Meditation camp at Sri Badrika Ashram..

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 😊

The Rainbow

Rainbow over coastline, Haena Beach, Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.

Chasing his corporate dream Nishant had literally been living out of a suitcase for the last couple of years. His air miles had kept pace with his rise in the company but now it had started to take a toll on him. He remembered the day when he was straight out of college and had gone to see off his uncle at Bangalore’s old  airport. Watching the plane take off  he had thought “Will I ever be able to fly and see the world?” His wish was granted and how.

Nishant traveled constantly, like a zombie on auto pilot, he got a signal for another meeting from his secretary and started from point A to point B whether it was Paris or Portland it did not matter. At home, his wife and 4 year old daughter had given up on him, getting used to living life in his absence. They had created a world of their own and Nishant was not sure if he was part of it or not.

Today, Nishant was flying from Bangalore to Chicago on Lufthansa which was his company’s preferred Airline partner. He entered the airport and encountered a familiar scene. All around him was a maze of people – Techies, corporate executives, family’s going back after vacation, old folks on wheel chairs travelling all the way to show themselves to their grandkids. He was so used to it that from the look on their face and the way they dressed he could tell who was a first time traveller or a typical IT guy going onsite or a business man raring to get that big dollar deal. But what he always found amusing was that people wore overcoats meant for freezing temperatures from Bangalore itself! His wife had told him that her friends did it so they could save space in their suitcase. Thinking of his wife he recalled how things had changed between them over time. In the beginning Aditi used to pack his bags and his daughter would make “come back soon” cards for him with her crayons. Both of them always came down to see him off and waived till they lost sight of him. Now he woke up by the alarm on his cell phone, got ready and left his home quietly so he does not disturb anyone. They slept in separate rooms for this reason or that’s what they told each other. The truth that both of them knew was that they had lost that loving feeling.

The Luftahansa counter was at the far end and he waded through the commotion to reach the comfort zone of his business class check in counter. It was another thing that  Nishant knew that the welcoming smiles were as fake as his own. Battling sleep the only thing he was looking forward to were shots of Talisker to help put him to slumber.

Just then something caught his eye.

The frilled white top and faded jeans stood out amongst the black and grey formals. Curious, he changed his posture to have a closer look. His guess was right. She was a young girl in her early twenties. Even he was not that old Nishant thought. Just 34 – and a young achiever! He smiled at himself and thought – old habits die hard. To avoid getting distracted he started to look at the billboards around on the walls of the terminal building. Most were bright and beautiful with a promise of a happy family life. Nishant resolved he would not look at the girl again.

But the more we try to get away from something, the more it charms us towards itself. Nishant found himself stealing glances overlooking how indecent it would seem if someone finds out. She was at the counter now and the clerk was issuing her boarding pass.”Chalo it is over….you go your way baby I go mine” Nishant mused as he pulled out his passport from his laptop case.

At the lounge he gulped a few drinks and sat down to read as there was still time. He loved reading. It offered a journey into another world, a world he had always longed for but had never found. A world of stories,of characters,of far off places in mountains or next to the beaches. He had picked up a book of stories by Premchand from the Airport book shop . Nishant loved Premchand from the time he was a student. To him, Premchand knew the human condition like no one else. His stories though set in rural India had emotions and relationships so well thought out that one could relate to them no matter where they came from and who they were. His characters were so real that one felt as if they had met this person sometime. If he didn’t fall asleep, he planned to finish the book by the time he reached US.

The mechanical voice of the lounge executive announced that the Flight to Frankfurt was ready for boarding. Nishant grabbed his laptop case and started walking towards the gate. It was 1:45 am already and He was looking forward to a good sleep. “Guten Abend” he said to the hostess and took the left turn towards business class seating. Dumping his belongings in the hatchet above he ensconced himself in seat 2 C and asked the stewardess for a glass of water. The whiskey had made his throat dry and to avoid jet lag he wanted to make sure was hydrated. He took out his book from the laptop case and put in the pocket in front of his seat.

Nishant took off his shoes and pulled back his seat to relax. It would take a while for the plane to be airborne so he thought of finishing the story he was reading in the lounge. As he moved forward to take out the book, he was distracted by a sweet fragrance. He looked up and could not believe his eyes.

It was her – the girl whom he had seen at the check in counter!

Nishant had a strange feeling. He didn’t know how to react or if he should react at all? He hoped his eagerness did not show up on his face. Nishant realized that the girl was not only beautiful but there was something that was pulling him to her – like a magnet. Her big brown eyes, her long straight hair, her flawless complexion somewhere on the darker side and her figure that made her absolutely desirable. Attraction is not about someone being perfect – it’s about someone being just right for you. Each of us has an idea of beauty, almost like a frame waiting for that perfect picture. Only if you are lucky you come across a face which so exquisitely matches your imagination. A whole lifetime can pass before such a miracle happens and sometimes even that is not enough. Nishant was witnessing one such miracle.

