Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Countdown in India!

"This world is like a flower. Each nation is a petal. If one petal is infested, does it not affect all the other petals? Does not the disease destroy the life and beauty of the flower? Is it not the duty of each one of us to protect and preserve the beauty and fragrance of this one world flower from being destroyed?" Ammachi "If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society will benefit from our peace." Thich Nhat Hanh Dear Ones: It has been more than a month since my last communication with you. I am back in Bangalore, my favorite place to use the web and other services like bank tellers. I only have nine more days in India and I am a little confused on how to feel what I feel. I also feel this is going to be a long message, so if you don't have much time now, it is better to come back later, or make a printout. Or maybe, if you are tired of my Indian stories, this may be a good one to skip. Today is full moon, we are on the brink of war and I can feel the energy put out by candlelight vigils, prayers and protests in the atmosphere. After more than four months in India, I may even be a little delirious, starting to contain India's contradictions and contrasts, lack of logic and a glimpse into the purity of my own heart. Maybe I had too much hot food and the sun beating on my body and soul are making me a little too illogical or it is just that my cells are opening up to a new life dimension. The truth is, I feel a little philosophical today, a little sad I am leaving India, relaxed and calm. I think my heart is content and when that happens, words are not necessary. I may not make much sense today though as I don't feel my brain is able to express what I feel. Let's see where all these contractions will take me. I could easily stay in India much longer, a land of the most divine and the most horrible. Poverty and dirt is everywhere, but somehow this 25,000-year civilization contains a certain beauty in it all, integrity, purity and such long tradition and heritage! The begging lady does not forget to join her palms and bow down several times after I offer her a little treat to eat or a cool coconut water to drink under the hot sun. I join my palms next to my heart and bow back. Yes, we are one; the differences are a mere illusion. A place where violations of human rights, specially of women, children lower casts and animals is somehow out of sight, covered by a veil of peace. An extremely repressed society to a western eye, but the feeling is that of peace and non-violence for an outsider. In fact, I feel very safe here. I can't help but compare it to Brazil, also a third world country, much richer than India it seems, but at the same time so much more violent. Also, the violence in America is very high, and unlike Brazil, not always for survival reasons. I have been in a lot of situations that I would consider dangerous in other parts of the world but I felt very safe here. India is also a country of so much knowledge and so much ignorance, but it also seems to contain something else, another type of knowledge. As Ramana Maharashi hits the nail on the head: "Knowledge is that state which is beyond the duality of knowledge and ignorance." I just got back from Tiruvanamalai, from my one-week course with Vasanth Kumaar. As a good Indian boy, he was 30% talk, 70% delivery. That is not bad, it is usually at least 50/50 or a total 100% without a blink! They will say anything to sell their services or their goods. They can say the Palace is closed for a special function just to lure you into going where they want you to go to make a little money, or that the booking office at the station is closed, so that an overpriced taxi service could be a handy way to get you into your hotel room pronto! Or that the white metal in your bracelet has silver underneath, after the white metal is pelled off with time the silver will come out. We are seen as floating bags of money ready to transfer some to their pockets. We foreigners are always seen as rich people whether we have money or not. But again, they are just trying to survive and we do feel a little richer here with such good exchange rate against most other currencies. On the other hand, it was a delight to be around Vasanth for a whole week. He definitely knows a lot about Vedic symbols and the Sri Chakra and he has his heart in the right place. He just exaggerated a little to get the "business." I took private classes, so he was 100% dedicated to me. Well, kind of, since he was still busy preparing for the week's course and took a day to assemble the Sri Chakra ordered and paid two months earlier. The Indian stain glass is basically painted transparent glass. It looks beautiful though and I received it after a long ritual (puja). I kept reminding him that he should have had everything ready before my arrival but it is useless to try to have a straightforward conversation in India, generally speaking, specially if the money is already out of the bag. Besides learning some interesting fire rituals (agnirothra) and how to perform a simple puja, the color therapy turned out to be a simple but very interesting concept. He had seven yoga pajama kurtas (traditional yoga practice attire) ready for me, even though we had to go to tailor's home at 10pm on Saturday-the day I arrived- to grab him to finish them because classes would