Friday, January 30, 2009

the wheel keeps on turning

Deciding to track down a few local Guru's, yesterday I went to an Ashram of a certain Yogi Ramsuratkumar which is just around the corner from my new abode. I came to India armed with a guide book to the 'Yogi's, Guru's and Ashrams of Sacred India' which outlines some details about various characters and places to visit for the Western Spiritual Tourist/Seeker.

The thing is the book is over 10 years old and so I found that Yogi Ramsuratkumar and a certain 'Bench Swami' were both long since dead. That came as a surprise but I enjoyed the Ashram anyway. It's a fairly big place with a meditation hall for 500 and an auditorium the size of a football field and yet there were only a few people around although I'm sure they get a bit of a crowd on special occassions.

The Yogi was very much in the Bhakti tradition in that his path was immersing himself in the continual rememberance of God's name and in Surrendering himself to 'the will of my Father'. In India God comes in many flavours and persona's which is not so unusual if one considers God to be Infinite. Anyway Yogi Ramsuratkumar seemed to have been a very joyous and childlike sort of a character and there is a feeling of joy and peace permeating his earthly abode.

In Indian heritage there is every variety of religion and point of view. Some hold God to be non-existent; some to be an Eternal Divine Person; some that it is an infinite impersonal cosmic intelligence; some that we in our true nature are not different from God and everything inbetween. Some viewpoints are liberal and inclusive whereas others are more dogmatic and exclusive. All co-exist together here in a rich and diverse tapestry alongside modernity, holy cows, diesel fumes, honking of horns and plastic garbage strewn all over the place.

There is also every variety of conmen here too, no doubt, including beggars, beggars dressed as holymen and many others who see a chance to try and scam a living off of the comparitively rich westerners. And yet, despite all of the unpleasant aspects I like it here very much and of course there are many very poor people in genuine need as well as some real Swami's too I expect.

My new accomodation is the best yet in a quiet and peaceful ashram set well back from the road and far from most of the traffic noise. Although basic and much paint peeling it is a clean airy place with a serene atmosphere. In the mornings there is some chanting in praise of the sacred mountain Arunachala Siva. The young brahmin boys are chanting the verses and we come in on the chorus. I like a bit of a sing-song so I am happy to join in although it does go on for a bit so I'm thinking I'll tend to slip in for the last half an hour most times.

Last night I went to Sri Mooji's birthday celebrations where with well over 100 people we had a sumptuous Indian meal followed by music and dancing. Social dancing is still a bit challenging for me but I am gradually mellowing to it over the years. As someone commented to me, 'it is rare to see a Scotsman up on the dance floor without alcohol being involved'. Influenced by the large South American contingent there was lots of that passionate Latin kind of music and naturally Bob Marley made an appearance or two which answered a previous question - no spliff's though. Since I missed the 9.30pm gate locking curfew at my new ashram home I had to climb over and jump from the 8 foot high boundary wall with broken glass on top to repel invaders. No arteries were severed, no limbs broken and no dogs were woken as I slipped to my room unnoticed.

That's it for now, until the next time.........

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

day by day

Namaste everybody. The last few days have seen a few internal ups and downs as is to be expected. The space in the well was always there but in excavating the space many rocks are sure to be encountered, however all is well.

I've continued going to Sri Mooji's Satsangs in the mornings and enjoy them very much, finding no conflict with my exisiting approach. I find him to be a wise, compassionate being who is able to relate to people on a very human, inclusive and equal basis.

Today I went up in front and asked some questions. In the anticipation my heart was beating fast and yet there was a calm. I asked him questions relating to self esteem and self realisation, readiness for realisation, my own experience of self-enquiry and how to end personal suffering. There was no cataclysmic eureka moment when I was up there but I feel he gave me good answers.

To summarise; there is no real pattern of readiness for realisation, Consciousness or the Self has it's own agenda. During my own session with him and in the following sessions I found a great affirmation that there are many valid pathways to Truth and in the expression of Truth, each with it's own flavour. There are devotional feeling centred pathways and there are mind centred knowledge pathways.

