas say that Devotion creates an unbreakable link with the Self and transfer one’s center of dynamic effectuation from the hands of the ego to the hands of the soul.  This link opens the channel for a higher consciousness to work out of Divine Will.  This higher, concentrated consciousness is always centered and harmonious, whereas our ordinary human consciousness and will, acts from dispersed haphazard feelings and impulses from vital desire, physical need or mental ideas.

Devotion allowed me to witness my thoughts and feelings as I was having them, or at least gave me time later on to correct those that were wrong.  It stopped many of my knee-jerk reactions and judgments.   Devotion to the Self allowed me to take responsibility for all my suffering.  It  drew my mind away from irritations and pain in my mind and psyche and into contemplation with what I was now calling the mind of God– that concentrated consciousness, full of luminosity and awareness.  My meditations became prayers, not asking for something, but as an expression of Love. Love is my experience of Devotion.

I had always been a passionate person with a determined personality, perhaps stubborn, impatient and highly loyal.  Yet, I felt a letting go of this persona too.  In fact for a while, I didn’t know who I was or what was important to me.  There was a sense that I was in the midst of an identity crisis. I knew who I wasn’t but not who I was.  I didn’t talk about this with anyone. I didn’t talk much actually during the year that followed.  I pretended I was the same person. But much of the time I felt emotionally that  I was  swimming in uncharted waters.  I was most comfortable in meditation and also while driving, for some reason.  I wanted to drive across the country. Had it been summer, not fall, I would taken Alexander and done just that. I tried to be normal with my sons.  Carl was in college and busy with his life. Alexander was in High School.  I think he was the only one who was aware of me , in those days. He is very empathetic.

He and I had long talks about everything and were deeply connected.  A year earlier we had gone as a family to see the movie the Truman Show.  He was sitting two chairs down from me… but he kept looking around Mikael to say to me… “What is going on?  Are you okay?”  I was totally out of my physical awareness and observing from a perspective that I cannot describe other than to say I was watching myself watch the movie and totally identified with the light behind that, which was being projected onto the screen of my own awareness.  It was unique experience for me at that time.  I don’t know, perhaps the Truman Show had that affect on many people.  But after the movie, Alexander came around to me and held me tightly as we walked out.   No one but Alexander noticed that I was having difficulty determining what was real.  I was back to normal the next day.

Devotion to the Self leads us to take care of the Self.  To care for the Self, we become more detached from the outer senses and more aware of our inner sensing.  That can unbalance us at times in midst of life in the world.  A devotional mind, a devotional nature allows us to see that each moment is happening exactly as it must, in order for us to grow, that what is happening in each moment, or already happened is precisely or was precisely what was needed to uncover our Divinity, while living as human beings.   No matter what happens then, we are able to handle it.

I would have spontaneous trains of thought and feelings, which took me off into imagination or memories, and away from what was happening in the present moment.  I had reactions to another awareness, yet found that when I brought my attention upon the external present, I was calm and happy.  Without faith and devotion I could imagine I would have returned to the present moment upset, depressed, angry, or frightened.

Later that year, on my way to South Florida, I stopped overnight to visit with my friend Jackie.  We knew each other very well. I had known her for ten years and we had shared all our stories with one another.  We started a deep conversation at dinner and had come back to her apartment and continued it. I recall we were in her kitchen and we were discussing from two very different points of view about my inclination to retreat from the world and why should it be necessary to consistently withdraw the mind from its normally constant projection onto outer things. I do not remember what we were discussing at the moment she began to dissolve before my eyes.  The edge of her physical body began to dissolve and she was became more and more vibrational and  furthermore everything that she was saying and everything that I was saying was coming from the same point in space and just above and to the left of my head.   Somewhere inside myself I burst out laughing, although I don’t believe I even physically smiled. This was all a bit unusual.  I realized that everything we were saying was all nonsense.  It was just blah, blah, blah.  It just didn’t matter and that all this blah, blah, blah was coming out of the same mouth, the same consciousness, whether we accepted it or not.   These two people were expressing these opinions with such vigor, trying to convince one another, when there was no other to convince.  I could see where the voice and words were coming from, but where were the opinions coming from?  I couldn’t find the words to tell Jackie what was happening.  I excused myself and went to bed, hoping that I would wake up in the morning back to “normal.”  I did.

Perhaps that the Enlightened are able to dwell permanently in such a center, so that the divine soul directs one’s waking consciousness and active outer nature.   I do have gratitude that my inner self allowed me to contemplate and savor this intense experience, yet not “think” too much about it.

Home again

I suppose I must have had great expectations about what would happen on our pilgrimage or how I would be transformed by it? I don’t remember that, all I recall is great excitement.

I normally had expectations about everything. though.   My life, a career, love, marriage, children, my relationship with my children and my parents, friendships, the spiritual relationship between  Guru and disciple, even how all the people in my world should behave—for all these I had expectations and was  self-righteously indignant when others did not live up to them.  I was generally disappointed for the most of  my  twenties and thirties.   (although i must say motherhood was  much more than I expected).   Was life only an unraveling of an intricate web of karma?    Was I  just immature, romantic, selfish, unrealistic, cynical?     Or is it expectation itself that is  the wrong action?

Everything is always perfect even in its imperfection. This is what filled my head and heart, as I hugged Randy, Devananda and Govindan, who had participated with me in one of the most intensely spiritual experiences of my life.

I was beginning to  see just how absolutely everything happens precisely at the right time and in the proper way to create the right conditions for change.   And how connected we are to one another and how we are used to help one another.   Our spiritual relationships are not meant to get us together, they are meant to get us Home.   And how transformation  occurs with precise timing, slowly nourishing and seeping into our being, one level at a time.

A Pilgrimage accelerates the process, however one must repeat as necessary.

I was beginning to see how my whole life had actually been timed quite well, without me doing much of the planning.   My planning never seemed to get me anywhere.  When I thought now I had to break free of limitations, or develop this or that potential or start to do some particular work or sadhana – all I really had to do was to wait cheerfully and be in life consciously and do what was required of me at any moment in time.  The things I had need to transform in my life always arrived at the right time organically without any effort on my part.   These situations were always clear;  I had no choice to make.    Of course the key is always awareness—you have to be aware so that when a state of immediacy arises, you recognize it, take the action necessary and open to the opportunity presented.  But it really is as simple as that—  And awareness is the key, but the secret of success is fearlessness.   Fearlessness is the secret of any life worth living.

Today we hear much about the “secret” to getting everything we desire. We are to let our desires create our reality.  We want something to happen so we visualize it, develop it and then allow it happen.  But ask yourself, “does this grant me freedom?”   I don’t know?   We accept responsibility for our life,  but it can get us so entangled in egoistic desire and ambition that we may miss something of a much greater value– that which our soul has to offer us.   All if know is that my greatest happiness and greatest sense of freedom arises out of letting go, not knowing what will happen next and waiting patiently to see.

When I returned from this pilgrimage, the transformation I felt  was a sense of fearlessness.  I felt free to live without knowing what would happen next, free to live without expectation, free to live without interference or conflict.  Freedom from expectation or emotional responses allowed me  to think and act with clarity and kindness.   And my life did change significantly, but in an atmosphere of cooperation and compassion and even unconditional love.  This was no little transformation.

There is a subliminal part of our being that has direct perception of the world.   It is not the waking mind that travels on the surface, nor is it physical senses or vital intuition or reason.   It is of our inner subtle senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell that are not confined to our physical environment.  I began to rely on these more and more.

I think fearlessness allows us to tap into these inner senses and receive their guidance.   Perhaps fearlessness prepares us for more transformation.  Perhaps as we allow the soul to manifest and influence us, fearlessness arises.   Maybe fearlessness can transform the rest my human nature.  I don’t know and that makes me happy.

Shifting landscapes and perspectives

We had very little conversation on the road from Badrinath.  Aloneness and introspection had been our modus operandi for the past ten days and we had no need or interest in sharing our individual experiences, perceptions  or insights.  We rested in a cocoon of mental silence.

The ten days there had touched me in so many ways that I felt vaguely unsettled.  It was as if I was on a precipice, one foot was already off the ground and I was about to free fall, unsure how or where I would land.

On the way up the mountain Devananda had insisted that the driver stop regularly to let him take photographs of the ever changing, exquisite beauty and spiritual landscape which is the Himalayas, its nature, colors, its villages, its people.  On the trip down the mountain he rarely even looked out the window.  I imagined he was doing what I was doing – engraving memories of the past days on my heart.

Randy was quiet too for the most part.   He sometimes spoke with the driver.  He had learned some Hindi and was speaking English with an Indian accent.  He seemed so happy, so at home in India.  I thought he was probably the only American I knew who could easily live in the Himalayas, for the rest of his life.

