I take off my shoes and resolutely put my feet into the freezing waters of the Ganga. I am sitting by the Ganga wondering about my life and its purpose. I look around me and see the ashram dotted landscape, the Ganga flowing by and feel the warmth of the early morning sun on my face. Rishikesh is the spiritual hot spot nestled in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas that has been a pilgrimage spot for Hindus for over a number of years and where saints and sages are said to have meditated for thousands of years. The Ganga, which is formed in the Himalayas by the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers, leaves the foothills and enters the plains at Rishikesh, giving the town its own special spiritual status. And, since the Beatles came here in 1968, westerners have discovered this spiritual ‘Disneyland’ too.
I first came here simply because I was curious – about the place, what it means to all the people who come here, maybe dabble with meditation, try some yoga, meet with gurus, swamis and swaminis and possibly learn a little more about the spiritual science at the core of Hinduism.
I was, at that time, wrestling with life, trying to make sense of everything that was going on around me – questions about the perfect career and failed relationship, as well as to find some serenity in my life, home and my job. Needless to say, neither were my mom nor my dad particularly thrilled about where I was, and why I was there. It frightened my mother and, I suspect, confounded my father – why would their daughter want to go and live in an ashram to understand what it meant to be a Hindu? Where better, I had retorted, than Rishikesh? It is the abode of rishis and, as its alternate spelling, Hrishikesh, refers to Lord Vishnu, as Lord of the Senses, Rishikesh seemed the perfect place to work on myself. And Rishikesh is blessed with the energies of Shiva, capturing Ganga as he did in his dreadlocks before sending her off again.
In my journey to find answers I found the perfect career, faced my brother’s sudden demise with equanimity, found Mr. Right and raised two wonderful daughters. Since then I have been back often and have grappled with life more times than I can count, always amazed by the people around me searching for meaning. Over time I began to understand the beauty of faith and also saw the hostility that accompanied it. And each time I grew to realize that every journey was always as much about me as about the people I met along the way.
Most ashrams considered it their privilege to serve the world rather than be served. And I visited some of them, stayed at others: Swarg Ashram because that is where Swami Shivananda stayed, the Shivananda Ashram, Parmarth Niketan with over a 1000 rooms, Omkaranada…the list is endless, and the activities are all in the service of human kind. I spend my days at the ashram of Vanamali Mataji at Lakshman Jhoola. It is an ocean of quietude in the spiritual market place that Rishikesh has become.
Everywhere I turned there were posters and guides offering me a quick fix to self-awareness, to yoga teacher certification courses, meditation, even dance, music and Sanskrit! So many seekers, and so many people offering solutions. Temples called out to me too: the famous Neelkanth Mahadev temple where Shiva is said to have rested after he swallowed the poison during the churning of the ocean, the Kunjapuri temple where Sati’s breasts fell when Vishnu’s sudarshan chakra cut her body parts and sent them into all parts of the land, to free the grief-stricken Shiva, who had wandered for centuries carrying her corpse, the Sri Gangadhareshwarar Temple at the Swami Dayananda Saraswati Ashram where the presiding deity is Lord Shiva in the form of ‘Gangadhareshwara,’ and the Ganga, which flows past the temple, is known here as Hymavathy (the daughter of Himavan) .
This time I walked past some and entered others, marveling at how myth, fables and history mingle in the delightful Rishikesh air making these groupings almost irrelevant. I remember Mohanji telling me that every individual has to go through his own web and that it’s the process of dis-identification that is important. Yes, I had changed… a slow, gradual change and my focus had shifted from outer to a more internal one.
It’s almost dusk when I shake myself out of my reverie and make my way to the ghats where everyone (ashrams, temples and tourists) performs the daily ceremony to the river, the Ganga Aarti, and loud cries of Har Har Mahadev rent the air. As I sit on the stairs of Shatrughan Ghat, I watch a woman light a lamp and, with devotion, float the leaf basket of flowers down the river. Her husband bowed to the river and sprinkled water on his young daughter and her mother. I float my little lamp and flowers, too, saying a silent prayer.
I walked back to my room in the ashram, I found myself thinking about why I came back here, why so many people come here. And, then I remember Mohanji telling me that when I find myself, then I begin to live with a purpose. It is only when we're connected with who we are, when we're anchored, he says, only then can we live our purpose. It is all about being firmly rooted in beingness.
“When all desires that surge in the heart are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.
When all the knots that strangle the heart are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal.”
A Retreat with Brahmarishi Mohanji in the Foothills of the Himalayas
8 - 17. December 2017.
It is this beautiful heaven of Rishikesh that is the setting for Mohanji’s retreat this December. This 10-day residential program is experiential, and offers daily yoga sessions, talks, breathing and relaxation practicums, guided meditation practices with enough personal time for self-study and walks along the Ganges. There are also visits to the ancient Kunjapuri temple, meditations at the Vashisht gufa(cave), peppered with homas, talks and the evening aarti on the banks of the Ganges.
This in-depth retreat is focused on the dynamics of mind, mechanics of body and the mystery of karma. Recognizing that every seeker aspires to learn, explore and evolve so as to ultimately realise the real purpose of his/her life, this retreat aims to both quench this thirst as well as kindle the aspiration to seek, under the constant guidance of a gracious master. Every talk session encourages an audacious exploration of the inner world, leading the seeker to delve within and intensify his practices.
All of Mohanji’s talk sessions are an integral part of every retreat and are always thought-provoking, insightful and hard-hitting. These are interspersed by intensive meditation and kriya sessions that peel away the veil of ignorance that lurks over the mind. All these powerful methods lead every seeker towards an inner serenity. In between these intense sessions is time for quiet contemplation – encouraging the seeker to enter the state of silence that is necessary to quieten the mind. It requires keen observance to meet the turbulence of the mind and its constant chatter. This retreat is open to every seeker who wants to explore, understand and experience the inner tranquil world with a master who has been conducting retreats round the year, all over the world.
Author: Rajeshwari Prakash