Posts tagged sadhu

Goodbye India

Sadhu at Gaumukh, Source of the Ganges

Sadhu at Gaumukh, Source of the Ganges

I’ve had India on my mind recently and dug out this piece of writing, written on an Air Egypt flight as we began our ascent, leaving Delhi far behind in the distance……

Goodbye India
26th August 2011

Goodbye India you cosmic illusionist, you loveable rogue, you raging metaphysical conundrum, you noxious gas and crippling poverty, you glutton, you fiend, you epic lover and timeless dreamer, you warm smiling believer.
You open to all comers, you wanton destroyer of hope, you countless idols cloaked in smoke, you desperate coin collector, you flower neglecter, you pile of burning plastic, you trip the light fantastic, you ever smoking gun, you bootless army of fun, you astronaut, you nuclear force, you lit funeral pyre, you heartless wanderer, you chai sipping trader, you spice baron philanderer, you playing the bamboo flute, you wind that passes between new leaves, you flaying the hay, you knee deep in rice, you who worship statues of cracked clay, you who knows not to think twice.

You river of tears, you quenched dry mouth resonating each year, you electric monsoon, you mountain caressed by light of full moon, you fork of twisted lightning, you dry starving masses, you burgeoning middle classes, you Technicolor Maya, you mango tree admirer.

You white horse wedding, you street sweeping Bedouin, you lucky boy child, you bejewelled blushing bride, you Goddess carried high, you feast ‘til morning light, you hopeless fool, you infinite bard, you wonderful emptiness, you sit motionless in deep bliss, you frenzied urban sprawl, you devout morning call.

You holy cow, you seat of all knowledge, you poetry in life, you path to all wisdom, you Mother, you Brother, you heartless lover, you bathing in a stream, you touch all spaces in-between, you the building blocks of greatest civilization, you the peak of mans endeavour, you the base of all oppression, you the seed of the great pollination, you the sweeping cosmic vibration.

You jagged granite giants, you ragged yet compliant, you Orange clad and defiant, you marauding Elephant army, you archer in the night, you God of war, of fire, of love, of wealth, wisdom, peace, of Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Shiva…belief.

You packs of Brahmin liars, you blissful mendicant inspired, you wandering sage, you yatra to the heavens, you not of living self, you path to destruction, you cry of newborn child, you doting Mother mild, you open galaxy, you closed book, you at the feet of your master, you who reciting ancient truth, you lost in the forest, reckless and aloof, you not to be understood, you with history drenched in blood.

You reclining lord in bloom, you of vast barren plain, you verdant deep forest, you of old blue tongue, you of forgotten traditions, you of highest ambitions, you tales of old, you colour, you light, you exotic princess reciting incantations to full moons from towers above souks in pale moonlight, you noble prince with sword in hand taming dragons with the flick of mighty hand, you dead in a rotting puddle, you limitless, you of family feud, you of drama, you of moods.

You wanting to be free, you craving for sanctity, you hangman of self, you executioner of suffrage, you monster of man, you demon harbouring lost souls, you hashish delusion, you opium filled lung, you vivid junky exhaling, you living in a cave, you marauder of faiths, you dinosaur, you sloth, you sweet heavenly offering, you street-side proffering, you steam rising from masala, you sumptuous maharajah, you lover on screen, you dancing banyan tree.

You stillness in life, you ever tooting trike, you flashing spinning top, you pilgrim with bells in hand, you prostrate on holy land, you everything touched with love, you temple on a hill, you pristine white dove, you thin desert sand, you the heart of the world, you the future of human-kind, you holding all the aces, you billion smiling faces, you nepotistic clown, you battle weary crown, you embracer of lost cause, you undying, ever glowing, candle in the storm, you lifting us all higher, you confused when rambling forth, you black crystal pond, you resting, gentle, perfect lotus, you India are the mighty force, you India will be the one, you India alone, know the tune to our song.

Buddha in the Himalayas, Langzha, Spiti Valley

Buddha in the Himalayas, Langzha, Spiti Valley

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The Rainbow People, Kumbh Mela (Part Three), 13th April 2010, Haridwar, India

Sunset from the Rainbow Camp

(Cont.)…  We met many kind Sadhus that night and they regularly usher us into their mobile ashrams, these camps for the pilgrims and chelas (devotees).  A place of shelter both spiritual and phsyical, where all eating and smoking needs (if you’re lucky, or western) are catered for by gangs of holy men and other volunteers.  These ashrams all represent different divisions of the same thing, Hinduism, with its seemingly infinite sect, sub-sects, gurus and Gods.

There is a method here, of the kind that I am not privy to.  Food appears on cue, camps are kept clean, caste rituals practised, everybody sits in the right place, we all sing in the seething mass of 16 million people.  It should be ultimate chaos. Admittedly, sometimes it is.

The Pandas (a branch of Sadhu) keep check of family histories, updated for a small fee each year.  Many poorer Indians can trace their families back generations by visiting their specific Panda, but seemingly only once every twelve years. Groups of devotees sit before their Sadhu or Panda, some seeking a ruling on land disputes, others up-dating the records with deaths, births and marriages. Many people have travelled, some walking, from all corners of India.  That’s a long, old road.

Gangs of pilgrims encircle us at every corner and close in for the kill; like entranced zombies, inquisitive and in my fragile, bewildered state of mind, a little too close for comfort. They stare blankly and find Iain (6″4″ dreaded red hair, Chester bloke) a fascinating puzzle.  Most believe him to be an albino holy man and some touched his feet, one man lay prostrate in the street, chanting in Sanskrit.  Iain handled all of this with charm and patience, but it was regularly intense.