I couldn’t live in the Himalayas.  But, I knew that I would be back, again and again.  There were times on this pilgrimage when I sat still seated just beyond my reasoning mind, where all the answers to all my questions were–  where I could access  insights into my self and intuition would dawn about my life and from where I got direct guidance.       Badrinath/Santopanth Tal  held a the key for me to unlock this place, in my mind and heart.  It is my Inner SatGuru.  Badrinath  is Babaji.

I had heard Govindan say that there are two kinds of people, people who have been to India and those who haven’t.  I finally understood what he meant.  My life prior to this pilgrimage had ended; my life now would be different.   I had truly accessed my Inner Guru.  Now my life would be driven more by purpose and towards achieving an aim.  The aim was to live an authentic, exemplary life so I could be united with Myself.   I didn’t know what that would mean for me.  There was a lot  percolating in my confident heart.

We made it all the way to Rishikesh that first night.  I felt that we were all walking with a lighter foot on the earth.   I imagined my equanimity would follow me back to the U.S., back into all  life challenges.  The fact of the matter was it didn’t even remain with me for 24 hours after I left Badrinath.  Randy had run out of money in Badrinath and Devananda and I were picking up the tab for him.  I don’t recall what happened but Devananda blew up and told Randy not a rupee more, so  I was paying for all his expenses and then he did something, had a spa treatment… or said something or other, and I blew up at him.  Randy was definitely there to test us.

The next day Randy left for Mussoorie to visit a friend and Devananda and I went to Haridwar.   He needed to pick up the jewelry that he had made for his wife.  I wanted to stay in Haridwar until I had to leave for the flight back home and he wanted to shop in Delhi for his family.   I was not ready for the noise or the pollution in New Delhi so decided to stay in Haridwar.

Several days later while in Haridwar,  I met Govindan and Walter coming back from Badrinath.  They were all aglow.  They had great days at Santopanth but a tough trek out.   The night before they left there was  a snow storm and a great deal of snow covered the rocks and boulders  so they had to travel very slowly.  They had been unable to get to Mana before nightfall.   They traveled on those narrow, rocky, silty paths covered with snow and ice in the dark!   It was so dangerous in good conditions, that I could not imagine that they had continued in the dark with only those little high-beam flashlights to show the way.  They shared with me, that in the morning and just as they were leaving, they watched an avalanche erupt on the mountain closest to their camp site.   The huge mass of snow continued to shift not only down the mountain but also up over the ridge of the valley where they were standing, and some of it ended up pelleting them as snowballs.   It is well known that in the Himalayas Divine nectar comes in the form of precipitation.  This was a blessing; no doubt about it.  They had felt confident to travel even in darkness.

I got a ride with Govindan and Walter to the airport in New Delhi.   Surprisingly, Govindan was on the same flight as we all were.  Unfortunately, I got very sick from the six hour car ride to Delhi.  The taxi had a bad muffler and traffic was backed up.  The air was a mix of dust and fumes and the combination of being physically run down and wide open from all the fresh Himalaya prana, I seemed to  just absorb it all.  By the time we got to the airport I had an excruciating headache and was throwing up.  Govindan had to physically help me stand up as I tried to hold it together long enough to get through check-in, immigration and security.   I slept most of the way home, which was a first.  We all arrived in New York, had time for a hug and were off to our respective flights back to our families.  The pilgrimage was completed.  However,  the fruits of it had not yet begun to fall.

Where do we go from here?

Badrinath has physical magnificence, which is compelling.   It also has a spiritual vibration that can power transformation.   It is as if Badri is invested with the vibrations of all the innumerable saints, sages, and siddhas who have done their penance there and who there attained the highest states of consciousness.

Also too there is an easy Silence that I had not experienced in any place else.  There were no intrusive thought forms, interruptions or disruptions in my mind, when I sat for meditation.  Being alone in the midst of the nature around Badrinath made it quite easy to turn inside myself.   I moved inward as I had trekked, slowly and with difficulty and at my own pace and seeking the strength and solace of a  Presence greater than myself.

The true benefit of pilgrimage is that it starts  subtle changes in the physical, mental and spiritual being.  Sometimes change is so subtle you can’t really put your finger on it. And sometimes there is nothing subtle about it – you and your life changes dramatically.    And thanks to  change being constant, regardless of how intuitive you think you are, you can never accurately predict how life will turn out.

Being at Santopanth granted me the time to recognize and accept the weaknesses and shortcomings of my personality and know also the power of my individuality and the importance of expressing it.   Throughout the whole of the pilgrimage to Santopanth I had become aware of my own resistances and aversions, which were causing disharmony in my body and in my life.  I became aware of the imperfections in my nature and in the life I was living.  I had done deep work on myself. It is not that I had grand and glorious transformational meditations with Siddhas and Goddesses.  But this trip had helped me to visualize the possibilities of  living a divine life that was simple, kind, whole, and self aware.  I felt more attuned with my self and connected to my own shakti.

I would be going back down the mountain now and I was ready.  I didn’t regret not having more time nor did I feel an urgency to get back home.

The weather was turning cold and snow was coming. As I walked out of my room to go for breakfast I looked out at Neelakanth Peak.  The top of the mountain was completely hidden by clouds. I was concerned for Govindan, Walter, Bobby and group.  There was snow there, much more than that which we had seen.  I prayed they would have rich experiences in Santopath but return soon to Badrinath safe and sound.

I met Randy and Devananda at the little tea stall across from the Dev Lok. They were sitting with the intriguing Sadhu dressed in black, from the night before. His Western devotee was not there.  Randy introduced me to him. He lived in a Cottage in Rishikesh and invited us all to visit him.  Again I had the feeling of familiarity with him.  He was very friendly and had a wonderful voice, but I felt him, more than heard what he said.  Randy asked if he could take a photo of the two of us.  He smiled broadly and we stood together for the photo.  It is still today, one of my favorite photos. I  do not know why. I have not seen him since.

We wanted to stay a day longer to make certain that our friends got back safely, but we had only a few days to get back to New Delhi for our flight home.  And today the weather was fine for travel. Who knew what the next few days would bring.  Traveling in the Himalayas is always an issue. You never underestimate the importance of a day without rain and clear roads. We arranged for a car to take us all the way to Rishikesh, if possible. You never know how far you will be able to get.

We went to the Temple one last time. Devanada and Randy bathed in the Tapt Kund.  I just cupped the water with my hands.   The hot spring water is scalding in the mornings.  I cut some of my hair and tucked it into the bricks and motar as I sat waiting for them to finish their bath.

Badrinath is a place to which I  return,  time and time again.    We still felt pulled in two directions, to stay or to go, even as the gate open allowing the cars to leave from Badrinath.

A Widening Outlook,

I received an angry comment to the last posting, which questioned my sincerity and made judgments, accusing me of trying to “hook in” this person for some personal profit or “money making cult.”   Even having been myself, a sincere, yet cynical  seeker who trusted no one and was wary of anything that I had not experienced, I was surprised at the comment.

Since this came up, perhaps I should clarify why I am writing my story in a form of a blog.  I have no interest in promoting myself or any particular practice, nor do I ever plan on saying that the practices I do personally are necessary to raise consciousness or are the way to Babaji.

I am sharing my truth in this forum, which welcomes open discussion.  I am telling my story because this is what I have experienced and a blog makes it accessible for anyone who chooses to be entertained by it.   It is the truth and it the story of an ordinary life.  It is extraordinary only for me.  The only criteria for me writing this, is that everything I say must be the truth.  Some pieces may be missing from my memory, but nothing has been massaged or exaggerated or whitewashed.   It is what it is and nothing more, nothing less.   It is my life.   Except for a few long stories the posts will not be in chronological order.  I don’t plan what I am going to write. I sit and write the truth about my life.   My practice of Yoga is part of it, being attracted to Babaji is another part, being a mother of two sons is another, developing my potential and my marriages are yet others, all these are told as a way for me to get a full picture of  why this soul may have chosen to be here.   But also it creates a distance between these parts of my life and who I am.

I am trying to strip myself of identities and responsibilities. The last thing I would want to do is to encourage others to join me and for me to become responsible for them.   If you choose to read about this life, my challenges and my insights, perhaps you will be provoked to share some of your own life experiences and insights.    Maybe there is an opportunity to support one another through the blog.  That is as far as my sense of responsibility goes.

