Rishikesh Experiences (Hrishikesh)
Article by Craig Hamilton-Parker. Apart from the spider as big as my hand that crawled from under my bed, Rishikesh is a comparatively safe place. This is a holy city stuffed with saffron clad holymen and sadhus. Many are just beggars dressed up, looking for an easy living but others are doing genuine sadhana (spiritual work) such as our local resident sadhu who lived in the woodlands to the side of our ashram and blew his conch every morning at five.
Rishikesh is the first big town on the Ganges so here the water is clean and safe to bath in – which was one of our first acts. It is believed that bathing in the Ganges washes away your sins so Steve grabbed me from my paddling and doing his John the Baptist made sure I was completely submersed.
The Ganges (Ganga) is an incredibly beautiful river and from our ashram, which was right on the bank, we could watch the colours change throughout the day. At dawn and in the morning when we did our yoga from the veranda, it foams white and we could just hear the surge of river in the distance as it tumbles down cold from the Himalayas. The sound is gradually lost as India wakes up. As the day progresses the river changes to a pastel blue/green reminding me of the coral seas I seen in Thailand and by the late evening the river turns indigo blue.
Throughout our trip there was always the feeling of the sacred river in the background like a holy thread that wove its way through our lives. Close to the river and sometimes on its sandy banks we would do our yoga.
At night on the opposite bank of the river would be lit by the occasional floating light and would echo to the rhythms of the bhajans and mantras coming from the ghats. The most interesting of these is the Triveni Ghat with it’s giant archway depicting the chariot of Krishna and its giant white statue of Shiva in the river. Some evenings we joined the hundreds of pilgrims who attend the Ganga Arti. At this Ghat the air is electric with chanting from the orange clad devotees and filled with the smell on incense. We joined the ceremonies and released into the river flower-filled leaf boats carrying tiny candle lamps. This is a ceremony of worship, remembrance and hope. My candle went out – the next day I called Jane in England and was given the bad news that my stepson’s wife had lost her baby.
Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887 – 1963)
Just up the hill from our ashram is the ashram of Swami Sivananda Saraswati. His teachings drew upon all the formal doctrines of yoga. Sivananda was a medical doctor before renouncing worldly life for the spiritual path. During his lifetime he authored of over three hundred books on yoga, based not on theory but his own personal experience. I would highly recommend them; they are thorough, accurate and extremely well written. Sivananda’s main philosophical message was: “Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize. Be Good, Do good; Be kind, Be compassionate. Enquire ‘Who am I?’ Know the Self and be Free.” On the walls of the temple this message was summarised to “Be Good. Do Good.”
Sivananda Saraswati does not ask you to give up your home, wealth and job, and to escape into a cave or jungle. Instead he assures us that it is possible to attain divinity while living in our present surroundings and discharging all our worldly duties. He assures us that the yogi who keeps up meditation while performing actions is a powerful yogi indeed.
Speaking about the researches of Sir Oliver Lodge Sivananda Saraswati he wrote “To the student of Eastern philosophy, bred and brought up in the sacred scriptures ofIndia, the existence of a soul and its transmigrations are only the beginning of his philosophy. To the West it has come to be almost the end of their researches till now…. Modern spiritualism has given wonderful demonstrations regarding the existence of disembodied spirits who continue to live even after the dissolution of their gross physical bodies. This has opened the eyes of the rank-materialists of the West and the atheists.”
He does however also warn of the apparent dangers of mediumship because he says our focus is on the Spirit world and not, as it should be, on the quest to find divine awareness. “No one should allow himself to become a medium,” writes Sivananda Saraswati. “The mediums have lost the power of self-control. Their vital energy, life-force and intellectual powers are used by the spirits which control them. The mediums do not gain any higher divine knowledge.”
He has a point and I too feel that many mediums forget that the goal in life is not the spirit world but awareness of our oneness with God. Perhaps Sivananda Saraswati never met mediums with spiritual aspirations?
We visited the shrine in his ashram where mantras are still being chanted twenty four hours a day for the last fifty odd years. The monks take it in shifts. We had done a twenty four hour shift at the Yoga Centre inSouthamptonand this took quite an effort. When theIndiayogis say they’re going to do something, boy, do they deliver!
In the temple itself I became immersed in watching the auras of the monks and people worshiping. I have been able to see the aura all of my life and I still find it hard to understand why everyone cannot see it for to me it is self evident. Most people in the temple had normal auras but my eye was drawn to one monk who was immersed in meditation. Around his crown chakra, at the top of his head, I could see a red circle of light slowly turning. I had the felt he was visualising the dance of Shiva and was practicing an energy moving Kriya of some kind.