I learn of many fascinating myths and legends of the past Kumbh Melas. Some have stayed with me: a Himalayan Baba who kept a vegetarian lion which could chant ‘Aum’ on request, an Elephant stampede that killed many and sword battles and assassinations between rival sects of Sadhus.  Rumours of a holy man living in a tree just down river, he leaps from branch to branch like a monkey and hynotises all comers with his gaze alone. He is, predictably, married to an Italian lady (Italian ladies like Babas). He has unlocked the doorway to many siddhis (yogic powers) and is capable of levitation and raucous bonhomie, welcoming all with warmth and daal.

These are just a tiny slice of the magic and mystery of the Kumbh.  I have always been fascinated by the legends of India and the mighty Ganga and soon I’ll be literally, up to my neck in it.

Curious Pilgrim

Then, all change.  At a chai stall, we met a lost Frenchman carrying a guitar and we were taken to a hidden village of wig wams, to be amongst the rainbow people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Family).  A global group of new age hippies.  They had been up in some forests near Rishikesh for a time, but their global gathering had been ruined by bribe hungry police.  The camp was small and fenced.  Kids ran around naked on sheep skin rugs, most people lay on the floor, the atmosphere was still, with a blissful soundtrack.  An oasis in the heart of the mayhem.

On arrival, the Frenchman joined three Japanese dudes with dreadlocks sitting on and bashing large ornate drums.  He picked at a guitar as an elfin Turkish gent wearing a brilliant waistcoat played a four-stringed Japanese instrument with a bow, a younger Californian dude had a bamboo flute.  Other instruments and characters joined in with the music which flowed freely for hours.  Some people spoke occasionally, but most of us just lay and watched the sky.

The rainbow people are great huggers.  We hugged each other with real love.  Big, long, deep embraces.  An honest, heart-felt exchange as opposed to a quick greeting.  Good to start with a hug.  The atmosphere of peace and love was regularly interrupted by an Indian man hitting the surrounding fence with a stick, as people looked over at this unusual gathering of Westerners and wig wams.  This regular surge of aggression was unpleasant. Food was served in one of the wigwams, but I wasnt hungry anymore.

We soon realised that Ravi had disappeared.  We were tucked away in a maze-like ashram, with many corrugated iron walkways.  Ian and I began to worry.  Maybe he was lost?  We had no idea how we got here, or how to get out.  I was sent on a mission to find him. I liked the idea at first, stretch the legs a little.  Get away from the angry man with the stick.

After a while, I found my sandals in the pile and made my way into a brave new world, with no soft drumming or flute. I slunk through the maze and soon found Ravi at the entrance, arguing in Hindi with a cadre of heavily moustached men with sticks.  Damn sticks!  I waded in there, a disillusioned peacemaker, trying to do the right thing in the wrong way. It seemed I was invisible at the time, as well as deluded.

Eventually Ravi explained that he was not allowed back into the ashram because he was Indian. This took me a time to comprehend this notion.  Indians banning Indians.  The head Sadhu had made a decree, no mixing with the gringos in the wig wams.

It was getting uglier.  People where throwing hands in the air, kicking up dust and frothing at the mouth.  I joined in the shouting match, not really knowing what I was saying or why.  We drew a great crowd.  I decided that he who waved his hands the most would be victorious.  It worked!  I have long arms.

The man with the biggest stick and bushiest moustache addressed me in English, with respect, he suggested I approach the head honcho and ask him for his ruling.  With respect, I tried not to stare at his fabulous ocra moustache (dyed with henna) and brilliant silver hair.  The combination was striking.  After all this hand waving, I was pumped up and ready for a debate.  We were in the right here (as if that mattered).

Friendly faces

I was taken to a large bell tent, pink in colour, with golden ropes holding the main entrance open.  There were around one hundred people sitting in silence on rugs in front of what appeared to be a low throne.  Had I stepped back in history?  This was like the court of some great Sultan and I suddenly realised, I was out of my depth here.  I would have to confront the Sultan (Sadhu) regarding his racist door policy.  The consequences of which remained a fearful mystery.

The main man was a big lump of billowing robes, with a giant white beard and tall orange turban.  He wore chunks of jewels and seemed more maharaja than ascetic.  This was a courtroom of sorts and two men sat before the throne, their families behind, all heads were bowed.  They were explaining something about a goat dispute (or so I was told).

The man with the ocra moustache led me to the front, the crowd murmured in unison, people craned their necks to see the lamb being led to the slaughter.  My major problem with expressing why I was there would be expressions!  I had no words here.  I had a vocabulary of three words and one of those was ‘tea’.  I was being hung out to dry by a man with a red moustache.  He tugged at my hand as a sign to sit on the floor.  I tried to look calm.  I was wearing a bright yellow bandana.

As the goat dispute was mediated and the verdict accepted with much bowing and many prostrations, it was my turn.  I looked up to the scowling pile of robes, his eyes were on fire and circled with blue dye.  Before I could bow, he erupted into a rage.  I hadn’t even spoken.  It seemed I had ruined his day.  I then realised that Ravi had barged into the tent, dragging a few smaller stick holders with him.

An epic slaging match ensued, insults were traded and the awe-struck crowd of pilgrims watched on, heads bobbed back and forth, like at a tennis match.  Indias really know how to lose it!  I was impressed, but still apprehensive, occasionally they were pointing at me.  I tried to look innocent, of everything.