People ask me how are we to know if we are progressing spiritually.  All I can say is that that I have tried to see myself honestly and find the karma, synchronicities, patterns, and wonder in all aspects and events of my own life.   I can also say  it is not a matter of having to do this particular practice or that practice in order to see these patterns or the magic.  It is about being so sincere in your aspiration to know yourself that you are willing to give up all ideals, concepts, opinions and judgments about everything.   It is about letting go of cynicism and doubt.   It is about being willing to honestly tell all your stories and just as willing to let go of them.  It is about not holding onto anything.

It is about identifying oneself with the self of others and feeling that connection within the very atoms of other human beings and with the animals of the world.  It is about ahimsa, non-harming and non-manipulation.   It is about identifying oneself with the entire universe.

I believe that this widening began to happen for all of us during that pilgrimage to and from Santopanth.

My being able on that night in Santopanth to see Babaji laughing was a moment of intimate connection with the bliss of the self.   I believe my mind put that experience into form.  Bliss took the form of Babaji.   Energy created matter in a kind of holographic form.  It was a moment in time.  And at the same time the whole sky opened up displaying millions of stars.   It was some divine play.

That night, we slept well and woke up at peace even though we had very little food left and still there was no sign of Deba.  We did our sadhana separately that morning.   Devananda never came out of his tent.  Randy went hiking in the mountains, I think he was hoping to discover Deba on his way.  Mid-morning, Devananda gave me a couple of packets of cocoa and oatmeal and asked me to boil some water.  I had just made our instant breakfast when I heard Randy yelling from the ledge of the rock cliff.  Someone is coming!  I can see them!  It is four or five people!  I had a feeling it wasn’t Deba.  Randy would have recognized him, even at a distance.

Several hours later, Randy came back to camp with news that Govindan and Walter had arrived along with a guide and porters.  Devananda and I went up to meet them.  Govindan was very surprised but pleased to see us.  We were very happy, we had not expected to see them.  They arrived three or four days earlier than planned. Govindan said he hardly recognized me, I looked Nepali.  I suppose I looked native, browned, weather-beaten, wrapped in blankets and rather thin.  They camped just below the ledge of the valley and used the small house for cooking.  Bobby, their guide rushed to make a meal for us all when he heard that our cook had gone to find more porters.   They had lots of extra food and were very happy to share.  We were happy to eat.

Bobby quickly made us sweet, milky Tiger Tea and I was totally content. Dinner preparation would take a while so we decided to do the asanas together.  I can say that never before had I enjoyed the postures as I did that day.  I was totally acclimated and doing the postures there, was a spiritual high that I will never forget. That was the first day at Santopanth that I did all 18 postures and it was then and there that I began to utilize the bandhas with intensity, along with  spinal breathing.

We had a wonderful dinner.  Devananda and I went back down to our camp.  Randy had not come to dinner; he was not in a good mood. The next day was very cold.  It was the end of September and it felt as if winter would soon be there.   I spent some time with Govindan and Walter showing them the caves we had found and did sadhana with them.   Devananda did sadhana in his tent.  Randy roamed.  I think we all were a little nervous about Deba’s safe return.  Govindan had not seen him in Joshimath nor had Bobby seen him in Badrinath.

About 4pm, Randy came excitedly into camp.  He could see Deba with about 4 other people climbing in the Valley of Doom. They would be here soon.  Deba had been able to find a great guide and group of porters.  We would however have to leave the next morning,  a heavy  snow was expected.  Deba and the new guide Raoul made dinner.  Everyone was all in a great mood and after dinner Raoul picked up my drum and started to play.  He was amazing and the porters started to sing lovely bhajans.  At one point I started to dance and before we knew it everyone was dancing in a circle to the music and the drum.  It was a memorable night!

The next morning, we rose early to mediate and had a lot of chapatti and chai. Govindan came to our camp as we were packing up.  He climbed with us to the top of the valley.  I was very concerned that the weather would turn bad, while he and Walter were there.  They were planning on staying another 48 hours and then would return to Badrinath.  Raoul and Bobby spoke at length about the weather.  Heavy snows could reach them before that.  I asked Govindan to promise that they would leave in 24 hours if the weather worsened.  I couldn’t imagine them having to return in heavy snow over the boulders and steep, narrow paths.

We said our goodbyes and began to climb back.  It took us two days to get there, however it would only take one day to return to Badrinath. The worst part of the return was over the Valley of Doom – both climbing down the rolling boulders on one side of the valley and walking over them to climb up the other side.

Everyone was at the top of the other side, waiting for me and for Randy, who stayed right by my side.  It was very difficult and I was exhausted and this was only the first 45 minutes.     Raoul, who was carrying my drum took it out and started drumming.  He drummed an powerful beat that filled and lifted me. I began to climb easily, with the beat.  It was terrific. I don’t know if this is a traditional way of encouraging lagers, on treks, but it worked like a charm. I was at the top of the cliff in no time. I hugged Raoul and thanked him. I also gave him my drum. He was like a snake charmer, his drum charming me up the hill.

The rest of the trek was relatively smooth. I did slip at one point on a narrow path.  It was a dangerous fall eliciting some fear.  My shoulder was jerked quite abruptly as I caught myself on the exposed roots of a tree.  I felt pain immediately shoot through my shoulder joint.   We got through the difficult part of  the journey by about 3 pm, in the afternoon.   As Randy and I were walking across a flat field, two eagles flew very close to our heads and circled.  It was a beautiful sight.  I had never seen eagles fly so close.  Sometime soon after, I received a mental message, a brain wave.   It was an instantaneous knowing.  I knew that the karma between my husband, Mikael and I was complete and finished.   I knew that he had met someone and that we would start a divorce action as soon as I returned.  It was profound and a fete de complete.

In Mana, we went to the Army post and checked out. The same official was there and seemed surprised that we had actually stayed so long at Santopanth.  Then we bought tea for everyone and sat in the village for about an hour before we could even considered making a move toward the Dev Lok Hotel in Badrinath.  I thought about Mikael. We had been married for 24 years. I looked for some feeling about what I knew. There was no internal sensation or emotion.  I enjoyed my tea immensely. I had two.

We checked into the Dev Lok and grabbed our towels and some fresh clothes and went to the Tapt Kund.  The hot sulphur springs would feel good, even if it was over 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  After the bath we went to the Temple.  Devananda had an experience at the Kund and walked around with a Cheshire Cat grin. We had dinner at Saket.  On the way back to the hotel we saw a sadhu, a guru with his student.  He was very tall, a big man, distinguished dressed all in black.   He was standing with an attractive Western woman. He looked at us, for a long time as we walked towards him.  He came up to us and asked who we were and where we had been.   I liked him. He seemed familiar, but I was too tired to stay up and talk. I excused myself and went to my room. I wrapped myself in everything I owned and got into my sleeping bag and feel into a deep sleep.

The next morning I opened my door to let in light.    It was cold and I wanted to do sadhana in my room.  At one  point, I opened my eyes and saw a rat standing in the door. It was large and brown with a long tail and it was looking into my room, not moving.    And I found this rat interesting. I did not scream or move from my bed.    I was observing its lightly colored fur and the shape of its head and the length of its tail and then watched as it scampered down the stairs.   I was witnessing it without any thought of fear or disgust.

Who was the person sitting on this bed?

A Path to Heaven

Continued from previous posts

Santopath means “path or way to Heaven.” There is something quite otherworldly about it.  Even though moments earlier we were beyond exhaustion, the mere sight and energy of  the lake’s radiant water, teased us effortless to her beaches. There was a small house just down to our left and the area was flat. We could have easily camped there. But we longed to be by the water’s edge.  So we climbed over more of the  rocky terrain and eased our equipment down on the other side of a steep ledge.

An hour later we were setting up camp.  We had brought a water purifying system and Randy had set it up by the lake quite conveniently just before nightfall.   Deba began to prepare a meal. He had immediately begun to cook  lots of sweet milky tiger’s tea over his little camp stove.   It was the most delightfully tasty tea.  The porters were loud and talked non-stop. It seems they were upset because the trek had been too hard, and there was no wood to keep a camp fire burning.  We had already discussed with the three of them that they would go back the following day to buy fire wood along with more vegetables and flour.  It should take them only one day to travel back to Badrinath to buy supplies and another day to return.  Deba and the guide arranged everything and we gave our guide the money to give the porters, in Badrinath for the supplies.  I was too exhausted to eat dinner. I slipped in my sleeping bag and fell asleep.  My sleep was very disturbed.  The porters were very noisy.   I was probably hungry.   My legs kept jerking and I was very cold.

I awoke early the next day with the rising sun.  The porters had already left for Badrinath.  It was nice to have the peace back.   I was feeling a bit ill, perhaps  from physical exhaustion, altitude and or  sunburn and hunger. I washed in the frigid sparkling waters, wrapped myself up in blankets and practiced pranayam and meditation. I did not have the energy for asana.  We then had some hot chapati and chai.  I looked for my Power Bars. They were not in my backpack.  The Power Bars, which had made me feel somewhat prepared in case of a food shortage were gone.  And this was just the first day.  The porters must have just taken them all with them.