Unfortunately circumstances did not allow me to talk to the monk and find out but during our stay we were able to meet two interesting people. One was the sitar player Hari Khrishna Sha who played for us during the night in our dining area on the banks of the Ganges. He explained how to listen to the ragas and how the musical scale of Indian music corresponds to the sounds of the chakras. (Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni.) As we listened to his exquisite music we allowed the music to literally dance up and down our spine.
MORE: MY INTERVIEW WITH MATAJI VANAMANI
Of interest to Spiritualists would be our meeting with Mataji Vanamali who Steve described as a living saint. We visited her at her home/ashram (Vanamali Gita Yogashram) next door to the leper colony that she helps to maintain. A number of miracles have happened around her including sacred vibhuti ash appearing on her locket of Shirdi Baba, her Ganesh statue drank milk and there’s the story of the apport of a statue of Shiva that materialised when her brother Vanamali Gita Yogashram put his hands into the waters of the Ganges.
I would probably not describe Mataji Vanamali as a ‘living saint’ but she was certainly a lovely lady with a tremendous insight into Indian philosophy. I believe she has memorised all of the Bhagavad-Gita and she certainly had a tremendous grasp of the English language – who uses words like ‘effulgence’ in everyday language?
Mataji Vanamali gave us an interesting talk about the Bhagavad-Gita and spoke of similar things to Sivananda who I mentioned earlier – saying how we need not need to be a mendicant and seek seclusion in the caves and forests but that we can attain the divine as a householder.
When the time came for questions I was keen to ask her what the Indian take was about the afterlife. She appeared intrigued when I explained I was a Spiritualist medium and I asked “In our work we endeavour to prove that the personality survives death. I know that Hindus believe in reincarnation but I have also read about, for example, Brahmaloka,” I said. And thinking about my earlier experience in thetempleofMaharaj-ji(Neem Karoli Baba), asked: “And can some of the holy men and women continue to help us after their death?” (Brahmaloka is defined in the Encyclopedia Britannica as “that part of the many-layered universe that is the realm of pious celestial spirits.)
Mataji Vanamali replied that Brahmaloka is just one aspect of the after death state. There are seven planes above the earthly plane and seven more below. But none are as important as the earthly plane itself for it in only in this world that we attain liberation. Life on earth is a divine opportunity. And yes, many of the gurus and masters opt to remain in the astral worlds and are able to communicate with and help their devotees on earth.
I have abridged her reply but nonetheless it was clear and succinct. A good answer I felt that corresponded very closely to my own conclusions that I have written about in my book “What to do when you are dead”.
Maharishi’s Abandoned Ashram
Just about everyone in India can be bribed. Places that a bus driver claims are impossible to get to suddenly become easy access when you flash a few rupees. And when we were told by an ‘official’ that he could not let us into the abandoned ashram of the Beatles guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, it’s amazing how the padlock disappeared as soon as we ‘Rupeed’ him up a little. (In fact we believe the guy was a complete impostor who had just bought himself a padlock and a ‘uniform’ to make a little cash from gullible western yogis. But you don’t mind being ripped off a bit – these guys like most people inIndia, are scrapping together a living.)
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had of course brought the world transcendental meditation which gives each adept a personal secret mantra (for a price) that they can chant to gain enlightenment. Problems occurred when the followers shared their secret with one another for they soon discovered that far from being their own personalised chant, most of the mantras were the same for everyone. As you may gather I’ve never been impressed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s methods but you do have to give him credit for encouraging over five million people to meditate including many celebrities and pop stars. The most famous of these were the Beatles who at this ashram wrote the music to the ‘White Album’.
The abandoned ashram was fascinating. It is gradually being overtaken by the jungle and is now the home of monkeys, cows and other animals. Its most interesting features are the hundreds of meditation pods that are dotted over the hillside that overlooks the Ganges. Exploring these, we discovered that each one is a self-contained unit where a person could meditate, sleep and cook their food. It is easy to see why the Beatles liked this place- it must have been a comparatively comfortable and pleasant retreat from Beatlemania.
The main buildings were in serious decay and had clearly been looted for anything of value. It felt a shame that such an amazing place had been abandoned but to lift the spirits of the place we decided to have a bhajan session and in a hall that once sat thousands now echoed our lonely fifteen voices.
The Shiva Caves
The Shiva caves just north of Rishikesh have been a place of worship for over 7,000 years. Disappointingly they had none of the grandeur of the echoing MarabarCavesdescribed in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India but nonetheless they had a haunting quality that was one of my most memorable spiritual experiences of India. It was just a simple cave with a small temple area at the entrance where a sadhu was chanting the Bhagavad-Gita which we could still hear reverberating through the cave as we sat in meditation.