I was actually relieved, as the battle raged, the spotlight was off me, so I hopped away.  Making fumbling apologise to anyone who would listen.  There seemed to be no clear winner.  Even the stick men lost interest, letting go of Ravi’s arms and wandering off.  Ravi was fuming and our time in the hippie wig wam village was over.  Which was fine by me, I didn’t want to stay in this odd environment anyway.  I’d come to embrace the festival of love, not a flute player from California.

We told a few of the Rainbow guys what had happened to our friend.  They seemed disinterested.  They couldn’t do much anyway.  They were honoured ‘guests’, although ‘spectacles’ would have probably been a better way of putting it.

We went and told Iain and the guys of the situation, managing to drag them away from the impish man and his hypnotic Japanese instrument.  As we left, the stick bearers, seemed relax.  Smiling and chatting to Ravi, they offered us bedis and apologised for the ‘beast’ in the pink tent.  India is perplexing at the best of times.

We hit the packed lanes and were soon watching painted children dancing on a stage, dressed as Gods……….TBC………

The crowds gather

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Kumbh Mela 2010 Haridwar – Video Clips

I’m writing alot about the Kumbh Mela at the moment.  After settling down for a while, those wild, mystical times seem to be flowing through my me again.  I imagine my soul is craving a level of chaos and vibrant energy that the grey island will never offer.

I love anything that challenges western sensibilities.  Wakes us to something else.  Another way of existing.  The Kumbh is ancient, holy and still wild.  I can’t remember so much, more a blur of images.  It was a short time, but deeply effecting.

So I thought I’d look on youtube and see what was out there.  I was pleasantly surprised.  These clips certainly jogged my memory.  I hope you like them.

A few of my favourite clips of the Kumbh Mela 2010 on Youtube:

A long video of the festival with the babas in all their glory –

Another good video of a day at the Kumbh –

A day with a Sadhu at the Kumbh –

A short Italian film with nice images –

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Food from the sun – The Yogi who hasn’t eaten in 70 years

I read about this remarkable story when I was in India.  I have heard many similar tales of magical yogic powers, most based purely on eye-witness accounts or old tales.  This is different, it is tested in a lab by doctors.

Here is a tiny slice of magic India, the land that inspires us to think that anything is possible with our little flesh suits.

We are generally so skeptical, the rational mind our trophy that we filter this reality through.  Maybe there are things we don’t know?  Or cannot comprehend?

I’m off to sit in the garden.  The sun is out.

Love your truthXXXX

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With the Babas, Kumbh Mela (Part 2), 13th April 2010, Haridwar, India

File:Vishnuvishvarupa.jpg

“Fear Not. What is not real, never was and never will be. What is real, always was and cannot be destroyed.”  Lord Krishna, Bhagavad Gita

Which begged the question, what is real?  Especially here in the heart of the Kumbh.

All is well and cloaked in a chillum induced fug. Common reality has left these banks of Haridwar for these fleeting moments to be replaced by the sensibilities and traditions of the Hindu sadhus; the ceremony and mysticism of these ancient ascetics, who are standard bearers of the ancient traditions of Hinduism that have profoundly influenced all religions and societies for possibly the last 12,000 years.

Bearded and beaming, we pass the chillum (ceremonial clay pipe) around fires; dried chillies are scattered on the embers, pujas (prayers) are offered to the Gods and the arrival of old friends seems the only distraction from the circle of energy that binds it all together.

Chillie Puja offered to Ajni

This festival of love, the Kumbh Mela 2010, seems to be building a sense of purpose and focus.  The air is charged with something.  We are gaining an insight an older form of perception here, just by experiencing this rarefied atmosphere, all is change for a time.  Many insights come without words, but many colours and only fleeting, normally erratic, movements.  The charras lifting us up.  Higher.

This focus will lead us soon (nobody seems to know when, but soon) to the great parade.  The mass procession and festivities, a volatile torrent of Shiavite Babas (sadhus) and diverse army of spiritual sorts; mendicants and hermits, holy men and celebrity gurus, some clutching swords reciting incantations, trance like.

A cast of millions whipped up for weeks into a religious fervour, a sublime devotion to Shiva and the divine, that will lead us to the shores of the holy Ganga and a chilled bath.  The water is icy, yet the air is scorching.

This mighty Goddess river, that supposedly flows from Shivas matted locks. From its source of Gaumukh in the Himalayan highlands, meandering through countryside and city until the fertile Bengali delta.  This Gangetic plain, the fertile cradle of so much ancient history.  Every inch of this river is sacred, every inch offering a rebirth of hope for Hindus.  These riversides where millions have prayed; made pilgrimages, ablutions and offerings, and ultimately returned to as ash having left their bodies.  It is said that if a vile of water from the Ganga is held by a Hindu, they cannot tell a lie (this could solve much, especially in the political arena!).  No river in the world is so revered.

We are somewhere in the vast network of camps and ashrams, temporary homes for the millions, that has been here for weeks.  Most ashrams are supported by donations from rich, city based devotees.  The charras (a form of pure, handmade hashish) is mainly free to the Babas.  Tonnes of the stuff is supplied by the government and transported to the Kumbh in large military wagons.

The consumption of charras is an integral part of the Shiavite Babas worship.  Shiva was the greatest yogi and loved nothing more than disappearing into the Himalayas for years, smoking charras in caves and meditating.  He is the alpha male rogue of the Hindu Gods.