Randy left to go hiking a bit higher further into the mountains to view the Santopanth Glacier and perhaps to look for Babaji’s cave.  Feeling a bit light-headed, and without my Power Bars, I chose to investigate the area surrounding the lake.  It was cold and Devananda went into this tent to continue his sadhana.

I found a cave, rather hidden in the hills, a yagna peetam was just below it.  I crawled into the opening. It was a large cave once you got inside. There was Sanskrit etched on its walls.  I was surprised not to feel a bit claustrophobic.  The energy in the cave was amazing. I felt definitely that I was not sitting there alone.  I had a peaceful meditation.  I returned to camp to tell Devananda about the cave.  Of course we went straight back.  Devananda climbed in, on hands and knees.  The cave itself was large enough for both us to sit very comfortably in, but I was developing an intense headache and had to go back to the campsite.   On the way back I felt a bit faint, was nauseous and headachy, so climbed into my sleeping bag and slept the rest of the day.  I physically could not get up for dinner.  I slept on and off during the night and had lots of dream sequences.  I still remembered the dreams the next morning.

By the next morning I felt okay.  Deba made me several cups of Tiger Tea and Devananda gave me a instant oatmeal from his secret stash.  It was a fine day for sadhana.  The weather was magnificent. There was not a cloud in the sky, which was a color of blue that I think exists only at the top of the world.   We sat together by the lake.  Santopanth Tal is a lake of an amazing color.  The water is crystal clear, but has a beautiful green tint to it. The glacier rubs against the rocks so the minerals are pulverized and this support algae growth in the lake, thus the green color.   The glacial lake is surrounded on all sides by steep rocky hills of silt, sand, rock and ice.  The rock face appeared to have an area where we imagined there had been a water fall in the past.

Badrinath mountain range, surrounding the valley on three sides, rises in majestic snow covered peaks.  Mt.Neelakanth is in clear view.  We were camping at an altitude of less than 13,000 ft., but the Santopanth glacier itself spans over 13 kilometers and originates at about 23,000 ft.  We were blessed indeed that the previous winter had been so unusually moderate and we were able to camp here at the lake.

The atmosphere was so quiet. There were no sounds other than an underground stream flowing near the tents   and the occasional avalanche, which broke the silence once or twice a day.  The only wildlife we saw were three birds that came daily for handouts. They especially loved the tiger tea. There was very little vegetation, some alpine flora and some scattering of the badri plants, no bushes just small plants here and there.  Badri berries used to blanket the whole area around Badrinath.  They are small and red and maybe the same as the jujube.

The second day had been absolutely perfect, meditations deep and so much happiness all around.  It was so much nicer not having the noisy porters with us, although we were surprised that they had not returned by the late afternoon.  We went to sleep again at sundown and dreamed of being in Heaven.

Midday, I noticed our guide from Mana climbing on the rocky ridge above our campsite.   We had not expected to see him again.  I asked Deba to make tea.  Our guide was limping. I got out the medicine kit. He had sprained his ankle on the rush to get to us.  He knew how to wrap it and began to do so as he explained why he had come.   Apparently, the porters thought the trek was too difficult and didn’t like not having plenty of wood for the nights. So they weren’t  coming back.  They had taken the money we had given them for supplies and then left to go back to Joshimath.  We would have to get back on our own unless new porters and a guide could be found.  He had another trek that he was to begin in a couple of days.  And in addition, the weather was turning bad here, snow was expected that night.

For some crazy reason, which still today confounds me I was not upset.  I joked, “well, we said we felt like this was Heaven, maybe…”  Devananda too seemed to take the news in stride.  Randy was really irritated because he had let one of the porters wear a pair of his heavy socks for the trip to Badri and to another he had offered his high tech Tevas.  They had just walked off with his stuff!  With  my earlier discovery that they had absconded with all of my Power Bars, I understood is miffed-ness.

Our guide had some chapati and curry with us, but would not spend more than an hour. He said his ankle felt fine and he was off.   He had to get back to Mana before nightfall. He was very sweet and felt so bad that he would not be able to find porters for us.  Someone would have to go back to Joshimath to procure new porters.

We meditated on the problem and decided that we should indeed do something now, rather than wait and try to walk out on our own. Even if we left our equipment behind, the path back was treacherous and a bit confusing.  Deba volunteered to go back to Joshimath and get new porters.  Randy had befriended Deba on an earlier visit to Joshimath and trusted him.  We all felt confident that he would go to Joshimath, get porters and some more supplies and bring them back to us.  But, Deba had never been to Santopanth before either and he would be traveling alone with a good deal of money on him. Robbers were not unheard of in the Himalayas.

So our third night at Santopanth ended a bit up in the air…and cold air it was!   The next morning we woke up to a thin layer of snow on the ground. That was the first morning I didn’t wash in the Tal.  Deba took some of the food and water and Devananda and I gave him a good bit of money to buy supplies and extra for tips and/or bribes.  We wanted Deba to be able to assure anyone that might be available to help that it would be worth their time.  We had breakfast with Deba and gave him a good send off.  The sun had melted most of the snow, but the boulders were still slippery.  I brought out the drum I had bought in Haridwar and drummed as he began his trek out of the valley.  Randy hiked with him  a bit of the way and watched as he reached the top of the ridge going out of the Valley of Doom.  This was the beginning of our fourth day at the Lake. We planned to stay four more days. Hopefully that was enough time for him to get to Joshimath, get porters and return.

There was a sense of freedom in this event – you know, when total surrender is your only course.   It felt almost as if the whole episode had been orchestrated by something beyond our lack of preparation or naïveté.   And we were childlike in our approach to the experience.  We spent most of the time close to the campsite.  We meditated in the caves around the area. The first cave I found was the most profound but not the only one.  One day Devananda swam in the lake for 20-30 minutes. It was amazing, I don’t know how he did it, but it was part of his surrendering process. I watched him the whole time, just in case he succumbed to the cold. Although I don’t know what I thought I would do if he needed help. The water was absolutely freezing!   When he came out of the water, he was a little blue, but very happy and his eyes were glowing.  He wrapped in blankets and went to his tent and stayed there for hours doing sadhana.

We never got bored. Randy stayed busy building a retaining wall around the campsite area.  It appeared he was preparing for a much longer than anticipated stay.  The weather during the days was mostly sunny and pleasant, although we would have some snow at night.  Normally we ate lunch late in the day and by nightfall I was ready to sleep. We were eating a lot of instant oatmeal by that time and drinking hot chocolate.  The last Tiger Tea bag had disappeared and I could not for the life of me figure out what had happened to it.  All I could reckon was the birds had flown off with it.

Normally I would climb into my sleeping bag as soon as it got dark.  I couldn’t stay up to do sadhana. It was just too cold.    Perhaps it was our  6th day there when we had some bad weather.  It didn’t snow but had been a very dreary day and when night fell it was very dark. There was not a star to see in the sky.  We hadn’t eaten since breakfast so we gathered all our flashlights together and used the propane cook stove like a fireplace ….. We were getting really low on food.  We had rice, which we made first and then chopped up the few vegetables we had left, and cooked them with the  rest of the dried soy chunks  into a kind of curry.  We took our dinner under a large makeshift mandir, where we would meditate some and brought the camp stove in too and turned it on to keep us warm. The sides of the tent were lifted so we wouldn’t die of hypoxia or asphyxiation or something foolish like that.

After dinner, we cleaned the plates. It was pitch dark.  We decided to chant a bit before turning in for the night.  I got my drum and we started to chant Om Kriya Babaji Nama Aum… We chanted  with a great deal of reverence and love for maybe 15 minutes. At one point, I looked up and felt Babaji Presence. I saw Him.  I actually saw him sitting cross-legged on the other side of the little campstove. His head was thrown back and he was laughing. He was transparent and like a hologram, but I saw him with my eyes open.  Devananda called me from outside the tent.  “Durga come out here!”

The sky was now bright, lit up by a million stars. There was not one cloud left.  In that 15 minutes we had chanted, the clouds had dissolved and we beheld the most brilliant night sky I had ever witnessed. It went on forever.

