In a little over a week, I’ll be flying to India on my first visit to a place I’ve longed to journey to my whole life. After six months of planning and excitement, I’m starting to feel a little nervous about leaving. From May 10 to June 11, I’ll be on a spiritual pilgrimage, working on my poetry and a spiritual memoir.
A year or so ago, a spiritual teacher visited the Cache Valley Buddhist Sangha, where I practice meditation, http://sites.google.com/site/cachevalleysangha/, and told us his life story. When I got home, I told my wife Jennifer about his story. The next morning, she said, “Why don’t you go to India?” I said, “Okay, I will!”
She will take our two boys, Aidan and Kellen, to Texas to stay with her parents, Morris and Cynde, while I’m gone. I feel immensely blessed, though it will be hard to be away from my family so long.
I’ll fly into Mumbai,
where I’ll stay for three days. There, I’ll see a woman named Shakun, a writer and disciple of my spiritual teacher, Ma Indira Devi (now deceased). I’ll visit Shakun one day, hire a driver to show me the city for one day, and try to adjust to the shock everyone says one experiences upon arriving — the chaos of the big city, the poverty, the begging children, the sights and sounds.
I’ll then travel to Pune, where I’ll stay in one of the flats of another devotee of Ma Indira Devi–Karishma. Over the last year, Karishma and I have become good friends over email. She is helping me in innumerable ways. I’ll spend ten days in Pune, visiting Indira Devi’s ashram every day.
After ten days in Pune, I’ll travel across the continent to Chennai (formerly Madras) and then to Puducherry (formerly, Pondicherry), to stay at the ashram of Sri Aurobindo. Aurobindo was an early revolutionary leader in the India Independence movement in the early twentieth century and after he became a spiritual teacher, was the teacher of Indira Devi’s teacher, Sri Dilip Kumar Roy. I recently read Andrew Harvey’s book about his former teacher, Mother Meera, Hidden Journey: A Spiritual Awakening, whose first, magical, chapters take place in the Aurobindo Ashram, so I’m excited to be staying there. The ashram has guest houses on the beach.
After five days at the Aurobindo ashram, I’ll make a relatively short journey to Tiruvannamalai,
where I’ll stay at the ashram of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
This is a temple town, and one of the main pilgrimage sites in India. Above it, looms the mountain, Aurunachala,
where the Indian god Shiva was supposed to have first appeared on earth as a column of fire. Ramana Maharshi spent three decades meditating in a cave on the mountain, where he attained englightenment. Supposedly, if you climb the mountain or circumnavigate it, you, too, will be assured of attaining liberation in this lifetime. You can visit Ramana Maharshi’s cave and meditate inside it. Though in May it will be unbearably hot, I’ll try to climb the mountain while I’m there.
After my visit to Ramana Maharshi’s ashram, I’ll be going farther south to visit a Christian/Hindu monastery/ashram, Shantivanam, started by the Benedictine monk, Bede Grffiths, and now overseen by Brother Martin. I’m very excited to visit this ashram as my memoir will be exploring what I feel is the common core of spiritual experience underlying the mystical paths of Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
After my visit to Shantivanam, I’ll return to Pune, to say “farewell” to my friends and then take a ride north to the Ajanta and Ellora caves. These two sets of caves are both located in great, wide walls of cliffs. In one of them, twenty six caves were turned into monasteries and temples, many dating from the second century BC. Some of the greatest Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain art, sculpture and architecture are found in these caves.
Thanks for reading. More to come.
My website: www.michaelsowder.org
Love and Namaste, Michael