Writings

Importance of Sanskrit Pronunciation

Sanskrit is a phonetic language of natural sound partitions. Not only do the sounds connect to nature, one could say they are the energetic representation of nature and the cosmos itself.

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I’ll start by saying I’m thrilled at the expansion of modern Yoga and its reach into every part of the world.  We are very fortunate that the world of Yoga is vast enough and diverse enough that it contains a little something for every seeker.  It is truly and positively life changing.  Some are not drawn to deep meditation and the physical practice of Yogasana becomes their chosen form of meditation.  One can go very deep even with Yoga Vinyasa, and further can in fact reach those high states of liberation through the practice of matching breath with movement.  Point being, there is something for everyone.  In my own personal journey I was not only drawn, I was pulled by a force that would not be denied into the deepest most authentic forms of Saadhana (daily spiritual practices) available.  All diversity aside, it is also true that with the expansion of the modern Yoga world it is the duty of a devout seeker to be mindful of the authentic principles that lead us to such a point.  More and more teachers are certifying teachers and there is a fine line of dilution taking place.  The more the information is watered down and made so called, “accessible” the more we step away from the original tenants of Vedic Wisdom that guided us here in the first place.  Without these origins it is impossible to say that the world of Yoga would thrive.  Vedic Heritage has not survived for thousands of years because it is antiquated.  It as survived because even at Its most esoteric level, Vedic Wisdom is applicable here and now!

The Sri Chakra is a Geometric Energy Vibration that is brought to life by the correct pronunciation of the Sri Devi Khadga Mala Stortraratnam

I attended a workshop from an “A-lister” Yogini.  She was talking for 30 minutes about a specific pranayama (life-force control technique), and for the life of me I could not connect to which pranayama she was referring.  Then it hit me, “oh she’s trying to say Bhramari Pranayama.” This particular technique I am well versed in and could still not make out what she was describing.  There are multiple points to mention here:  First, Sanskrit is a phonetic language of “natural sound partitions,” not only do the sounds connect to nature, one could say they are the energetic representation of nature and the cosmos itself.  Secondly, when mispronounced the words do not ring in the ear in the natural way and this gives a subtle throw and wobble in the mind, which actually cause confusion and disruption.  Lastly, and most importantly as a so called “teacher” of Yogic Wisdom it is important to be as authentic as possible because now there are literally thousands of people out there pronouncing the word incorrectly which is directly contributing to disinformation and pulling us away from the Divine Source.

Now, some have argued that purity of intention is EVERYTHING and pronunciation is secondary to that.  I can relate to that in some ways and will admit that regardless of pronunciation one could stoke deep meditative feelings by uttering a mantra without proper pronunciation.  However, the purpose of uttering that mantra is that the energy vibration without fail produces a result, because it is directly linked with nature, and is in fact nature Itself.  Sanskrit is the very structure of the cosmos as well as the human body.  Walking the fine line of science and devotion one could even say that Sanskrit letters and sounds tug on the strings of Divinity thus, Divinity responds accordingly.  Meaning, if the Sanskrit mantra is uttered with not only Divine Pure Intention and also correct pronunciation, then only are the Divine Strings connected and the fructification of the result made possible.  The result of a meditation on a mantra is Grace.  Devotion and Faith cannot necessarily be defined or put into words, yet Grace can be felt tangibly.  Further, it is not only important to feel the Grace, it is also important to imbibe and honor It by living it out in the daily life.  The result (Grace) will not stick and create lasting change and deep connection with Divinity without these principles being attempted and respected.  To say that it is ok to recite and listen to Sanskrit Mantra that is mispronounced is akin to saying one would enjoy listening to music that is completely out of tune.  One simply would not buy and album or listen to music that is not pleasing to the ear, or completely out of tune.  When an instrument is out of tune we may even cringe as if it hurts our soul to hear such a thing.  Whether we are conscious of it or not, this is what our brain and nervous system is doing when Sanskrit sounds are not pronounced properly, because it is literally going against the natural sound vibration of the macro and micro world.  When a Yogi or Yogini is an adept in Sanskrit pronunciation one can feel the difference.  One may even say, “Oh, that is the most Divine Sound, I felt my heart come alive and chills all over my body.”  It is not only do to the purity of intention, also it is the correct pronunciation that rang so true in the heart that “Grace” was felt deeply.

There are of course exceptions to any rule.  A Jnana Yogi (Knowledge Seeker) may not care for the correct pronunciation because in depth knowledge of spiritual principles itself is a liberator.  The Jnana Yogi can feel the depth of Grace because that Divine Knowledge has satiated worldly desires and brought them to higher states.  That Yogi or Yogini can cultivate and even confer Grace due to the depth of authentic knowledge.  However, that does not take care, give mindfulness or respect to ancient Vedic Heritage that brought us these Divine Teachings in the first place.  Even the Jnana Yogi must eventually realize the importance of this principle.

