Imperfect guide of spiritual and conscious travels in India

India has, for long, stood the onus of being the spiritual darling of the world. The lost, suffering, restless masses have often sought refuge in the chaos, and hospitable arms of Mother India. The destitute finding a corner in pravachan sabhaas and the affluent a villa in high-end ashrams of Osho, Ravishankar and Sadhguru. But there is more to India, much more when it comes to offering the spiritual experience – not in a secret Sanskrit code but in the very humdrum of life. You do not need a spiritual guru to decipher it, you just need your eyes and an open heart.

This entry is a scrapbook, more like randomly chosen pages from an encyclopedia, rather than a carefully written guide. I am not going to try to give it a fanciful name but these are some places that touched me or made my inner sense of wonder come out more strongly. I hail from a religious brahmin family and had finished my chaar dhaam in early teens. I wish I was old enough to know what any of that was about.

Coming back from USA is when I really started exploring India mythology, spirituality (I hate how cliched this word is becoming, I wish there was a better synonym). Because let’s face it, consciousness does not appeal to you when you are sitting lavishly in a comfortable home with a PS3 and iPad lying around you. Or when you have kids or partners keeping you busy.At that time, it is a leisure read and a thing to show off at your social gatherings. It really seems important when life throws you a curve ball and the shit hits the fan. Then, my friend, consciousness looks very appealing. As they say, “you dont know how strong you are, until being strong is the only option you have.” This ‘being strong’ is a very spiritual characteristic. So, that is the consciousness that came gliding into my life in my late twenties.

Why is Ramayana so touching and purifying? Why is Ram called Purushottam? Why is the character of Krishn so complex? What is the moral basis of Mahabharata? Can there even be a moral basis of historical and mythical things? Why are we here? What happens when we die? Why do we suffer? By the way, if you are feeling sad or hopeless for whatever reason, just read Tulsidas’s Ramacharitmanas – open it anywhere and start reading it with translation. Read it for ten days, I can bet 200% you will feel better. And if you are feeling lost and restless, read Gita (or Seven Conversations :D).

Next phase of my exploration happened over last two years when unknowingly I touched upon some of India’s conscious kernels. So, I am compiling a list of my spiritual places and experiences in India. These are not made to go into LonelyPlanet guide as they are not at all famous but they were significant in my journey. Plus, I felt many people long to experience these understated experiences and don’t know where to start. If you cannot find anything else, my dear reader, please feel free to visit these (of course at your own risk)-

Experiencing Auroville over longer periods of time

A town or colony of 20 sq km near Pondicherry stands obscure from most of the popular tourist itineraries. Relatively less known even to Indians, the place is nothing like anything you will experience elsewhere. A meager population of 2000, less than 10 dusty roads, a handful of buildings, hardly any cars except that of visitors and a throng of white and local population on bicycles and bikes. It is sometimes so futuristic that it seems ancient. a I remember a distinct moment in the Matrimandir amphitheater when I could feel the presence very strongly. Of what? Of something that I cannot verbalize very well – an awareness of the grandness of it all.  Do not make the mistake of doing a day tour of Auroville. You need to stay there at least for a week, roam around, watch the sunset on Thursdays in Matrimandir with the background Savitri music. You need to walk around and hug the banyan tree. You need to visit Savitri bhavan and watch SA’s statue against the moonlight. You need to meet strangers from everywhere and have a filter coffee in the visitor center. You need to see the units run by foreigners and locals. You need to see Sadhana forest. You need to eat the red rice dosa and hibiscus syrup. You need to bike back in pitch dark on the dust road. You need to hear the crickets and watch the world around you falling quiet to zero. You need to just be. It has become my yearly retreat.

Attending Jeevan Vidya

A very unassuming teacher, a very simple setting often chosen in conscious institutes and places, locally sourced organic simple meals and deceptively simple yet profound discussions over 9 days. A free workshop, run by one of the best teachers I have come across – Vinish ji. A man who evokes deep respect and awe, talks about basics of life and casts a surprisingly wide net that covers everything from relationships to food to body to mind. And he famously says, “there is no going back from here”. I wonder if the Matrix scene of ‘choosing the pills’ was inspired from him. The difference is he smiles a wry smile after making u take the pill. He announces – you have been transformed. Welcome to this new thinking and being. Nothing ever will meet your eyes in an uninspired way again.