She was on seat 2 D.

Nishant requested for another glass as he gulped the one brought by the hostess. Soon the plane took off changed its course to move northwest. Nishant wanted to roll up his sleeves but he felt as if his every move was under a scanner. He remembered he had felt the same when he had fallen in love the first time. “Take out your Premchand and read. A book in Hindi won’t spoil your impression” He chided himself but his hands did not follow his brain. He closed his eyes and sat quietly. Half an hour had passed and he could no longer pretend to be asleep. He opened his eyes and found that she was reading the In-flight magazine. By her watch it was 2:30 AM. Her hair was falling over her hands tempting Nishant to touch her but he figured out that she was a bit afar. “Damn business class ! Why do they have the seats so far from each other?” he thought and pulled away instead. He tried to sleep but it won’t come. Normally, he would have been dreaming by now. But his dream was sitting next to him so how could he sleep.

To end the dilemma he pressed the button and called the hostess. “Do you have Lemon tea?” he asked.

“Yes Sir, we do have.Do you care to have one sir?”

“Yes please, and please get sugar separately” Nishant cursed himself for not remembering that they always did. This was the business class of a premier airline not the student canteen of Lucknow University.

“Lemon tea and low sugar. You are such a fraud!” his inner voice mocked him.

“OK – I do like Red Label boiled 5 times with 3 spoons of sugar because it keeps me alert. I wish to sleep now and Lemon tea will help ” Nishant argued.

A fresh thought came to his mind. One should always try and make friends with fellow passengers and how can you do that unless you start a conversation. Nishant mused and opened his eyes to look over his shoulder. She was asleep. The magazine was lying flat on her chest. Did he expect that she would be awake and looking for someone to talk to at 3:30 in the morning?” Nishant realized his stupidity but felt relieved as he won’t have to put up the show anymore. He felt at peace with himself. Finally, alcohol did the job and he drifted off to sleep.

When he woke up it was 9:30 by his watch. He never set his watch to foreign time zones, it made him feel connected to his home. He wanted to stretch but he didn’t. She was still sleeping and he did not want to wake her up. Also, this way he could look at her without getting noticed. Soon the plane would land and he would never see her again. Why didn’t he talk to her? He could have at least asked what she did or where was she going? What was her name? Who knows they could have become friends. The plane started its descent into Frankfurt. As the moment of truth approached his heart began to sink.

At about 10:00 AM the plane landed at Frankfurt airport. It was cloudy and it looked like it had rained earlier through the night. Everything was clean and fresh. The plane began to taxi.

Nishant felt as if someone was looking at him. He turned around and saw that she was eyeing him. She smiled. He smiled back.

“Can I show you something?” She said.

Nishant was out of his wits. “Ya sure” He nodded.

“What a beautiful rainbow” She said pointing out of the window.

Nishant bent a little towards her to get a clearer view. He could smell her. It was Davidoff Cool Water.

“Actually, I wanted to speak to you the whole night” she said as Nishant pulled himself back.

“I saw Premchand’s book in your seat pocket. It’s quite rare to get people who love Hindi literature in Bangalore. From my school days I really like his work. His characters are so real and his grip on human emotions is better than any other writer. A true master he is” She added.

Nishant didn’t know what to say and blurted taking the book out of the seat pocket      “You mean this book?” She nodded with a twinkle in her eyes.

“But you looked so serious and busy with yourself. I just didn’t want to disturb. In fact, if you would not have smiled back I would not have had the courage to show you the Rainbow”.

They had a few minutes to chat and she told that she was on her way to Los Angeles. She had won a scholarship to pursue a degree in management and as a special gift her father had bought her business class tickets. Nishant introduced himself and she said she would want to become like him one day.

They went together to Baggage claim area and bid good bye. Nishant turned away to catch his next flight to Chicago. He could see her going up the escalator. Her words were still echoing in his ears:

“If you had not smiled back, I would not have had the courage to show you the Rainbow.”


शाश्वत के संदर्भ में…

एक रोज़

मुझे साफ साफ याद है

शाम थी, दूर का सफर था

और मै चाय के लिये

उतर गया था एक गांव के पास

एक बूढा किसान

पास के खेत में बैठा

ना जाने शितिज के पार

क्या देख रहा  था

उसके चेहरे पर कोई

भाव नहीं था और ना थे

उसके मन मे दुख सुख

लोभ,मोह,चिंता …….