Sage Vyasa, Ancient Rishi, Guru, Seer of Vedic Sacred Sound

One might also say, “well, I don’t have an Indian accent so it is not possible for me…”  This is also a statement of ignorance.  Sanskrit pronunciation is not accented.  Again, it is a natural sound partition that is found in all of creation.  The Great Seers of Vedic Wisdom and the safe keepers of Sanskrit sounds were absorbed in deep meditation.  These Divine Seers have the level of meditation to be able to actually “realize” the Sanskrit verses.  Through Their Divine Realization the Sanskrit Sounds were heard and connected with every element of creation, thus, Sanskrit and Vedic Language has been completely unaltered from time immemorial.  ALL other human languages have gone through drastic alterations and changes over the course of human evolution.  Vedic Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit have not.  This statement of truth only proves the literal meaning of the word Sanskrit (Sans-Without, Krit-Critique), that which is already perfected.  We wouldn’t look at nature, the cosmos and Divine Mother Earth and say, “what an amazing accident?”  We wouldn’t look at the anatomy of the human body and say, “look at the RANDOM make-up of the body it’s so flawed.”  We say the opposite.  Any environmental scientist will expound on the great complexity of the PERFECTION of Mother Nature.  Every facet of life works together to support the next, and through our deep meditations we have realized that matter is most certainly linked.  When we pronounce Sanskrit Mantra correctly we are tapping into a direct channel, a direct road map to the Divine Principles which already exist in Mother Nature, The Cosmos, and our very own human body.

I truly hope these words are an inspiration, especially to those that wish to share Sanskrit, Vedic and Yogic Wisdom with others.  These authentic teachings are both being supported be devoted seekers, and also brushed aside and diluted.  The modern Yoga world could embrace the side of support as a form of Seva… Meaning, performing our duty as devout seekers to respect and become a walking representation of the ancient and Divine Spiritual Truths.

Lastly, one may be asking, “where can I receive more authentic training?”  For this a personal introduction is necessary, there are literally none I would recommend on line.  Contact me in person if you would like more information: j.tyagaraja@gmail.com

Hari Om… With the labor of Divine Love,

Tyagaraja

In Divine Conversation

The purpose of Divine Communication is cultivating healthy relationships and uncovering samskara (latent impressions of past or negative emotions). Through Divine Speech loving relationships can literally heal the world around us.

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In a Divine Conversation there is no need for persuasion just an ability to use one’s power to agree.  The “power to agree” is not blind faith.  The power to agree can be viewed as seeing truth that is relative to one’s understanding, letting it wash over and diving deep into Its True Essence.  The more this is cultivated the faster and more clearly deep understanding takes place in one who is the witness.

The more we speak the more our words can become arbitrary.  The more silence and love we cultivate the more we are using the language of the Divine.  If there is love and purity in our speech our vitality increases and a radiant–lighted energy moves through and around the body, and the more one finds one needs less words to express this Divine Feeling.  This energy is felt by all that come into contact with it, and too adds to the vitality of those receptive to it.  Also felt by all that come into contact with it is hateful speech, and in both parties there is a fast depletion of energy, they grow tiresome and week.  This depletion of energy causes vulnerability to illness, death and a quick tendency for general negative acts.  Divine Speech is nourishing, Divine Silence is Divine Sustenance.

Divine Speech is not only orated.  One who is absorbed in Divine Silence is saying just as much if not more than those with kind and loving speech.  The energy is much more subtle and can travel a greater distance.  When the silence finally breaks in one who is watching their breath and radiating Divine Light of Silence, their words are mindful and powerful.

Sage Bhagavan Ramana Maharishi spent 53 years mostly absorbed in silence. Some of his devotees never heard his voice and still so many teachings and Divine Love was transmitted in Divine Silence. Even though he has left the body a Deep Radiance is still left in his Samadhi and Ashram grounds in and around the sacred mountain Arunachala in Tiruvanamalai, Tamilnadu India

The healing and truth that comes from observing  the purity of silence ironically cannot be summed in words.  To me this is the highest form of communication.  The Language of God cannot possibly be restricted into words.  Yet, human beings continue to place names and definitions on the forms of the Divine.

Some souls have been granted the gift of a singing voice and musical ability.  Deep emotions can be felt even in melody without words if the intentions are pure.  Some instruments are designed to replicate the intonations of the human voice, such as the veena or the violin.  From what we know about the sound vibrations of certain words and the powerful connection of certain seed letters in mantra, the words we use can be and are very powerful.  Therefore as artists and especially singers it is very important the words you use and what you choose to express to others.  The listener is experiencing your story within the fabric of their being.  If you project hate and depravity others will feel that from you and within themselves.  Likewise love, understanding and heartfelt–sincere emotions can move the listener into a state of catharsis and healing.  Some negative–lower level emotions can be expressed and help an individual to realize they are not alone in pain and confusion, yet even still the song must have some sort of an uplifting solution, otherwise the two (listener and artist) are stuck in a cycle of negativity.

Maha Saraswati Devi, Divine Mother aspect of Knowledge, Arts, Music, Dance and Creativity. When we offer our highest form of Celestial Music we are paying homage to the highest aspect of Divine Mother.

The purpose of Divine Communication is cultivating healthy relationships and uncovering samskara (latent impressions of past or negative emotions).  Through Divine Speech loving relationships can literally heal the world around us.  Divine Celestial Music plays a universal role in the advancement toward a liberated society.  The artist, like an Angel, communicates a great deal of inexplicable emotions thus gives a huge contribution to the whole of the human heart.

