Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Footloose Sanyasi #6: Encounter with a bhakt

Madhukar Thompson goes to satsang with Gaura Bhakti Guru Gaurahari Das

Thiruvannamalai, Friday, January 30, 2009

He is a Bhakti Marg Yogi in the lineage of the Saint Chaitanya who lived some 500 years ago. While entering the rooftop I encounter four devotees sitting on mats on the floor while one person, a happy looking man, sits in a white plastic chair. This is Gaurahari Das. He sits there holding a drum (a khol) placed on his lap. One meter away from him stands a video camera. It is directed at him.

Gaurahari Das, an American national, welcomes me with a namaste. As soon as satsang begins he distributes a sheet with 10 mantras written on it, in English. Before singing he adjusts the camera and switches it on – pointed at himself.

We begin chanting the first mantra, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Gaurahari beats the drum rhythmically while chanting. Then he chants a few slokas by himself. After ten minutes the singing stops.

“Has anybody a question?” he asks us. As if answering his question a loud fart explodes from my backside. There is loud laughter all around. The satsang has definitely got off to a joyous beginning.

“Does anybody else want to speak up?” Gaurahari questions laughingly.

“Perhaps we could start with all of you stating why you have come to this satsang. How is that?”

We all agree.

“I would like to record the proceedings. Is that okay with you?”

Again, we agree.

“Who would like to begin?”

Taking the lead I suggest, “Perhaps this time I should answer your question with my voice…” Loud laughter…

Gaurahari jumps out of his chair to swing his camera in my direction.

“I noticed your flyer in the ‘Tasty’ restaurant,” I explain, “FREE satsang it says… And the friendly and joyous looking picture of yourself touched me somehow. So far during my search I was never on a specific bhakti (devotional) path where mantra and bhajan singing were the central means to enlightenment. Yes, there was a lot of gratitude, devotion and surrender to my gurus and to the teachings at the time. But if at all, chanting mantras and singing bhajans happened “on the side” so to speak. Also, I wanted to meet the guru – you! – who on his flyer dares to boldly assure enlightenment to everyone who became involved on the path he offered. I was wondering what makes you so certain of your claim.”

“Very good! I suggest we will talk about this issue after all of the others have stated their reasons for coming, okay?”

“Sure. No problem.”

And so it goes. Gaurahari keeps swinging his camera back and forth between himself and the students each time there is talking going on, on either side. Yes, this looks funny. And he knows this and laughs about it saying that he has no assistant and therefore he needs to do all the work by himself.

According to him the reason why his suggested path does work is simple: Because it had worked for him, it would work for others too. He had followed his teacher’s instructions. And now he was asking his students to follow his directions. However, during the hour I stay there, Gaurahari Das does not reveal any specifics about the required sadhanas. The whole thing is mainly based on trusting him – and God, i.e. Lord Krishna – to deliver.

Footloose Sanyasi #5: Mystical Auroville

Madhukar Thompson visits enchanting Auroville

Pondicherry/Auroville, January 18-20, 2009

From a letter to a friend

“Thank you for the prompt reply with all the info on Auroville.

“Sadly, Banu does not work at the Nivas Bhavan guesthouse any longer. Furthermore, I didn’t go visit Jeanethi. Instead I stayed at the Center Guest House which is located bang in the middle of Auroville, some 500 meters from the Matrimandir. It is nestled under and around a hug, old banyan tree. It must be one of the oldest guesthouses in the “city” since a Dutch woman/coordinator is working there – she’s already been there for 25 years. And it was dirt-cheap: Rs. 500 (without attached bath room and shower) including all great and tasty meals and laundry service. Who can beat such a prize? I had a loft all to myself. The entire place was spanking clean.

“On my last day I met with Paola di Paolis at my guest house. We had lunch together. In the beginning she was a bit closed. But as soon as we spoke about Rasha’s book Oneness, she opened up (See www.onenesswebsite.com – please note that Rasha has nothing to do with the Oneness movement). More so, because I put her in touch with my Italian publisher, Laris Editrice. (He published my Odyssey of Enlightenment). I believe Paola has a very good chance of getting the book published with Paolo from Laris. She got really exited about the prospect. She is dying to get the book translated and published. Before I forget it, I am to forward to you her heartfelt greetings!

“I would like to encourage you. As you know from your own experience it is very normal to get a bit frustrated, here and then, during the writing process. Just remember you will harvest the glory once you are done. What I have heard you say about your book project sounds so good! I am certain that you will become renowned and very successful once your new book is on the market. I believe that more books will come through you. Soon you will get “pre-paid” for your work. Believe me! So please keep going a little longer.

“If I can support you in any way, please let me know. Don’t be shy to tell me how!”