Finding myself somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, and having tasted several viewpoints, can lead to a good deal of confusion. Somehow, I felt a healing of different aspects of myself and a renewal of faith.

One of the core idea's that has plagued me is that somehow I am responsible for waking myself up. Surely there is a place for this but in the end how can the illusionary self dispell itself? I felt a relaxation and a deepening of trust that there is a Higher Power to which one can take recourse and in that find rest from the never-ending demands of the ego-mind. Surrender if you will.

An all-inclusive Higher Power which is both within and without.

Life proceeds day to day. I am generally waking and doing some yoga things for the body and breath and then passing the day with Satsang, eating papaya, drinking fresh coconut juice and spending time at the Ramana Ashram in the meditation hall or circumambulating in the shrine room with devotional or vedic chanting going on.

Sometimes there is stillness, sometimes there are pleasant feelings and sometimes there is restlessness or agitation. I try to take it all as it comes.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

what medicine do you give a ghost with toothache?

Hello everybody. Well this morning I was in a rather pensive and grave state of mind. I've been following quite a rigourous schedule of meditation and avoiding any socialising. I could be accused of having the tendency to go all out for something and then ending up despondent.

I realised that I am getting too serious and trying to get Enlightened all at once. I think better to take a leaf from the tortoises book and make steady progress rather than repeating the crash and burn syndrome. Therefore I decided to lighten up and take the foot off the accelarator. I decided I would be more social, relax a bit and perhaps get involved in some of the music and dance events that happen here from time to time.

Also I had felt reluctant to visit any of the other teachers in town out of a concern of diluting or adulterating my meditational journey here. They say it is better to dig one deep hole in a good place rather than digging lots of little shallow holes if one wants to hit the gold seam. Well I feel that it does not get better than this place or Ramana's teaching. Of course Truth is where-ever we are but as far as conducive places go this must be the cream.

Anyway I thought it would be ok to visit other teachers so long as I am clear in my own mind about what I am doing and not getting into chopping and changing which just leads nowhere. So this morning I went to see a certain Sri Mooji. Mooji had come recommended to me and his teaching is in the same line as what I am 'doing' here at Sri Ramana Ashram.

The basic teaching is that we are not what we think we are. Our true nature is the pure Beingness which is beyond thought. When we are at home in that then all is well. When we identify ourselves with thought then we suffer. Identifying with thought means defining ourselves as this or that; I am an engineer, or I am a road sweeper; I am a success, or I am a failure; etc.. When we Realise our true nature as Being then we are free from these limitations and experience unconditional fulfilment. Enlightenment is the final, profound and irrevocable realisation of this although there may be many tastes and a gradual transition along the way.

So I went to Mooji's Satsang (Satsang is good company, usually with a teacher). Mooji is a middle aged Jamacian born Londoner. He feels he has Realised his true nature to such an extent that he feels ready to share with others, helping them to the same. Actually there were many people there, well over 200 mostly Westerners, and I couldn't get into the hall so sat with many others in the shady downstairs outside section listening on a speaker. The general format is people will come in front of him and ask a question. His answers are guiding people into that wordless experience of their own Beingness here and now.

In Satsang, the energy or presence of the teacher, coupled with the collective energy field of the group, is very helpful for cultivating that experience in the individuals through a kind of resonance or osmosis effect. Ones own Being is there all of the time as the I AM presence preceding thought but may be experienced more clearly in an environment such as this. The 'trick' in Satsang is not to get caught up in intellectual debate or commentary but to open up silently to the ever-present reality of our own true nature. Of course if there are doubts they should be raised and cleared.

Sri Mooji emphasised giving our attention to this I Am presence such that it grows and becomes more and more firmly established in us so that eventually it is there all the time and undisturbed by outside events. It is not that we gain it, we already are it. We just have to cease giving energy to the false identifications which seem to block it's experience, much like the clouds are blocking the sunlight. Resting in the simplicity of our true nature as I AM. There may be more to it than that but that is the foundation, the ground.

