• Perennial Wisdom

Chamunda Devi Mandir

I was touched by all the history and the strong sense of devotion and piety of the faithful. We left the huge temple, full of pandits, to find an old man sitting outside by the gate. He pointed up the road to a tree and told us that real devotees of Kali (Chamunda) left a stone there as a gift and to remind mother of our needs. “Go there,” he told me gently. “It is called the Devi Tree.”

A few of us women walked up the hill to the tree. Sure enough the trunk was split open and inside was full of little stones. I added my stone to the pile of offerings and bowed deeply in my heart. It was then that I realized the name of this natural temple: Devi Tree. Those are the two names given to me by Gurudev.

As we are called back down to the group, several of the young men are standing together in animated conversation. I stop to listen. “What this shakti anyway?” one of them asks. They see me and turn to me for a quick answer. I tell them about the female force of the universe, that causes all action, and is the source of all power, and they become visibly discomforted.

"You mean its female?"


"Wait a minute. What about Shiva?" asks one of them.

"Oh yeah,” answers another. “I heard that Shiva contains Shakti inside himself."

"Oh, well then that explains it" says the original questioner. The rest of the men nod their heads in agreement and they walk confidently away.

Why is it so difficult for some men to acknowledge female power, including spiritual power? The very mention of the Divine as real female power brings arguments, meaningless clarifications, explaining away. What would they do if the Divine Mother appeared now in all her glory? Would they tell me it was really a man?

I remember living in Japan as a consultant to a large Japanese healing religion founded by a former military man. After the founder's death, the organization was passed on to his adopted daughter to run. The group is large, powerful, wealthy, full of the strange and beautiful rituals of Shinto mixed with Jewish scripture. The female spiritual head is charming, wields absolute authority among members, and is considered a divine aspiration in their midst. While hearing about all the male-dominant features of the Japanese culture and this religious culture in particular, I inquired about the powerful woman in charge. "Ah, well," I was gently corrected by one of the main male teachers, "while she does happen to have a female body, her soul is, of course, male."

Once, long ago, Swamiji and I were sitting drinking tea together when I brought up the topic of male and female in spirituality. He explained about the energy of pure potency--male energy--named Shiva and the energy of all action, all form, all power--female energy--called shakti. He asked for a pen and paper and when I brought them he said, "Look, here is a dead body." Saying so he wrote the Sanskrit letters for "shva" or "corpse." "You see, without the female, there is no life, no power, no divinity." Then he took the paper again and said, “When you add the female force, Shakti," saying so he added one more letter, -the letter I, symbol for Shakti to the word on the page, "even a dead corpse becomes God." And there before me was the Sanskrit word 'Shiva' written in his fine hand.

Dharamsala Mountain Hike

At 8500 feet I could go no farther. My legs will not lift themselves for another step. My heart pounds painfully; my breath comes in sputters. I tell the kind young man that I will stop here for a while, that he should go ahead to join the group. At that moment one of the guides calls to us from the path above. He is concerned about us. Are we all right? My companion tells him I will wait for the group to return. He says it is fine, but would I please wait at the regular meeting place? I agree. Mike goes on after I assure him once again that I will be fine and much prefer to wait alone. I silently bless him for all his care of me and sit on a boulder by the rocky path. I watch him disappear around the rising bend, knowing he must feel free to walk at his own pace once again.

Twenty yards ahead of me I see the roof of the tea shop and stand up to walk there. I feel fine. I am surprised. There is no queasiness, no pain, no dizziness. I walk carefully a few steps, but I feel fresh and strong and free. Within minutes I reach the shack, grandiosely called the Rama Cafe. It is a small, raised enclosure made of four big tree branches held up by piles of rocks and hung with bunches of canvas and plastic sheets. A branch over the top holds it all in place.

The cafe is empty save for a young man sitting on his haunches in the corner reading a book. We nod to each other and he asks if I am feeling all right now. Can he get me something to eat or drink? Perhaps some tea later, I tell him and ask his name.

“Desersa” he tells me with a dazzling smile.

“Are you a student?” I ask.

“Yes. I am studying how to write, and English, and Indian history. You see, I have books.”

I tell him that I will just sit quietly for a while and he nods, understanding. I pass on to the rocks beyond the cafe. There I find a kind of throne above the cafe, above the trail, made of huge black and white boulders with green grass and wild strawberry plants growing all around it. Behind me are more boulders leading to a few visible, and probably many invisible caves in the mountain. Before me the rich panorama of the Himalayan valley.

As I sit there the fog sneaks in, like spirits floating by, until the entire landscape is hidden in a thick cloud of white. I could see the cafe and about 50 feet of the path, nothing else. I watched as the last few trees were swallowed in the greyness and even the sound of the nearby waterfall was hushed. On my throne I was queen of the mountains, sitting high atop the world and loving every living thing around and beneath me. My problems fled. Could remember no pain, no fear, no anger, no worry. I simple was. It was glorious to be alone at last. I thought of the spiders again. they seem to be telling me something. But what? When I was climbing the mountains, I had to leave the path and threw up in a carpet of spider webs and when I sat down, exhausted, a spider sat beside me, another crawled on the rock wall at my eye level, another pumped on my shoe. I felt too sick to react, or was it merely that I began to see some beauty in them?

As the fog continued to roll in, I fell asleep on my little perch, wedged between the rocks. I felt like I was rocked in the arms of the Mother of the Universe, held close to her heart. I would have fallen about 15 feet if I lost my balance, but I felt perfectly safe. When I woke up, the fog was completely gone. The sun shone over the vast expanse of mountain and valley. The trees materialized again, the waterfall gurgled loudly. Up the path came four French men and their guides asking each other when they could eat. They stopped for water, deep in animated conversation, their backs to the beauty in front of them. They guzzled water, bragged about their speed in climbing, debated who had the heaviest pack, tossing their plastic bottles on the mountain side they continued their noisy way up.

Silence again. The falls grow louder and the birds begin to sing again. I hear whistling now. Desersa jumps from his cafe whistling a jaunty tune and carrying a huge, empty, plastic jug. It must hold at least five gallons. He skips down the path, takes a sharp right, and disappears down the mountain out of view. Five minutes later he reappears with the jug, full, on his shoulder. He hefts the water up to the floor of the cafe, jumps in after it and begins to make tea after collecting firewood from a nearby pile. As he worked, the fog began to tumble in again, shutting down the sounds and movement around me. I pull my scarf over my head and around my shoulders and prepare to shut down too.

I sit in the beauty around me as the fog moves in again, obliterating all. I am surprised at myself. Only a handful of people in the world know where I am. I’m sitting alone in the Himalayas and there is no fear at all. Where is the woman who never lived a day alone in her life? Where is the woman with the fear of heights? Where the woman who hates storms and fog and cold?

The fog speaks to me of illusion and of change. Who are we really? Am I a child of a certain family? Am I someone who does a particular job? A person living in a certain country? As I sit here now, along in the fog of the Himalayas, none of these things seems important to me, rather it is obvious how easy it is to shed all those names and roles. They can all change as they have so often in the past. Is my life an illusion of self-important work, a series of relationships, a citizenship of a certain place? Are they the reasons I was born? And if they change? If the reason of my life is dissolved in a Himalayan fog at 8500 feet, then who am I? What am I doing here? Why?