कहने को तो उसके पास

कोई काम नहीं था

पर  वो इस तरह

अनंत को ताड रहा था

जैसे ये भी कोई काम हो

मेरी चाय खत्म हो गयी

और मैं  चलने लगा

तो हमारे नज़रें मिलीं

और वो मुस्कुरा दिया

जैसे कह रहा हो कि

वो वक़्त को बिता रहा था

जैसे वो चाहता था

और वक़्त मुझ पर बीत रहा था

जैसे वक़्त की मर्ज़ी थी

कर्म मे बंधन है

क्योंकि अच्छा हो या बुरा

कर्म अहं को आग देता है

वक़्त को जीत लिया था

उस बूढे सम्राट ने

जो अब घर जा रहा था कि

कल फिर नये उत्साह, नयी उमंग से

दिन भर  कुछ भी ना करे

बस घूरता  रहे  वक्त को

अनंत काल तक….

‍‍~ आहंग

What it means to be living…

I was watching a documentary on creation of synthetic life on discovery channel and at the end of the film they put a very pertinent question : from time memorial we have believed that life is something special and mysterious but if it can be created within a lab we may have to rethink our theories on existence, life, nature and God.

Sometime back I had read a book called the Web of life in which the author had pointed out that while we think of ourselves as central to the world around us , we are in fact an accident in the nature’s scheme of things. It is the atoms within us which have decided for some unknown reason to arrange themselves in a certain manner that gives us our shape, form, color, emotions,skills and intellect. If they decide to rearrange themselves in a different way there is jolly little we can do about it except get mad or sick or even perish and become non existent giving back to the elements what we took from them.To that extent our intelligence, beauty(handsomeness), morality, emotions are all governed by the arrangement of atoms and molecules within us. As we grow older this arrangement perhaps changes in more ways than one and we become different not only by getting old by by having more wisdom from the experiences stored in our data warehouse.The quality of analytics depends upon the quality of data and the richness of data points and so is the case with our mind.

Before I digress from the original thought let us turn to the interesting bit – if what is being proposed in Paragraph1 is possible even to a small degree then what I have quoted in para 2 doesn’t entirely hold true. Which is to say that if the atoms within me start arranging themselves which causes me pain from arthritis I could seek a remedy or even a cure from the artificial life cells and atoms within them. So on one side there is an attacking army which I do not own and has decided to fight against me but on the other side I have an army of my own that can be trained and programmed to do as I please,wish or command.This is different from antibiotics which are temporarily hired mercenaries who will cause more harm than good if not ousted from the system in time. And when your heart breaks you can go to the ‘love doctor’ and he will fix up the atoms so that you become completely oblivious to the person whom you once thought be the most important in life. Alcohol is currently used for this but again it has a transitory effect and is not free from side effects.

It might seem to be like a simple story of good vs. bad or love vs. hate but it is anything but that. It is really the theory of our existence and the very meaning of it. If we can always be happy and healthy then why go to the mosques, the temples and the churches ? Who will bother about God and seek his Blessing ? Death and decay cause fear and fear gives rise to ideas of another life, another time , another place that is accessible through the idea of a supreme being who created everything and can therefore control it whether it is on the earth or in heaven. Religion and morality which occupy a large share of our consciousness and mind space will be gone as now there will be no need for a means to attain bliss or God. You can see this now if you compare the importance of religion in the developed,the developing world and the tribals who have nothing to bank upon but the Sky and earth.

When You are always happy and healthy and you have what it takes to enjoy life to the fullest. Feeling stupid get your brain scanned and go for some Brainy cells, Feeling weak go and get some Sporty cells, Got a disease get it flushed and replace the diseased cells with good ones and so on.

But one problem will still remain – if no one dies then where will all of us live. And if we stop reproducing where will the newness in our lives come from ? and even if we suppose that we will keep rotating the same people in different parts of the world for a change who will look after such a complex system of transfers ? Also what will it mean to love if You cannot start a family or live with the same person till the end of your days as there are no end of the days anymore ? In suspended time where all people are always there humans may become like mountains seas and rivers till one day someone says enough I want to die so I can give my life a meaning. And then more and more may follow so that they can laugh and cry and strive and achieve and love and hate and live and die.

The one who preaches death as a means of salvation – finding meaning will probably become Deepak Chopra in the new world and you will have a number of Nityanands cropping up to give solution to the ever living souls trying to find some meaning in continuing to live forever without death and disease.

So what am I trying to say here….nothing great really perhaps Craig Venter should put me on a panel that advises him on how to use this new technology so it makes sense for the people and profits for him.

And then the same can be passed on to the Angels who I am sure have started to feel bored sitting and smiling there in heaven for centuries now….