Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Forms are many but ....

There is a story about four blind people who wanted to ‘see’ an elephant. (In some versions of the story, it is five people, in other versions, it is six). When the circus came to town, they got special permission from the animal trainer to experience the animal first hand.

The first person touched the side of the elephant and said “I am so happy; all my doubts are cleared. I can see that an elephant is like a brick wall”. The second, who touched the trunk, replied: “How can you say that? I can see from my own direct personal experience that an elephant is like a big snake.” The third person, at the tail, argued that an elephant resembled a piece of rope – while the person near the leg likened the animal to a pillar.

Then those four people began to argue. Each person was convinced that he was right because each was speaking from direct personal experience… and, in a way, he was right. Yet each person was wrong because of limited perception.

When it comes to relating to the Absolute, God, Ultimate Reality (whatever term you prefer to use), we are all like blind people. It is not possible to “put” the concept of the Infinite into your finite mind – we can only comprehend a part. Yet, we can use this comprehension to gain a deeper connection to the Whole.

Traditionally in India, each person has been taught to see God as his /her own Self. But understanding Indian cosmology, mythology and philosophy can be difficult for many Westerners. They seem to be full of contradictions and paradoxes. Indian philosophy and imagery do not easily translate into western terms. For example, don’t try to understand Durga by equating Her warlike attitude and calling Her the ‘Indian Athena’. To understand the Indian attitude towards feminine principle, you must develop an entirely new mindset. And I deeply believe that this understanding will bring added inspiration to your ongoing yoga practice – in whatever tradition you choose to follow.

Hence begins my storytelling (and analysis) this evening ...

Friday, 4 March 2011

Sivaratri in Uttarkashi, Himalyas


This year, I had the blessing to celebrate Sivaratri (the holy night of Siva) in Uttarkashi, high in the Himalayas. Traditionally, this auspicious night is is marked by four pujas that span from dusk to dawn. I participated in the ones at Sivananda Ashram, Uttarkashi.Swami Gambiranandaji (successor of Swami Chaitanyanandaji), as head of the ashram, suggested that all participants make the sankalpa (spiritual intention) of "Loka samasta sukhino bhavantu" - May the whole world be happy and peaceful.

The Sivalingam was worshipped with milk, curds (yogourt), ghee and honey. Bathing was done with pure Ganges water, as we were sitting on the bank of the Ganga Herself.

One interesting thing that I've noticed about Sivaratri is that it always comes the same week as the Christian holy day of Ash Wednesday. Siva is said to dance in the cremation ground - and is covered with ashes. I have also noticed that this particular dark night of the moon, in the Indian tradition, is the new moon that preceeds the full moon of Holi (the beginning of Spring).

Holi is usually seen to celebrate the play of Krishna with Radha and other gopis. However, in South India both Sivaratri and Holi are sometimes connected to the story of Siva and Kāmadeva.

Kāmadeva was deputed by the gods to aid Pārvatī in her attempts to marry Siva. Their union was of utmost importance, as only their son could defeat the demon Taraka, who was terrorizing the world. However, drawing Siva out of his meditation was no simple task; the god was too deeply immersed in it to notice Pārvatī. So the gods sent Kama to stimulate Siva's lust and disrupt his practice.

When Kāma shot his arrows-of-desire at Siva, the ploy backfired with severe consequences. Angered by the distraction, Siva opened his dreadful third eye and reduced Kāma to a pile of ash with a fiery glance. The annihilation of Kāma left the earth barren and infertile.

Eventually, the marriage of Siva and Pārvatī took place. They conceived the child Kartikeya (Subramanya), who defeated the demon Taraka and saved the world.

then, at the behest of Kāma's lamenting wife Rati (Spring), Siva resurected Kāma from the ashes. He brought him back to life not as a physical being but as a bodyless mental concept.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Vasistha Guha


The "Ayurveda & Yoga" conference finished yesterday and we have moved over to the Sivananda Ashram on the other side of the Ganges River, but still in Rishikesh.

Today we drove up-river to Vasistha Guha, the cave where Rama's guru, Vasistha meditated. To say that the energy there is powerful would be an understatement! Although it was hard to leave our meditation, we crossed the Ganga in a rowboat. I was tempted to phone someone - anyone, just to say that I was phoning from the centre of the river!

We visited a beautiful retreat centre high on the mountain called "Ananda Lok" (plane of bliss) - I am tempted to organise a meditation retreat there.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Arati at Sunset on the banks of Ganga


Loving greetings from Rishikesh. The "Ayurveda & Yoga" conference started here this evening with beautiful chanting and arati (waving of lights). We were sitting just next to Ganga as the sunset turned the clouds a very special pink.

Soon after finishing, the rains began. Even thought it is not the rainy season here in North India, we have been having heavy rains for the past few weeks - and cold (for India) weather. But is peaceful in the Parmath Niketan ashram, and the conference promises to be an exciting one!