I have had a peculiar fascination with the idea of traveling to India ever since this adventure planning was in its infant stages some years ago. I knew literally nothing about the landscape, the people, or the formalities of the religious doctrine; yet, for some reason I felt like my ‘spiritual journey’ would not be complete without a trip to this land.
I discussed this with my friends and learnt about some of their experiences with amazing masters which further solidified my desires to add India to my list. Intrigued, my original plan was to travel to India to live in an ashram and experience the power of the inner presence.
People are filled with a varied category of characteristics, seeking the meaning of life, a guru (master), or just that sense of being fully alive that adventure brings. But each person I came across had a depth, heart, and vitality in them that somehow conveyed the essence of what I was seeking in my own life and what had called me to search for something real.
In India there can be drawbacks in terms of the time it takes to accomplish things and maintain schedules as compared to other countries. Buses could take longer than expected, trains delayed for hours, rickshaw drivers would nod and tell you to get in the back and then drive in a random direction for 10 to 15 minutes before they look in the rear-view and without words tell you they actually have absolutely no idea how to get to the place that you had requested.
I met one man in North India and he spontaneously spoke of the true Self. A presence and knowing touched a part deep within me of which I was barely aware. I had taken yoga retreats and attended meditation retreats in many other countries but nothing gave me such clarity as my journey to India. In India there is a saying that the guest is treated as the Divine; and as the hospitality and the life in his simple home opened its heart to me, I began to open m y heart to India. His older sister gave up her bed for me and slept on a mat in the tiny room.
I visited an ashram of Hatha yogis who twisted themselves into knots as they stared out in profound detachment at the crowd of devotees bringing offerings. There are numerous ashrams where the chanting of the ancient Vedic scriptures and the singing of sacred hymns continuously fill the air in this land. Remembering the peaceful smile of the people and their sweetness of devotional hymns brings me back to that time long ago yet still present in many parts of India. Somehow my mind still retains the smell of clove, the smell of cow dung, and incense from an early morning puja.
The journey always felt guided by a light and a sense of peace that I had first seen on an old woman’s face as she read the Srimad Bhagavatham (Story of Lord Krishna) many years before. Two more trips to India were to follow, including a six-month stay in Dharmasala and the Himalayas. I walked in beatific Himalayan light, senses the spiritual depth in temples and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and visited wise teachers in search of a diamond whose presence was becoming clearer.
As I walked slowly and in silence, I felt a light and a prayer rising within my heart: “I offer my life for the benefit of others.” As I walked out into the vast Himalayan sky ringed with snow-capped peaks, there was only space and light. I took a full breath for the first time in my life and realized that fear had been left behind.
I met a man from Uttar Pradesh, North of India and he talked about impermanence and of the real Self beyond identity. He then took us to his lavish ancient sculpted buildings, with vast grounds and peacocks, ducks and other animals wandering through sculpted gardens. He notices that I was amazed and suddenly he commented that none of this could bring us even one step closer to the true Self.
I marveled at the ability of human beings to sustain and even recreate life in this environment. More amazing still was their complete faith in a God who would create and sustain such a world. This, for me, was the living paradox of India, a culture totally immersed in spirituality on the one hand with some struggling desperately for material survival on the other.
However, if we are able to have the right attitude to tune to what and why we stepped into this holy land, then the experience is completely different. After staying for a few months in India, I found that people were always in community and willingness to help, that support was their first nature. They always managed to come up with an answer to which way the train station was, how long the ride would take, what the fair price for something was, or where the hotel was located.
I was reminded this is the land of so many seers, rishis, sages, spiritual leaders, healers, and people with knowledge spanning thousands of generations. The yoga masters would impart so much wisdom and lessons in flexibility and virtue and this is what you see in a typical Indian community where they live together and dine together. The Joint family system is something big even now in many parts of India. Though the west has greatly influenced India, the villages of India still follow the heart of their practices and hold to their rich culture and heritage. It is actually India itself that is the sage.
I had been looking for someone or something to stretch me and give me insight into how to relate to the world and experience my inner Self, when all the answers could be found in large numbers on a daily basis right here in front of me. There were many beautiful situations where God placed me and supported my survival.
In India there is a sense of being alive in a way I have never felt before. My heart, mind and spirit have expanded so much.