If you should wish to have an orated Conversation with the Divine, Mantra is a high Path.  Through the Sanskrit Prayana (Oration of Sanskrit Mantra) we pull on the sacred thread of the Divine.  The Divine Source is awakened within us, and through this link of mantra It comes alive.  The energy field created by correct mantra oration is likewise energizing, replenishing, stimulating and fueled by the Divine Language of God.  Correct pronunciation of Sanskrit Mantra is key because the structure of vibrational quality is very specific in bringing about the fructification and benefits of the Divine Oration.  For this it is important to have close contact with an authentic source of instruction found within an authentic Guru.  Peoples all over the world pray to the Divine Source using our many varieties of human language and if spoken with purity our voice is heard and reflected back at us.  Thus, a Divine Relationship is born.  If we Divinize our conversations in daily situations just as we hold so dearly the purity in our prayers then our entire life is a waking relationship “In Divine Conversation.”  Mantra is not only in the form of Sanskrit.  Daily affirmations in any language supports one’s focus and one’s pure desire for a more positive and uplifting life.  The Divine is not an external source It’s found within, and when we give ourselves clear affirmations we are guiding ourselves with a map toward the Divine within as in the Sankalpa (instructions of how benefits and blessings are dispersed during a puja or prayer ceremony).  Whether with words, Mantra, or in Divine Silence, our conversations grant tangible feelings of grace known as bhava.  Imagine a world of Divine Conversation and the sustainability and sustenance it would create.  Nay, do not just imagine it, practice it.  In reality it is easier said than done.  Divine Conversation takes a steadiness and control of breath (pranayama), will power, and a cultivation of good health and wealth (artha).  All these practices are the essence of cultivation of bhava or Divine Feelings.

Finally, nature (Divine Mother Earth) is in communication at all times.  The plants, trees, animals, birds, even the mountains and sky are all offering their communication and energy transmission.  The trees and plants communicate with you and release their love and understanding in the form of breathable air, clean ecosystem, foods and nourishment, and even more subtle forms.  When one beholds a beautiful river or mountainous place there is a deep healing and peace that overwhelms one’s heart.  The memories become encapsulated in the heart for the rest of our lives, and some may even draw upon these memories in times of stress in order to bring themselves back to that state of being.  As human beings, our responsibility of the communication with Divine Mother Earth is honor, understanding and respect.

Sitting inside a waterfall in remote mountains of Andhra Pradesh, a sacred pond called "Vishnu Kund" Ancient Rishis were said to have meditated here and one can hear their mantras bouncing off the mountain as the water trickles down.

Mother Earth is so graciously giving over everything we need in order to survive and if we are destroy Her or desecrate Her, then we are not honoring that Divine Relationship.  Indigenous Peoples of the Earth that are in tune with Her cycles and patterns have a great deal to teach the modern human, to help the modern human come back home to the Divine Relationship and oneness with the Earth.

On the Sacred Mountain Arunachala in Tirvanamalai Tamilnadu India

In a desperate world full of suffering and chaos, it is our duty to develop these higher understandings and this level of mindfulness.  Sometimes efforts toward peace or a healed–regenerative world can feel quite hopeless.  It is in these moments when our Divine Love and Divine Communication needs to be even more steadfast, for what else have we to offer?  What will our human legacy leave behind?  What will save humanity from destroying each other and the world?  It starts with our communication, our understanding, our mindfulness.  To Divinize one’s communication is a massive first step toward these higher goals.  I pray with all of my being we reach this destination as a global force of Loving Kindness in Divine Conversation with one another…

Divine Communication in Silence with Grandpa Don

India Tour 2011-12 Journals

India Tour 2011-12 Journals. Part 1 Delhi, Rishikesh, and Deradhun.

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As I reach to find my soul, my ego reaches to find purpose in a world full of the seemingly meaningless.  The free thinking of my heart pulls me again to India…

Painted on the side of an auto rickshaw

We are now taking rest in Gunjen’s Mother’s Brother’s house if you follow me.  Let’s just call him Maamaji and his wife Maamiji.  They live in an apartment complex in the middle-of-no-where just out side Delhi in a suburb called Indrapuram.  This area is totally underdeveloped at the moment.  They call these complexes, “societies.”  There is construction dust and heavy pollution filling the ground level atmosphere.  You can even see a slight haze in the apartment when the light hits just right.

Maamiji, Avica, Nitin, Guria.

There is no way to avoid the heavy pollution.  I use jel neti pot everyday, and everyday there is  a black wad of mucus shooting out of my nose.  I don’t mean to be disgusting just making a point.  The pollution in Delhi is oppressive.  I don’t even step foot outside without using my rumaal (rag) to cover my breathing holes.  At this moment there is uncertainty, curiosity, anxiety and a bit of frustration bubbling up inside of me.

Riding on a train back to Delhi from Rishikesh

I wonder whether the vision in my head, the ink on this page and the pen in my hand will manifest into the path we are currently forcing into existence.  The Truth.  Sometimes I feel so confidently I know the truth as my Old Friend.  I know that truth sometimes means honesty.  Honestly I have no idea where the spinning world will send us.  11 years of retail labor, a failed college attempt, immense inward spiritual growth, the analyzing and breaking of my ego, building universes that crumble into themselves and start new again and again… millions of spinning wheels and yet I still breathe in and out…  Life sustains whether I remain an artist and musician, or become a recluse farmer, my lungs will still seek air… my spirit will thirst for the Divine Water of longing and passion.  The Truth is I will not be satisfied.  I will never stop.  Decades of trying… years of doing and many more to come… I will never give up.  It is my duty to whatever gifts I have.  I must make use of them.  And once I discovered that my capacity for input and output of information is limitless, I know that I still have a great mass of ground to traverse.