start in 5 hours. We bought the materials almost two months earlier – they had to have a specific tone of color and I left my measurements with the tailor. I wore a different color pajama kurta everyday with matching flower arrangements. The hatha yoga was kind of a joke for our western standard, that is, no adjustments and no commands, no mention of breath. He was never trained as a teacher and that really irritated me in the beginning. As I knew all the postures he was "teaching", there was nothing for me to learn, I thought, so we just practiced together, everyday from 3am to 6:30am. We started with meditation, then yoga, then pranayama, and again, I knew many more pranayama techniques than he did as I had taken courses in the Himalayas and Canada years before. The general Indian way to approach yoga is very different from us. There is not much method or system, and basically no direct teaching. The traditional way is for a teacher to do it and a student to watch and imitate. I think some adaptation could be used in the modern days! The approach is very much spiritual in hatha yoga. As Osho puts it well, it could not be different: "the real yoga starts when the mind is dropped. All that is practiced in the name of yoga is kindergarten." And "Pantajali extracts the essence of yoga at the very beginning of the voyage: Yoga is the cessation of the mind." Although I didn't think I learned anything "palpable" in terms of the asanas/pranayma, Vasanth's approach to life, yoga and practice was really interesting to observe. He is an incredible smart and well- rounded person; a serious practitioner of self-inquiry, which he would throw into the practice, and that, was fun to be part of. Hanging out with him was the best lesson. Sometimes we would go for a ride on his motor bike around Tiruvanamalai to see Arunachala from different angles, and he would drop me for my western meals at Mana, he would pick up things at the tailor for me, make ginger lemon honey tea and even wait with me for hours at the homeopathic doctor who prescribed a cream for my infected toe (too much bear feet walking around here.) We started hatha yoga again from 5:00pm to 6:30pm when it was time for our agnihothra ritual. Sometimes we would walk to the German Bakery for breakfast and would see the Indian woman drawing kollams (mandalas) at the entrance of their doors to ward off evil spirits. This is done everyday and it is an ancient custom in the region. Being with Vasanth also reassured me of my strong feelings towards hatha yoga, its deepest meaning and also how to use my instincts more and to trust that I have all answers, teachings and plenty of techniques inside of me. I can be my best teacher! That seems to be the message from different directions. I could also feel more of Arunachala's energy and the dynamics of Tiruvanamalai, a town of saints and thousands of beggars on holy men clothes (orange robes, vibuthi-sacred ash- marks on their foreheads). My program with Vasanth ended March 16th when I immediately took the bus back to Bangalore. I had a wonderful darshan from Amma for my birthday. Hugs, kisses, an apple to bite into, a laddu (sweet Indian ball) dropped into my full mouth and a content heart. Amma's divine energy and radiant smile is the best gift I can imagine. Then I hang out with Ana (Spain), the one I left in Varkala came to Bangalore mid February for a few days and Cecilia (Venezuela) who lives at Puttaparti. We went to several pujas in a couple of days. We were celebrating Marga Poornima (full moon). We can always count on something to celebrate in India. Everyday is a festival it seems. Today is holy day; the day Shiva opens his third eye. A lot of people color themselves with different colors with a special powder. The south worships Shiva, one of the aspects of the absolute God. They are called shivaitas as oposed to the vaishnavaitas or followers of vishnu, usually more a nothern indian tradition. Then Ana left to Valencia in Spain, Cecilia went back to Puttaparti and I headed towards the railway station to catch my train to Chennai where I would connect to another one to Bhuvaneswhar, near Puri. Well, I thought the train would leave at 11pm so I arrived at the station and realized that it left at 10pm instead. So, yes, I missed it. This is the first train, bus, or plane I missed since 1986 when my mother and I stood at the Brindissi station in Italy and watched the train leave to Rome without having the chance to claim up—there were so many backpackers who were faster, I thought I would climb up with my mother's heavy suitcase after them, but there was no time. The train left after the allotted time for that station. So, that was a clear sign that Orissa State was not my destination. I was more heart broken I would miss Kim and Britt who were also heading that direction than to miss Swami Yogeswarananda who was going to initiate me into krya yoga. It did not help to know that he was out of town and would only be back the day I planned to leave Puri. I called to confirm things for the 3rd time (I usually do it like that specially in India) and the man who answered said: Swamji not here, back the 24th. But I had an appointment with him for the 18th! I said. Yes, madam, please come, the man said. But, he is not there! He will be back only on the 24th. Our appointment is for the 18th! I called two times already to confirm. Yes, madam, please come! Crrrrrrk! Why