The Dalai Lama says he believes the purpose of life is to be happy. But that is too small for me, too apparently selfish. There must be another reason why I came to earth, meet certain people, learn particular skills, and have such a deep, hunger, such a thorough yearning for something beyond what I know.

The little black bird perches on a nearby rock and chirps at me, bobbing its tail up and down, up and down. It tilts its head, this way, that way, jumping closer and closer. Finally it sits right in front of me, singing a high-pitched, sweet, sweet song. My mind soars with each note, out of the route of thinking, of planning, of questioning, of judging. I am alone in the mountains, floating on the notes of a small black bird, and I am perfectly happy.

The cafe man came out of the hut with a pad of paper and a pen. Oh! a writer, I think. We both sat writing, I with my little papers carried up from Dharamshala in my pocket, he in his red sweater, sitting against the precipice, tapping his chin with his bright red pen, grimacing in confusion and laughing when he finds what he wants to say. I took his picture and he asked if he could take mine. I climb down from my perch and ask him to make me some tea. He is pleased to do so and confused when I tell him I would like to buy a cup for him as well. “That is wonderful! No one has ever done that! Where are you from?” all in one breath.

I ask about his life. He walks up the mountain path each morning at 7 AM from Dharamshala carrying what he needs for the day. Sometimes he stays, but usually it is too cold. He works only at certain parts of the year because in January, February, and March, there is much snow here so no one can climb and in July, August, and September the monsoons also prevent climbers. I am astounded at his energy, his simple beauty. He shows me his books, this son of the mountain, and proudly displays his careful writing, Hindi letters lined up neatly in a schoolboy’s copy book.

Jwaladevi Temple, Jwalanmuki

The city is still quiet, clear and sunny as we drive away down the mountain roads the traffic becomes heavy. Hindus and yogis and Sikhs by the thousands are going to the temple, this 9th day of Navaratri. We pass busses packed with pilgrims and one bus filled with a huge black cow in the aisle, dozens of pilgrims riding on the roof.

We leave our bus and proceed on foot past shop after shop of goods: stalls of food, toys, shoes, clothes, pots and pans, statues of the deities, incense, sweets, breads being fried, huge pans of milk being boiled, vegetables weighed, rice cooked, bread dough kneaded. There are stalls of electronic goods next to stalls selling bags of sweet offerings for the temple. Children’s balloons, dolls, whirligigs dance on sticks; tinsel-edged flags for spiritual souvenirs, embroidered cloth, gold-edged saris, piles of powers in every color in large silver trays, paintings of the Hindu gods and goddesses, men and women making gargantuan woks of halvah studded with raisins and nuts and coconut, breads of every size and shape baking on red hot coals, or in portable ovens, slipped sizzling into hot oil. The streets are electric with excitement packed with people who seemed to have walked out of a paint box. Gold-edged saris in hot pink, purple, green; sadhus in ochre robes; Sikhs in turbans of bright blue, red, orange, black; children in their holiday best starched and ironed and combed; widows in white saris, brides in red; groups of men and women in bright yellow garb with red hand prints on their backs; one frightening man dressed all in black with black painted face and long red tongue hanging out clasping cardboard weapons representing the Goddess Kali. All the world seemed to have converged on Jwalanmuki.

It is hot, very hot. Pandit Rajmani leads us to a shop where we buy prasad to offer in the temple. Indian police, in quickly-soaking uniforms line us up two by two in the center of the street, blocks away from the temple. The line reaches so far and is moving so slowly that I doubt ever reaching the temple. We are told the crowds have been lined up since daybreak. The police are keeping strict order. The pandit tells us to remove our shoes here rather than by the temple so we can find them after worshipping at the temple. I cannot believe my ears. Here? On the street? Where the cows and goats and dogs and children relieve themselves? Where food is dropped, the garbage dumped, the smokers spit? Yes, here and quickly, quickly! So we shed our sandals and Reeboks into the helper’s waiting hands and watch them thrown under a bench on the sweetshop floor.

We inch along in the intense heat, holding our little packages of offerings for the Divine Mother: puffed lotus seeds, round slices of coconut, plumb brown dates. We will give the package to the priest who will offer it in the inner shrine, touching it to the image, and return some to us. Someone asks the pandit’s wife about her package of sweet, which has ants crawling in it. “Oh, that’s nothing,” she says to brush away concern, “the Goddess loves the ants too.” My partner and I both raise our eyebrows to each other but say nothing.

Earlier that morning I myself received an offering. Up at 4 AM with a burning throat, I wrapped my meditation shawl around me and tiptoed down the staircase into the hotel dining room in search of salt. Back in my room I gargled with saltwater, dressed, and came back down to return the salt to the table. The early morning was soft, dark, moist, full of the smell of flowers. I sat down to pray on a little seat in a corner of the lobby. No one was about; all was quiet, expectant. After some time in meditation, I felt a presence near me and opened my eyes. Our Indian tour guide, dressed for his morning prayer, was stooping over me to drop a beautiful red rose in my lap. “Devi” he whispered, “Divine Mother, please accept my offering on this holy, auspicious day.” He bowed deeply, turned, and quickly walked away, leaving me wondering, breathing in the fragrance of the fully-opened, lush flower resting in my lap.

Now in the line of pilgrims in the pulsing city, we watch as people return from the temple, excited, happy, their hands clutching their sweet gifts from the deity, their foreheads marked with red powder by the priests. One tall, thin man, garbed only in a gray loincloth, is making his way up the street to the temple by prostrating fully, face and body in the dirt of the street, then rising, taking one large step, and prostrating in the dust again.

On our right I see two women make their way down the street. The first is dressed in bright red cloth, her dark hair standing out in wild waves around her head, her eyes are blazing, her arms, hands, fingers moving in unusual rhythms. Power flows from her tangibly. Behind her a smaller woman dressed completely in violet, is struggling to keep up with the speed and determination of the other. As the two move past the line of pilgrims, I look into the eyes of the lady in red. They are dark, wild, yet full of light and power. Mentally I bow my head to her, acknowledging the divine feminine so evident in her. Suddenly she veers off her route and turns to rush towards me. She stops and looks deep into my eyes for a long minute, her arms moving, her breath deep and fast. The air is electric around her. Then she bows her head to me and quickly continues her route, followed by her attendant shielding her mistress from all harm.

Next to me, Brian is full of excitement. He is all questions. “Why did she bow to you?” “Why did she come here?” he demands. “She seemed to recognize you. Do you know her?” “Who was that woman?”

“Did you see the great yogini?” shouts the Pandit rushing by on another errand. “She manifests the Divine Mother today, full of power, full of grace. She was near here, dressed all in red with her student in purple. Did any of you see her? Where is she? I want to see her.”

I wonder at my blessing and Brian moves a step closer to me and the questions continue: “Why did she recognize you?” he whispers, “Why?” “Why?” But I had no answer.