So many of Gunjen's cousins have little ones...

We are at the very beginning of our tour and so far nothing much is happening.  I have this feeling it will be impossible to get anything accomplished until we get to Mumbai.  I have always worked really well under the rhythm of my own whims.  Currently we are at the behest of Gunjen’s relatives.  Gunjen and I were married last July and most of her family in India was unable to attend the wedding.  So now that we are married EVERYONE wants to see us, they invite us to their house and even try to get us to spend not just the night but a few days at a time.  There just isn’t time for that.

Gunjen’s Mother’s Eldest Brother and his Wife

Although it is extremely sweet and they treat you with such divine respect, it is still difficult for me.  I have never been used to others controlling my time and energy.  It’s not like we can say no, they are family.  So as sweet as they are it still gives the feeling of being a bit trapped.  In my mind, ALL of India is out there waiting for me to explore it and absorb it into my subconscious, and right now we are stuck inside some apartment in one of the more scenically ugly places in India. Day 3

Awaiting the Ganga Arthi Rishikesh India

Awaiting Arthi Ram Jhula Parmath Ashram Rishikesh India

I have to be honest with myself.  I think that is the most important thing anyone can do.  I have no idea what we are doing here and what will happen.  Some may view this as exciting.  Nothing but open road of opportunity–yet where to begin?  This cluelessness is actually only making me full of anxiety.  As much as I may pride myself in being a meditator or sadhu or whatever… I still can not shake this feeling of being lost.  It always makes me feel like I’m never accomplishing enough–constantly spinning wheels of frustration.  It cases me to act out on the only other person around… my beloved Queen Gunjen.  I feel that I’m never satisfied and this frustration elevates to create dysfunction in our relationship.  For this I feel terrible and even that much more lost.  I know I know what a sob story.  You think India would teach me to not be so wrapped up in my own problems.  Still after 31 years of spinning wheels and frustrations I’m ready for my path to completely unfold.  Maybe it has and I just can’t see it because I’m so blinded by my own selfish desires.  I don’t fit into the modern world of human kind.  My desires are radically different… even different from my closest friends in the US.  Gunjen shares my desires and she has been a Goddess with her loving helping heart.  If anyone understands me it’s her.  So, what to do?  Trust in the heart beat and the rhythm of the Divine?  Yes–this is a constant practice of mine–yet where is it leading me?  It is embedded in our DNA to ask these questions.  So far it has lead me to India many times.  That in itself could be considered a lifetime of accomplishment, yet for me it is still not enough.  To what end will it lead?  I wish it to be the building block of my legacy.  Is there such a thing as living your legacy?  Or is that something that only takes form in your children or perhaps your death?  I can’t help but continuing to feel lost and confused.  I even feel like less of a person if the visions and sounds in my head, heart and soul are not produced into the physical form of my reality.

Lakshman Jhula (swinging bridge) along the Mighty Ganga River Rishikesh India

Tomorrow we leave for Rishikesh.  I told Gunjen I wanted to go back to the exact same spot, and do the exact same thing that I did last year.  It was that magical, and I wanted the love of my life to experience that same thing…  While we are in Rishikesh we will take a side trip to the northwest to Deradhun.  Gunjen’s Mother’s eldest living sister is their with her family.  Both of these places are scenically breath taking and become the whole reason why I come to India again and again.  I can’t wait to touch my feet to the sacred sand of the bank of the Mother Ganga River for the second time!

Day 4

It is peek season in India for tourism during the months of Oct-Jan, which means it is more difficult to find decent train and plane tickets while in India.  To avoid that for just this time we are taking a car to Deradhun with Maamaji and Maamiji, so that they to can visit Usha Mausi (Gunjen’s Mother’s eldest living sister).  Deradhun is a beautiful mountain town that over the past 5-10 years the population has exploded causing major congestion of the main roads that run through the middle of the town.  The higher we climb in elevation the greater the number of bandars (monkeys).  Droves of families of bandars roam these forest mountains scouring the trails of human debris for food.  These bandars have inhabited these mountains for much longer than the Tibetan people.

Tibetan Buddhist Stupa in Deradhun India

In Deradhun there is a village dedicated to Tibetan refugees.  The center of the village is one of the worlds largest Tibetan Stupas.  This is a huge bonus for Gunjen and I to come and visit Usha Mausi.  Oh but of course we have scheduled some time to visit. I can see the Stupa from a great distance and upon entering the boundaries of the Tibetan community the vibrations change.  The air seems lighter and a state of peace and calm  wash over my chest.  This feeling of peace could also be self-born from the practice of deep breathing I engage in when preparing to enter a sacred space.  I have a practice of purification before entering such places because the heart and spirit open deeper to receive the vibrations and blessings completely. The grounds of the temple and the great Tibetan Stupa are exceedingly clean for India standards.  The lawns, plants and grounds are so very meticulously maintained, which I feel adds to the experience of serenity.  The white marble and plaster of outside the temple is so bright you have to squint just to bare the sunlight reflection from the Stupa.  There are four levels in the Stupa and each level has a different shrine dedicated to a different deity or aspect of the Divine.  All along the inside walls of the Temples are meticulously hand crafted wall paints of ancient Tibetan pastimes.  My eyes bare witness to tales of ancient Tibetan wisdom and tradition.

