Psychic Medium experiences of Varanasi and Delhi
Article by Craig Hamilton-Parker. From Rishikesh we took the perilous road journey back to Delhi and had just enough time to visit a few important spiritual sites before we caught the plane to Varanasi. Here was stayed at the spotlessly clean and friendly Sri Aurobindo ashram and it is worth pausing a while to explain a few of this gurus ideas and particularly those that may be of interest to Spiritualists.
Sri Aurobindo was an Indian nationalist, scholar, poet, mystic, philosopher, yogi and guru. He taught a unique system of “integral yoga” and worked for the freedom of India and to bring to earth what he referred to as the Super-mind. His integral yoga teachings included Psychicisation which is one of the most essential stages of the spiritual processes. In The Life Divine he talks of a spiritual movement inward, so that one realises the psychic being or Divine Soul. Once this is discovered the outer personality is spontaneously transformed. He believed in the cosmic evolution of the spirit – a concept that is some ways is similar to the Spiritualist principle of ‘the continuous progress of every human soul’.
Sri Aurobindo also spoke of the five koshas or subtle bodies that we gradually shed after death. He claimed that we die step-by-step from each kosha, shedding one at a time and that mediumistic communication takes place through the more earth-like Koshas of the astral body. I note very similar teachings here to the messages from the spirit of Silver Birch who explained how he had to use the astral shell of a dead American Indian and slowed his vibrations in order to communicate our world. Silver Birch was not an Indian, he was a being of light who had transcended earthly identity but used this discarded kosha to communicate through the trance mediumship of Maurice Barbanell.
Our stay in Delhi gave us a chance to visit the Akshardham temples created by HDH Pramukh Swami Maharaj in fulfilment to the wish of his guru, Brahmaswarup Yogiji Maharaj, the fourth successor in the spiritual hierarchy of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. This place is a huge modern building complex built to traditional styles and incorporating traditional skills of Hindu carving. It is an astonishing group of buildings, ornamental walls, lakes, pools and statues. The panorama stretches as far as the eye can see. It must have cost millions and millions of pounds to build. After visiting one breath taking room after another and gasping at the incredible gold statues, intricately carved ceilings and beautiful paintings and sculpture we finished the day watching their finale: a laser lit fountain display
This was certainly impressive eye-candy but I am afraid left me somewhat cold. To me it was reminiscent of a theme park but as I know very little about the lineage of the gurus who established it or their teachings I do not feel I can judge its significance. Certainly the few volunteers we encountered were very cheerful and loving people and this to me is the mark of a valid organisation.
“This can either be a visit to a dead man’s grave, or a visit to an idea,” said Steve as we took off our sandals and approached Gandhi’s Samadhi (memorial) to the Father of the Nation. Here a flame perpetually burns to mark the love and gratitude of the world for this man’s example. There was a reverent air to this place and a poignant reminder of Gandhi’s teachings of non-violent resistance was embodied in a person sat on the grass spinning cloth in the traditional way.
There was just enough time before we caught our plane to Varanasi to visit the nearby Gandhi museum where we saw his bed which, when I touched to seep in the psychometry, felt contained the vibrations of a man who set no limit to the suffering he was prepared to undertake in order to fulfil his purpose. When I let go, I felt an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. What a single pointed will this man had had.
Varanasi (Benares) is chaotic. Its labyrinth of narrow lanes and alleys are stuffed full with cows, goats, bikes, carts, people and gold clad corpses being carried on stretchers past fly covered food counters. Apart from the occasional belching moped that forced its way through the jammed passageways the scene we walked through to our lodgings at Sinhia Ghat had not changed for thousands of years. Mark Twain described it perfectly when he said: “”Benares Is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
As my sandals hit another patch of lung-numbing effluent I observed that if I fancied getting really, really sick then this place had everything you could hope for. The last time Steve and Debbie had stayed in Varanasi they were flat out in bed for two weeks.