Reaching Santopanth Tal

Continued from previous posts—

What a morning to begin the trek!   We had breakfast, arranged our packs and by 8AM we were on our way to Mana, 4 kilometers closer to the Tibet border.  We checked in with the Army Post. We gave the officer in charge our passports and permission letters and signed in on a roster. We would be required to leave our passports with him. We told him that we planned to stay at Santopanth Tal for 8 days and he wanted to know why we wanted to go there and why stay so long.   He had all kinds of questions about about me and my marital status.   He wanted to know who would be guiding us and if we had porters.  He knew our guide, which helped.  He went outside to check on our porters.   He assured us that if we didn’t show up after two weeks an army patrol would go looking for us.   I told him  if we don’t show up after the 11th day start looking for us!  Apparently we were the first Westerners he had allowed to travel there.  It seems that being so close to the Tibet border it had some strategic military status.   We were told not to take any photographs of the area.  There was a seriousness in his questioning. As we were leaving, the official, smiled and said, “Enjoy yourself and May the Lord be with you.”  I wondered, “had I really thought this trek through?”

We headed for the rope bridge crossing the Alaknanda/Saraswati River.  What an amazing adventure!  I was 47 years old and  heading for  a 23 kilometers trek that will take 2 to 3 days in which I would be climbing up narrow mountain passages in altitudes much higher than I had ever experienced before.  I didn’t know if I had the proper gear or clothes or if we had  enough food once we got there, of if I was physically in good enough shape to handle it.  I had been told that the journey would be my “dark night” and still, my heart was so full of joy and love and my mind totally at ease. I was in a state of moment-to-moment awareness, difficult to describe here. It was as if the rational mind had left me and I was working purely from a state of surrender.

We had packs on our backs filled with the things we would need as we traveled, water and some snacks.  The porters carried the heavy cooking items, tents and sleeping bags. Still my pack felt heavy. Randy had forced me to bring plenty of water so that I would not become dehydrated.   He said it was good my pack felt  heavy, that would encourage me to drink the water I was carrying.

Even as we began to climb the gentle slope of the first hill, I began to breathe heavily.  Mana is situated well over 10,000 ft.  Women from the village were coming down the path, their back rounded under the heavy wide baskets filled to the brim with potatoes.  Their walk was steady and graceful.  As one woman was walking past me she began to breathe heavily mimicking my own breathing and we both burst into laughter.  “Alright, alright! I said, “You’d win a race, but I will get there!”  She didn’t need to understand my language, she understood my heart.

At the top of the hill there is a Shrine to Divine Mother.   We stopped for a moment to seek Blessings.  Devanada began to pace himself with the guide who was traveling at quite a clip.  I kept a steady pace, but fell far behind the porters. Randy was good enough to walk with me always in his view.  He liked the slower pace. He could smoke along the way.  I don’t know what he was smoking. I never asked.

About 45 minutes in the journey I saw three people traveling toward us, from the direction of Santopanth Tal.  I could see it was a woman and two men. When they were close, the woman came running to me, “Madame, Madame! I must talk to you.

I stopped and said, “Hi!” surprised at her insistence.

“My Guru told us you were coming! You are going to Santopanth Tal! Right!?

“Yes, how did you know?” I was quite stunned.

“My husband… this is my husband and his brother,” she said, as she pointed off in the direction of the men who seemed totally disinterested in our conversation. “Well, we were visiting our guru, who lives in a cave high up on the mountain on the other side of the valley from Santopanth.   He told us that you would be coming and that I should tell you that it is was good that you come.  He wanted me to tell you that you will be able to camp at Santopanth Tal only because it did not snow last winter.  Otherwise since it is glacier, you would not have been able to do so.  It was a blessing!”

I told her we wondered where we would be able to camp and if we would be able to get to the lake.   No one was able to tell us how close we could camp.  “But how did you know?,” I asked again.

“My Guru is omniscient. He is a Enlightened Being with great powers of sight.  He has been living  in the cave near to Santopanth for 15 years.    You may see  his cave on the other side of the valley.    He stands with one arm raised always.  You may notice his ochre cloths perhaps.   We come here every three months to see him and bring him some food.   He wanted me to tell you, that you are welcome there!  And that there will be 5 of you.

“Five?”   I said, “no there are just three of us.”

She smiled, “He said there will be five of you!  And welcome to you all.”

“Thank you Madame, I said, for telling me this.   I am deeply touched that your Guru took the time to ask you to speak with me.  I hope he hears my surprise and deepest appreciation”

The woman smiled broadly. She seemed happy for me.  Her husband and brother in law pushed by us with a sideways glance, but not even a nod.  “Best be on my way, Thank you again!” I said.  We waved goodbye.

I jogged for a couple of minutes to catch up with Randy.  When I got to the top of the hill, I could see him, seated on a stone looking out over the valley smoking.  I rushed to tell him what the woman had said.

The walk was consistently difficult.   It never seemed to ease up for a moment. It just got more difficult as my breathing got more labored.  I never considered stopping for more than a few minutes.    I tried to drink as much water as I could. Randy pushed me often to drink more.  Drinking the water helped me lighten my bag, but I was not sure how much it helped my energy.  Randy gave me some coca leaves to chew on. That seemed to help.  The sun was hot and I had a hat, but I had not put on sun lotion and could feel my face burning.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take another step I saw the porters below and Deba was preparing lunch.

The hour long lunch break was great. I got my energy back and was ready to go the  few more hours it would take  to arrive at a camp site for the night. We would break the trek into two or three days.  I felt better in the afternoon, although the trekking did not get any easier.  The path was inundated with jutting rocks. Each step was an opportunity to twist an ankle, so you had to watch each step you took.  At no time could you safely walk the path meditatively or absentmindedly.

Devananda, Randy and I had begun the afternoon walk all together.   At one point, when we had reached the top of a high hill, I turned to view how far we had come since morning.  The sky was amazing.   Clouds were forming and settling in the valley as I watched.   I called to Devananda and Randy to stop and look back.   It was as if the clouds were closing the valley off….and moving towards us– closing us in.    It was like a scene from Brigadoon, my absolute favorite play, when I was young. I must have seen it ten times as a child.    I hadn’t thought of it since.    Brigadoon is a mysterious village in Scotland that appears for only one day every hundred years. The villagers in it only experience that one day and then I suppose they sleep for the next 99.  The enchantment of the village was a blessing to save the village and villagers from destruction.   Once there no one leaves.     I was  overwhelmed  by the feeling that I had been looking for that village, ever since I was a child.  And that perhaps this adventure was my Brigadoon.

According to our guide, this was truly a mystical place and even the playing  ground for   some parts of the Mahabharata.  Right where we camped that first night,  the Pandavas of the Bhagavad Gita fame had stayed for some time.   Perhaps Arjuna himself had slept there, before us?   Deba made dinner for us all.  The porters ate a lot.  I lost count of all the chapattis that were consumed.   I was somewhat concerned over the amount of food we had brought with us.  We had not taken into account these three other heavy eaters over 8 days…  And they were eating like that even after  I had given each of them one of my heavy duty Power Bars.   I had 50 of them and was feeling generous.

That night, I  had a deep and peaceful sleep and woke refreshed.   We began early the next morning and hoped to make it all the way to Santopanth Tal.  Our guide told us it was possible, but we should probably not push it due to the altitudes. Then he and Devananda took off.  I was able to keep sight of the porters who thankfully lagged behind them.   Randy thankfully continued to walk with me and coax me to drink water.  I was sure that each hill I would climb would my last before we would have a long break.   But the break didn’t happen.  At one point, I told Babaji, “you to have to take it from here!” I was truly exhausted, Babaji’s mantra began to vibrate through my head.  I stopped to pick up a perfect white stone and clutched it in my hand, telling myself it was magical and would carry me the rest of the way.   I saw what I thought was the cave of the Guru of the woman I had met. There was a ochre cloth dhoti flying in the breeze.  I did not however glimpse the Sage himself.

It was like that all day long…just pushing, pushing, pushing and no rest. Finally we came to a flat patch and there was Devananda and the porters sitting and having some refreshment, awaiting my arrival.  And just beyond that flat patch was a hill so steep that it looked like a mountain to me and it went straight up.  We were already well over 14,000 ft.

Devananda called me over to sit by him.  “My dear, we are here contemplating whether or not to camp or to go on.” “You will decide for us.”

”I assume we have to climb that mountain and then what?”  How much further?” I requested.

“No one seems to have a good idea about that?” Devananda continued.  “I am told we can make Santopanth Tal by nightfall, if we go right now!”

“Okay, let’s just go, because if I spend anymore energy contemplating this hill, I won’t be able to climb it!”   I headed for the hill.  Devananda yelled, “Okay! let’s move on out!,” like he was herding cattle.

That hill took everything out of me. The interesting thing about me is  if I see the top of something. If I can see how far I have to go, I can muster the energy to get me to the top.     It is only when  I don’t know how far I have to go that I begin to doubt myself.    Here, I could see the top and I was going to get there.    Devananda and the guide of course made it to the top first and was over it…. I was coming up along with the porters.    Randy was lagging behind now.  I was in overdrive and making pretty good time, feeling pretty good, when I got to the top of the mountain and saw what was beyond it.