Shiva Shamboh!

The Babas seem to spend alot of time visiting old friends and catching up on gossip and goings on.  Many Babas live in very remote areas and this is their only chance, once every twelve years, to re-connect with old friends.  They jump from camp to camp, all wearing their own style of Sadhu couture, all looking like a cast of ascetics who have wandered in from the old deserts of Sinai.

These are the men who could have inspired Jesus and Buddha (and many more who claim to be prophets) to follow the path of renunciation and set off on pilgrimages, living the life of a hermit.  For only with great silence of mind and detachment; great liberation and stillness in life, can the real treasures of being be unearthed.  The treasures that are on show in many of these mens eyes and actions.

“When the sage climbs the heights of Yoga, he follows the path of work; but when he reaches the heights of Yoga, he is in the land of peace.”  Lord Krishna,

Night falls over the Kumbh, no signs of modernity to light the way here (bar the occasional hanging light bulb).  Vision is made possible by the blue moonlight, as we pick a path through the melee of sleeping bodies and wide-eyed night wanderers.  From what appears to be a pile of orange rags, comes a bejewelled trident, thrust in our direction with a barked warning.  The Kumbh never sleeps.

Naga babas

We find ourselves led to a small corrugated iron hut, attached to a large billowing tent.  The type of tent you’d imagine Marco Polo or Ibn Battuta would have been accustom to.  I am then sat below a much revered Baba, with tiny sticks for legs that hang lifelessly as he swings on a chained plank hung above a ceremonial fire.  His body, like a sparrow, wrapped in greying rags.  His white beard cascades down, his eyes are translucent opal plates.

There is a hushed atmosphere of curiosity surrounding or presence, furtive glances are exchanged and hands are cupped to shield whispers.  There is the occasional muffled giggle.  Nobody speaks out.  The fire pit is surrounded by an assortment of Babas in clouds of heavy chillum smoke.  The one sitting opposite seems to be turning into a woman!  He has breasts and regularly flutters his eyelashes in my direction.

A large crowd of devotees sit and watch on, I imagine some had rarely seen such funny looking folk as us.  Ravi later told me that the swinging Sadhu lives in a small corrugated iron lean-to in a bus station in Lucknow.  He is, what you may call, the real deal.

(Ravi is a lovely fellow.  He spends six months a year riding his Enfield around India and smoking with Babas, hence his familiarity with many.  The other six months he bakes goodies for stoned travellers on the beaches of Gokana.  He is from a family of Brahmins (the highest caste, generally richer men well-educated in the Hindhu scriptures and traditions) and is a very chilled and blessed companion/ part-time guide in this adventure.  Helping our gang to make some sense of it all.)

An elderly Baba; with the screwed up face of a happy child, hair to his waist and perfectly circular bald spot, sits to my left.  Below the dangling legs and the swing.  His eyes are closed in deep meditation, yet each time the chillum is passed, he reaches out instinctively and accepts it with a sudden yelp.  He bellows the 101 names of Shiva in a guttoral howl prior to taking a giant lungful of charras.  Then passes it to me.  Difficult to follow such a performance.

The first time this happened, I almost leapt on the fire in sheer terror.  The small man could wail.  I felt hundreds of eyes focusing on me, as I fiddle with the pipe, recovering my composure.  Still a fumbling novice, but attempting to be respectful.  I gave it a good suck and hoped not to cough my lungs up again.

The roof is low, the smoke burns my eyes……are my eyes open or closed?….I feel a poke on the shoulder, it’s the kindly child face of the howling Baba offering me steaming clay cup of creamy chai.  During my time at the Kumbh, I only ever felt at home.  Each ashram we visited, we were treated like lost friends.

From the darkness outside the tent, many small bells begin to clang in unison and we all stood up and shuffle outside.  A hushed exodus to prayer.  A large crowd of sadhus from the ashram had gathered, wrapped in blankets to beat the cold night air.  We all sang and chanted before an altar as the Brahmins, with painted chests and shaved heads; lit candles and wafted incense smoke over the many golden idols.  Constantly arranging and re-arrange garlands.  Blessings were offered with milk and sweets as we began to make our way around the wooden shrine in a clockwise fashion.  We all acquiesce, maybe in a trance.

After what seemed like an age, we decided to stretch our legs and leave the warm fireside of the swining Baba.  We said our goodbyes and they seemed genuinely sorry to see us go.

It was late and the paths were filled with characters.  They surfaced out of the night, whooping ghoul-like figures glowing with white ash and blood-red eyes, receded into shadows.  We were told that one emaciated chap had been sitting cross-legged, in the same spot by the road for months meditating.  Some had bury their heads in earth.  Some had broad swords embedded in their arms and monkey tails hanging from their rectums.  Yes, these paths are filled with characters.  I felt suddenly exhilerated.  Where would they lead us next?  (See part 3)

Baba looks on

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‘The Ultimate Observer’ – An article for seekers of truth by Mary Kingsley

The gods, it seems, love mystery and hate the obvious.

   Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (5th Century BC)

Scientifically, we are living in an extraordinary point in time. The recent discoveries in quantum physics have allowed us to peer into the phenomenal secrets of life itself, even though nature itself continually reminds us who actually holds the reigns. This article focuses on the revelations in quantum physics and the ancient spiritual teachings of India, indicating where they merge and how we can use the wisdom derived from both more wisely.