Peace and Compassion

The vibrations of peace exuding from this sacred building are indescribable.  All of the young monks that maintain the temple are so sweet in nature, they carry on with their daily duties with a purity in their hearts that is cultivated over their lifetime.  So advanced in patience and what it truly means to serve and survive.  To me this temple is a flagship for indigenous societies, that no matter the slaughter and destruction of Tibetan lives and culture, the spirit of their sacred and ancient traditions lives on in this special place.  If only the American and South American tribes could have such a tribute for their nearly extinct races of peoples.  I pray that these traditions never die, and live on in the hearts of those lucky enough to experience this place.

Entrance to Temple dedicated to the original in Lhasa Tibet

Gunjen and I were accompanied there by Usha Mausi’s son Vibhu Bhaya and his wife and kids.  If we visited the Stupa by ourselves we would have sat and meditated for hours and possibly never left!  Even still it’s best that we carry on to Usha Mausi’s house and pay our respects to her and her family.  They are waiting for us…

We arrive at Usha Mausi’s with Maama and Maamiji.  We meet and greet everyone in the very formal way that Indian people especially family greets each other.  Vibhu Bhaya brings Usha Mausi outside.  I can see her silhouette shuffling through the dim house and when she steps into the light the sun gently touches her creamy brown skin.  Usha Mausi smiles with limited energy and I can since that she is very happy to see us.  I bend down and touch her feet and she gives me blessings, “Kush Raho” she says, meaning “be happy.”  Tears well up in my chest.  The more we meet Gunjen’s family the more I feel accepted.  With open hearts they are greeting and accepting me.  This is something I’ve always longed for.  Usha Mausi sits out front and we join her  for one of the top 5 reasons why India is one of the most fabulous places in the world… CHAI!  Usha Mausi has a lovely garden in front of her house that is very well maintained, beautiful flowers, marigolds and tulsi.  On all sides the peeks of mountains give their respect to the golden glowing sun above.  Usha Mausi and Gunjen strike up conversation as Maamiji wildly cracks jokes and moves about the house with the kids.  Usha Mausi must have heard from Gunjen’s mother that I sing bhajans (Indian devotional songs) because she asked me to sing.  I sing for her the few bhajans I know.  She shakes her head, bats her eyelids, and through the small crack in her mouth I hear her say, “Bohat acha laga,” which means she highly approves.

Usha Mausi’s family home in Deradhun

Again I tear up of course.  I’m emotional in that way.  I don’t mind no matter the criticism, I’m in tune with the world around me and I receive the emotions of others very deeply.  There was something that was telling me that Usha Mausi was pleased beyond words to be with us, and maybe in someway felt very connected to Gunjen’s mother.  Gunjen and I actually leave for Rishikesh that night and come back the next day to spend some more quality time with Usha Mausi.  Maama and Maamiji take their leave for Delhi/Indrapuram, and Gunjen and I spend a lazy afternoon with Usha Mausi.  We show her wedding photos and video and every artistic thing we can show her from videos I’ve made.  Usha Mausi was a painter and actually the reason why Gunjen’s mother became a painter.  Although she was in physical pain her eyes told me so many stories of happiness.  I felt that she was very content in that moment, and Gunjen and I were sad to leave her.  Two weeks later while Gunjen and I are making plans in Mumbai Usha Mausi leaves her body and passes on.  We were the last of her relatives to see her alive.  Such a tragedy, such a sad part of life.  Later I will tell you about the vision I had of Usha Mausi during a meditation in Mumbai.

Usha Mausi feeding me mithai (Indian sweets).

Two bandars guarding the gates of a temple. The monkeys with the black face are said to be direct descendants of Hanumanji. They are a lot bigger than they seem.

For now we were on to Rishikesh, and with family visits respected I truly feel like we can let loose and be vested in our visit to this Holy Ganga town.  Gunjen and I happily board our bus to return to Rishikesh.  It’s early in the trip and we haven’t felt the wrath of population because of being driven around by relatives.  We squeeze in with the charging crowd moving toward the bus.  At the buses entrance Gunjen and I are giggling to each other at the scene of a small woman smashed against my stomach.  She expresses her understanding of the joke by saying, “Very people,” (meaning there’s lots of people) in the cutest little Indian woman accent… you can imagine.  We reached our hotel rather late.  Hotel Gangotri is 150 rupees, which is 3 US dollars a night.  The hotel has a balcony and over looks right next to the sacred river Ganga.  A sweet Indian family lives downstairs and runs the hotel.  There is no tv and no ac, it almost feels like an ashram if it weren’t for the stoner foreigners that are staying on the same floor. The pace in Rishikesh is completely different from many other parts of the world.  Time slows to a gradual stroll.  There is a short conversation I have had with many foreigners here, it goes like this, “How long have you been in Rishikesh?”  Foreigner says, “Oh not too long just about 3 months or so, I’ll be here until the end of the year.”  Where they get the time and money to do that I don’t know, but I can see why they would choose this place, or rather why this place has chosen them.

