Monthly Archives: February 2008

Full Gurus!

Full Gurus!

The French and Indian population here have a favorite word: "full." If there's a lot of something or it's big or it's powerful, it's "full ___!" Lots of monkeys in Badami? "Full monkey!" Lots of gurus in Thiruvannamalai? "Full enlightenment!" Full moon at the mountain? "Full Shiva, full Shakti!"
There are a number of ashrams here, and also a number of gurus, swamis, sadhus, yoga teachers, reiki teachers, deekshan circles, baijans and kirtans… The foreigners sample the spiritual practices here a bit like a thali. It's hard not to. "Did you go to Shiva Shakti today? Yesterday, it was a little off, but today, full power." "I like Aum Amma more. I was totally blissed-out after Amma, but Shiva Shakti doesn't do it for me." There's lots of tasting and comparing and evaluating, which feels totally western.
There are at least three gurus in India with the name Amma. I was talking to my silent friend about one of them and I said "Which Amma are you talking about?" and he made a circle with his arms, so I knew he meant Hugging Amma. I was getting some chai and this old Jewish guy named Moon-ee (a traveler for 40 years) started chatting me up and convinced me to take a rickshaw with him to see Aum Amma. Aum Amma is a real jokester. We arrive at the small house, and do about half an hour of chanting (I don't know the words, but I try to pick it up as we go.) Then her swami comes out and tells us she's coming. Then he prepares her flowers and puts the garlands around her neck. And then she is revealed, full flowers, smiling and laughing, and rolling her eyes up high in her head. Swami takes a basket of flowers and drops them into her hand, bit by bit, and she rubs them all over her faces as she laughs. After a while, she begins throwing the flowers at us and I'm laughing, thinking, I could do this! Then, we each have a private moment with her. I walk into the little space, bow at her feet, and she pulls me up to her cheek and smooshes it against mine and I throw some of her flowers at her and I laugh and she laughs. And then we're waiting for the rickshaw outside and I get full mosquito bites.
The plan I had for coming to India was to travel from temple to temple and experience the power of the temples. And honestly, I haven't felt particularly moved by most of the temples I've been to. They're incredible and old, and I appreciate the work and love it took centuries to carve, paint, and construct them. But I am much more moved by actual practice of self-inquiry, and the simple caves and spaces where people just sat for years and years and reached enlightenment.
This morning, we climbed part of Arunachala, the sacred mountain, and reached the caves where Sri Ramana Maharishi sat for seven years. It overlooks a set of temples and the city of Thiruvannamalai. A swami dressed in orange chanted outside the cave temple while monkeys shook the trees with perfect monkey-like abandon.

Sunset Kirtan

Sunset Kirtan

Yesterday, I attended an incredible kirtan (call and response singing, known here as baijan.) I'd gone swimming in a fancy swimming pool at a hotel a few kilometers from town and had a thali for lunch. I was really tired and sun-drenched.
I went to Sri Shiva Shakti at 5 pm (I go every day at 10 am and 5 pm for her darshan.) She is a very sweet and powerful teacher. I walked past the heart shaped flower offering by her chair, placed a few roses, and sat in the front row for the first time. After sitting and meditating for some time, I felt renewed and rebalanced from all the Shiva energy of Arunachala, the mountain. Her specialty is balance of Shiva and Shakti (masculine and feminine) energy.
I walked in the direction of Bharat's, which is somewhere on the edge of the town, and got a ride from a woman who was headed there, too, on the back of her bicycle. Many people here rent bicycles, mopeds, or motorcycles and I'm becoming an expert at being a passenger.
So we arrive at kirtan, and it's been going for a while. Everyone is on the roof, and there are six or seven musicians with guitars, drums, and shaky shaky things. We're chanting and the music gets really good and we're clapping and it gets even better and we get up to whirl and dance and the sun is setting and Arunachala is in the background and I'm swinging around and around with my arms clasped with a Dutch woman and then an Israeli woman, and the rose falls out of my hair, and then the music stops and we are completely silent and still.
Afterward, most of us head to Satiya's cafe for dosas and then to another rooftop for Papaji's video satsang, which was really funny. Papaji was making fun of a one of his devotees and then another one was laughing hysterically at his problems and then suddenly became very serious, and just sat there while Papaji moved on to the next person without saying anything, and it was so funny I couldn't stop laughing for a long time.
Then I went home, lit some incense, and finished my Turkish hazelnut chocolate bar, which sent my frontal lobe into spasms.