am I trying to explain? It is useless! I surrender to the impossibility of communication. It is bad enough in person; by phone it is almost impossible. They keep saying, hello, hello, even though I am already on my third sentence for the second time. I just did not know I had better things waiting for me in Mysore and that I was catching something in my body that left me lethargic for 24 hours. A long journey for only a few days was not a good idea, my inner self knew it and made me miss the train, or maybe it was Amma's leela (play). So, I headed back to Mysore the next day, checked into a hotel and watched TV for a few days while recovering, then took a bus to Baylakuppe, a Tibetan settlement a couple of hours away. It was a really interesting experience being there. I arrived on a Sunday, a day off for the monks it seemed, because everyone were hanging out having a cold Coke or Pepsi, sewing robes or reciting mantras on the side of the street lined up with small cute houses. This is the biggest monastery in the world I was told, 5,000 monks in all spread between two monasteries, SERA MEY and SERA JHE. The feeling was a mixture of a refugee camp, an American Indian reservation and of a monastery. I could not find anything else in the whole place to eat except noodles, and the Siddardha Guest House restaurant closed at the strange time of 12:30pm to 3:30pm. The only morning I spent there I woke up at 4:30am and went to the huge prayer hall. But there was no meditation per se. The 2,000 plus monks gathered there, from ages 7 to mid 60's, but most in their 20's were all males (the woman monks stay at a different place.) So, I am the only woman and foreigner among this mass of robbed, bald headed monks. They started with a guttural chant followed by a thick voice on loud speakers while breakfast was served - a very loose version of orioky. A big piece of sweet bread was place in front of me on top of a plastic cup (since I didn't have "Buddha bowls" with me they improvised). Then they came with warm milk, followed by a rag to clean the floor of the breadcrumbs and any milk that was accidentally spilled. Then monks came with big bags for the leftovers (the bread was big and I only ate half) and the head monk finally came around with large stacks of 10 rupees notes which he distributed to all monks in the hall, including myself. How nice! Kind of a bizarre practice, but they are adapting to their circumstances I guess. It was nice seeing all those robes and shaved heads going out of the hall, the sun still hiding and a light mist in the air. School would start soon for them. While there I was reminded of the 1.2 million Tibetans killed since the Chinese occupation and more than 6,000 ancient temples and monasteries destroyed. Tibetans civil rights violations still going on, not allowed to learn their own language in Tibet or practice their religion, their biggest ancestry heritage. A whole country and civilization is vanishing before our eyes. Good thing India is allowing many refugee camps on their soil. Much of the Tibetan rich culture and religion can be preserved this way, just next door. Maybe this will create a resurgence of Buddhism in India? In Mysore I also visited more sites, hanged out with Sagheer Ahmed (the essential oil merchant) in his scooter around town, attended ashtanga yoga demonstrations by V. Sheshadri, the second most well known teacher in Mysore. He invited me to watch his demonstrations in a video with a few of his students. It seemed more acrobatic exercises than yoga. I sat in his afternoon class a few hours earlier, and his style was the same in the class. He would adjust the students in a showy way, getting on the peacock posture on someone's back while doing padmasana (some of you know what I am talking about). The students seemed eager to attain his level of physical mastery of the asanas. I also met with BNS Iyengar, not be confused with the famous BKS Iyengar of Pune. He seemed slightly moody and uninspiring, just like his dingy shala. Uninspired by these teachers, I waited for Swamiji Ganapathi Satchchidananda to return from his travels to meet him February 25th in his beautiful ashram in Mysore. I had read about him back in January and was very interested in his healing music and krya yoga. I was trying to decide whether to spend Sivarati at his ashram or at Sai Baba's. The Ganapathi ashram is beautiful and impeccable. There is an yurvedic garden there, and auditorium for concerts. Swamiji plays healing music- tunes that vibrate the 72,000 nadis-suble nerve endings in our bodies. There is also a superb temple and all the facilities are very clean and the place very quiet. I had to jump some hoops, including having to ask Swamiji's permission to stay at the ashram for 4 days during Sivarati celebrations, but finally got it. It was such a treat to meet him too. I was so taken by his presence! An incarnation of Dattatreya (the three headed God- Brahman, Vishnu and Siva). He invited me to take his krya yoga course in California this summer when he will be there. Voila! I don't have to go anywhere. Amma is probably orchestrating the whole thing...