The Seeker's India Trip
by Jackie Le Brocq, Yoga Scotland 2005
India is hot and busy, colourful and crowded, dirty and beautiful, full of white smiles and strongly scented flowers in black hair. The roads look like they should be dual carriageways but with no perceptible order. Bordered by open-fronted shops, shacks, places for people to call home. Bony cows with brightly painted horns, oxen, water buffalo, goats with painted pink spots, mangy dogs. Wide-eyed children stand or lie at the edges amongst the excrement and plastic litter or right in the middle. Pedestrian school girls, dupatta scarves regally flowing out behind them, bicycles with at least two people and an impossibly large number of plastic pots tied to them. Motorcyclists with sari-clad women riding sidesaddle behind, holding toddlers while older children sit on the handlebars. Yellow auto rickshaws with two seats and seven people in them. Buses sardine-packed with the younger men holding on outside and vividly coloured trucks with TOOT HORN painted on their backs - all vie for place. It is like some great pre-ordained cosmic tapestry unfolding before uncomprehending ryes.
I am in India on a three-week pilgrimage, choreographed by Ramana Baba (Muz Murray). The first week is a settling in and a tuning in to the subtlety of the vibration of the mantra and this country. The satsangs shed the ignorant questions I have asked before but have to ask again because I am still in my ego roles -- as yoga teacher, teacher trainer, mother, wife, entertainer, organiser. I ask questions to fill the gaps, but don't hear the answers. I try listening and saying nothing next time. My questions are answered without asking and I hear more! I am not bored. I am absorbed in this Self-exploration.
The second week we move onto Arsha Vidya Gurukulam Ashram, in elephant country behind Coimbatore. India is lush, rich and fertile, the Blue tea growing mountains rising up all around the verdant plains and plentiful flowers which the women of the Ashram gather daily as offerings for the pujas. We are taken one afternoon to visit projects financed by the Ashram workshops where young women produce marbled bags and Banyan plates and a delicious sweet rather like tablet made from milk and sugar cane; a hospital to supplement the herbal remedies favoured by the tribal villages; and a boys hostel providing accommodation so the boys from far flung villages can attend school. There are 136 boys who chant for us and show us a tribal dance. Some of us join in the clapping and stamping rhythmic circling.
But the project I am most excited about is the nursery. They are propagating castor oil plants by the thousand with the intention of making India free from reliance on diesel within 10 years. Wonderful news for this polluted country, wonderful news for this polluted world -- even if in the cold light of this grey drizzle day the time scale sounds a mite ambitious.
The western Swami lectures us twice daily on traditional Vedanta, a means of knowing the Self: "You can't imagine not being. You always existed, just not yet manifest. You die but you still are. I am in and through the body and the mind.
Things are always either me or not me. Knowledge is always other than me. Knowledge was always there. When we learn something the ignorance goes away. We use asana, japa (repetition of a mantra), meditation to make the mind more subtle, to make the mind ready. You don't have to go beyond the mind. . . "
Oh but you do. Muz doesn't lecture us. He tells us something because it comes from his heart. His mind may well be listening to it without knowing what it is going to hear, for there is an overwhelming urge to impart this wisdom. He asks if there are any questions, then waits. The silence is never uncomfortable. Just sitting there all of us together being in the silence is blissful. Learning without words. That is how his guru, Ramana Maharshi taught initially: imparting the truth of everything through his silent presence. But not everyone can understand the wisdom of silence. Perhaps we live too much in this world to be able to trust what we pick up through wordless vibration. So Ramana Maharshi would say something short and succinct. Then elaborate on it only if the silence following the words still proved barren.
Muz is leading us in the same way, beyond the mind, learning to experience from the heart. During mantra chanting the experience of the body is as a mass of vibrating particles. The body begins to feel as though it is dissolving into the particles all around; the edges become undelineated and a sensation of wholeness pervades, of there being only I. And where the body goes, the mind follows.
We are observing and letting go of the thoughts without developing them, noticing the spaces between thoughts; focussing on the heart and opening out from there. We are given the practice of visualising an inner sun, which on the inbreath, fills the entire being with light And then on breathing out, we allow the rays of the sun to move outwards, going beyond the physical body; filling the whole room and the whole world with light. The mind begins to feel, like the body; as though it is dissolving into oneness, into stillness.
Muz's satsangs during this week are quite remarkable. On receiving questions, an answer comes with slow deliberation from the heart -- you can almost see it circumventing the normal intellectual process. Life is but a dream.
(Row, row, row the boat, gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream. . . . we teach our children that, but do we really know it?)
We come to understand that what we experience as reality is the dream we are living in. It is no more real than the dreams we have when we sleep. Time and space are not linear. In the beginning was the Word (Consciousness) and everything is created from the word, things past, things present and things not yet manifest. Consciousness has no parts, everything is consciousness, everything is God. Namaste. I see God in you. There is no separation. Look into the heart space and know the Self Look at an ant or a flower and see the whole of creation, see God.
I am, I was, I always will be
One with the earth, the sky and the sea.
The ego will vanish and I will be free.
I don't need me, I don't need me.
I detach from this body, these eyes that don't see,
Release these belongings that bring misery.
For I know I am WHOLE, through eternity
I don't need me, I don't need me.
(Song written by Jayne Morrissey, a fellow pilgrim, while we were at the Gurukulam).
The last week we go to Tiruvanammalai, south west of Chennai, home of the Holy Mountain Arunachala where Ramana Maharshi spent his adult life, initially in silent meditation, latterly giving teachings. Our first glimpse of Arunachala is as the sun is setting on the night of the first full moon of the year, an auspicious night when thousands of pilgrims walk the fourteen kilometres round the mountain. We visit his cave. It is a long hot climb half way up Arunachala, past boys selling carvings of Oms and elephants. Ramana Maharshi spent fifteen years sitting in this cave in silent meditation, oblivious of hunger and bites and sores all over his body. A couple of hundred years before, another swami had asked to be shut in the cave for two days and when they opened the door all that was left of him was a pile of ashes - not even any bones. The cave has the most incredible atmosphere. It seems to be hotter inside than it is outside and you really feel as if your body is dissolving and being drawn inwards into the depths of whatever other worlds lie deeper into the mountain. I have to go back. Muz is having another tour next year. Hmm…
Jackie Le Brocq (Jackie Le Brocq is an SYTA teacher and one of the Teacher Training Hatha Yoga Tutors)