It seems highly probable that the observer quantum physicists refer to is the same observer that sages have been talking about for thousands of years; a term that runs through various ancient philosophies but which essentially stems from the elemental spiritual teachings of India.

From the wisdom of the Upanishads until more recent times, when Sri Ramanamaharashi and Sri Nisargadtta  emphasized the term ‘the witness, sages sought to become the observer; that which they say creates both awareness and manifestation.  If we culminate the remarkable discoveries in quantum physics with India’s spiritual teachings, then both camps appear to agree that everything in manifestation is derived from one ultimate mind which creates the incalculable forms we see around us.

Sages who have reached this awareness as a continuous state, have stated that when we, as the (ultimate) observer, see through the veil of our self-created illusions, we know with absolute certainty that what is observing and manifesting existence is the very ground of our nature and awareness.  With an abundance of sophisticated technology now in our hands, it can also be said that this ground is fast turning into personal holograms of our egocentric expectations and desires – of our psychological and cultural programming – of what we, as apparently individual entities, believe ourselves and reality to be whether this is actually based in reality or not. For physicists, this one mind is composed of particles that are always in flux which they call a ‘quantum field of infinite possibilities’ with us choosing rightly or wrongly what possibilities to believe in and therefore bring into manifestation.

At present, the collective mind of Man is becoming increasingly influenced by media driven global corporations that make billions of dollars from telling us what reality is in every conceivable way, whether this is actually based in reality or not. With a generation of young beginning to take charge of the planet who have been bombarded with such phantasmagorical mind programming, it seems incredulous that there isn’t more emphasis on the true nature of reality being on the decline rather than Man coming to grips with his real nature and purpose. Yet paradoxically, it also seems that the very nature of reality, according to quantum physics, is itself phantasmagorical and knows no bounds. So this begs the age-old questions; who is observing reality and is there ultimately only one observer behind our apparently individual minds?

Physicists now know that everything in manifestation is composed of microscopic atoms and that inside each atom there are particles too numerous to count, so they have focussed on analysing sixteen.  They also know that these particles behave differently when they are being observed, and when they are not being observed, they spread out as the same component in numerous places and may not even exist in this particular universe – if no one is observing them. That these minute and highly intelligent particles, which we are composed of, disappear and reappear, but as yet quantum mechanics doesn’t know where they, or rather we, disappear to – or even where we come from; hence the discoveries of string theory and multidimensional universes where we also exist but with different options.

Hundreds of highly sophisticated experiments are carried out each and every day in scientific laboratories all over the world as if each physicist is seeing their results in exactly the same way; as if there is only one way of observing.  What seems incredulous is that physicists appear to believe that it doesn’t matter who is observing, as every quantum physicist must surely observe his experiments in a similar way, being trained in interrelated schools of thought.

In some of these schools, scientists appear to be overlooking the essential question which Indian sages pondered long before quantum mechanics came onto the scene; this crucial question of who is observing and what is needed for us to reach this supreme awareness as a continuous state. Sages knew they could not pass the way they see reality onto their followers; that it has to be earned through certain purifying processes, such as meditation which clears the field of thought, non-grasping and other practices which cultivate simplicity, compassion, harmlessness and sincere intention. Physicists may have a more in-depth understanding of the nature of manifestation than sages of past, but they don’t necessarily have these personal virtues which are obviously needed to reach the position of fully becoming an unbiased observer.

If physicists begin to harness these discoveries, they may not be used wisely, such as splitting atoms to create atom bombs. Governments are pouring colossal amounts of money into these experiments but would they be investing such large sums if it wasn’t because they thought they could harness these discoveries for their own egocentric gain?  If certain physicists and their backing governments can’t be trusted with the use of atoms as weapons for mass destruction, how much more devastating would it be if they had the building blocks of creation in their hands and could change the very substance of our reality whether we want it to be changed or not?

For Indian sages, the term The Observer was derived from personal experience and in order to enlighten others, they described their awareness using metaphor; by poetically enchanting their followers into the immense mystery that had unfolded before them. Their conclusion was simply summed up as ‘I Am That’ or as Christ once said ‘My Father and I are one.’ From the very beginning of Man’s journey through consciousness, he has devised spiritual systems for reaching this ultimate state of awareness and even though hundreds of techniques have been created by as many spiritual teachers, few manage to fully achieve and maintain this profound and illusive state.

From experience of forty four years of research in this field, which includes 20 years working as a transpersonal psychotherapist, and also having personally known spiritual teachers both east and west, I looked at the temptations we undergo while endeavouring to become The Observer.  Uncannily, in the budding fields of spirituality and quantum physics, as hard as both camps try to realize ultimate reality, ultimate reality continues to elude but the very few who have the purest intentions. While under-going spiritual practices our awareness becomes heightened, but the temptation to misuse the personal power which comes with it is one reason some teachers act as if they are always in this state, when actually they are drawing on memory; that as with physicists, they are unable to sustain the intense levels of purity required to be receptive and present every moment in order to observe reality as it is. The temptations Christ underwent in the desert, and Buddha surpassed under the bow tree, are two examples amongst many of the way we are tested in relation to the purity of our intentions.

It appears that the intelligence behind existence has created a clause for anyone who endeavours to become The Observer from a partial perspective; that this immaculate state cannot be reached, its nature can never be known or fully harnessed unless there are sincere intentions preceding its flowering. This clause may be frustrating for those who want to formulate reality, or to use it for self-gain in the disguise of it being of benefit to humanity, but it obviously cannot be reckoned with for the sake of the continuity of manifestation at large.