After more than an hour in line, we enter the temple area, dedicated to the Goddess Jwala, there is “not even room for a mustard seed,” as the Pandit said. The image of the Divine was covered in fine silks and garlands of flowers so it was difficult to see her very clearly. We bowed and asked a blessing and were given prasad as the priests accepted our offerings. In the dark cave, we found the sacred flames quite clearly burning. They were about two inches tall and burned with a blue-white color. The cave was very hot, and it seemed as if flames were everywhere. We were told that there are six other places that have the eternal flames also.

Dalai Lama and the Buddhist Temple

After breakfast, Doris, Mike and I go next door to the Himalayan Queen to inquire about the telephone. We take turns calling our respective homes. Doris checks on her dogs and the safety of her house; Mike is pleased to reach his wife; I talk to Justin on his birthday and send him wishes from the mountains.

Afterwards, we spent 30 minutes trying to pay for the calls. Mine is easy; I have the exact number of rupees. Doris only needed to make change, but it seemed to be a major feat as the proprietor runs next door for the appropriate coinage. But Mike, realizing his call to South America would be costly, had gone to the bank yesterday and had a huge wad of bills. In typical Indian fashion, they were held in a half-inch pile by two heavy metal staples. Mike worked for five minutes to free the staples to no avail. The Indian clerk asked to assist and the wad of bills is passed over to him. He gently tugged at the staple, he tried pulling a single bill out without tearing it, he tried prying the metal up with the edge of his ball point. "Just wait, please sir" he asked and handing back the bills, ran out the front door. Each of us tried to wedge open the heavy staple during his absence, but it was a fruitless struggle. After some time the telephone proprietor returned with a screwdriver in hand. He took the pile of rupees and began to carefully insert the tip of the screwdriver under the metal staple. But he did not have the strength to move the metal. Another Indian, watching from the doorway, came over to offer his help. He, too, could not budge the staple. Both worked together next, one held the bills down, one pried the staple. The edges of the staple were raised slightly, enough so that a bill or two could be manipulated out with only slight damage. While one man attempted to smooth out the mangled bill, the other worked at getting the staple edges raised a little more. Of course he hurt his hand with the screwdriver, of course this stopped the procedure while the stack of money was passed around for someone else to try. Michael could stand it no longer. His annoyance was all the strength necessary at this point to raise the edges of the staple and pry off the bills, two by two, from the stack.

Seeing him work, I knew why all the Indian bills I had been given had two holes in them, about an inch from the edge. "Excuse me sir," I asked of the proprietor, "why does the bank staple the bills like that?"

"Why madame," he answered, surprised that I would ask such a stupid question, "without them someone would steal some bills and the stack would not have the right count!"

"But the money was counted at the bank and handed right to the cashier. Do you think someone in the bank would steal it while it was carried between the safe and the customer?"

The man looked at me as if I were a simpleton. Where has this woman been living, on Mars? He smiled at me, pity in his eyes. "Good morning, Madame." he said. "Enjoy your stay with us."

We climbed up to the Buddhist temple to join the special celebration. At the top we found that we arrived just twenty minutes after the Dalai Lama left. Had I not telephoned, I would have seen him. But for me calling Justin on his birthday was as important as darshan from this great leader of Tibet. Isn't this his message of compassion? As the large temple emptied around us, the candles were extinguished, the monks shuffled off to other duties, the sun rose majestically, turning the entire mountain into a golden painting. Doris and I continued down the road along the back side of the official residence. There we found a smaller temple, beautiful white, decorated with tall prayer flags flapping merrily in the breeze. I made a spot for myself on a short wall near the temple and sat to do some japa. Dozens of small birds were wild with joy, the crows complained loudly, the bells of the 108 prayer wheels changed one by one as a few old women walked by spinning their prayers. I sat in the midst of this busy world and watched. Cows grazed on the slope a few yards above the temple, babies played with their moms on the path. Below a new residence was rising, brick by brick, while women in saris carried the hobs of cement to the men who laid the bricks. Three old men, their clothes grey with dust, sat down next to me, chatting the patient talk of the elderly, their prayer beads slipping through their fingers as they spoke. Two young monks walk by in their purple robes, their shaven heads, their Adidas shoes. Seven Tibetan women in their beautiful long jumpers and aprons walked by turning the painted prayer wheels. All of them smile at me, nodding "good morning," I am touched by their beauty, their peace, their incredible smiles. Who knows what they believe as they look up to the temple image. Do they realize they have a Buddha nature or do they pray to the Buddha for family and crops and health as Westerners pray to God? They bow before the Dalai Lama as Westerners kiss the ring of the Pope or stand in line to see Billy Graham. With the daily life of the Indians and Tibetans unfolding before me, I think it is good to recognize the holy, the divine in spiritual leaders. It is infinitely better, however, to recognize it in each other, and in ourselves.

I had been looking for one of my authors, the Buddhist nun Tenzin Dechen, but I cannot find her. I was stunned to learn that the nuns have no convent there; they are not taken care of like the Buddhist male monks. The women must rent rooms in the town with money they earn or receive from relatives or friends. Tenzin has told me that she flies home each year to work at a publishing house for six months in order to earn enough money to spend another year in study in Dharamshala. I wanted to complain, but to whom?

The next morning we leave Dharamshala to continue our pilgrimage. But first we ask to return to the temple for puja. This will be a special morning, we are told, an auspicious ceremony presided over by the Dalai Lama. We walk up the steep road to the sound of Tibetan horns, like cows lowing over the hills, and find the temple grounds already full of praying monks and laity. Here and there a Westerner sits deep in thought. Brian, Michael, Doris, Ralph and I find a place on the marble walkway just outside the main prayer hall, by the huge open panels, and directly in front of the main altar. An old monk pushes his companion over and beckons me to come forward to his row. So Ralph and I squeeze in, nodding our thanks to the toothless old man smiling at us. I find myself centered directly before the Dalai Lama's throne with rows and rows of swaying monks chanting between that place and myself. I take in the bright yellow walls, hung with rich painted and embroidered thangkas, the huge doll-like face of the Buddha in a chorus of candles looking down on a sea of monks in marron and yellow-gold robes.

Suddenly horns begin to blare and a huge brass gong is banged, announcing the arrival of the spiritual head of Tibet. Two yards away from us a small procession winds its way quickly up the steps. First come soldiers carrying Uzi machine guns, looking right and left as they walk with guns at the ready. Next is a group of monks wearing multicolored brocade capes and the unmistakable yellow hats. They are blowing long horns, wailing their sounds as if in agony. In the center of the monks walks the Dalai Lama, head down, papers in his hand, shoes too big for him, turned up at the tips, shoulders seemingly bowed under the weight of responsibility. Right next to us he stops, adjusts his glasses, looks up, and smiles and nods at all of us welcoming his arrival.