(co-workers at DIR, don't panic, this is just a weekend course!) I had two private interviews with him and it was very clear he knew everything about me. Unlike Amma, who takes all kind of silliness and "abuse" from us so lovingly, he was very firm, more like a disciplinarian, and told me some truths that made me tremble, but the compassion came through and it was such a teaching for me. The Sivarati celebrations were like a dream. It started at 6pm and ended at 6:30 am the next day. The time is divided into four yaamas (periods of time) and Shiva is supposed to be present during the whole time. Abhishekas (washing ceremonies) and pujas are performed all night among other ceremonies. The night went fast with all these activities and divinity feeling in the air. Everything was beautiful, so holy, so well organized and despite the thousands of people, no pushing, no confusion. I felt a lot of harmony and consideration for others. There were not that many foreigners, so I had the "birds eye" position, only a few feet from Swamiji the whole day, the whole night during Sivarati and the whole week he spent there. I was enthralled. He ended the festivities at the evening of day 2 of Sivarati celebrations with a beautiful healing concert on his synthesizer, accompanied by tables. I thought I was already in Heaven. There is also a small beautiful hospital adjunct to the ashram that uses many complementary therapies such as music therapy, color therapy, crystal therapy, etc. There is also allopathic and yurverdic medicines. It seemed I was not ready to leave that place. I needed more time to digest a lot of the recent experiences, so I checked myself into the hospital for a few days for more panchakarma and music therapy. After finding out what my birth star was, a raga was prescribed for me. In may case, three ragas were prescribed. The therapy consists of lying down on a table that is like a vertical cello and the therapist first plays the cords underneath the table sending the vibrations thought the whole body to balance the existing vibrations in our cells. Then I hear my prescribed ragas through a headphone for about twenty minutes. The session would relax my body in a very deep level. I kept the cassettes for maintenance treatment afterwards. What a delicious type of medicine! I finally had to leave to meet Vasanth in Tiruvanamalai, otherwise I probably would still be there. Chaya (a Danish women in her late fifties) and I went for a nice long buffet lunch at the Southern Star just before I jumped into my bus to Bangalore. We became very close during my whole time at the ashram and she helped me to navigate the whole culture and magic around Swamiji and the ashram. How lucky I am. I just spent the night in Bangalore an off again to Tiruvanamalai. I have been coming to Bangalore so much I even have "my own" room at the Anand Sagar Hotel. This is my fourth time here. I love looking at the Indian families on the train. The ladies in beautiful colorful sarees and gold jewelry contrasted against their dark skin is so good to look at. Many times they have bare feet. I have seen some of them travel long distances in the bus without shoes, but covered in lavish garments and adorned by beautiful jewelry and flower garlands in their long dark hair. The man are often sweet and have a certain freshness in their smile I don't see anywhere else. It is very common to see men holding hands and putting their heads on each other's shoulders on the train. It is so cute and feminine to my eyes. Their slim bodies and natural elegance are also very attractive. The dynamics between husband, wife and children is very interesting to watch also. I see much care among them, family is so important here, some are really shocked to hear I am not married and have no children. So great is their disbelief some ask me several times the same questions as though they are trying to make sense of it. There are many important traditions and much respect for the old, although no one offers them a seat on a crowded bus. Tonight I get on the train to Pune. Since I am traveling in a semi private cabin AC, I may miss this whole scene. But it is getting too hot and I start to crave a little comfort. I can also use the time to go inside and reflect, listen to my ragas and read. Leaving India is like leaving a lover. I have to do it slowly as my heart couldn't take the blow at one time. I have learned so much with our relationship, I have been annoyed as never before and I have reached heights as never before. Only nine more days with you my beloved, let's make this a good one. I will probably talk to you again from Thailand. Until then, let's keep our prayers for our personal peace and world peace in the atmosphere. Keep your beautiful smile shining on your faces and let that be contagious and create a revolution. "If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work." Thich Nhat Hanh A thousand lotuses to you, Marisa


At 9:58 PM, Blogger Jeremy said...

I had a curious question for you about Mr. Sagheer Ahmed. I was trying to find some information on him so I Googled him and your blog came up. I moved to Mysore for 6 months and am just getting the pace of this place. I met Sagheer the other day because I was looking for some oils. He seemed like the most credible person I have met so far. As you know everyone is willing to say anything to get into your American pockets. I wanted to know what you thought of him and whether or not you thought his oils were the real deal. If you can post back to me that would be great. You could also e-mail me at secretorbitman@yahoo.com. Thank you and I have enjoyed reading your blog.



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