Christ once said ‘Unless you become as a little child, you shall never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’ In other words, to be in this state of observation there can be no analysis, judgement, expectation or grasping clouding what we perceive. In fact, for both sages and quantum physicists, revelations have consistently arisen when no formulations were in operation. Sages became the ultimate observer and marvelled in wonder; this highest state being expressed in the Upanishads as simply ‘Ah….’  The physicist first sees the end of his staggering equation and then has to retract to discover its workings.  In a moment’s illumination, he also exclaims ‘Ah….’ Therefore it seems that only in this child-like state of awareness can we behold reality as it is; when what we are aiming to capture is out of the picture entirely.

Most people on a spiritual path, if determined to see through self-created illusions, have glimpses of reality which are termed ‘epiphanies’ or ‘spiritual realizations.’ But if, as our enlightened fore-fathers stated, we ‘become as a little child’ looking out at the marvel before us, without the need to posses, control or manipulate anything or anyone, then we more fully enter this sublime state whereby no absolute answer is required. Marvelling at mystery becomes more rewarding than trying to capture it; peace becomes more valuable than endless egocentrically based questions.

Man may flail around with his authority and even wreck havoc in relation to the Earth and life as we know it, but it seems evident that he will never be able to play ‘God’ or know all the answers simply because there are no absolute or emphatic answers to be found. If together we are the one, ultimate creator, and all is born through our mind-substance in some form or guise, then a solely quantum mechanical perspective is only projecting an ‘infinite number of possibilities’ which can never be thoroughly analyzed by any human mind. That trying to reach an ultimate answer through calculations only keeps us locked into a cerebral position, like a puppy chasing its tail in circles.

All creatures on Earth share certain archetypal tendencies and a sense of play is one of them. There isn’t one species that doesn’t display a sense of humour in relation to its nature and the more awareness it has, the more creatively it plays. If this quality is intrinsic in all life forms, surely it must be one of the underlying dynamics of what is apparently gazing out from behind our eyes. If this is true, then it is we who are creating the irony of there ever being an ultimate explanation of reality per se. That reality, itself, is simply an eternal flow of something so intelligent and mysterious, we can only call it life and that life creatively divides into holographic manifestations the moment we observe it.

In a world of increasing cerebral clutter and manmade fears, never has there been more urgency for us to get a grip on reality, to realise the incredible scope of our minds, to breakthrough our self-created barriers in order to observe the magnificent depth of our intelligence spread out as infinity before us.  It appears the simplest thing in the world is given freely and is what will delight us the most – if we allow it; if we dive deep into ’the great mystery’ as innocently and as fearlessly as our spiritual forefathers.  As the eminent quantum physicist, Fred Alan Wolf, aptly states, ‘The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery.’

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The Sadhus of Gaumukh, The Ganga’s Source, Uttaranchal, India, May 2010

Ben

Sadhu pointing towards the glacier

Baba before Gaumukh (the source of the Ganga)

Chillum with the Babas

Baba Giri

A rare Sadhu couple, Uttaranchal Yatra Peak above Tapovan

Gaumukh is the source of the Ganga (Ganges River) that cascades out of a crystal blue glacier.  The walk to the source is an important yatra (pilgrimage)for all Hindus, especially Sadhus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadhu). Many make their dwellings in the mountains and valleys above and surrounding Gaumukh, practising yoga, austerity, forms of purity and enlightenment.  The valley is cut off for most of the year due to deep snow and freezing conditions.  All photos taken by Ben and Tamara (my camera died)X  Bom bhole nath!

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Today in Varanasi, Burning Ghats, India 21/9/10

Delhi train pulls into the station at 6:15am.

I find my backpack in a puddle.

Men offer me a rickshaw or opium.

Opium from a ‘government approved shop’.

A man slips in a cowpat above the burning funeral pyres.

Not me this time.

A restaurant proclaims that it is ‘less dirty than most’ on its sign.

I eat masala dosa in the place next door.

Good strong chai, heavy on the cardoman.

I check into a room the size of a small animal hutch.

Fan broken, bed sheets stained with something beige.

150 rupees per night and I have my own chair.

I buy ayuvedic remedies for my ailments.

The ganga runs brown, a shade of oxtail soup.

9 sewage outlets pumping crap into the spiritual heart of India.

The humidity means lots of sweating.

Pink arsed monkeys molest me, for what I do not know.

I have no bananas.  The dogs leave me alone.

I have never seen such filth in streets.  It all seems semi fermented.

The people smile warmly, guiding me wherever I’m going.

This place is a maze.

The cows look in good health.

Lime soda and I read the Hindustan Times.

Stories of floods, dengue, train accidents and a rapidly failing Commonwealth games.  Some lady comments on the jeans she wore in the ‘Transformers Movie’ belong to someone else.

I think of my childhood living in the world of Megatron and He Man.

A japanese fellow picks at a travel sitar sitting above a ghat.

He is wearing a turban.

I struggle to find the burning ghats.

I find the burning ghats and wonder what to do.

Children play in the piles of pyre wood.

Ghee is poured on piles of pyre wood.

Corpses wrapped in colourful cloth.

Everyone is singing.

Pyre wood is set alight by oldest son.

It takes four hours for the body to burn.

The ashes then scattered in the Ganga.

Then they are really free.

A man sits beside a corpse, keeping flies away and waiting his turn.

A sadhu brushes his teeth in the river, sitting on a faded wooden barge.

Garlands of orange flowers are caught in the whirlpools.