Oh My God! It was the surface of the Moon or the Valley of Doom.  I supposed this is what is left when a glacier melts. For as far as the eye could see, it was all boulders, nothing but boulders to walk through and at the end of  what looked endless, there was another hill, almost equal in height to the one I had just climbed. However,  on top of that hill, I could see a flag, delineating no doubt,  the path to Santopanth Tal.

Devananda was already down the other side of the hill, saying, “Come on Jan!  Durga come on!”    “We can make it, don’t stop, just keep on going!”  Randy was coming up from behind me.

”No Way!” Randy demanded that I not take another step. “There is no way we can reach Santopanth by nightfall.

Devananda begged, “come on, come on now!”

Randy yelled, “No, you are going to die if you try this Devananda!”  Durga and I are going back down. Tonight we will camp below and start again tomorrow.  It was nearly 4pm.    So here I stood on the precipice with Randy.  Down below was Devananda, the porters and the guide.  So either, go back and spend night with Randy or go forward and die.  It didn’t take long to make up my mind.  I ran down the other side of the mountain to meet Devananda and the guide.  Furious Randy continued too, never forgetting for a moment that this was the second time we were mutinying.

The Valley was as difficult as it looked and I really don’t know how we made it before nightfall, but I do recall  the climb up that final mountain.  I felt absolutely euphoric…. I was in a state of grace, no other way… or a second wind or taken up on a wing and a prayer…  It was a group effort!  The guide and Deba reached the top before all three of us. And so they dropped their backpacks and came back to help us the final, quarter of the hill.  Everyone was high on the feeling of accomplishment or perhaps it was a lack of oxygen, but when we got to the top of the world…and looked over and saw the shinning waters of Santopanth glistening in the amazing colors of the setting sun… we all broke down and started to cry.   We literally fell to our knees and cried.

To Badrinath

Continued from last Post – Meeting Ma Ganga and receiving Her Blessings

With permission to travel to Santopanth Tal in our pockets, we went off to Sri Shankaracharyas Mutt (Monastery) to see if we might get permission to meditate in the cave where Sankaracharya meditated ( about 1200 years ago).    It is said that it was under the Kalpvarisksa (wish-fulfilling mulberry tree), just above the cave  Sankaracharya attained Enlightenment.   The tree is some 2,4oo years old and is about 125 ft tall with a huge trunk. The tree is now protected as a shrine.  One can only circumambulate it,  or steal a touch of it through the wire fence, which completely surrounds it.

The Mutt is located at the top of the hill and by the time we had climbed all the steps to reach it, I was breathing heavily.  Randy had run ahead of us.   Joshimath is  at an altitude between 5000-6000 ft.  and  already my breathing was labored.   The trek to Santopanth Tal would take us to heights of 15,000 ft., which I tried not to think too much about.   I had experienced breathing problems at 11,000 in the past.

Reaching the Mutt, Devananda and I were happy to see Randy already speaking with the pujari at the small shrine by the sacred mulberry tree.   Strangely, they looked like brothers and were talking together like long, lost brothers.   Devananda and I both remarked on their amazing resemblance, although Randy was at least a foot taller and blond.

Randy had the ability to make fast friendships with everyone he met along the way.   He had been coming to India for some years and had clearly maintained these friendships.  He would send clothes and shoes and other practical articles to various people throughout the years.   He had a dream of buying a house someday in Joshimath and living there at least part of the year.  That day, he seemed to be already settled in there.

The pujari was happy to inform us that the monk who had the keys to the cave was presently at the Mutt.   He went to get him.  We were given permission to meditate in the cave as long as we wanted.   This was a special blessing.   We took advantage and meditated for almost two hours.  The pujari was there waiting for us and locked the cave.

Off we went to dinner.   We sat and talked about the day.  It had been remarkable and rich with rewards.  After a dinner of curry, chapati and of chai we went to see a play of the Mahbharata,  all ready in progress.     It was being performed by the children in the town. It was delightful, even though we didn’t understand a word.  Our hearts were overflowing.    Walking back to the hotel, we were full of expectation of our nights meditation.  We said goodnight and went to our rooms.

I tried to do japa and meditate again but kept falling asleep.    I finally gave up and went to bed. It was getting cold and climbed into my sleeping bag and used all the heavy coverlets from the hotel.    I slept deep.  In the early morning hours I had a vivid dream with Mataji. I did not see her, but I heard a voice who distinctly said, “this is going to be your dark night! Prepare, it will be most difficult. Persevere!”

I clearly remembered the dream upon waking. Not even the dream concerned me.    I realized I was truly living each moment and was exactly where I wanted to be.  We had arranged to meet early in the breakfast room.  I walked into the breakfast room and burst out laughing.  Randy had come to breakfast in his bright yellow dhoti, his long blonde hair loose and flowing.   He had a light sweater and shawl over his chest, but his dhoti was folded so that his long legs were exposed to the cold mountain air.  He had on his high tech tevas sandals.     Devananda was already seated, trying to keep a straight face. But I couldn’t hold it in.  We all had a good laugh.  Randy wasn’t offended, nothing in fact could shift our high mood and higher expectations.

However,  there was bad news.  There had been a bad landslide over the night between Joshimath and Badrinath and no cars were being allowed to travel the 44 kilometer stretch.  We would not get out today.   The driver had given us the news about the landslide.  Devananda asked him to meet us the following morning.  There were scheduled gate times, in which a certain number of cars were allowed to drive from Joshimath on to Badrinath.  We would hope to take the 9:30 Gate.  When road conditions permit one can get to Badri in about three hours.  When you are unlucky it could take you two days.

The dilemma we had was how to spend the day in Joshimath.   We decided to go to Auli, the winter ski resort, even though nothing would be open the cable car and chair lifts would be operating. We could hike and train abit for our trek.  We had heard that atop Auli one could have a panoramic of the Himalayas – Nandi Devi and even Neelakanth.   It sounded great to all of us.  If only Randy would put some pants on.

Auli was mystical. No one else was on the mountain with us.   There is a small Hanuman Temple up there too.   Apparently it was of some importance in Ramayana. It was the place where Hanuman stopped to rest on his way from Sri Lanka, to find the magical herb  sanjivani (one that infuses life), for Laxman.  It was a perfect place for sadhana and we stayed quite a while.   Nandi Deva looked so close we could touch it.

We  began to climb further on the mountain and Devananda and I  again sat to mediate.   Randy wanted us to move on, but we chose to remain. He was furious and said, “I am in charge, there can be only one leader.” We both laughed, thinking he was obviously joking. He wasn’t and we told him to get a grip and forget about it, we were staying a while longer.  He responded, “What a mutiny already!?”   “In the mountains I am in charge and you must do as I say.”

We closed our eyes as he stormed away.  We met up with him later in the afternoon in Joshimath, where the cable car descends.  He seemed fine, although, Devananda and I ate without Randy that night.  The next morning I woke early and went out on the balcony to do sadhana.  Randy was on his balcony. The moon was still out.  It was magnificent.  He whispered to me, “I think we will make it to Badri today!”  I agreed.

We checked out of the Uday Palace about 8 a.m.  The Qualis and driver were outside when we took our luggage out.  We were ready to go so left early and sat parked at the Gate.  The army was still clearing the road from the previous landslide and the early morning gate had not been lifted. There were many cars in line ahead of us, but the general chatter from the other drivers was that we would be allowed to leave at 9:30 a.m.

The sky was clear and beautiful and the sun was shining. Devananda spent the entire time taking photos of the mountains. He was a preparing a day by day journal for his wife and children.  He purchased small tokens from each town too and pocketed stones too. He had a professional still camera and fancy digital video camera and would often take pictures of the town’s people, but in a easy going way. The “models,” especially the children were all charmed when he would show them their picture in his  digital camera.

The Gate was lifted a bit after 9:30a.m. We left in a convoy.  For about 45 minutes all went smoothly.  The road got really bad after Vishnuprayag and there was a very long delay at Govindhat.  Then of course we came to a section of road that could not be crossed by the Qualis. The army was still blasting the mountain, and trying to clear it of all the large rocks and earth.  It was not clear when we would be able to cross it by car. Randy and Devananda got out and crossed the road to see if we could hire a car on the other side.  They found a car, so we left our car and driver behind and carrying our bags walked across the closed area of the road.  We jogged most of the half kilometer as small rocks were still falling.  (I have traveled to Badrinath at least seven times now and only once was I able to ride a bus the whole way.  The road to Badri is really treacherous, and always provides the opportunity for one to just surrender to the pilgrimage.