This was a place charged with enormous spiritual energy. We sat in meditation and I tried to tune into the surroundings by extending my psychometry skills to envelop the whole cave. I was sat in the same spot that yogis in the past may have spent nearly a whole lifetime sealed away in meditation. I felt a spiritual presence that extended beyond space and time. I felt that these dedicated holy men had penetrated the mysteries of existence. I perceived that they were not only aware the spirit world but had developed a telepathy that enabled them to communicate with their devotees in a similar way that spirit guides communicate with mediums. What extraordinary states of consciousness had these yogis discovered in this dark solitude? What powers of telepathy, remote viewing, bi-location and spiritual awareness had flowered in these pitch black caves? There was a light still shinning in this darkness.
I had an eerie feeling that I was in touch with the residual energy of people who had remotely guided the course of human history. Here I felt something that I have sometimes experienced in my mediumship: guidance not just from the dead but from living people who in seclusion help spiritual aspirants to higher awareness. When the mediumistic Theosophist, Madame Blavatsky spoke of a White Brotherhood of Ascendant Masters who guide the course of human history I believe she was touching this world of special guides that work both within this world and the next. It could have been fantasy on both our parts of course for I had no way of verifying my experiences but this is what my intuition was telling me…. and as a medium I trust my intuition.
From the Shiva caves we picked our barefooted way across the rocks to another small cave in the cliff face. It was not easily accessible, had no temple entrance, was curtained by trees and had a spectacular view of the foaming white waters of the Ganges. There were no sahus chanting here, just the occasional monkey squawking in the trees and a few lonely birds hovering nearby. It was here that it is claimed Sri Isha lived for some time. Sri Isha is the name that legend says was taken by Jesus when he lived and studied in India. These stories were also channelled in the Spiritualist/ Theosophical book The Aquarian Gospels of Jesus Christ by Levi H. Dowling. According to Dowling, Jesus spent a lot of time in India where he learned from the yogi masters. Claims about Jesus’ life in India, Nepal and Tibet were also made in 1894 by Nicolas Notovitch in the book called The Unknown Life of Christ and more recently in Jesus Lived in India: His Unknown Life Before and After the Crucifixion by Holger Kersten.
In the last century, Swami Rama Tirtha and Swami (Papa) Ramdas of Kananghad lived in this same cave and at separate times, and had visions of Isha meditating with them. Neither of these holy men had any prior knowledge that this was the place where Jesus had once resided. As we sat in silence each of us contemplated the embers of the energies that permeate this extraordinary place of solitude.
Later we floated past the caves on the same stretch of the Ganges by white water rafting – which incidentally is a lot safer than driving inIndia. After a white knuckle ride on a rudimentary safety-equipment-free dinghy we emerged – shaken – into a quiet stretch of water. Here we could see long haired yogis, their faces powdered with ash, meditating beneath the trees of the jungle. High up on a road overhead they would leave their begging bowls relying on the good will of the community to support their austere spiritual efforts. Here God was cultivating the saints, Buddhas and avatars of the future. Clearly this tradition of seclusion, which we had felt at the caves, continues to this day on the banks of theGanges. How many places on earth have unbroken spiritual traditions like these that have perhaps been practiced here continuously for 7,000 years or more? Chinese and Tibetan cultures have been vandalised, the American Indians and Aborigines have been driven from their homelands, Israel is in a state of perpetual war, Africa and South America have been decimated, Ancient Greece, Rome, Persia and Egypt are no more … India remains the spiritual mother of the world, for few cultures can still offer and encourage these opportunities for solitude and inner exploration.
Trekking in the Mountains
We had dived into the caves, now it was time to ascend to the foothills of the Himalayas. From Rishikesh we hired a bus to take us to a temple in the mountains. Rising at two thirty we drove for an hour or so and were able to ascend the steps up the mountain side well before dawn. Here in the courtyard of a lonely temple high up in the mountains we did our yoga and chanted our mantras as the sun rose. It gave a whole new meaning to the sun salutation series of yoga asanas that we concluded as the sun fingered its way through the distant white peaks of the Himalayas. The colours and view were breathtaking. The temple bell tolled with the dawn and echoed through the purple mountains, majestic against the fiery orange sky. It was so beautiful that it brought a lump to my throat.
From here, with the help of an Indian guide, we walked down the mountain and through the forests back to a bus stop that would take us back to Rishikesh. We swam in pools beneath high waterfalls, trundled along viaducts and irrigation canals, sheltered beneath a bodi tree and scrambled down dangerous tracks. Far below us twinkled the Gangessnaking its way through Rishikesh. This would be a place that I would be very sad to leave.