So that was that. I found it good and relaxed into it. Mooji is quite a hearty huggy sort of a person and afterwards he came down and many people wanted to go up to him for a few private words and a big warm hug. Clearly there was a lot of genuine affection between them and many people are relating to him as their personal teacher or Guru. I don't know how he would stack up against Ramana Maharishi (not that it is a competition) but from where I sit he seems genuine in what he is sharing and really is a big Jamacian teddy bear.

I stayed around afterwards to observe how he was behaving and how people were relating to him. I didn't go for a hug but just as he was about to leave on his moped he gave me a big smile and a wave. I don't feel a need at the moment to have any formal relationship with an external teacher but I appreciated Sri Mooji's energy and approach. He is a nice man.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

mountain madness

The feet and body are fine. The adventures were taken in a good humoured spirit. I feel little or no inclination to move away from here or to stray from the pure waters available through Sri Arunachala and Sri Ramana Ashram. Meditation continues to deepen and intensify in a natural way. Everything is going well.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sri Arunachala

The Mountain here is considered sacred by the Hindu's. Arunachala is said to be the embodiment of Shiva (Pure Consciousness/the Self) and to radiate a powerful spiritual vibration. It is considered very good to make the ascent of the mountain and also to go around the base in a clockwise direction.

Yesterday morning at 6am I made my way up to the top in the traditional way with bare feet. The ascent of the 800m peak took me 2 hrs and as I had not actually planned to go up I had no water or food with me and had not yet taken breakfast. Luckily there was a tour group there at the peak soon after me and the pleasant guide offered me some Chai (very sweet spiced tea). The French group also shared some small snacks with me.

We sat together in the shade of a ramshakle tarpoline/bamboo hut at the top which, up until 2 years ago, had been the abode of one Swami Narayana who had meditated continuously up there for 16 years with very little in the way of food or water. The guide used to attend the Swami and bring him some milk and things until the Swami felt it time to move further south to Kanyakumari. On the way down, I allowed myself the concession of wearing shoes and some more French people offered me water which I gratefully accepted.

The mountain is majestic, quite rocky and greener than I expected. There used to be leopards, elephants and other large wild animals wandering around but they are now long gone. The top commands an amazing panoramic view of the surrounds although it was a bit hazy that morning. The very top is blackened and sticky from the annual nov/dec ceremony of the Jyotir Lingam where they light a massive column of fire which burns for days, fed by 2000l of ghee, celebrating the sacred origins and spiritual potency of the mountain.

This morning I decided to complement yesterdays ascent with a walk around the base. I set off barefooted at the still dark 6am only this time with some water, fruits and sun hat. The initial section of the path starting from the back of the Ashram is quite difficult and not very clearly defined. The ground was very stoney and even thorny in parts which made it quite hard going in barefeet. There were even frequent thorny bushes which caught my clothes and hair and one time I had to cut my head loose with my pocket knife.

Ramana had said that one should go around like a woman in the 9th month of pregnancy; that is very slowly and deliberately. Well there was little choice in the matter and after being inpaled with some sharp thorns in my foot I thought this is ridiculous and seriously thought I would have to abort - hoping that this was not analagous to my spiritual journey. After some respite I remembered that I had some socks with me (shoes were left behind) and thought these might offer some protection. I thought this fair enough as most Indians who have done this are probably used to walking bare-footed and have soles of the feet about half an inch thick.

Sure enough, the socks helped to make it bearable and I proceeded on with the 14km trek. Soon after the path became easier and more clearly defined with painted markings on the rocks. I went along steadily keeping my mind fixed in a meditative way with the repetition of mantra (the mind is not yet residing effortlessly in Silence so some focus helps). The rest of the journey went smoothly enough through quiet rural and scrub land, although I hadn't counted on having to do the last couple of kilometers through the busy town which has encroached right up to the mountain on one side. Regardless, I maintained my inward focus and completed the circuit only stopping to buy a fresh coconut to drink and to give some poor old woman the change.

The whole journey took me 4.5 hours and my feet, although intact, were aching quite a lot and had several little thorn splinters embedded in the soles. I'm not sure if it's the same deal as with taking a dip in the Ganges (that spiritual liberation is assured) but anyone who is mad enough to walk 14km around the mountain bare footed just might be mad enough to get Enlightened (sooner or later).