We piled into a small jeep on the other side which took us the rest of the way to Badrinath.

That night we checked into the Dev Lok Hotel just across from the Badrinaryan Temple. It was a very simple place, a bed and a toilet, but on the other hand our rooms had a direct view of the Temple and Neelakantan Peak. What more could one ask?  After dropping off our bags we went for chai, chapati and potatoes in a small open air shop just across from the hotel.  The meal smelled subtly of propane, but I was really hungry by that time and so happy to be there, that everything tasted wonderful to me. We spent a lot of time just sitting there being there.  Then we took a long walk just drawing Badrinath in.  We went to the temple and spent some time meditating there outside of the Temple under the covered area of the mandap.  A woman was chanting beautifully and we were intensely happy.  Randy left to call Deba to check on the porters, while Devananda and I walked through the small town towards Neelakantan Peak before returning to the hotel.

The porters should arrive the next day.  Apparently since they were not Garwhali, or even Nepali, but were Tibetan, Deba had rounded them up and they would travel together.  He warned us they were untrustworthy.  The guide from Mana would come to our hotel early the next morning.   Just one more day and we would begin the trek.

Early the next morning, I got a knock on the door. I had slept in. It was 9am.  A little boy told me to go to Saket Restaurant.  The guide from Mana was there with my friends.   I thanked him and tipped him. He wanted a pen too. I promised him one later.  I was already dressed because I had slept in all my clothes. In fact I also had on my hat and gloves.  It had been a cold night.

I never thought I would forget the name of our guide, but it has now slipped my mind.  He became a good friend over the next week.  He was born and raised in Mana and knew the area like the back of his hand.  His face was so weathered I could not put an age on him.  As we were getting up to leave, I  looked at his flip-flops and said teasingly, “well I hope you have another pair of shoes for the trek tomorrow.”  He glanced down and said he did not.

Devananda pat him on the back and said, “Well, my man, first things first, lets go get you some shoes.” And we did.  The fact is we bought new shoes and heavy socks for all the porters and Deba too!  None of them had either warm clothes or the proper shoes for trekking even though this was the way they made their living.  That whole day was spent outfitting the porters and preparing our packs.  Everything fell into place and it looked like we would start out for Santopanth Tal the following morning.  It had been an exhausting and exhilarating day and we all went to sleep as soon as it got dark.

About 4a.m. Devananda knocked on my door and told me to get up immediately and get out on the balcony.  The sky was totally clear and the sights of the night were awe inspiring.  The moon was directly above the tip of Mount Neelakanth and directly above the moon was a star.   These bright celestials aligned so perfectly with the pyramid shaped snow clad mountain, literally dropped us to our knees.  A perfect alignment between heaven and earth. We all meditated deeply.  Tears ran down my face as I heard a voice initiate me into Babaji’s mula mantra, seemingly in an instance.   When I finally open my eyes the sun was out and Neelakanth looked positively self -illuminated.

Meeting Ma Ganga and receiving Her Blessings

Continued from previous post –  Pilgrimage to Santopanth Tal

We arrived in Haridwar, the Gateway to the Lord, as the sun was coming up on our first day in India.  We had to get out of the taxi across the river from the hotels.  We hadn’t planned anything beyond flight tickets, but felt nothing but confidence as we grabbed our backpacks and sleeping bag and walked across the dusty lot to the walking bridge across the River Ganges.  I assumed we would be able to get rooms at the Hotel Teerth situated at the River’s edge.   It was simple and clean, even though the monkeys and grasshoppers were often a nuisance there.   We quickly checked in and came back out to do morning sadhana against the background of  morning chants and bhajans and the sounds of the Ganges.   Although exhilarated I was also exhausted so told Devananda and Randy that I would return to the hotel and sleep a couple of hours.   We decided to meet for lunch about one o’clock.    I asked that they wait for me to bathe in the Ganges.    They agreed as long as I didn’t sleep too long.  I promised I would only take a short nap.

Devananda and I meet back at 1’clock and had tomato uttapams and lots of steaming chai at a small restaurant a few doors down from our hotel.  He liked chai as much as I did.  It was nice to just sit by the River and soak in the energy.  Everything was so new to Devananda. He was so intrigued by the sadhus who sat under the ancient and spreading tree by our hotel, doing nothing alone sitting, all day long.   I recall too, that I had never seen that they ever left their tree.  They never seemed to  get up and walk around or go off to use the toilet or eat.  They just sat.    I never even saw them meditate.  Anway,  instead of taking a nap, Devananda had gone to sit next to them, to meditate.   I was surprised they allowed him to.

Randy had gone off to find  a friend of his who owned a jewelry store in Haridwar.   Randy had already eaten when  he finally arrived at the restaurant.   We all went to  visit his friend’s jewelry  shop.    Devananda ordered two neck malas made of gold and rudruksha seeds, and several wrist malas of the same, in addition to several other pieces of jewelry for his wife.    As soon as  the jeweler saw us he inquired, ” chai or coffee?”   Who were we to refuse, 3 more chais!

We walked abit through the town to do some more shopping.  I found an amazing drum that I just had to purchase.   I  had to have it,  not as a gift, but for our trip. I was going to learn to drum!  We went back to the hotel with our purchases and changed into bathing suits. We got our meditation cushions and shawls and went down to the ghat to take our first holy bath in the sacred Ganges.

The ghats were full of devotees.  Everyone in Haridwar  seemed to be taking their rituals baths just then.   There was only one section which was empty.   It was strange, everywhere else the place was packed.   I assumed the Lord Himself had cleared that particular part of the ghat for us and us alone.
Devananda and Randy stripped to their skivvies. I had a one piece bathing suit on and removed my skirt and blouse.  I noticed that many of the young men along the river had started to gather close to us.  I was quite put out.  What right did they have to be voyeurs to this sacred moment?  They all had their arms draped over each others shoulders and were pointing and chatting about us.  To bathe one walks down steps right into the water… There are poles in the water every few meters on which a metal chain is hooked.  The chain continues throughout the formal bathing ghat for protection as the water can be rather rapid.   But for the most part, the river in Haridwar is relatively slow moving.
For the most part,yes, but not at that particular spot, which we had chosen to bathe.  I was the first one in.  I step down and reached for the chain. The current swept me up and swallowed me whole. I went under and flipped twice over the chain.  I was caught in the chain under the water.   I swallowed a mouthful of the Ganges.   Randy jumped into the water, grabbed me and pulled me up to the steps, stunned and sputtering.  “Oh no! Randy had saved my life!”   I climbed onto a higher  step of the ghat.   Devananda was  sitting  next to me  laughing hysterically!

”What are you laughing at? I almost drowned! And you did nothing!” I said.   Not only did Devananda do nothing but laugh, the crowd of young boys that had gathered were also laughing hysterically. Apparently everyone but us, knew better than to enter the Ganges at this particular place where swift currents entered from two sources.   Why no one was bathing there in the first place!

Devananda said, “I thought it might happen.  And Randy had you in a New York second and I am a very strong swimmer, I would have gotten you, even if the current had taken you down stream!”  And, he laughed some more, “you looked so funny, you did two complete flips over the chain.”
“I’m glad I was able to entertain you!” And I too began to laugh. “What an auspicious beginning.” The idea of a bath is to wash away sins of the bather. My total immersion must have been as  good a  karmic cleansing I could get, especially since I had not drowned in the process.    Then Devananda and Randy jumped into the water and pretended to get caught in the current and then  stayed to play in the water for quite some time, egging me to come back in.

I wrapped myself up in my shawl, put my skirt back on and told the young men to go along and goggle some other hapless Westerner. They all laughed and finally left me to my embarrassment in peace.  I meditated and found myself fall quite deep. When I opened my eyes, both Randy and Devanada were seated on either side of me meditating.  I put on my blouse and went back to the hotel to change clothes.  When I came back out of the hotel, Randy and Devananda were coming to get me. We all went down to Har Ki Pauri for the evening aarati at the Ganges.
At a point near where we had bathed earlier is Har Ki Pauri where every night there is ceremony of worship of the River Ganges. This place is positioned exactly where the Ganges leaves the mountains and enters the plains.
Part of the Aarati is the song itself that is chanted with devotion as the highest form of love one can show God. The aarti to the Ganges resonates within and is unforgettable. Another part is the aarati is the offering of light. The practice is a form of an ancient vedic fire ceremony. The lights offered the River leaves a deep impression. I challenge anyone not to participate in this practice.   Getting caught up in the practice of the aarati, I always  light my own camphor wicks in small leaf boats, filled with fresh colorful flowers and offer it lovingly to Ma for Her Blessings.  Often a devotee will throw himself into the water and be swept along with the current,  perhaps to be cleansed of some evil.