Another gong reverberates loudly as the Dalai Lama enters the main prayer hall. Everyone stands as he enters, and the monks all don their big, strange hats for the occasion. Bright yellow hats on all the monks sitting in the center of the hall, rich red hats on those down the sides. The chanting begins again as the Dalai Lama takes his seat on the throne and begins swaying side to side. Soon we are all caught up in the rhythm of the chant. The deep voices wash over me like waves on the seashore. I listen. My body also begins a little sway as all the monks around me chant, and sway, and turn the pages of their little books. The old monk next to me taps my knee and offers me a chant book, but I smile my refusal. knowing I could not read the words. After some time I notice that the monks around us are now pulling little crumbled plastic bags out of the folds of their garments. They look around expectantly and poke each other as they spot the young monks walking down the aisles carrying large tin buckets with wooden ladles. Soon one of the buckets is next to me and the monk is reaching for the little blue plastic bags and filling them with rice. I help to pass the portions of rice back to the monks and nuns around me until all are holding their breakfast. The serving monk raises the next full ladle for me, but I show him that I have no plastic bag, so he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a saucer-sized square of newspaper, mounding the rice into it and offering it to me. Life seems so beautiful at that moment—the chanting continuing, quieter than before, the old ones around me munching on little piles of rice in their hands, the generosity of the temple to feed all those who come as guests along with all the monks, the feeling of love and respect and universal connection to each other as to the divine.

My own little pile of rice was the best I have ever eaten. It is slippery with butter, peppered with raisins and nuts and cinnamon. Just as I was on my last bite, the server was back tapping my shoulder. This time he had a huge blue pot of tea and the monks were now passing their mugs to me. I gathered them one by one, held them to be filled and then passed them back along the line, watching as each was carefully moved hand to hand until it reached the smiling face of the one who claimed it. My heart jerked inside as I noted the little mugs, some cracked pottery, some small porcelain cups, some white enamel, chipped in spots down to the metal. The serving monk pulls out a tiny earthen cup from his pocket for me and pours out some tea for me, then moving down to the steps below us. The tea is hot, oily, smelling of rancid butter and smoke. But it is surprisingly invigorating. Meanwhile the chanting is going on in the main hall, and amongst those not munching rice or sipping tea. I look up to the see the Dalai Lama leaning down from his throne, motioning to a monk off to the side. As the monk comes before him, bowing, the Lama points to a monk in one of the front rows and uses the international eating symbol to say that somehow that monk got nothing to eat. It is quickly rectified and only then does the Dalai Lama smiles and resumes his prayer. I am touched by his humanity even in the midst of the important spiritual ceremony.

All too soon it is time for us to leave. We tiptoe out backwards, trying not to disturb the devotion of the mass of people around us and make the walk back to our hotel. I pass a man carrying an old-fashioned, heavy sewing machine, sweating profusely with the weight, but stopping to smile and nod to us. We manage to step over all the broken concrete, avoid the muddy puddles, the dogs, the garbage, and make our way back to the hotel. Twenty minutes of pure confusion as luggage is packed, filming equipment stashed, box lunches run up from the kitchen, hugs given, goodbyes shouted, the huge bus turned around in the narrow road. We make our noisy way through the streets, as the proprietors are just opening their shops, setting up the rickety tables of wares for sale. We slowly leave the town and pick up speed on the highway, as Doris says with finality, "So! That was Dharamshala. Incredible."

Tibetan horns

Buddist Monks

  • Perennial Wisdom


After many hours, we are awakened from our naps by shouting, horn blowing, and the shuddering of the huge bus as it struggles to pass through the incredibly narrow main street of Dharamsala. It is dark already, we are nearly at our destination, but the way is blocked. Shouts everywhere, demands, negotiating with the shop keepers to move some of their wares, arguments with owners of the handful of cars and scooters to move their machines so the Westerners can get to their hotel. A small group of shaven-headed, maroon-robed monks smiles and nods, finding it all most amusing and offering advice to the driver.

Finally, at 8:30 PM we arrive at the Himalaya Queen Hotel and are greeted at the door by a man and woman in beautiful mountain garb. They paint our foreheads one by one with orange tilaks and garland us with necklaces of gold and silver tinsel and little squares of red cellophane. They sprinkle flower petals on our heads and lead us into the lobby, filled with dark Raj furniture of red velvet and mahogany, and marble floors covered with Kashmir rugs. Waiters bring in drinks—striped in layers of brown, orange and red in the tall glass. I sip carefully and the layers still do not mix. The top is an inch of Coca-Cola; the yellow-orange center is thick mango juice; the ruby liquid at the bottom a thick syrup flavored with rose water.

Doris and I are assigned room 204. We are led down marble stairs to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floors, fitting into the mountain below the street. In our room, painted olive green, is a single fullsize bed, two broken stuffed chairs, 2 nightstands, and a TV. This bathroom has a hot water heater and shower! Such luxury, we think, until we discover that the toilet does not flush. They have, however, thoughtfully provided us with the requisite blue plastic bucket for emergencies just like this. Later we hear that our neighbor’s bathtub has a huge crack running down the middle, so we are quite pleased with our luxury suite.

Doris is cold. We wrap her in a blanket and I sit on her feet to warm them up. Then we go to explore the town and shop from makeshift tables set along the broken streets and in wooden shops lined up one after another along the main route while men follow us as we walk.

That evening the temple bells begin to ring, the Tibetan horns, long, low, primitive sounds, seemingly pulled out from deep in the earth’s center, drawing me in simply and surely. After five minutes, the small, high sounds of other horns join in, playing in a kind of mysterious melody, hypnotic, punctuated by the base sounds of the big horns and the brass calls of hand bells. Over all is the incessant hiss of the falling rain on the hills and streets, the leaves and shops and roads. The dogs bark, a workman hammers into wood in the back of the hotel, the birds hold noisy conference. The day folds its light in and slowly dusk, and then dark, makes its way across the mountain peaks.

Doris, my dear friend by now, is delighted with her afternoon shopping and lines up her purchases for me to inspect: statues of the Buddha and of the dancing elephant-headed God, Ganesh; silk purses, necklaces of silver and exotic beads; Tibetan finger cymbals, Kashmiri shawls, postcards from Lhasa, Tibet; books by the Dalai Lama. We check each piece again and again, admiring her cleverness and good taste, planning where everything shall go and to whom.

The sky is charcoal after the glorious sunset. Streaks of lightening blaze across the dark gray of the mountains. The procession of maroon-robed monks has wound down within the temple walls, and our patient hotel staff waits on the roof for our group. Earlier they had carried all the tables, the mahogany stuffed armchairs, the linens and serving tables up to the large cement roof for a special evening. Now they begin serving us a 7-course meal while bright robed dancers enter the space, arranging themselves amidst the jingle of their ankle bracelets and necklaces. The Karna musicians, on a pink square of carpet, begin to play and the sweet sounds of mountain flute and drums fills the air. Local folk dancers have come to entertain us. For the next 90 minutes they whirl and jump and intrigue with graceful movements of arms, hands, and bare feet on the cement floor, their exotic costumes a blur of red and pink, silver and white. They seem tireless—dark eyes flashing, beckoning to each other, hands caressing the air, torsos swaying like snakes, the music tempo faster and faster. When at last they end the program, we are humbled to find the entire troop walking around the roof, shaking our hands, bowing to us, thanking us for letting them dance for us!