I buy over-sized bidis, because they look cool.

A Japanese chap plays tabla sitting on some hotel steps.

A blue lunghi catches my eye, I decide not to buy it.

I am not a great buyer.

A gang of sadhus with elaborate patterns painted on their heads call me over for a chat.

We talk of many things.  Sometimes cricket.

The evening prayers have started, small candles float down the chocolate brown.

This is one of the oldest cities on earth, an ancient centre of learning.

But what have I learnt?

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View from a bus, Street Life 20:32, New Manali, India 28th July 2010

SHIVA

Untameable, vibrant, the view from this bus, the streets of India. Both wild and peaceful, chaotic yet working in a form of order. The concepts and models of the Western mind cannot fully grasp and appreciate the complexity of these streets.  The culture and society work on a totally different level.  6 months is nowhere near long enough to disappear and discover this land. Its a whirling, fantastic kaliedescope, a hallucination of life.  Reality stranger than fiction, challenging the imagination, inspiring at every turn.  A lifetime visa is needed (any ideas?).

People are all over India, more than a billion, doing everything, seemingly in the street. Cows impede pedestrians, sheeps swarm around traffic. The flock blocking my progress (as usual). Indian life glows warmly, full of energy, no dark sarcasm in this classroom.

Concrete monstrosities are being thrown up (buildings, bridges, walls, pavements……) by hand, under glaring flood lights.  Foundation supports are held in place by four men.  In the darkness and humidity the other buildings gradually crumble and decay.  Architectual nightmares.  Peculiar how humans can create such monstrous eye sores, such disregard for anything aesthetic.  Lumps of abstract concrete.  Existing amongst a jumble of electrical wiring, open drains, pot holes.

A thickly moustachioed man, with T-shirt stretched over his pot-paunch claiming, ‘this is what cool looks like’, flicks his bidi and it finds its target, a fresh cow pat.  Shop owners dust down their cigarette displays with little feather dusters.  Tinny Bollywood soundtracks float in and out of earshot.  Lord Shiva appears on rugs, posters, mugs, calendars and walls.  Omnipresent.  His blue face projecting blissful beauty and ambivalence.  When the going gets tough, the tough get mystical.  Spirituality, the pantheon of gods, governs and directs all.  Healing, saving, bringing wealth, protecting the traveller. 

Light bulbs hang down from the overhead powerlines, giving off a white light that taints everything.  All becomes black and white, a ’20’s movie feel.  Chai-wallahs look like ghouls standing over their bubbling pots.  One boy sells mixed nuts, the other cleans and repairs shoes, another is selling leather whips and drums.  Resourceful, bright, astute.  Many stand around, look around, squat down, laughing loud.

Rickshaws cut and buzz through the chaos like a knife through ghee, their drivers great dreamers.  Mainly dreaming up prices to charge the hapless tourist.  A young learner driver (12ish max) accelerates into a wall, wrecking the front of his new silver Suzuki 800 and almost wiping out a restaurant terrace area. The initial shock subsides almost immediately and the diners return to their animated chatter, occasionally looking over in a mocking fashion towards the hapless lad.  After a brief assesment of the damage (the front of the car is hanging off, the wall near collapse) there are handshakes and laughter, then his family of 6 pile into the car and they speed/ sway off into the melee.

A stick-like Sadhu with a steel trident, all grey dreadlocks, beard and peircing brown eyes, asks me for some money, then charras, then bananas, then my necklace….the mind boggles as to where these demands could end.  A three legged dog wobbles by, barking at the moon and stars, as a one legged man drags himself into the stuttering flow of traffic, riding a wooden cart with steel wheels (moving faster than my bus).  He takes exception to a Tata truck bumper, that narrowly halts before his head, and begins to rant and wave his arms.  Eventually he drags himself into a puddle and the waky race continues.  The sheep bleet, the cows moo, the pedestrians spit and the crescendo of car horns rises.

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Getting There, Kumbh Mela (Part 1), 13th April 2010, Haridwar, India

Stairs are off, Crush, 14/4/10 Kumbh Mela

Waking at the feet of a Swami, Dawn, 14/4/10 Kumbh Mela
Lalmanidas of Varanasi, having a chuckle, Camp, Kumbh Mela

The Kumbh Mela is a difficult time to sum up, it was a dream-like blur of images and experiences.  There was so much happening in one place, at one time, on many levels.  Each moment a colourful tale.

My first view of the Kumbh Mela was from a bus window passing through Haridwar, eating my way through a bunch of bananas.  There seemed to be a circus in town, a mammoth spiritual circus, that has been returning to this spot for thousands of years.  I would witness rituals that have been handed down from the earliest Sadhus and Brahmins 5000 years ago, only practised at this most auspicious time.

I could see rows of tents, some functional and ex-army, many resembling elaborate psychedelic big tops (red and white with flashing fairy lights and all).  It had the feel of a ‘Alice in Wonderland’ fantasy world, India style.  The Babas and mystics ruled here with proud beards, tridents and dark radiant eyes, amidst clouds of blue chillum smoke.

This make-shift tented city of 10 million fanned out over the entire valley floor for as far as the eye could see, a mobile canvas city.  It had been erected to cater for the pilgrims, Sadhus and a whole host of other spiritual and enlightened types.  The faces of the many well established gurus were plastered all over colourful billboards, gurus replacing coke for a short time.  I looked upon these billboards with suspicion, not understanding the need for branded spirituality.  The gurus faces all looked elated, but why spend money on advertising your holiness?  I came to realise that even the most devote souls can carry a mobile and follow the cricket.