Vipassana at Dharamsala

Vipassana has become a synonym of cool Buddhist meditation retreats. Vipassana is a well-established meditation practice in more than 150 centers worldwide. I happened to experience it amidst the beautiful center at Dharamkot. With mist, rains, mountain, pine smell and yes, the monkeys! – it was a memorable and transformative experience. It is not about any religion and the recorded evening sermons provide a good mental cleansing after long hours of meditation everyday. I enjoyed the cerebral discourses, they made a lot of sense. They tell you why they are making you follow these weird rules such as no dinners, no fee, no yoga etc during those 10 days. I developed a good respect for S N Goenka and the practice itself. The crux is to realize how impermanent things are. Although I could not assimilate much during one year after the course, I find threads tying up with my other experiences and I am able to do Vipassana meditation more sincerely now (although not too frequently). But this was the place that spurred me on to reading more about meditation, buddhism, mindfulness and I am glad I did. Some of the beautiful books I recommend highly-



Watching Himalayas

Be it Sikkim, Kashmir or Himachal, if there is one thing that can make you realize the vastness of universe and your physical insignificance, it is the Himalayas. And if there is anything that can make you realize that you are the part of the same vastness and hence infinity packed in a small body, that is the Himalayas 🙂 Go, watch them stand there mighty and towering. They have seen more than you will ever see.

The chaos of Vrindavan

It is messy and dirty and yet, there is nothing like it. With history so intertwined with the presence of one of the most fascinating deities, Krishn, Vrindavan reeks of Hindu faith. During the bhakti era, many saints have taken their inspiration in the holy land, including Mirabai, Surdas, and Tulsidas. Immerse yourself in a morning darshan of Baanke Bihari and an evening bhajan at Iskcon. Who knows what you may find? Or what might find you?

 

Please share your favorite spiritual places in India in the comments 🙂

  

Back to Auroville

With so many places to visit, I rarely find myself excited about revisiting what I have already seen. But the love affair that began with Auroville this February has brought me back to the Neverland – this time, for longer duration with an open-ended plan. This is the place which introduced me to Mindfulness and Consciousness. After all, Dec-Feb are the most beautiful days here with lovely breeze and lush greenery. And I have heard writers and artists hang out here often 🙂

As I sit quietly in my serene Guesthouse, I ponder upon the last few weeks when Chennai floods hit, chaos ensued and my trip seemed in danger of abandonment. But choices emerged as they always do and I improvised as I always do. Sometimes, it is better not to plan too much and let yourself drift. I got a fresh loaf of bread from bakery this morning and some eggs. And there are these cute looking bananas. The idea of rustic meals, minimalistic living, and just reading and writing for the heck of it excites me more than a 5-star vacation. In the end, I am here and looking forward to what this visit entails. I distinctly remember the last special visit in February. Read this Quora answer to see how I fell in love with Auroville.

I am here on a creative break after working hard over last few months. Beyond that, there is not much plan. However, I did scratch few notes for myself. And perhaps, this is meaningful for you too when/if you go on a self-exploration or a new place.

Goals:
– broaden the perspective
– feel driven and refreshed
– reinforce peace and value of meaningful relationships
– meditate, yoga, be mindful
– discover yourself, cut out the noise. Awaken the dreamer and the artist
Do’s:
– Take a bike and explore everyday
– Talk to new people everyday (use solar kitchen, Auroville units, visitor center etc)
– Eat what you like, experiment (try new things)
– Get ‘your’ time. Relish the solitude
– Be thankful for this time
Dont’s:
– Coop up in the guesthouse room
– Waste all morning sleeping
– Overwork, this is your creative break
– Let fears take over
– Be stingy
– Finishing the book is not the goal but to write freely is

A dear friend reminds that having any goals is against the idea of free flowing. So yeah, chuck the goals, let things happen 🙂

 

Auro1
Auro2
  

Announcing ‘The Meditation Journal’

auro-1-3

Last year, I did a personal photo essay project Tretar that I thoroughly enjoyed. It got too consuming at times but in the end, it was worth more than I could imagine. I wrote nearly 5000 words in those 24 posts. This year started on exciting notes and saw me traveling to a place I had always wanted to see – Pondicherry. What I did not anticipate was discovering the real gem – Auroville. Thanks to a Morpheus planned retreat on exploring higher consciousness, I found myself sauntering through the dusty red lanes of this very interesting town. I added couple of days extra to explore and spend some time writing. If you do not know much about Auroville, you should read about it and better yet, check it out! It is an experimental township that was created on a wasteland and harbors the philosophy of oneness as visualized by Mother (read about Sri Aurobindo and Mother) – “Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.”