Arunachala, the Lake, and the Concert

Arunachala, the Lake, and the Concert

I'm washing my laundry by hand with blue cake soap called Rin.??  My new pair of yellow pants stained my new pair of white pants (made for me by a tailor in Hampi) so my vision of dressing all in white with like some orange flowers around my neck and looking really spiritual is one step further away.
I've been easing up on the chai.??  The four top categories in my daily budget are (in order) 1) internet 2) food 3) room 4) flowers (for hair, for puja, for gifts.)??  And in total, none those things is more than two dollars per day.??  It's hard to know when to give money to people–sometimes I give a couple of rupees to an old woman or a sadhu, but you can't give to everyone, so it's not all the time.??  When flowers climbs to the first or second place, I'll consider my journey a success.
Everything here happens in waves (often in three's) at the level of akasha. Someone lent me a book called The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. I'd read The Alchemist but not thought about the author since. The next day, I was reading the paper (which I never do here) and there was a column by Paulo Coelho. The day after, I had The Pilgrimage in hand and another friend had his book Warrior of the Light sitting on his mostly bare shelf. And I love how it all fits in to my travel in India as a challenging, mysterious, and awe-inspiring journey.
After Shiva Shakti several days ago, I rode with my friend to a lake just outside of town. It's lined with palm trees, and there is one magical tree that is a palm tree growing inside a banyan tree! It's full Shiva Shakti–male and female entwined. We climbed the tree (the Indian rickshaw drivers playing cards below were wary of our tree-climbing skills) and offered flower puja to the trees and sang some baijans.
The next night when the traffic cleared, we rode around Arunachala, the mountain, on a motorbike. We stopped at several temples to Shiva, Shakti, and Ganesh along the way. One is a special temple that you walk around the back and crawl through to be reborn.
The next night–or was it? They blend together… I went to a concert held in the ashram. It was only about 45 minutes long. The melodious flute and the droning mantras and the rhythmic shaker gave it an incredibly jazzy feel. It seemed to end not much later than it began.

Arunachala, the Lake, and the Concert

Arunachala, the Lake, and the Concert

I’m washing my laundry by hand with blue cake soap called Rin.  My new pair of yellow pants stained my new pair of white pants (made for me by a tailor in Hampi) so my vision of dressing all in white with like some orange flowers around my neck and looking really spiritual is one step further away.

I’ve been easing up on the chai.  The four top categories in my daily budget are (in order) 1) internet 2) food 3) room 4) flowers (for hair, for puja, for gifts.)  And in total, none those things is more than two dollars per day.  It’s hard to know when to give money to people–sometimes I give a couple of rupees to an old woman or a sadhu, but you can’t give to everyone, so it’s not all the time.  When flowers climbs to the first or second place, I’ll consider my journey a success.

Everything here happens in waves (often in three’s) at the level of akasha. Someone lent me a book called The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. I’d read The Alchemist but not thought about the author since. The next day, I was reading the paper (which I never do here) and there was a column by Paulo Coelho. The day after, I had The Pilgrimage in hand and another friend had his book Warrior of the Light sitting on his mostly bare shelf. And I love how it all fits in to my travel in India as a challenging, mysterious, and awe-inspiring journey.

After Shiva Shakti several days ago, I rode with my friend to a lake just outside of town. It’s lined with palm trees, and there is one magical tree that is a palm tree growing inside a banyan tree! It’s full Shiva Shakti–male and female entwined. We climbed the tree (the Indian rickshaw drivers playing cards below were wary of our tree-climbing skills) and offered flower puja to the trees and sang some baijans.

The next night when the traffic cleared, we rode around Arunachala, the mountain, on a motorbike. We stopped at several temples to Shiva, Shakti, and Ganesh along the way. One is a special temple that you walk around the back and crawl through to be reborn.

The next night–or was it? They blend together… I went to a concert held in the ashram. It was only about 45 minutes long. The melodious flute and the droning mantras and the rhythmic shaker gave it an incredibly jazzy feel. It seemed to end not much later than it began.

Sunset Kirtan

Sunset Kirtan

Yesterday, I attended an incredible kirtan (call and response singing, known here as baijan.) I’d gone swimming in a fancy swimming pool at a hotel a few kilometers from town and had a thali for lunch. I was really tired and sun-drenched.

I went to Sri Shiva Shakti at 5 pm (I go every day at 10 am and 5 pm for her darshan.) She is a very sweet and powerful teacher. I walked past the heart shaped flower offering by her chair, placed a few roses, and sat in the front row for the first time. After sitting and meditating for some time, I felt renewed and rebalanced from all the Shiva energy of Arunachala, the mountain. Her specialty is balance of Shiva and Shakti (masculine and feminine) energy.

I walked in the direction of Bharat’s, which is somewhere on the edge of the town, and got a ride from a woman who was headed there, too, on the back of her bicycle. Many people here rent bicycles, mopeds, or motorcycles and I’m becoming an expert at being a passenger.

So we arrive at kirtan, and it’s been going for a while. Everyone is on the roof, and there are six or seven musicians with guitars, drums, and shaky shaky things. We’re chanting and the music gets really good and we’re clapping and it gets even better and we get up to whirl and dance and the sun is setting and Arunachala is in the background and I’m swinging around and around with my arms clasped with a Dutch woman and then an Israeli woman, and the rose falls out of my hair, and then the music stops and we are completely silent and still.

Afterward, most of us head to Satiya’s cafe for dosas and then to another rooftop for Papaji’s video satsang, which was really funny. Papaji was making fun of a one of his devotees and then another one was laughing hysterically at his problems and then suddenly became very serious, and just sat there while Papaji moved on to the next person without saying anything, and it was so funny I couldn’t stop laughing for a long time.

Then I went home, lit some incense, and finished my Turkish hazelnut chocolate bar, which sent my frontal lobe into spasms.