Our table talks about folk dances of the world and the young men are chagrinned to realize that America, as a country, has none. We discuss the cultures that make us a country—the Poles, the Germans, the Russians, the Irish, the Scots, the British, the French, the Chinese, the Native American, the African, the Philippines, the Spanish, the Mexican, the Japanese—all have their folk music and dance. Yet none of them have become known as “American dance.”

“Perhaps ours is rock and roll?” I ask, and am stunned to hear Ian, the tall medical student reply: “Oh no, that all came from the Britain with the Beatles.” How could he possibly think that? I launch into an explanation of how Rock and Roll, Jazz, the Blues are all a direct lift from Black music, African rhythms evolved by American slaves, richly embroidered by Black musicians over the decades in Southern barns, roadside shacks in the Black sectors, copied by Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. I’m a bit hurt that the arrogant young men will not take it in.

“I don’t believe that at all,” one says. “I just can’t believe that.”

“No, the Beatles discovered Rock & Roll!” the first young man repeats angrily.

I ask them to just check it out, read some history of music before deciding upon their belief system. But the ugly head of white male prejudice and privilege has been raised and I’m shocked by its presence here, of all places, and by the vehemence with which it is tossed out on the table like a gauntlet for me to pick up.

“I don’t know where you’re coming from, Lady, but American music is definitely not from the Blacks.”

If such ignorance and prejudice is the case with music and culture, then what of the case with spirituality? Why have these men come on this trip? They probably think they know all about spirituality too.

I force my return of attention to the beauty of the final dance. It begins slowly and ends with a great flourish of jumps and catches and deep bows. The last of the dancers follows the troop down the stairs but first he bows his head over folded hands and softly says “Namaste, I recognize and bow to God in you.”

What God does he mean, and what God would these young, scientific men think he means? Is the God within us Buddhist, Hindu, or Christian? Is divinity brown or black or yellow or white? The question had always seemed utterly ridiculous and superfluous until this evening.

The hundreds of years of British occupation, domination, rape of the land, theft of its treasures, destruction of the self-esteem of millions, the brutal slaughter of thousands came strongly to my mind and heart. The forcing of Western ways and language, the insistence that the Christian God was the real one as they laughed at the natives brought anger to me again. How could the Indians be so sweet and generous to us?

That night in my room I read a passage from Pearl S. Buck in Come, My Beloved and note that it still applies: “He was touched, as he so often was, by the warmth and humanity of an Indian. There was no distance to overcome, the least kindness overwhelmed these people, the most habitual gentleness was enough to win their adoration. They were ready to love. Yet they were not childish. It was simply that they had lived so long and in such misery that their hearts were worn bare and the nerves quivered.”

Dalai Lama’s Residence

This morning our group treks down the hill, turns left, and climbs up again to the home of Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet. He lives in exile on the beautiful piece of mountain property given him by the Indian government. There is a large temple, bookstore, library, kitchens, monks housing, and the residence and offices of the Dalai Lama behind imposing gates and armed guards.

At the temple the monks sway right and left chanting the words in a low rumble, like the sound track of grumbling peasants in an old film. One monk leads the prayer, his voice clear over a microphone, his hand defining the count with short, swift chops.

The huge, empty throne for the Dalai Lama is covered with yellow gold cloth, behind it richly carved tables holding offerings, the huge golden face of the Buddha statue, cased in glass, smiles down at the hundreds of worshippers.

A few of us go to the temple bookstore and find a treasure of volumes. I find a book titled Meeting with Remarkable Women: Buddhist Teachers in America and note that it is similar to the two I put together myself using women of all traditions, not one. Roshi Gesshin Prabhasa Dharma writes: “To engage in religious practice means to go home, to return to original nature. Wisdom is innate, not distant from ourselves. It’s what we are. That is the dharma, the process. Identifying with the process, you see there is no birth or death.”

The next day a few of us walk down the hill to the Hindu part of town and then out to the countryside. Nearby is a Christian church called St. John’s in the Wilderness. It is quiet sweet, dark, soft, moss trying to cover the stone walls and roof and wrapped around with tall trees. A beautiful spot. Inside is still and empty and after a short meditation, I read all the wall plaques to the British soldiers who built the church and are buried in the graveyard next door. As I sat in the quiet, I thought about churches and temples and mosques, and synagogues. The idea sprang to mind that we Westerns like our places of worship to be quiet and serene, in great contrast to the Eastern temples, full of life, adventure, loud praying, canned music, colored lights, and food. After awhile a new thought came up: ours are empty.

That evening Doris rescues me from the largest spider of my life walking two inches from my hand. Is someone always rescuing me from what is thoroughly unpleasant: from the unknown?

Bhagsu Nag

On Thursday we decided to walk up to the Hindu temple in the village of Bhagsu Nag. The morning was overcast but our steps were light as we joked our way up the mountain side, dodging sheep and goats. I stopped to mentally sort them out: “sheep on my right side, goats on my left,” and am delighted when they more and appear to follow my mental command perfectly. We snap pictures and go on. It starts to drizzle; we walk faster. It began to pour; we ran to a stone, 3-sided hut with a wooden roof up the road. Inside we huddled together, working out a plan. Half the group decided to go back to the hotel, the rest of us waited for a lull and then continued up the hill. I broke out my apple purloined from the supper table last night and cut it into sections with my Swiss army knife. A middle-aged Indian couple with no English was pleased to share half of it; a few of us munched on the rest. As we passed the temple, a great surge of water was flowing down the steep sets of steps to its main floor, not allowing us to enter.

The Falls Encounter

A few of us decide to leave the temple for later, wishing to see the surrounding mountains first. We walk straight ahead to the Bhagsu Cafe, already filling with our friends, but see another sign that reads "To the Falls" followed by a large red arrow. One of the young men who left earlier in the day is just returning from that direction. "Did you go to the falls?" we ask him.

"Well, not quite. But I walked almost there. It's not far, only about 100 feet."

That sounded good and so we decided to give it a go before the rain began again. Doris and I were joined by Michael and Horst, an older German man from Chicago. We followed the sign behind a stone house and over some steps, to watch it twist away into the distance. It did not seem like 100 feet to me, nor to Doris, but we continued on, lured by the beauty of the mountains looming up all around us. The path we walked on was covered small with pieces of slate, some flat, some broken into gravel by pilgrim's feet. The waterfall was full of awe—it fell down white and fast and straight from the center of two peaks, falling deep into the valley below us and joining the river that ran along the valley to our right. We passed a few natives going in to their homes, some driving sheep before them. We stepped aside to let the animals pass on the narrow path and I noticed the herders looked curiously at us and then up at the sky, saying nothing. "Should we turn around?” I ask. "Nah! it probably looks farther than it is, and what's a little rain anyway?"

So we follow along: first Doris, walking with a sure, even step, then me, then Michael and Horst coming up the rear. When the climb became steep, we just breathed harder; when the slate slid on the path, causing our steps to falter we yelled "be careful" to each other and continued on. We climbed up a rather difficult section in giant steps, pushing the one before us and pulling up the last.