Wondering along the banks of the Sacred Ganga River

The peaceful vibrations of the Mother Ganga call to me, they bid me to rest leisurely along the shore, meditate, breathe and become a wonderer swimming in the vibrations of the Divine.  Gunjen and I set no schedule we simply meander along the river banks of the Ganga as I imagined peoples in India have done since the beginning of civilization.  It is so easy to spend several hours simply walking around and taking in the scene, which is precisely what we do.  In the evening around 4:30pm I convince Gunjen to walk to the Parmath Ashram Ganga Arti site.  (Arti is the waving of flames and giving songs, prayers and offerings to the sacred River Ganga).  This is part of the “doing the exact same thing I did last year” experience of Rishikesh.  Gunjen and I arrived early at the site, the sun is still bright yellow in the sky and reflects an intense light from the marble steps at the mouth of the River.  We touch our feet to the chilling waters of the sacred current.  Instantly you feel lively and refreshed and also with a great since of oneness and peace.

Instantly rejuvenating healing waters of Might Gangaji

After some time of quietly absorbing the calm of the Ganga the young pandits (young priests) begin filing into the steps and the Yajna (fire ceremony) begins.  Every evening this beautiful group of Bhaktis (devotees) rest at the Ganga River Banks and sing and express their pure hearted devotion to this sacred place.

Leading Swami of the Parmath Ashram and some young Pandits behind him singing beautifully during Arthi

This mixed with the Yajna creates an atmosphere of the deepest, purest most indescribable feelings.  I loose my identity and become a part of the experience as a whole.  I am a burning cinder of sacred bark, I am a floating flower petal willing carried by currents into the heart of the River, I am the Golden Orange Sun setting and aiding in the peace and purification.  My meditations are united with the purity of the ceremony and the hearts of the Bhaktis that live only for the sake of devotion and service!  If at any moment in my life I feel that I need a rest from modern grind or even wish to forget my life all together and join in the inner spirit I know exactly where to go… To be continued…

Sivji can even meditate with a bandar on his head!

Wonders of Rishikesh and the Search for the Emerald Nose Stud Video Log

Wonders of Rishikesh and the Search for the Emerald Nose Stud Video Log

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Along the river banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh India

Along the river banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh India

India Journals- A Devotees Journey to the Lap of the Mother

When the lights close, the drums begin to pulse and rushes of sound vibrations penetrate your very being. The only lights are the hundreds of ghee lamps all around, and the main flame in the inner sanctum of the Lalita Parameswari Devi. Many rounds of flames are offered to Divine Mother.

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In the Auto Rickshaw in Chennai India

We’ve been in Chennai for a full day now.  When we arrived Gunjen kept saying, “I can’t believe I’m in India.”  Oddly enough, her statement was not made from a place of excitement.  She was feeling unmoved, and what felt strange was that she thought she was supposed to feel different.  I knew that she just needed to connect with her parents and leave the thoughts of ‘back home’ out of her mind.  Then she would settle in and India would become her and she It.  Now it was time for breakfast, and the reason I knew was that the air was filled with a mix of morning freshness, incense, and sambhar.  I knew just what to have—uttapam, and idly vada, fresh pomegranate juice, and of course CHAI!  If you can’t tell by now I love Indian food, especially South Indian.  I also love Chennai.  It is a crowded and polluted city, yes; however, it has this flavor that you can’t quite put your finger on – you are confused as to why you love it so much.  I think really, it’s just because it has all of India in one place.  Chennai is much like Bangalore in that it is an old Indian city with modern development.  Not just buildings and malls and things, but ayurvedic clinics, schools, yoga centers, ashrams, temples, and yes, tons of shopping.  These places still have both old India pulsing everywhere you look, yet evidence of the strides taken to be clean, and more conscious, which is a modern philosophy.

Mathi and I, we are wearing the same Lungi, that is why some Indians laugh at me because I have the same clothes as the Rickshaw drivers and servants, still quite beautiful.

Mathi and I, we are wearing the same Lungi, that is why some Indians laugh at me because I have the same clothes as the Rickshaw drivers and servants, still quite beautiful.

After we spent some time resting and having delightful conversation about the plans of our trip here, we went to purchase a sim card for Gunjen’s phone.  Gunjen’s tension completely subsided when the call was made.  It’s not that Gunjen has an attachment, more so that she knew that her mom would be worrying until she heard of our safe arrival.  And yes, now we had finally ARRIVED.

First we had to shop.  We packed lightly and knew we would purchase everything needed for the ashram before leaving.  I had been to Chennai once before and knew where to go.  I was even recognized by Anand and Raju the rascal.  Now that I knew how much these guys straight robbed from us one my first trip, I had a bone to pick.  Anand raised his hand and motioned to me, “Tyagaraj.”  His massive forehead and eyebrow bones are the first thing I saw.  You can’t see his eyes because of the dark shadow being cast by his orbital ridge.  I walked slowly over to him like a well trained vet.  “Yea, I’m not using you this time, you totally ripped me off without even thinking about it last time.”  He said, “Oh, no Tyagaraj this is good price, waiting time.”  They always have some stock selling point it’s so humorous.  Clothing shop salesmen tell me, “Oh, very good quality, hand made, hand made.”  Everything is hand made in India!  Even the super express highway is made by hand! (Which is actually only a 3 lane highway, but still I saw with my own eyes, women in saris carrying bags of concrete on their heads.)  We found a new driver, Mathi, that seemed an honest enough man, he hosted us around Chennai for the rest of our time there.