I spent the rest of the day within the Ramana Ashram taking my meal, an afternoon nap followed by tea, a reading, vedic chanting and some meditation time in the old hall. My four days are almost up and I have arranged some other accomodations nearby for the next 6 days. Now I will be living outside the Ashram I will attend some of the other meditation meetings and events around town with various teachers although I intend to keep cultivating a strong inward focus so my socialising will be kept to a minimum.

I will still be able to attend the Ramana Ashram, just not for meals or for sleeping. It's a very peaceful place with peacocks, dogs, monkeys and at least one cat wandering around freely. The food is very nice South Indian cuisine served up on banana leaves, sitting in rows on the floor and eating with the fingers. That's quite a long blog post this time but it was two days worth. I confess that next time I climb the mountain or go around the base I shall probably be wearing shoes. Time for bed.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sri Ramana Ashram

Hi all, well I have arrived in Tiruvannamalai which is clearly a major Mecca for spiritual seekers from all over the world. There are many many western as well as indian people here attracted by the Sri Ramana Ashram, the sacred mountain Arunachala and the diverse spiritual type scene which has grown up around them.

For those who don't know Sri Ramana Maharishi is a highly regarded Indian Sage of the highest order. He came to this area as a16 year old boy after a spontaneous major spiritual awakening and stayed here for over 50 years until his body passed away in 1950. He never sought an audience but many people came, attracted by the magnetic presence he emanated which drew them powerfully inwards towards the experience of their own innermost Being - the Self.

He mainly shared in silence but when verbal teaching was requested he generally advised the ancient method of self-inquiry which involves inwardly posing the question 'Who Am I?' as an aid to cutting through the false identifications of the mind which cloud over the ever present experience of our true inner-most nature. Not an intellectual excursion but a turning of the awareness back upon itself towards it's source in Pure Beingness.

That may not make a lot of sense to some people but puts it in a nutshell. My own experience here is that there is a palpable inner (if not always outer) silence which can be felt, particularily in the old meditation hall where Ramana sat with people for many years (haven't been up the hill yet). I feel it like a dissolving process, an inner quieting which suits me very well. I can see myself spending quite a bit of time here.....................

There is quite a bustling town of around 100,000 people here which is not particularly attractive. The Sri Ramana Ashram is on the outskirts but there is still a fair bit of bustle and traffic noise (which in India includes a lot of horn tooting) nearby. Regardless, this is a special place. I am staying within the ashram for a few days where I intend to really focus on the ashram routine itself. After my alloted stay is up I will find other accomodation nearby and will explore the wider scene somewhat. There seems to be a real smorgasborg of various guru's and socialising going on.

I don't intend to get too distracted by all of the excitements but will certainly have a look since I am here.

On another note, the countryside approaching here is very beautiful. Without knowing too much the people seem to be living a very simple and traditional agricultural life. They may not have much materially but I imagine their lives could be quite peaceful and satisfying. That is in stark contrast to some of the filthy, disease ridden squalor I saw in Mumbai - not that it is all like that. Also got chatting to a couple of nice Indian fellows on the 4 hr bus ride here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Space Yoga

Went to dinner last night and half way through two Indian gentlemen come and sit at my table (place was busy). One looks in his 50's and the other maybe around 30. I see they have a book with some yoga postures on front so I say 'Yoga!' and point, 'I do Yoga' I say. The young one tells me that the other is a Yoga Master no less. I saw 'oh really' and pay my respects. Anyway they were pretty happy to talk to me and of course I impressed them with my knowlege of Sanskrit Yoga words.

This guy says he is into 'Space Yoga' where we can visit the other planets in our meditation. He also say there is a big mountain coming to crash into earth in 3-4 years. He is publishing his book in 2 months which will go all over the world (he says) and teach us all 'Space Yoga'. Then we can avert the catastrophe with the power of our minds by psychicly changing the meteors course otherwise we are all done for. He says we were destined to meet and I will help him spread this teaching.