Now we were on a narrow rim of path seemingly carved into the mountainside. Across the river drop in front of us, three men chopped slate on the other mountain. We could just make them out in their red wool caps and green boots. Suddenly, above the falls we saw a flash of lightning and the ground beneath us, the mountain next to us, seemed to rumble with a terrible shake as the air split apart with a mighty crash of thunder. We fell against the rock wall, grasping at anything protruding. The sound was so loud I could not hear Doris who turned to say something to me, her eyes big in horror and surprise. She continued on up the path to a little section under a rock overhang. Holding out her hand to me, she beckoned me to follow. I called to Michael and Horst and we inched forward, as the sky opened and buckets of rain fell down on us.

We huddled together under the narrow overhang deciding what to do next. "Should we go on?"

“What for?”

"Well we're only a short distance away."

"We can't go back now. We'll never make it back on that slippery road."

We looked across the chasm for the workers, but they were no longer on the mountain side. We were alone in the storm. Another mighty crash of thunder seemed to envelope us. I had never heard such a crash of sound, nor felt its reverberations in the rock and earth and sky as this. It was other-worldly. It was terribly frightening. My old fear of thunderstorms rose up like bile in my throat. My hands began to shake and I could not think. We were trapped out on a ledge of slate in a thunderstorm in the Himalayas!

Doris looked at me with big eyes, "Are you afraid?” she asked.

"Yes. I hate storms. I don't know what to do." I could feel the panic in my own voice. My face was so wet with rain that I did not fear that she would see the tears falling down my cheeks. I turned to Michael. He squatted down, looking like a ghost, talking about his fear of heights. He would not move, neither to come closer nor to go back the other way. He was paralyzed. I looked past him to Horst, pulling his jacket around his neck, hands a bit unsure. "Horst," I shouted, "are you scared?"

"Ya." came back the reply.

Michael said, "Let's stay here until it is over. It's the safest place." But after he said that, a crash of lightning hit the side of the mountain across the way causing an avalanche of slate to slide down the mountainside and crash noisily into the chasm below.

"Oh my God!" said Doris. "We have to get out of here. We are sitting under slate. We could be killed if the lightning hits this side."

We knew she was right, but we were all paralyzed with fear. OK, I thought. We have to do something. Get moving, Theresa. If you are meant to die on this mountain, you will die. If you have work to do in this life, you will live. Get going. So I stood up carefully, saying “Doris is right. Let’s go now.”

Doris passed carefully in front of me. "I'll lead the way down," she said. Slowly, carefully, she squeezed past Michael and Horst. I followed her, pulling Michael by the hand. Horst did not want to move, but seeing us leave, he began to follow. The rain fell incessantly, we shivered with the coolness and with fear. Step by step we managed to wind down the narrow path, sliding on the slate as it moved beneath our feet, grabbing at the rock wall to steady ourselves. Ahead was the drop that required assistance on the way up. I noticed right away that Doris took a different way down than up. She carefully made her way down the mud outcropping, jumping the last few feet over the drop to the path below. I tried to follow in her steps but my legs were not quite long enough. I could not reach the rock where she stepped and stood balancing on a projecting sheet of slate over the open drop. If I fell here, I could fall down the drop, sliding down the slate wall far into the rocks below.

Before me on the left was a small branch growing sideways out of the muddy ground. My first instinct was to grab it, but I remembered being told never to grab at branches while rock climbing because often they will pull right out. My hands felt along the wet rocks, trying to find a steady handle to hold on to, but they all seemed to pull out in my hands. As if he were standing next to me, I heard my teacher's voice say, "Grab the branch." I looked around, confused. Where was he? No, I should not grab a branch while climbing. Again the voice commanded, louder, clearer, "Grab the branch now!" I reached out, grabbed the branch with my left hand just as the slate plate under my feet shifted in the mud and crashed unto the sharp rocks below. I threw my body forward, landing on the footing Doris had made. I was shaking as I took the next steps, looking back to see both men step over the chasm, helping each other to the rock below.

The way was easier now, flatter and a little wider. As we made our way around the next mountain, a black cow with wild, frightened eyes came toward us. In my gut I understood her fear. Halfway between us was a small shelter underneath the rock overhang. We all made for that spot. Doris was there, the cow and I entered at the same time. Standing on tiny rock protrusions on the wall were three little kids, black and white, hiding from the storm. We spoke to the animals, trying to calm the cow while the men came round the curve to join us. So relieved was I that we were on safer ground, I pulled out my camera, telling the animals I would take their picture, and recording the moment on film. Then I patted the cow and made my way carefully around her rump to join Doris on the way down the hill.

We slipped and slid the rest of the way to the little village, arriving in the pouring rain at the door of the cafe. We four threw our arms around each other, stunned that we were safely off the mountain, happy to be together, admitting now how very frightened we had been.

The cafe was filled with much of our group, some Indians, and the proprietors who began to question, "Where did you come from? The Falls? Oh my God! You could have been killed! You could have been killed! That was the monsoon. Never have we had the monsoon this late. It is very, very dangerous on the mountain. You could have been killed!"

We became instant celebrities. Someone bought us hot tea. The proprietor gave us slices of his best bakery bread with raisins. The Indian men came to ask in broken English what it was like on the mountain. "Did anyone fall? Did lightning strike?" I began to shake so badly I had to sit down on a wooden bench. The fact that I was directly beneath the pouring leak in the roof did not phase me, drenched to the bone as I was. We four stood together for innumerable photos and bragged of our exploits until we all ran, four by four through the downpour, across the temple courtyard, across the little bridge, now crossing a torrent of water, past the little shops in muddy water ankle deep to the little chugging taxis sent by our guide from the hotel to rescue us and bring us home.

Back in our room after a warm shower and dry clothes, Doris and I lay on our bed. We could talk of nothing other than our experience at the falls. I thanked my teacher for guiding me through the treacherous jump and old Doris we would have died without her bravery. "No kidding!" said Doris. "That was something!" I looked out the window to the balcony. The rain was just starting to stop and a little black spider crawled along the terrace rail.

Saturday found Doris and me sitting in the Bhagsu Cafe, at the table by the window, drinking a foamy cup of Indian cappuccino. It tastes like chocolate and sugar. Doris and I made the trek up the hill again, partially to set old demons to rest, partially to find a quiet place away from the group. We went to the temple we missed on Thursday, surprising the priest out of his afternoon nap. He showed us the statue of a snake in the inner temple and gave us rose petals and candy as prasad. God, in India, always gives gifts. The temple was floored in white marble, statues of the deities in cases around the courtyard. I am drawn to the inner courtyard. Doris wants to wait outside with her book. I find the empty dirt-floored room in the back with 3 shiva lingams and worship in the silence there. Strange, strong power. Quiet, other-worldly.

The young Indian woman who owns the cafe with her husband brought her children to meet us (“Bow to Auntie, now”) and they do, hands folded together, eyes beaming up at me in eagerness, whispering “Namaste” and giggling like children everywhere. We encourage the two-year-old to explore our pockets and she pulls out a small coin, delighted with the find.

I walk out of the café and all around me the water is gurgling down the mountain side, filling a large reservoir and continuing on its way down to the plains. Off to my right is the huge waterfall I visited on Thursday; up the hill towards the town is the ‘rock water’ once again a laughing little brook. All is peace and beauty and gentleness. The temple rings its bell as the sun inches its way down behind the mountains.

