Mar 19, 2010

Last Sunday morning, a small group of us went for trekking in the hills near our residence. It is a short 30-45 minutes trek before you reach one of the peaks. Later on, I sat down to note some parallels between the trekking journey and spiritual seeking.

We are at the base of the mountain and we can climb up from anywhere. There are many paths and we can even create our own paths.  We did both as we started at one place only to lose our path. We kept on climbing by instinct, negotiating steep rocks and treacherous footholds on the steep gravel, encouraging each other always ensuring that we were going higher and higher.

In the spiritual field too, there are many paths. While some swear by I Ching, others extol the virtues of the Art of Living. Some go for Vipassana while others make the annual pilgrimage to Sabarimala. Some are regulars for the weekly prayer at the Church and others try to copy Ramdev Baba on TV.

The path that we were on was unusually steep and filled with detours. Sometimes, the stone on which we kept our foot gave away or the branches we relied upon got uprooted. Nevertheless, we clambered on until we suddenly came across a clearing. Some minutes later, we had reached the top. A gentleman who had been watching us from the top remarked that we seemed to have deliberately taken the most difficult route to the top. Later on, it occurred to me that we had not chosen our path.

The path had chosen us.

In spiritual circles too, though we think that we are choosing a particular path, the fact is that the path is chosen for us. We are attracted to a path depending on exactly what we need at that particular stage in life. Certain colorful personalities make it through the Osho path, some get disappointed and move to the Krishna bhakti path or the way of Advaita.  Many jostle on the highways of temples and rituals, fasts and feasts.

So, in effect there is no better path, higher path or lower path. In fact, for many, the right path today may be to just drift along without any path. Yet, the characteristic of many paths is that people become attached to the path claiming that theirs is the only path to ultimate freedom. On our way back from the climb, we came across an acquaintance who insisted that the way he came up was the right way for us to go down. We ignored him and went in search of our own path.

A corollary of the above is that people try to lure you into their path. On the mountain, a gentleman filled with a spirit of holiness shouted ‘Bole re Bole’. We were engaged in our own unholy chatter and thoroughly ignored him. Somewhat offended, he stopped us and smilingly insisted that unless we repeat after him ‘Bum bum bole’, he will not let us proceed. Without any trace of holiness, we heartily complied. Such small advertisements are fine and fun but when someone insists that unless we do the Part 1 Basic course, we and our grandchildren are doomed to hell, it is time to run in the opposite direction.

It is difficult to say which is the best part of trekking. The slow, tough climb towards the top with parched throat and weary limbs or the swift, careful climb down with strategic application of brakes. Yet, one of the highlights is when you are sitting at the top with vast open spaces around, a lake in the distance, a gentle breeze all around and cold water guzzling down your throat….

I don’t know if there is any parallel to this in the spiritual field as I am still on the journey.

The only thing I can say with certainty is that, with good company, the trekking journey itself becomes a spiritual journey.

Mar 14, 2010

Our guest blogger today is the lovely Jasmine Koshy. She has done her MBA in Finance and lives in the suburb of Vasai. She recounts her recent experience with Vipassana Meditation during a 10 day retreat at Igatpuri in Maharashtra. During the retreat, she met Varsha Panicker (VP) and Krishnaveni (KV).

For a few wayward moments, a strange desire often surfaced deep within me to let myself lose in a serene secluded place on earth;  to roam around free in order to step into and discover a whole new world of tranquility.

That is when I came across a new term “Vipassana” meditation. It appealed to me because I love talking and it seemed like a challenge to not talk for ten days-Noble Silence. I also thought that Vipassana would be good detoxification - physically, emotionally and mentally. I read that Vipassana is an observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

Contemplating all this, I decided to attend this meditation course conducted at Igatpuri-Nashik, Maharashtra which is the head quarters of Vipassana Research Institute started by Sayagi S. N. Goenka. This unique center provides a serene-sublime environment for a deep dip inside for the exploration of mind-body phenomenon. I wanted to stay alone as this is my own journey ; I need to walk alone on this path. Alas, this was not to be.

Nevertheless, the management team advised me to check out my room mate as she was quite sure that I will learn a lot from this room partner ; would enjoy the stay with her. I wondered why she told this to me…because it’s supposed to be a deep silent meditation technique without any communication with each other, then how am I going to learn something when we have to act dumb and deaf to each other.

I would like to relate my encounters with some of the people during and after the meditation course.

1. My room mate-VP: I stepped into my room with a conviction that; if nothing else, at least I’m going to learn to share a room with a stranger for 10 days. When I met my room partner, I really liked her at the first meeting itself. Felt some strange connection with her. From day one evening, we all went into Noble silence & stopped communicating. Days went by and somehow I felt that the silence is killing most of us around; as we are not used to making silence within ourselves ; that too for so long.

One day, I noticed many meditators wandering here and  there alone …some looking up to the sky, some to the trees and birds, some looking at the beautiful mountains. I saw VP rushing out - her prominent eyes looking up to the sky and a broad 70 mm smile displayed on her face …. I too ended up looking in the same direction and couldn’t believe my eyes “Omg!!! It was a helicopter….I mean just a helicopter”.

Next I imagined VP taking a scarf, waving, signaling and screaming out to the helicopter guys for help to save her from this deserted island where she has got lost perhaps due to some kind of shipwreck or plane crash.

On the tenth day, we broke our silence and spoke like chatterboxes on almost everything under the sun. She is really a sweetheart and we spoke till 2 a.m. Next day we had to bid goodbye, there were slight tears in my eyes, felt like giving her a hug, but then we need to be equanimous ….this is what we learnt at Vipassana. So we parted ways happily. I learned one thing “Silence speaks a lot”.

2. VP’s hubby (PP): I had a brief talk with him... he seemed like a very practical person kind of atheist at times I guess, but of course a genuine human being.

3. KV: The girl next door ….or the lady next door …an extremely talented person. With her deceptive looks I mistook her for a corporate lady but to my surprise she turned out to be a housewife. She always says she has the heart of a 25 year old & I am supposed to address her and her friends by their names; dare not use any add-ons for respect. After Vipassana I am also in regular touch with her and her hubby (SV): “An artist working at IBM”….this is what I refer to him. His artistic talent is truly commendable.

4. SN: -Last but not the least of course- the heroic entry of SN. I often heard compliments about him from VP and KV. I was curious to know more about this person. It so happened that SN turned out to be the expert CV builder who modified my CV and when I read the summary written by him in my CV, I couldn’t help but ring him up to thank him for his kind gesture. As far as I could understand him from his talks and through his blogs, I am sure Samu can always say one thing “The greatest gift I ever had, Came from God; And I call him Dad!”

Excerpt from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

“We are what our deep, driving desire is, so is our will. As our will is, so is our deed. As our deed is, so is our destiny.”

All in all, this entire journey was a very important and valuable time for me again! Rewarding in so many aspects....learning the technique of Vipassana meditation camp; at the same time my encounter with so many talented people. The bliss and tranquility that I got from it, I am grateful to the course and I must continue to practise it for the rest of my life and for that, I must continue to meditate daily.

Will it be a tall order? Only time can tell. At the end of the day when I look back, I can always say “All is well”.

No wonder the management team’s prediction came true.

May all beings be happy!