I say 'maybe'. Sounds all a bit doubtful and cuckoo to me but you never know. No doubt big mountains have struck the earth before and will again over the aeons of time. If all else fails we can always send up Bruce willis and his team to do it the good old american way.............

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Arrived in Chennai yesterday afternoon after a 27 hr train extravaganza. It wasn't the most comfortable 27 hrs of my life but I survived. Even without a/c the temperature was generally fine and my travelling companions amiable. Mostly they couldn't speak any english and my indian is not too great either (actually there are 16 main Indian languages). There were about 8 of us in the little section and I had 3 english speaking encounters over the journey. Mainly with a young computer student dude who was very happy to have a chance to practice his english lingo.

Very cheap ride - it cost 390 ruppees (about $8US) which was about what I was paying for accomodation in Mumbai. If I had gone a higher class I probably would have had more chance of communication with my fellows and also less beggars coming on board at every stop. It's quite confronting to have guys with deformed limbs, or little dirty poor kids or blind amputees beseech you for money all of the time. Some people say it is better not to encourage them but to give to charities instead which help them in the long-term, but it is hard to ignore them - especially when they can be so persistant - and so often times I give them some small coin if I have it.

Staying at a good cheap, fairly clean place in Chennai. Almost half the price of Mumbai for a proper room, about twice the size, with a small ensuite shower/toilet. Cold water showers BTW.
Had breakfast with a French dude who has been coming to India for six months of the year for the last 5 years. He isn't into ashrams or anything he just likes it. He was retired and his wife dead so why not says he. That's the kind of lifestyle I would like - the travelling part I mean.

Chennai feels more relaxed to me, not so intense as Mumbai. I stay here one more night and then onwards to Tiruvannamalai tommorrow (only 3.5hr bus ride this time). Andrew and Tim posted me a recommendation to go to a big Hindu temple NE of here (Tirumala Venkateswara Temple) which, according to wikipedia, is the richest and most visited holy place in the world. Sounds interesting but it will have to wait as I'm making a B-line for Ramana Ashram where I have a booking from 18-21 Jan. Other places of note around Chennai are the international headquarters of Krishnamurti, The Theosophical Society and Krishnamacharya Yoga all of which in one way or another have had a global impact on world spirituality. Although again, maybe later...........

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Making Tracks

Have booked my train ticket to Chennai leaving today at 2pm and taking more than 24hrs. I got a cheap sleeper ticket - could have paid 3-4 times more for a/c etc. but since I'm trying to make my money last for 6 months then took the budget option - I hope that I don't live to regret it! either from a comfort point of view or from whom I will be sharing the carriage with.

Slept much of the day yesterday catching up with myself then went out later for some food. On the streets I got offered to buy hash at least six times. Not that I'm into it but if I were then the risk is a few years in an Indian jail which I'm sure wouldn't be pleasant.

Have been staying in a budget 'room' these last two nights. A windowless box about 2m by 1.5m with a bed, ceiling fan and a light. The 'room' has an open ceiling and separated from the other rooms by frame wooden panel walls so you can hear what everyone is up to. Cost about 5pds which is about as cheap as it gets for a single room in Mumbai but I understand that it can be quite alot cheaper elsewhere in India.

Met a french canadian dude at the train booking office this morning and hung out a bit. He's cycled around much of SE Asia and other places. Well that's it for now. Will get onto putting some phot's up sometime although haven't taken any yet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

First impressions

Hello and welcome to the first entry in my first blog. I've been in Mumbai, India now for one day. It's a pretty noisy, busy, hot, humid, delapidated sort of a place with lots of colonial buildings, beggars and hucksters on every corner. I didn't expect to be over enthralled by the city itself but no doubt it has it's charms if one were to take the time. For me I intend to be heading south in the next day or two towards the Ramana Ashram, inland and south from Chennai. I'm looking at the train option which takes 24hrs but with a sleeper carriage and sight seeing opportunities might not be too bad. I'm still a bit jet-lagged and finding my feet on unffamiliar territory. Might go for a mid morning nap now. Until the next time.............