A peculiar fascination held me from the beginning when I began to formulate the idea of traveling to India; and planning for the adventure grew in its infant stages some years ago. I knew nothing about the landscape, the people, or the religions; yet for some reason I felt that my spiritual journey required a trip to this land.
Learning from friends about their amazing experiences with spiritual masters further awakened my spiritual yearnings. I wanted to live in an ashram in India and experience these things for myself.
In India I discovered an entirely different world, a people filled with all manner of unfamiliar characteristics, some seeking the meaning of life, some a guru, or just wanting to feel more alive. But each person I met had a depth, a heart, and a vitality that somehow reflected what I was seeking – something undefined that had called me to search for the real.
In India there are endless challenges to the time it takes to accomplish things and maintain schedules that are taken for granted in other countries. Buses arrive and depart at will, trains might be delayed for hours, and rickshaw drivers will nod and tell you to get in the back, then drive around for ten or fifteen minutes before they look in the rear-view mirror and indicate that they actually have no idea where you were going.
I met a man who spontaneously spoke of the true Self. A presence and a knowing touched me deeply. I had done yoga and meditation retreats in other countries that couldn’t come close to this experience. In India there is a saying that the guest is God. He invited me to his simple home opened his heart to me. That was when I opened my heart to India. His older sister had gave up her bed for me and slept on a mat on the floor of a tiny room.
I visited an ashram of yogis who twisted themselves into knots and stared out in profound detachment at devotees bringing offerings. In innumerable temples across the land one hears the chanting of sacred hymns. The indelible smells of India: burning cow dung, cooking fires, incense and spices, the millennial residues of a civilization so ancient, the burnt offerings of its funeral pyres are like faint strands of dreams.
My journey was guided by such glimpses as an old woman’s face as she recited the Srimad Bhagavatham. 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 in my heart: “I offer my life for the benefit of others.” As I walked out into the vast Himalayan sky ringed by 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.
Another man spoke of impermanence and the Self. He took us to lavish ancient temples with vast grounds and peacocks, ducks and other animals wandering through sculpted gardens. Noticing my amazement, he commented that none of this could bring us one step closer to the true Self.
I marveled at the ability of human beings to sustain life in such poverty. More amazing still was their complete faith in a God who could create such a world. This for me was the living paradox of India, a culture totally immersed in spirituality on the one hand, while struggling desperately for survival on the other.
If we can tune into this holy land, the experience is completely different. After staying a few months in India, I found that the people were always in community and willingness to help. That was their first nature. They were always happy to tell me which way was the train station, how long the ride would take, what was the fair price for something, or where the hotel was located.
I was constantly reminded that this is the land of seers, rishis, sages and yogis, a people whose knowledge spans thousands of generations. The yoga masters imparted so much wisdom and virtue to this culture. This is what you find in a typical Indian community where they live together and dine together. The joint family system still exists in many parts of India. Though the west has greatly influenced India, the villages still hold to their rich culture and heritage. India itself is the guru.
I had been looking for someone or something to give me insight into how to relate to the world and experience my inner Self. The answers I sought were all around me. There were so many beautiful situations God put me in and supported my journey.
In India there is a sense of being alive such as I have never felt anywhere else before.