After sleeping on a roof (no rooms in town) high above the main street of Laxma Jula, Rishikesh for a couple of nights, it was time to leave.  I had been fortunate enough to meet a great bunch of like-minded people, wanting to immerse themselves in The Mela with gusto.  Whatever that meant?  Poor Ravi became our unofficial guide (being Indian and speaking Hindi), we peppered him with questions about everything relating to anything and he handled it all with a gentle chuckle and a ‘I dunno’.  Iain I had met in Delhi, Eli and Marlena knew Ravi from somewhere else and I can’t remember where we met J and Cherie, but they were cool.

Rishikeshs streets were crammed full of bodies.  Streams of people flowed in no particular direction around an occasional stranded cow or bemused tourist.  Load speakers were attached above every street corner, constantly repeating information, in high pitched Hindhi, about lost people and general safety advice.  This began at 5am and went on all day, the nasal screaming was an apt soundtrack to the chaos below.  People stood with hoses and diligently hosed the streets down (something to do with dust) creating filthy puddles and slippery surfaces.

Ladies taking a holy bath, 14/4/10 dawn, Kumbh Mela

We had heard many horror stories about getting to Haridwar, the full spectrum of crushing, being stranded in the middle of nowhere, dog eat dog scenarios etc.  We were prepared, Ian and I had bought long sticks (lathis).  Not for bashing, more for gentle prodding.  It was difficult enough to wriggle and wedge our way through the street outside our hotel, this was going to be tricky.

A warm face in the crowd, at the camp, Kumbh Mela

Friendly Mountain Baba with mobile, Ashram, Kumbh Mela

Many people had obviously come far and suffered much, it was etched on their faces and in their movements.  Some staggered looking pained, others rested at the road side staring into space, sitting on their bundles of belongings.  Shopkeepers offered water from kettles to the masses, the temperature was in the 40’s.  The majority of pilgrims seemed to be country folk, many very thin and walking in an almost trance-like state.  I liked the Rajasthani farmers turbans, fat, round and brightly coloured.  Human lollipops.  There seemed to be a high proportion of older people.  Pockets of women chanted to keep up moral as the crush squeezed itself through the contours of Laxman Jhulas streets, heading to the next temple and beyond.   Many camped and slept were they could, small fires were made and ladies roasted chapattis.  Everywhere seemed a viable place to take a squat (toilet break).

Rishikesh is situated on the banks of the Ganga, a holy place, home of Sadhus (Hindhu ascetics), Shiva temples and yoga.  It is the pilgrim main stopping point before Haridwar, the venue for this years Kumbh Mela, due to its holiness and close proximity.  Shiva (the destroyer, one of the three main Hindhu gods, alongside Brahma and Vishnu) roamed the Himalayas above here, the Ganga flows through his hair etc etc.  There are too many tales and legends to even begin to aptly describe the complexity of our man Shiva.  Needless to say, Shiva is the most popular god here, he’s good looking, tough, fights tigers and is blue.  Whats not to like?

Temples are dotted throughout the town and the pilgrims will visit most, some reach 16 stories high (as if walking from the Gujarat wasn’t enough, no lifts!).  A new one is being built with over 30 stories.  Pilgrims worship a phallic object known as a ‘lingam’ representing Shiva, stuck in a ‘yoni’ (female part) in these temples, they make offerings of food, milk (prasad) and perform a puja (prayer or ritual worship).  There is also a marble bull present in Shiva temples, his vehicle is a bull and this is blessed and touched too.

Two Naga Babas strolling, 14/4/10, Kumbh Mela

The Kumbh Mela happens once every 12 years, this years has been running since February and there are many auspicious times to bathe.  The main bathing days are decided by the constellations and the moon.  On the 14th the moon passes into Saturn, this is apparently very good (loads of info the net).  Bathing in the Ganga on this day will wash away my sins.  Rishikesh is a dry town, no meat either, everyone radiates blissed out, good karma.  Happy being bendy, veggie and dreadlocked.  My biggest sin recently has been being late for morning meditation or that melted cadburys dairy milk I scoffed.  Relatively sin-less, there are a few skeletons I wouldnt mind ridding myself of, I anticipate a pleasant and hopefully not too filthy dip.

We thrashed and gnawed our way across the bridge and up to the main street.  Everybody had said we were crazy to go, crazy to even try, there were no buses, rickshaws etc.  People generally seemed to despair at the meer prospect.  We found a bus, climbed on the roof and began to talk to some nice farmers from the Gujarat who gave us some bang (like a marijuana biscuit).  We continued to radiate good karma as the bus whizzed (sometimes) under trees, through the national park and alongside the Ganga.  Now an almost unrecognisable version of itself.  It resembled a large industrial canal, regularly dammed and surrounded by concrete.

We seemed to skip through the traffic, exchanging pleasantries with other people on top of other buses.  “Bhom bole nate”  they shouted, I shouted it back, not knowing what it meant and would come to mean to me over the next day or so.

The bus stopped at the edge of the crowd, 10 million people in one place can get hectic (most people say it was more than 12 million, difficult to say really).  We hopped off, feeling a little bang’d and walked briskly forward into the chaos.  I felt full of optimism, we had arrived in style and with great ease, but also knew that this couldn’t last for long.   A large billboard rose above the entrance, ‘Welcome to the International Festival of Love and Peace’.  I had landed at the gate.

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