But of course once you see beyond the litter, dangerously built buildings, wall to wall cow pats and grime,Varanasi reveals another extraordinary world. This is the world of Benares, the holy city that is to the Hindus why Jerusalem is to Christians. Varanasi is the city of Lord Shiva, the capital of spiritual knowledge, the city of light.
The beauty of Varanasi revealed itself at dawn as we practised our yoga on the flat roof of the guest house. The early morning light revealed the opposite bank of the Ganges illuminating in soft tones of purple and orange the flood planes and distant outline of trees. Closer to us we could see, as we stretched into our postures, sunken temples in the mud and the last whiff of wood fuelled cremations. To our left the cows were being milked while all around ash faced sadhus and beggars emerged from their slumbers.
As we moved into the somewhat vulnerable full reclining hero pose, a group of monkeys scrambled towards us over the roof tops and washing lines. Three big ones jumped up onto the veranda railings and looked down at me laid flat on the floor with my ankles by my waist and my crouch pointing at them in the come-and-hurt-me position. Fortunately they scrutinized us for a while, decided we had no food, looked at us with perplexed disdain and eventually left us alone.
By day you can sit by the waterside on the ghats in India will come to you. It unfolds in a surreal pageant of orange clad holy men, children selling postcards and chai, women carrying enormous loads on their head. I watched a man push bike laden with fifteen Calor gas bottles, street masseurs and hairdressers touting for business, others were sleeping on the floor, urinating on the pavement or bathing in the soup of the Ganges. But it is at night that this place is most fascinating for transforms into and an unfamiliar and eerie world soaked in death.
Ananda Mayee Ma
As the sun set, we boarded a rowing boat to take our group up river to the temple dedicated to the woman guru Ananda Mayee Ma (1896-1981). The life of this woman saint is a fascinating story. As a young girl she displayed an extraordinary spiritual awareness. Her parents made her marry at 13 but her husband Ramani Mohan Cakravarti or Bholanath as he was known was soon to realise that this was not to be a traditional marriage. Whenever her husband tried to touch her in an intimate way he would either be thrown to the ground by electric shocks or Ananda Mayee Ma’s body would fall into a corpse like state. Initially fearing what was happening, Bholanath took his wife to an exorcist but was told that she was not mad in the conventional sense. The healers advised him that she had a kind of ecstatic god intoxication – a divine madness for which there was no cure. (Eventually Bholanath became a devotee of his wife)
She was known for her siddhis or yogic psychic powers. Before devotees could voice a question she would read their thoughts and give an answer before they spoke. Her telepathic powers were very advanced and she could also intuit devotees’ thoughts and feelings from a great distance. She could make her body shrink and expand in size, cure the sick and brought one devotee back from the dead after a car accident. The devotee claimed that the saint grasped her “life substance” and brought it back into her dead body. Ananda Mayee Ma was also guided by inner voices that advised her about what actions to take, her body would spontaneously contort into advanced yoga positions without her ever having had any formal training and at festivals she was known to materialise religious objects and produce spontaneous fires.
Despite her miraculous powers, Ananda Mayee Ma remained a deeply humble and pious woman. To Sri Ma, everyone was father and everyone was mother for she always considered herself to be a little girl, a child of God.
By the time we docked at the ghat at this, the bad end of town; it was night. The temple/ashram was hidden in a network of dark, somewhat sinister lanes full of ‘turbaned ruffians’ (to quote Vivian Stanshaw). After some searching we eventually found the temple door tucked away in an obscure alleyway. Here, in honour of the guru, we joined in with the Aarti, chanted some of the saints favourite mantras and sat in meditation to absorb the darshan of this sacred place.
The boat was waiting for us to take us back down river to our guest house. The moon lit surface of indigo waters of the Ganges is now a mass of floating candles that drifted past us like the spirits of the dead on their way to heaven. To our left I counted fifteen funeral pyres flickering against the backdrop of a carved temple stained jet black with smoke and looking as if had been lifted from a scene of Dante’s Inferno. Illuminated in the orange light of the fires we could see people tending the gold shrouded dead and heard the solemn chant of requiem mantras with the occasional crashing of bells and cymbals. Large and small wooden boats creaked past us, some being rowed, some motor driven and other being pushed by boating poles with young children swimming alongside in the filthy waters.
