I had attended Om Swami’s Zen Retreat in Bangalore in December about which I had written a post earlier. Another Zen Meditation camp was announced by Swamiji which would be held at the Ashram in the Himalayas. This camp would have Hindi as the language and since it was to be held at the Ashram the 5 star comforts of the Retreat won’t be there.
As soon as I read about the camp I registered. I remember it was some 1 am in the morning when I clicked on the link. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity as I had always wanted to visit the Ashram. Also, since the fees was not much I could afford to donate it in case I was not able to make it for some reason. All Om Swami devotees know that one must register as quickly as possible when Swamiji announces any program. They are few and far between and registration closes typically in a matter of 2-3 days. Everyone wants to be near an enlightened being as much as possible. You can read as much as you want but one line that comes directly from a Guru can have more impact than one can think of. Such is the divine aura of Swamiji that it exudes and touches the heart of everyone who comes near him – educated or illiterate, wealthy or poor, young or old, believer or sceptic.
Something in your heart just tells you- he is the one.
I took a flight from Bangalore to Chandigarh on the 24th even though the camp was starting on the 25th March. The idea was to be there when everyone has not yet come in so I could possibly get some quality time with Swami ji. I discovered that many other दुष्ट’s had possibly read my mind😊.
The drive from Chandigarh upto Solan was good apart from stretches where four laning work was in progress. From Solan we took the Rajgarh highway. After Giri Pul which is built on the river Giri Ganga there is a U turn after about 10 Kms. This took us on the road to the ashram. It was about 5:45 pm so we were anxious to reach before it gets dark. The road to ashram is unmetalled and it can get really tricky at the bends.
I would recommend faint hearted folks not to sit in front next to the driver.
We reached when it was dark already. The beautiful LED lights looked just awesome, as the temple stood out against the backdrop of mighty mountains.
Once the formalities of registration etc.were completed we directed ourselves to the the dormitory. I keep saying “we” as the devotees I shared the ride from airport had already become good friends – each of us alone on the path and yet together in the pursuit.
The first site of the dormitory didn’t look bad. It was neat and clean although the way the beds were arranged on the floor it looked like the place would get really crowded. The first night we had the luxury of spreading out a little but on the 25th when everyone came you literally had to struggle for space let alone personal space. Being used to having our own rooms at home or in hotels when we travel, I was amazed how I took to sharing the dorm with 65 other people like a fish takes to water. The person next to me told me I was snoring away barely 30 seconds after I retired to bed. I learnt a big lesson in life – actually we just need a place to lie down and sleep will come. The only condition is that our mind has to be stress free and our body must be tired. It’s that simple actually. I went back to the time when we travelled during our Geological excursions as students. With 30 boys to a room we used to enjoy as hell. Sharing, caring and daring were our mantra those days. Then that carefree nature got lost somewhere on the road to success and achievement.
I am sure everyone else who joined the camp was also used to same level of comfort as me but the way all of us “accommodated” each other was exemplary. It never felt we were missing anything.
My bed is second from right with a blue pillow 😊
As of today the Ashram has many rooms for private accommodation including those with A/C and a kitchenette for longer stay. The only thing is that you cannot book the rooms online and you will have to request at the time of check in. If you are a solo traveller you may have to share the room with a few other devotees. This is when you visit during an event. Otherwise the rooms are freely available during non event days.
In the evening on 24th we were blessed to have Swamiji amongst us during dinner which was a simple meal partaken with all of us sitting on the floor as you do in a Gurudwara or in marriages in the village. I find it really difficult to sit on the floor and eat but on all 5 days I made it a point not to take the chair but to have my meals sitting on the floor. I realised that if I am not comfortable and if I have to ask for more food I tend to eat less which is great for my ever increasing tummy.
Now the big question is can I follow the same at home ?
I must mention here that the food was delicious even though it was simple. The “prasad” bhav with which I had it helped to satiate my hunger with just one serving on most occasions. I admit I cheated a bit with the “halwa”though. Swamji had asked us to eat with mindfulness and I tried to follow it as much as possible although my mind was more fixed on the taste than anything else. It will take some time but trust me I am on my way.
The real “Tapa”however came in the morning ! The meditation class had to start at 6:30 in the morning which meant all 80 of us men had to get ready using just 2 bathrooms, 2 basins and 6 toilets. The fact that the facilities were at a distance from the dormitory also posed a bit of a chalkenge. I prayed to God I don’t get an upset stomach else you can imagine the plight of the situation. Again I had some experience with using “public” facilities from my university and Chinmaya mission days but years of conditioning made this ordeal really a testing one. I learnt how to cultivate patience during times of “urgency” 😊. Once again the way all of us woke up at 4 am and supported each other to get ready on time made an otherwise daunting task quite enjoyable. I was reminded of one quote from Karla in Shantaram – what amazes me is not the pain that crushes us but our ability to endure it. I know she said it in a different context but you would get the drift.
The dormitory and the toilets broke down my conditioning which defined what is “basic” for me. As a student and seeker in my youth I had lived with such facilities and had never thought too much about it but as I grew up and money came things got a bit different. With little bit of prayer and meditation I do everyday, I always knew that I am not a sucker for material comforts. This test was required to confirm my belief that with the right resolve one can always drop what is unnecessary.
The Zen mediation camp was similar to the Zen Retreat in Bangalore except that the classes were in Hindi so I will not bother writing about it again. I have given a detailed account of it here.
What was really different was the setting of the camp and I want to give you a glimpse of the beautiful ashram and my days spent there. The ashram is surrounded by green hills from all sides and the endearing river Giri Ganga flows just below the ashram in the valley. The inspiring Sri Hari Temple with its red roof stands in the middle guarded by a star studded sky at night. The thing about nature is that it can do to you in an instant what loads of books and words cannot in a lifetime. You just become a part of the scenery. The truth that you are nothing but a part of the mountain, a drop from the river and a piece of the sky becomes evident as you have a look at the surtoundings – take a deep breath and close your eyes. That God resonates in each particle of creation – inside and outside of your field of experience becomes easier to comprehend as the universal truth of our existence.
The time I spent listening to the river, gaping at the mountains and talking to the stars has become a part of me – forever. Swamiji’s divine presence and the grace of Sri Hari Bhagwan only helped to make every moment at the ashram a true blessing.
I am sharing a few pictures below with captions so you can share the joy with me.
The way to the ashram
Swamiji arriving for discourse at the temple. Behind him are his disciples Swami Vidyanand and Swami Parmanand.
Me reflecting besides the river
And posing next to it 😊
Sri Hari Bhagwan..
The temple shinning in the glory of morning sun
River flowing in the mountain valley
View from the ashram side
Footloose, quite literally !
Cow mata wanted to eat my phone. I wish she did 😊
Villagers starting a day at work
Wind takes our payers to Bhagwan
I have heard that there is no problem which cannot be solved by the sound of flowing water.For me it was like a meditative state in which I could feel a river flowing inside me. Fell in love with the wind blowing across my face, the chirping of the birds and the murmur of the river. How I wish I could take a piece of this back to the city. I know I can’t but I also know that it will be there whenever I close my eyes and sit in silence.
Now if you are tired of reading this longish post here’s some Herb to freshen you up 😊