I’ve been in India for two weeks now, and for almost that long here in Pune, visiting the mandir (the ashram) everyday.
I’ve found I love going over at 5:30 in the morning for a walking meditation around the temple building through the gardens, singing a famous, ancient chant, called the Hanuman Chalisa. We do this in the dark. It’s a long chant, and I have a little book with the chant that I got when I was here in 2011. Since it’s dark, I started bringing one of those little reading lights so I can see what we’re chanting. It seems a little strange but it works.
5;30 is a wonderful, cool time of day, with so many birds singing and crying out. Here’s one of the gray-headed crows.
After the Chalisa, we go into the temple, for meditation, the Arati ritual–the waving of the flame before the altar–with more chanting. Afterwards, we sit down, facing the altar for the singing of bhajans, spiritual songs, meditation, and chants.
The mandir was started by two gurus, Sri Dilip Kumar Roy and Ma Indira Devi, my guru. “Ma” means mother, a name often used for female gurus by their disciples. (Guru is one “who leads you from darkness to the light.” Etymologically, though, the word comes from a Sanskrit word that means, “heavy,” like, “That dude’s heavy with wisdom!”) Sri Dilip Kumar Roy was a famous classical Indian singer and left a fabulous singing profession to become a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, an Indian freedom fighter and later a famous Indian writer and guru.
Ma India Devi came from a very wealthy family from Baluchastan, an area that is now in Pakistan. Her family were Sikhs — probably one reason I love the Sikhs so much! She was a was a classical Indian dancer and great philanthropist, but like Dadaji (Dada means “brother,” the term devotees use here for Sri Dilip Kumar Roy. — “ji” is a little affectionate ending added to someone’s name. You can add it to your partner’s or child’s name, even in English. Try it! I think of it as something like “sweetie-pie”), Ma Indira Devi similarly left her worldly life to become Dilip Kumar’s disciple. This pattern of abandoning a worldly life to become a spiritual seeker is a classic pattern in India–one also followed by the Buddha.
Ma Indira Devi and Sri Dilip Kumar Roy wrote a classic dual autobiography, Pilgrims of the Stars, which I read back in the 1970s. I was on a different yogic path at the time, but the book stayed with me. Little did I know then that Ma would turn out to be my guru.
A famous yogic aphorism says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” I wasn’t yet ready. I had to go through a few more spiritual crises, first!
The guru-disciple relationship is a special one, and it’s said that it can continue for many lifetimes. That your guru will never abandon you, but will lead you to the Infinite even if it takes you a very, very long time. Another yogic saying says, “God, guru, and self are one.” The guru is a kind of channel to the divine, a kind of empty vessel, really. Empty of ego.
Not everyone finds one particular teacher or guru to follow, but for those who do, it’s a very special and mysterious relationship. The guru principle more generally stands for anything or anyone that can act as a teacher for you. It could be nature, or a concept like love, or your partner. For the famous guru Ramana Maharshi, it was a mountain, Arunachala, sacred to Shiva.
Ma Indira Devi passed away in 1998, and I never got to see her in her body. But one of the devotees here, told me that Milarepa, the great Tibetan Buddhist teacher, once said that a guru’s (he would have said “Lama’s”) real work begins after they leave their body.
(To all my atheistic-Buddhist, atheistic-scientist, atheistic-rationalist friends, this all sounds loony. Thanks for loving me, anyway.)
The mandir today has just five resident monks and nuns, in addition to many lay people who come everyday for the meditation, chanting, and services. I wrote about some of them in my 2011 blog. But I’d like to mention them again, because I love talking about them!
The two I know best are two nuns, Manjuji and Bharatiji, sisters who were both professors, of chemistry and engineering. After they met Ma they left their professions and became nuns at the ashram. I think of Bharati as the mother superior, who always takes care of me, when Karishma (below) is not here. Manjuji in 2011 used to sit down and rub her open hand on the place beside her to invite me to sit down by her and then tell me story after miraculous story about saints and spiritual teachers of India, many of whom she had met. These days she says she is trying to not talk so much and spends most of her time in meditation. I miss those stories but know that there are many monks and nuns who take vows of silence.
Everyone has an amazing story about how they got here. Karishma and her husband Udo came 24 years ago from Germany and met Ma. The next year they came back and never left. I LOVE them. The moment I saw Udo, he seemed like someone I have known all my life. He is such a sweet, bright, kind man. Very bright. They are both very deeply spiritual, very evolved. Karishma is of Greek descent. Dark hair, full of spiritual fire. They are both in their fifties. She is very intense. She’s the one who takes care of me. He’s very joyful. As noted earlier, they are in Germany right now.
Rajkumar, whom I’d also been in touch with from the US, is a brilliant, 44-year-old cardiologist from Chennai (Madras). He cared for Ma for forty days as she was dying. He was a skeptic and atheist when he first came.
It’s cool here. No one tells anyone what to do, spiritually. Ma said that after she was gone it should be this way. She once said, “Not only do you have to walk to God alone. You have to go naked.” So, everyone lives here or meets here, but no one tells anyone what to do. Very laid-back and friendly. You come and go as you want.
I love India. It feels, I don’t know, just very real. Like a place I’ve always lived. Not like déjà vu–but more like I never even left here. Like I’ve always been here. It’s crazy and wonderful!
Thanks for reading!