We gently chanted Shiva mantras as one of our group solemnly beat his tabla in rhythm to the oarsman. Here by the burning Ghats of Varanasi there was certainly the feeling of being at a place where the world of the living met the world of the dead. As we passed again through another group of floating lights and the mantras echoed from the buildings, I commented that I felt like a soul on its journey across the river of Styx to Hades, the land of the dead. For a time I silently contemplated my own mortality and also the story my father had told me about how his grandfather, a fisherman, had spoken on his deathbed: “The boat’s drifting port side Don. There’s fog on the water and I have to go now….” And with these words my Great Granddad Daniel died.
I searched my money belt to pay my share to the boatman.
I can understand why many westerners find it hard to accept the gods, idols and strange ways of Hinduism. The very idea of chanting before a graven image reeks of heresy but scratch a little deeper and you soon discover that Hinduism is not so worried about outer form but urges us to seek the God that lies beyond the form.
Hinduism is generally regarded as the world’s oldest organized religion and believes in one God called Brahman which is the unchanging reality of all things in this universe. God to the Hindus is not remote but can be discovered by looking within. Some may know God as omnipresent and impersonal, the infinite light of existence that is the true nature of the Self, whereas others need to experience God on an intimate human level. Yogananda tell us that God is both personal and impersonal and explains that Jesus was a personal manifestation of God. When Jesus said “I and my Father are one” and “These things that I do, you can do also” He was revealing to us that we are all made in this image of Divinity.
Hinduism believes in One God, but asserts that the One God can appear to humans in multiple names and forms. For the Hindu chanting the name of or worshiping the forms of God is a valid way to experience contact with the divine. They may chant the names of Shiva,Krishna, Ram and the many thousands of names of God but would equally feel at home chanting the name Jesus or Buddha as all holy personages are valued by this faith. Where they differ from other religions is that they do not consider their path to be the only way to God.
For westerners who dislike the ‘idolatry’ of Hinduism, the simple clarity of Buddhism has more appeal. In India Buddhism all but disappeared because it was easily assimilated back into Hinduism. For many Hindus, Buddha is a valid teacher and some recognises him as an incarnation of the god Vishnu but there are many differences as well as similarities between the two faiths. As a Spiritualist the most important differences to me is their attitude to the immortal spirit. Buddhism does not believe in the existence of souls and the continuation of the identity after death. It also does not believe in a creator God. Hinduism believes in the existence of Atman – the individual soul, the Jiva – the embodied soul which as I understand equates to our concept of spirit, and Brahman – the Supreme Creator. When Buddha was asked whether there was life after death he remained silent perhaps indicating that this could not be answered because it was beyond the listeners comprehension or as Carl Jung noted he may not have known the answer!
It is a comparatively short journey from Varanasi to one of the most important holy sites of Buddhism: the ‘Deer Park’ where the newly enlightened Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon about the basic principles of Buddhism. This is a site comparable to the Mount of Beatitudes in Israel where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
The Deer Parkat Sarnath is surrounded by many temples build by Buddhists from around the world. We enjoyed visiting the Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese temples as well as the main temple at the centre of the complex that housed beautiful frescoes that illustrated the Buddha’s life and his temptations beneath the Bodi Tree. And dominating the skyline is the hundred-foot-high Dhamakh Stupa from the 5th Century, built in brick in the shape of an upturned begging bowl to mark the exact spot where Buddha had preached. In the grounds an open air temple and ceremonial bell had been built around a tree grown from a cutting of a cutting of a cutting of the original Bodi tree. I picked up a fallen leaf from the ground to add to my collection of precious things. Beneath the tree were carved the words of the Deer Park sermon which first explained the Four Noble Truths about the cause and cessation of suffering and the Eight Fold path of Right Views, Right Aspirations, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Mode of Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Rapture.