The aarati had affected Devanada deeply. We sat for a long time by the water, as the crowds move on to the shops and restaurants.  This had been our first day. We were preparing ourselves for the pilgrimage to follow. Tomorrow we would order the taxi and buy supplies in Rishikesh, but today had been important.  The enthusiasm and excitement that we shared earlier over our adventure to Santopanth Tal to find Babaji was mellowing.  We were beginning to feel the deep importance of the inner journey we were about to take.  And we did not know where it would take us.  It began to rain.

The next morning, after ordering embarrassing amounts of chai with our breakfast, we left for Rishikesh.  Rishikesh was about a 45 minute auto-ricksaw drive from Haridwar.  We had to get two of them, for us and our luggage. We rode in one, our luggage in the other.  We checked into our rooms at the Tourist Bungalow near by the Sivananda  Ashram and got in another rickshaw saying take us to the nearest tourist agency, which as it turned out was about a block down from the Bungalows – a two minute walk at most!

We tried to plan for the whole trip to Santopanth with the agency, but all we could do was to rent a car and driver to Joshimath.  We would have to stop in Joshimath on the way up to get permission from the local authorities who had never before granted permission to Westerners to travel beyond Mana.  There in Joshimath we would have to arrange for porters and gear.  Randy had told us this already. He knew some porters and was certain that he could arrange everything there. All we needed was a car to Joshimath.   We arranged for the car to pick us up in early in the morning in two days. We would need two days in Rishiskesh to buy equipment and food stuff as very little was available in either Joshimath or Badrinath.  All was arranged and it began to rain.

It rained off and on the entire time we were in Rishikesh.  The streets are dirt and the rain made quite a mess of them.  We had so much to plan to buy, but also we needed to remember that we would have to carry this stuff in and out.

We bought heavy woolen clothing, lots of film and freeze dried foods and walking sticks and we meet all sorts of crazy sadhus and swam in the Ganges where it was relatively calm and we did postures together and meditated on Her banks and we lay on Her beaches and just watched Her flow over her massve stones. And we watched Her trees and birds and monkeys playing in the rain.  It was all so much fun. I remember we had a wonderful evening meal at some place in town, I would like to remember the name of.  I haven’t been able to find it since.

The morning we left Rishikesh, you could hardly see two feet in front of your face, the fog was so thick.  We left by 5 a.m.  It was pitch dark. The only lights were the blinking neon lights in the front and back of the taxi. On the front dashboard was a brightly blinking Ganesha and across the back window was a whole series of multicolored blinking Christmas tree lights. The driver had turned on his radio tape deck. And loud indiscernible bhajans were being blared from a squealing and distorted speaker system.  Devananda and I just looked at each other, totally dumbfounded by the absurdity that anyone would be okay with all this visual and auditory noise.  The taxi driver seemed totally unbothered by the fact that he couldn’t see to drive, or that his ears were being assaulted or his eyes distracted by the blinking lights.  And Randy was asleep in the front seat.
In addition, the driver must have some kind of internal navigation system, because he drove very fast and wouldn’t even slow down on the curves.  Devanada would suggest that he slow down and he would for about a mile. He speed up again.   I would tap him on the shoulder and say, “Please slow down now.”  And he would, for another mile before speeding up again.  The first hour we let him have his blinking lights and music as it seemed he needed them.  But, that was all we could take and had him turned it all off.   The first  hours of our drive were positively harrowing.  Once the sun came up and dried up the fog, it was easier, but still he drove way-too-fast for the dangerously curving, view obstructed mountain roads.  I was both nauseous and pissed most of the day.  Devananda seemed to take it all in stride and got back at the driver, by making him stop endlessly for each photo opportunity. Randy remained asleep for most of it.  Perhaps they were both more surrendered than I.

Our favorite stop along the way was at Rudraprayag in the Garwahl, where the Alaknanda and Mandakini Rivers converge.  There are many  beautiful Siva and Narayan temples, just above the point of convergence, and a friendly and inspiring old Tantric Yogini is the pujari at the shrine just above convergence. We walked down the steep steps to put our feet in the water. There is so much energy there and power that it is mesmerizing.  It is like being at one with the power of a hydro-electric dam. So much potential energy and you are seated at its center. I highly recommend the experience. Also worth seeing is the Kotewar cave which is filled with shivalingas and the point on the Alaknanda, where sages have taken jal samadhi in the past.

The taxi driver suggested that we spend more time here, but we wanted to get on with the travel.  And so we were off.  Not far from there were delayed for a bit, due to some activity on the narrow roads.  We thought there might have been a landslide which is almost an everyday event.  What in fact we discovered had occurred was that a bus traveling the night before had  gone off the road taking everyone in it to their deaths, everyone it seems except the bus driver, who had escaped unharmed somehow as the bus went over the cliff.  Not only that, but the tragedy escalated when a second bus full of people who heard about the accident went to help the first bus and they too went over the cliff. And again the driver, who like the first had been drinking survived.  Devananda, Randy and I thought of Linda, Devananda’s wife and her premonition and gasped.

As we slowly reached the spot of the accident, we could see both buses crushed at the bottom of the thousand foot ravine. Army trained specialists were on the scene, but no one seemed to be doing much of anything. Such tragic accidents occurred each year and attributed to speed, bad tires, poor bus and automobile maintenance, drunk driving, poor weather conditions, landslides and karma.

Before nightfall we had reached Joshimath and our hotel. We checked in, met to eat a small meal of Chinese noodles and went to our rooms to meditate and sleep.  We hardly spoke.  That night we all had powerful meditations with Babaji.  I sat for hours outside on my balcony overlooking the valley doing mantra japa. The importance of this yatra was beginning to sink in at deeper and deeper levels.  The giddy excitement had all but left me.  At some point in my meditation, I was pulled out of it by loud knocking on the door.  Randy was just outside, “Babaji is here, Durga!” Randy was saying.   I got up and opened the door.  “My meditation, Babaji was here!” He said excitedly.

I told him that I  had felt that too.   I had experienced Randy meditating as I meditated.  I felt my connection to him and the energy that was circulating around Randy and I too felt it was Babaji.   I was totally at peace, totally content and deeply humbled. Randy went back to his room to meditate through the night. I went out on the balcony again to continue my japa.  Sleep that night was very deep and restful.

The next morning we were all in the breakfast room by 8am. After copious amounts of sweet chai the three of us went off to the government office to get permission to travel to Santopanth.  The office would open at 9a.m. we were told, if of course it opens at all. One never knew.  We were still standing in front of the government office at 10 a.m. when a man came to open the door.  We were told that the official was too busy with the upcoming election to see us at all today!  At which point we all literally begged to the point of being so annoying that the gentleman said, well, wait here, if he has any time I will ask if he will see you. Devananda  and I said that we would not budge.  We sat on a nearby wall to wait.  Randy would go and find Deba, his young friend who had agreed to meet us Joshimath, go with us on the pilgrimage to cook, and would help us arrange for a guide and porters. We took his passport and extra photos and wished him luck.  He knew where to find us.

From time to time that day, Randy would come back to the government office to check on our progress and to relate his own.  It was a difficult day and closing time was soon approaching.  Finally, around 3:30pm, Randy came back with an obvious suggestion.  Baksheesh!  Why hadn’t we though of it sooner?  Randy asked Devananda for 200 rupees and called the official out for a moment, slipping it to him cautiously without saying a word.   A minute later the electricity went out.

Devananda and I did not budge a moment all day long. I don’t know how our kidneys held out so long, but neither of us left that spot outside the office. Tomorrow was the general election and once that began, who knows when we might get the opportunity to even see this official much less get permission. At about 15 minute to 5 in the afternoon, the official called us into his office.

There was still no electricity in the town and the office was darkening as we spoke.  Devananda had a strong flashlight with him and held it steady throughout the whole interview.  That light allowed the official to  read our documents and lit the room while he  heard our story.   The official said he was impressed with our persistence and would grant  us permission, although we were only the second Westerners to whom he had granted permission.   He showed us his  log book. The only other permission had been granted a month earlier to two other westerners.   He showed us their photos.  It was Govindan and Walter.   So next to their photos, our photos were attached and he began to typed up three permission letters to be given to the Army post station at Mana.  Devananda stood behind him,  his flashlight aimed on the typewriter.

Randy walked into the room just as the official finished pecking out the last letter on his old Underwood typewritter.  We all  signed the documents.    Randy had arranged for five porters and a guide  who would meet us in two days time in Badrinath.   We were elated, our trip to Santopanth was assured and even the official seemed to be happy for us.  We all had chais all around to celebrate!