We wave goodbye to our hosts in the cafe and wind our way down, and then up, to our hotel. We walked through the muddy road. At the peak we turned to see the falls. The gray clouds parted and a bright light shown over a single mountain peak above the valley, forming a perfect upward pointed triangle.

Vick’s Gift

Today is a shopping day with Doris at the Hunky Dory Shop in Dharamsala. She must buy a gift for Vick, her friend in Miami. She has been planning this trip and talking about it for a long time. First of all, we must decide what she will buy. This is a long process indeed. We start a little ritual of questions:

“How about a Tibetan statue, Doris?” I ask.

“No way!” she answers. “Are you kidding? He would hate it.”

“OK. What about one of these shirts?”

“No. He would never wear a shirt from here.”

“Well, here are some nice handmade wallets . . .”

“No. He won’t use it.”

“A book?”

“He doesn’t read.”

“An embroidered backpack?”

“No way!”

“Prayer beads?”

“Are you kidding?”

“How about a shawl?”

“Absolutely not! No way.”

“Folk pants? These are nice.”

“Nope. He won’t wear them.”

“Ok, so what else is there?”

“Well,” Doris said thoughtfully, “let me think about it.”

Three days later we go through the ritual again. Afterwards Doris informs me that Vick wants absolutely nothing. He told me if I buy him anything, he’ll give it back. He wants nothing. So I put Vick’s gift out of my mind. That was a mistake.

The next day we have an extra hour and go shopping again. As we walk through the streets, delighting in what we see, Doris asks, “Do you think I should get something for Vick?”

“Well, I thought you said he wanted nothing.”

“Do you think I am so cheap? I thought you would help me, no?”

“I want to be helpful, but I’m at a loss. I still think he would be pleased to know you thought of him on your trip and brought him a gift, no matter what it is.”

“I think so, too. I think I’ll get him something; after all he is taking care of my house and dogs.”

So Vick comes back to the top of our agenda and the ritual of suggestions and rejections is repeated amidst exclamations of “No way!” and “Are you kidding?” every few steps. We look at men’s clothes in every shop. Nothing is good enough for Vick. Back at the hotel Doris says,

“I think I should get him a flannel shirt. One of those plaid ones. What do you think?”

Of course I’ve never met Vick and know nothing about him (except that he is taking care of her dogs), but I want to be helpful so I answer that it sounds like the best idea so far.

“What about color?” I ask. That was another mistake. The color debate goes on for the next 24 hours, Doris finally insisting that black and red plaid is the one she wants for Vick.

On our last day in Dharamsala, we go shopping for the shirt. We head straight for the clothes shops and in each one ask for men’s black and red plaid shirts. After half an hour we finally find a shop that has a black and red plaid flannel shirt, even in the right size! I can’t believe we finally found it. But Doris wasn’t finished yet.

“Do you have this in other colors?” she asks.

I stand back astounded but watch while boxes are pulled out from under counters and back rooms. Plastic bags are scattered, paper is ripped open, and a green and blue plaid shirt is finally found and offered up. Doris looks it over carefully. “Well, it’s not labeled XL,” she says. “Vick needs XL for sure.”

“Measure it against the other,” I suggest.

So tape measures are searched out, arm lengths are computed, shirt yokes laid side by side. This done, we find both shirts to be exactly the same size, just as the shop proprietor told us 20 minutes earlier. “Well, which color do you think I should get?” she demands.

“I like the black and red,” I timidly offer.

“Well, I think the black and red is heavier. It doesn’t get cold in Miami!”

“OK, then get the green one.”

“I don’t like Vick in green. He’ll never wear it.”

“Well then, buy the black and red and he’ll wear it in the winter.”

“Hmm, green is really his color.”

“Right. Let’s get the green.”

“Let me think about it. I really don’t like Vick in green.”

Doris carries the green shirt out into the light. she turns it front to back, lays it against her chest, one hand on her hip. She sets it down on the counter and carries the black shirt outside. The proprietor and I speak of Tibet and New York, waiting for the final revelation. I’m nervous as anything. I don’t think I can spend my entire last afternoon shopping for Vick. I watch Doris carefully. “I think I like Vick in green more than black. I’ll take this one,” and she hands over the green shirt.

The money is counted out and we leave the shop, Doris literally skipping up the road, so pleased with the purchase. “This is great. Now we’re all set. I have everything done now. This is a terrific shirt, no? Vick will love it. He really looks good in green. I had to buy him something, right? Oh yes, this is perfect, just perfect. Now we’re all set.”

Back in our room, we collapse on the chairs and decide on a cup of tea before lunch. But first, Doris takes out the shirt again and holds it up to the light on the terrace.

“This is a great shirt for Vick,” she says. “Are you kidding? He will wear this!”

I close my eyes and drift away to safety.

Dharamshala shopping

Bragsu Falls

  • Perennial Wisdom

by Manuraj (Maynard Speece)

“A mind expanded by a new idea never returns to its original shape.” We can all relate to the truth of this famous quotation attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes. We each encounter ideas and events in our lives that change and transform us in ways, such that we can never return to the person that we were before the event. This happens to all of us no matter where we live or what we believe. It is an easy exercise to see our lives from a perspective that we are continually flowing from innocence to experience and from experience to understanding. Good or bad. Whether it is tying our shoe for the first time, driving a car, getting married, or the death of a loved one, we can’t return to our previous innocence of not knowing. You can only be a virgin about something once. I believe that this truth of life happens in a most profound way when we are introduced to the yoga science of the Himalayan masters.

It seems likely that most of the people that have ever lived, including you and me, have asked, “Who am I? Why am I here? Where will I go? Does my life have meaning, does it have a purpose? Of course philosophers and thinkers have each in turn tried to answer these questions. Western culture looks as far back as the great Greek philosophers of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and works its way forward in time through the Romans, the Sufis, the European thinkers and so on. These philosophers each espoused their own musings on life and death, love, and the politics of government. The sciences of psychiatry, psychology and even quantum physics have attempted to answer the same eternal questions. Yet, it seems to me that whatever their insights, we, who are seekers of the answers to the questions of life, remain unsatisfied.

We remain unsatisfied because they are just opinions. And the opinions of others are just that, the opinions of others. They are not ours and can’t help us much. We are still innocent about the answers to the questions of, “Who am I? Why am I here? Where will I go? Does life have meaning, a purpose?

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, from the other side of the world, the roof, even, of the world comes a man with the answers to the questions.

The man is Swami Rama.

He came to the west on a mission, sent by his master, to share the teachings of the Himalayan masters. A perennial philosophy faithfully and carefully handed down from master to disciple for over five thousand years. Teachings that reveal the methods that will lead each of us to the answers for the questions of life…for ourselves.

And our innocence is lost.