View from Hotel room in Chennai India

View from Hotel room in Chennai India

It is now our second day in Chennai.  Gunjen is in the shower and I’m sitting on our 4 story balcony watching the parrots zip from tree to tree.  We are all waiting the birth of this morning’s Sun.  We have quite a few things left to gather before heading to the ashram tomorrow.  Yesterday we started our day with the Kapala Iswara temple a beautiful Dravidian Siva Temple.  I didn’t see the main deity on my last trip.  This time Gunjen and I head straight for the center Gopuram.   We walked into the main sanctorum with respect and as if we new what we were doing (and we do.)  We took Darshan of the sacred Lingham in the center and began to circumambulate it when a priest spotted us.  He was dirty and his white dhoti was gray with soot and use.  I watched the pandit tell a temple employee to make us leave.  He came straight to us and said, “No foreigners.”  I said, “No, I’m Hindu and pointed to my tilak (third eye marking.)  Gunjen said, “I’m from India,” with her best Indian accent.  (which is good because she’s Indian)  I said, “Bhagavan is for everyone.”  He just kept repeating himself, and telling us to leave so I made the decision not to test the waters if we just stayed.  Gunjen and I had fun scoffing at how ridiculous and hypocritical it was not to allow non-Hindus into the main shrine of the temple.  (More on that subject in a later chapter about Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.)

Close up of a Gopuram at the Kapala Iswara Temple in Chennai

Close up of a Gopuram at the Kapala Iswara Temple in Chennai

We went on gathering the rest of our ashram needs.  After two days of running around in Chennai I am ready for the tranquility of Amma’s ashram and temple.  We tried to find many different sources of transportation to the ashram and eventually went with Gayatri’s long time driver.  Even though he charged a bit more I convinced Gunjen that it was not just one of these places where you can pull off on the side of the road and ask someone where it is.  It is a very remote place and there are horror stories of devotees getting lost going there.  Kumar knew what he was doing and exactly how to get there.  It would be a stress free trip, with the exception of the bumpy pot whole infested road that leads deep in the forest and to the lap of the Mother.

From earlier morning onward we are traveling to the ashram stopping along the way several times for breaks and photo ops.  We even paused for a bit at Amma’s school and visited with some of the children that came running out to our car.  So sweet.

Students of Amma's free school.  Mostly tribal children from the surrounding villages

Students of Amma's free school. Mostly tribal children from the surrounding villages

I began to see the mountains off in the distance and told Gunjen, “See those mountains, that’s where we are going, we’re close.”  A complete sense of silence began to cover my heart with It’s blanket.  Gunjen and I naturally stopped talking to each other as we gaze at the country side and peek over the dashboard and out the window to get a better view of the approaching Garudadri Hills.

Sri Hanumanji, He is double side, from this angle His eyes are looking directly in line with the top step and doorway of Amma's Temple

Sri Hanumanji, He is double side, from this angle His eyes are looking directly in line with the top step and doorway of Amma's Temple

Gunjen was marveling at the giant Hanuman statue you can see from a great distance giving blessings to the forest and the surrounding villages.  Our heads were shaken from the bumpy car ride, but we felt alive with energy and our eyes wide open.  As we approach the gate, a temple worker comes running with some keys.  Pilgrims dressed in all black stop to stare at us.  I take some video of a monkey having its way with something on the side of the dirt road, and point it out to Gunjen.  She laughs and can’t help but comment on the cuteness of our relative.  The monkey’s eyes are present and totally aware.  I watch her as we pull into the ashram and the gate closes behind.  I’m sure we would see each other every morning for the next two weeks.

The first person I see when we arrive is Laure.  She looks red in the face, sweaty and tired, just as we were about to become.  I hadn’t even paid Kumar and we were already receiving our to-do list.  We lugged the bags and all the things we bought for donations, like soaps and brooms and things, up to our rooms.  Gunjen and I gave each other a final, but not so final kiss and hug and got right to work making beds and moving furniture.  I had told Laure at the end of the last tour that I would be glad to come over to the ashram a few days early to help set the place up for the rest of the devotees, because I knew she was running the retreat with Lalita.  Lovely Gunjen and I had a wonderful time joking and playing while we worked.  We didn’t even come close to having it ready when the temple tour devotees arrived early, which meant Amma was on her way.

the ashram rooms are simple, no amenities, the tent is because mosquitos make their way into the room

the ashram rooms are simple, no amenities, the tent is because mosquitos make their way into the room

We went our separate ways to clean up and change clothes.  I was ready for my first shower out of the bucket with cold water.  I still take showers with cold water because of that experience.   I took Gunjen on the roof for a moment as the sun went down.  Now it was real, and you still can’t believe it.  You look around at the trees, and the ancient space of it all, and you think to yourself, “Why me, why am I privileged enough to live this moment?”  We spotted people lining up at the front entrance of the temple.  There was a small assembly of students from Amma’s school, and some of the young pandits in training that are for the time being living at the ashram.