auro-1-2

auro-1-4

auro-1From its organic food to spectacular architecture to the feel of community, Auroville has become one of my favorite places in India. It was in this serene environment that we began our 3 day workshop with Partho. There was no agenda and no goal. I did not even know what to expect. We entered this hall in Verite where the session was scheduled. It was a high and wide hall with magnificent windows and a big glass hole on the top that bathed the whole room with ample sunlight. The trees outside rustled and filtered the air. We took our seats on the cushions and chairs. Roughly at 9, the session started and Partho asked, ‘So what do you guys want to know?’. It was perhaps a weird way to open but it could not have been better. The whole 3 day workshop continued as a QnA after that. From 9 to 5, we just talked and talked for 3 days. I am not going to bore you with the details here but will pick up on some insightful threads in the series I intend to do for my blog this year – The Meditation Journal.

So yes, my Tretar project for 2015 is to unravel the mystery of Meditation. I am a novice at it and I shall transcribe my experiences of tackling it head-on. How far shall I go remains to be seen. My interest has been piqued since this workshop because some of the things we talked about seemed so right to me. It answered some of my questions, clarified many doubts and opened up a new direction of thought. And it also shed light upon something that has always intrigued me – How to approach Meditation? What is it? Why? How? And, I think many people have the same questions. After coming back, I further explored the topic and happened to read more on Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and even some Tibetan Buddhist approaches. I am thoroughly enjoying this exploration and I am sure other Meditation enthusiasts will too. So, if you are interested, join me in this voyage – let’s find out together if it demystifies you or is it just a hoax 🙂 Either ways, we will come out enlightened!

IMG_6134

  

Seeing Mother’s room and Aurobindo Ashram: Pondicherry visit

21 Feb 2015. I was in Auroville for a workshop and had kept one day to roam around Pondicherry. Around midnight, my Dad messaged me that it was Mother’s birthday and one of the few days in the whole year when her quarters are open for the public. I thought it was a significant coincidence and I must avail this opportunity. To my chagrin, there were no bikes available to rent because it was a darshan day. Since 7 am, I had been trying to call bike lenders but no one had anything. Around 9 am, a scooty became available due to a last minute cancelation. Stroke of luck!

Pondicherry Ashram
Pondicherry Ashram

When I reached the Ashram at noon, a long queue filled the street. Token for half an hour slots were being handed out to people when they could come for visiting Mother’s rooms. I had to return to Auroville before dark and it seemed impossible to get a token for myself on time. So, I went away for lunch. While eating, I felt a tug to go back to the Ashram and give it another try. When I reached back, the queue had doubled. I spotted the girl with whom I had chatted before leaving for lunch, she seemed ahead in the queue. I am usually a shy person who would never do a thing like this but I saw no other option. I went to her and asked politely if I could join her and her father in the queue. I expected her to give me a look. I expected the person behind to complain. Surprisingly, neither happened. She very happily let me in. I still cannot believe how sweet she was. I chatted with her and her dad for few minutes until we got our token for 5:30-6pm. I thanked Lakshmi and went to see Sri Aurobindo’s samadhi. I wasn’t familiar with his or Mother’s work until then. So, all I can say is that I was meant to visit and pay my respect there. I liked what I saw – the peaceful ambience, the lovely flowers, the quietude and the stillness.

Lakshmi and her Dad
Lakshmi and her Dad
Pondicherry beach
Pondicherry beach

I spent sometime roaming around the beach and parks. As scheduled, I returned at 5:30 and got to see the rooms and some of Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s personal effects. I would not claim to have felt any extraordinary vibes or visions but I do feel that it was no coincidence my being there. Since then, I have come to find out more about Sri Aurobindo and my interest is piqued. Some of the people I respect have great appreciation for his philosophy, perhaps it is time for me to explore him in greater detail. Whether it was a calling or my imagination does not matter, Pondicherry visit (and overall my exploration of Auroville on which I will write separately) was a revelation to me in more than one sense. That day started another journey.

My Pondicherry shopping
My Pondicherry shopping