We can never return to the innocence of borrowing the opinions and beliefs of others about the meaning of life because we have been given the tools to actually discover the answers. The use of the tools, the methods of the science of yoga show us how to live life, how to understand death and what happens, how to be, and the achievement of knowing our selves on all levels is the purpose of life and why we are here! The remarkable thing about all this is that what Swami Rama teaches can be verified by each of us. This moves the teachings from opinion to spiritual fact. We can each discover the truth of the teachings for ourselves. It is the commitment to these practices of the science of yoga that can give our life real meaning and how to be.

And we know that the teachings are authentic, that these are in fact the answers to the perennial questions of life because he stood in front of us and proved it. Having been innocent that this was even possible, we now have the duty to take responsibility for ourselves and our lives. We can’t pretend that we don’t know because now know, that we truly do know.

The innocence is not ours alone. Each human being is innocent of the truth of life until taught. Every great saint and master was once a student just like us. They each had family histories, some good, some bad. They each had to fight with negative thoughts and negative emotions and yet they persevered. They accepted the responsibility to keep trying in spite of their many mistakes and eventually became masters of them selves.

It is left for us students to remember the masters of our tradition. We honor them each July on the full moon. That moon is called Guru Purnima (the moon of the Guru). We gather at IHT to share our memories of Swami Rama and Babaji. To honor them as best we can, and to recommit to our practice as best we can. Students have been doing this for five thousand years and we are privileged to be part of that tradition.

The teachings that guide us in our study of yoga science taught in our Tradition have always seemed to be quite unique to me. I have been an avid student of the Upanishads, Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita for well over thirty years. I have never seen the truths and real-world application of the practices taught else whereas they are taught by the Masters in our tradition. Swami Rama wrote more than 25 books to express the teachings in a variety of ways and in different formats. I want to share just some of them for the benefit of those that have never seen them and for the benefit of all of us that need consistent reminding.

To prod us to remain steady in our sadhana he would say, “All the great sages say you can never attain anything great by fulfilling your desires alone. “Selfishness contracts the personality and the law of life is expansion.” “Sadhana is inevitable. You must take responsibility for understanding yourself. You must really want to train yourself. The inner method of self change is not taught in the outer world. This internal method you must discover for yourself. The whole secret of learning about yourself is to not fight yourself but simply allow yourself to know. To do that you need to create a real and sincere motivation for self-improvement.”

And, “Whatever you do, whether it is the kind of clothes you wear, the way you walk or the way you talk, don not do it for others. You lose touch with yourself. Then you don’t do what you really value. Then you are no longer living for yourself you begin to live for others in a very negative way.” And this, “Your negative thoughts often involve going back into the past, you remember the events of the past and then think you are bad. You identify yourself with your past actions. The sense of identification with the past has always been a human weakness. The moment you decide that you are not going to repeat actions that are unhealthy for you or your growth, then you are free.”

Swami Rama repeated many times, in many places these thoughts; “This is the important question, when people try to give you their anger or negative feedback why do you accept that? You accept it because you do not have self confidence, you do not accept yourself and know deep inside you that you are good. You do not really know yourself. In your heart of hearts you should never accept negative suggestions from those who are near you. This can create a very serious problem for you.”

He would say, “Without investigating or inspecting yourself you don’t know who you are. And how can you fix something if you don’t know where to look?” “Habit patterns are well established, seductive and comfortable. The irony is that the very things we seek to avoid are the most crucial to our awakening.” “Relationships and situations repeat themselves because uncomfortable relationships and situations represent the barriers to our freedom.”

Each of us can be tempted to blame others for our situations, for our conflicts and problems. Guruji says, “Each soul chooses the parents and family situations he or she needs, the role in society and the mix of comfort and discomfort to provide the perfect opportunity for progress on the path toward freedom. Remember that you have chosen this life. You have moved toward this moment of discovery in your journey. This is the perfect time for you to live in the world to make spiritual progress. The people in your life, your parents, spouse, friends, colleagues, are perfect for your growth.”

Guruji’s master, Babaji (he is not the Babaji referred to in Yogananda’s book) gave these four guidelines for our sadhana. “Have a desire to meet and know God. Have no selfish desire to acquire things for yourself. Give up all greed, anger, and attachment. Practice meditation regularly.”

Its also worth remembering that our task is the quality of our effort alone. Guruji said, “The fruits of your efforts are the province of the Divine and it is thievery to offer none of it back because we had no role in it.”

At this time of Guru Purnima it is natural to yearn for a tangible feeling of the lineage of the masters. To experience their presence in us. You can, every time you repeat your mantra. To me the initiation into our Tradition and your guru mantra are the gift of a lifetime. You are strumming the chord that connects us to the sages and the Divine when you repeat the vibration of your mantra.

Guruji said this, “In the beginning, the mantra will frequently be deflected by the mind. But when the mantra becomes established, when you receive its vibrations, when you really start feeling it, its effect is very strong. Your whole being absorbs the strength of the mantra and you are transformed by it.”

“Mantra shakti (power) has an amazing effect. By practicing mantra faithfully, sincerely with utmost devotion regularly, your whole being and your personality are permeated by the mantra. This spiritual practice opens a whole new fantastic view of life. Mantra overpowers your existence and gradually opens the gate of higher awareness. By its constant practice your whole being begins to reverberate, pounds and resonates with the sound of the mantra. You can hear it echoing in every cell and tissue of your body, even though you are not repeating the mantra verbally. Your mantra is a link between you and the cosmos, between you and the deeper mysteries of the universe. Gradually your mantra takes you deeper and deeper, unfolding the many layers which exist between you and the Self. Then every situation in life becomes joyous. No problem of this world can be a source of pain and unhappiness, because you achieve total balance.

By mantra’s practice, the immense reservoir of power hidden within you is released and changes begin to occur within you that seem miraculous. All your fear, anxieties, worries and doubts are removed and you become a dynamic, joyful, successful person in life. Also you receive supreme joy, spiritual inner strength, unalloyed felicity and infinite internal peace. By mantra shakti you get deep inner sight, intuition and communion with God.”

This is the profound movement form innocence to experience and from experience to Understanding. The master’s removal of our innocence is a debt that cannot be repaid. By his loving touch we cannot go back to what we were before. What he has taught was taught to him, and what reshaped him has reshaped us setting us on course to meet the Lord of Life that lives within each of us. This is our Tradition and what we honor on Guru Purnima.

Guruji always spoke of his master Babaji with love and reverence. If you read his book,

“Living with the Himalayan Masters” you can read his masters words and hear them echoed in Guruji’s many writings. About self discipline and will power his master would say, “You only know how good it feels to do something, you don’t know how good it feels to not do something.” And his guidance for sadhana was summed up this way, “Don’t do what shouldn’t be done, don’t think what isn’t helpful.”

There are several streams to be crossed on our paths to Self-realization that are best crossed by surrender. Babaji and Guruji often emphasized the importance of performing our duties and practices with faith, love, and sincere devotion. What greater offering can one make than to surrender to the teachings and the Lord of Life?

Babaji said, “Detach yourself from this mundane world and be linked to the Beloved. Offer your soul to the Lord.” “As I went to see my Beloved, He asked, ‘Who is that standing at the entrance to my shrine?’ I said, “Thy lover Lord.” The Lord said, “What proof can you give?” I said, “Here is my heart on my palms and tears in my eyes.”


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