Tadaka Sai is his name, so smart, so pure, I loved watching them learn

Tadaka Sai is his name, so smart, so pure, I loved watching them learn

The youngest and most beautiful of the group sounds off in the chanting of the Saraswati Mantra after some introductory mantras.  Everyone chimes in and repeats the Mantra over and over.  A full hour goes by, and I was reminded of tour, just waiting and waiting to leave, and no end in sight as to when you might get dinner or bed-rest.

Durga Mayi Statue and the Mountains in the background, so serene

Durga Mayi Statue and the Mountains in the background, so serene

When Amma’s car finally arrived I could see the full moon leering overhead.  I felt an instant surge of energy erupt in my chest and spread throughout my body as if the moon shot an ancient bolt of shakti directly into my heart.  Even more silence and comfort began to rest within me.   From the moment we arrived and within this moment and throughout the rest of my second stay here at the ashram, I felt right at home…

Amma told all the devotees to take rest and then meet in the Temple for Aarthi and our first greeting.  This is where the real fire takes place.  The Mangala Aarthi every night in the temple is so powerful and so intense.  The pandits close the lights and add dramatics to the ceremony.  It’s nice that way.  Aarthi is a very special ceremony and should be given concentration and respect.  (For those that don’t know Aarthi is simply waving flames and offering them to the deities.  The idea is that the flame represents the universal consciousness of the highest state.  When we offer this flame of consciousness to God, God then returns the energy.  Also fire is one of the most ancient and sacred symbols, therefore with every flame we are connecting with our ancestors.  There are many more details to this puja and when done with a pure heart can be a very moving experience.)  When the lights close, the drums begin to pulse and rushes of sound vibrations penetrate your very being.  The only lights are the hundreds of ghee lamps all around, and the main flame in the inner sanctum of the Lalita Parameswari Devi.  Many rounds of flames are offered to Divine Mother.

Lalita Devi, this statue was being painted outside on the temple grounds, wish I had an update photo of the actual temple, powerful place

Lalita Devi, this statue was being painted outside on the temple grounds, wish I had an update photo of the actual temple, powerful place

Amma describes this temple is Tri Shakti Pitham—the Seat of Three Divine Mothers, or Divine Energies.  Shakti—power, or energy or life source is always referred to as a Divine Mother quality.  Finally they place all flames into one and offer them to each shrine individually in the temple.  The drums and the clanging bells dance and become my heart.  Even with all the intensity, you feel nothing but peace and contentment.  The Sri Chakra at the feet of Divine Mother Lalita Parameswari is covered in kumkum (red vermillion powder) and flowers from a day of puja and Lalita Sahasranama (thousand names of Divine Mother).  Amma’s concentration never wavers.  She is totally absorbed in the Aarthi.  The young pandit steps out of the main shrine and the drums stop.  The rest of the pandits sound in the closing mantras as they offer the Aarthi flame to everyone in the temple.

Om Hiranya varnam harineem

Suvarnaraja tasrajam

Chandram hiranmayim lakshmim

Jatavedo mamavaha

Gunjen holds her hands out in front of her as if she is cupping the incoming of energy from the temple, and at the same time offering her prayers and surrender.  This sight brings great peace and comfort to me—to know that my partner shares in the same love and admiration for these practices as I do.  I fall in love with Gunjen all over again at that moment.  My love for her matured and blossomed in that small fraction of a second.

Gunjen after an evening Aarthi celebration.

Gunjen after an evening Aarthi celebration.

I felt that this was the best possible situation for us to place ourselves.  We had both just been through very difficult—life changing events and now we are in Sacred Mother India, in this amazing Shakti Pitham, offering our prayers and improving our inner beings.  The mountain is strong and steep and we are climbing to glory!  Amma gives a small talk after the Aarthi and then we have a late dinner.  Tomorrow we will be initiated into our silence.  I am ready.

(This next piece was taken from my notes on the first day of the meditation retreat.)

Swamiji:

Sati Devi lives in the cosmos.  Her body dispersed on Earth in 18 different places in India.  These places glow with divine brilliance so that the ancient Rishis spot them.  Once the Rishis found these Pithams they performed intense tapas (spiritual practice) and meditations.  Later after these energy centers have been established by the Rishis they build temples over these “self born” energy centers according to the forms the Rishis experience there in their meditations.  Most of these sacred temples still stand in India today.  This particular place in Amma’s ashram is the only Lalita Parameswari Temple in India.  This Lalita Parameswari temple is known as the jeweled eye of Mother where all the Vedas, and all the Divine Mother Energy is absorbed.  When we are in the presence of Lalita in the Temple we absorb all the 18 shakti pithas.  It is said to witness this Divine Energy is to have all samskaras (negative karma) of the past burned.  We are immediately pulled into the energy field.  (and let me tell you personally that when you are in that temple you feel all those things it’s an amazingly powerful place.)

After morning meditations and Surya Vandanam, some devotees would gather to watch the sunrise

After morning meditations and Surya Vandanam, some devotees would gather to watch the sunrise

that's when I would have CHAI!!! Ah Yeah!

that's when I would have CHAI!!! Ah Yeah!