From a report to a friend

Sunday, January 18

After a two-and-a-half hour bus trip I arrive in Pondicherry on Sunday, January 18 at 12 noon. First I visit Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s samadhi shrine, thanking them for creating their teaching and the beautiful ashram. Besides the usual ashram buildings (including Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s quarters), they have an exceptional cactus garden there.

After that visit I go sightseeing in Pondicherry. Pondy (as it is also known) – I mean the “white”, the French part, on the ocean side of the canal – must be one of the quietest places in all of India. As you know the streets have French names; there is French food available; one can often hear people speak French... Then I cut down to the beach which, in fact, is a kind of a slightly elevated dam. The ocean boulevard runs parallel to the ocean/beach. Here, too, there is hardly any traffic on this Sunday. The small side streets seem to be sleeping as well. Pondicherry is so laid back! I love it. Soon I am having lunch at ‘Le Café’ – the only building directly at the beach. French quiche with French fries and salad. It is delicious. I book myself for the half-day (four hour) sightseeing tour which costs 100 rupees. Part of the tour includes a visit to Auroville. (Not to speak of the cost for a taxi, a simple autorickshaw ride in Auroville costs Rs. 170!). At 16:00 I arrive at the guesthouse.

Right after signing in, I apply (via telephone) for a pass for the next day’s meditation at 9:30 am in the Matrimandir. Miraculously I manage to get one. In 1993, I had seen the Matrimandir for the first time; it was shortly after its construction had begun. Sixteen years earlier the “building” had looked very ‘Indian’, meaning, it appeared to be already old while it was under construction. But now! I couldn’t believe my eyes! What I encountered was brilliance, splendor, a gem, a diamond! Truly, the Mandir must be one of the most beautiful creations on the planet. (For details visit www.auroville.org)

Monday, January 19

My meditation is a deep and happy one. Towards the end of the session the following thought came to me: “What would happen to me if I would die at the end of this session? Let me pretend it will be so! Which thoughts will come up? What will I do with the last minutes of my life?” Interestingly I witnessed that thoughts occurred normally; nothing special appeared on the screen of witnessing. There were no “last minute things” to be accomplished, cleared or clarified. There was no panic, anxiety or last wishes. I seemed to be only interested in the actual process of the dying. I was looking forward to experience of dying. What was going to happen along with each breath? How much I wish I will be awake and aware when THE time actually arrives...!

After lunch the guesthouse’s free-of-charge bicycle takes me to the Indian Ocean. It is 7 kms east of central Auroville. Big waves await me; they are similar to the ones at my home beach, the Baldwin Beach, on Maui’s north shore. I swim and swim in the current that travels south. ‘Auroville Beach’ must count as one of the undiscovered beaches in India. Bordering the beach are Auroville-connected guesthouses like ‘Waves’ and ‘Repos’. Thatched-huts with balconies overlooking the sea cost Rs. 500 and up per day. While Auroville (and Tiru!) are alcohol- , drug- and meat-free zones, the beach serves fresh fish and at some places, alcohol. I enjoy both, an Indian Kingfisher beer and a delicious portion ‘Fish Garlic Fry’. On my way home, a few hours later, I visit several Auro communities so as to get an idea of the architectural diversity of the numerous living quarters.

Tuesday, January 20

After breakfast I pedal my way to the Tibetan pavilion in order to check out the locality which His Holiness the Dalai Lama was going to inaugurate later on. The brand-new Tibetan-style building has been tastefully decorated with huge colorful Tibetan Mandala paintings and many Tibetan flags. In a distance from HH’s throne-like seat, the area for the common public is fenced off with bamboo poles. Plastic chairs are awaiting the 200 VIPs. The ordinary people are expected to sit on the floor covered with blankets. A multi-colored tent roof provides shade. All 200-or-so nations on planet Earth are expected to build a structure on the ‘International Field’. But so far, only India, Tibet and the USA have built a presence/building.

Before lunch I check out the visitor’s center where I watch a short but beautiful video about the Matrimandir, its symbolism and function. The bookshop, boutique and café are next on my list followed by a visit to the nearly finished old people’s home at the Arka locality.

Perhaps 3000 people line up to hear the Tibetan worldly and spiritual leader speak. Each person has to pass through one (!) single metal detector. The security check slows down the movement. Some people have waited for hours in the hot sun in order to get a front seat on the floor. Therefore HH’s lecture on ‘Human Unity and Universal Responsibility’ begins late. (Please read details of the teaching at www.auroville.org ). Standing near the entrance of the venue I listen to the talk (HH was assisted by an interpreter) from a spot quite close to His seat. I must say I was much more inspired by HH’s presence than by what he had to say.

Two bus-rides later, I am back in Tiru at 21:00. I find a room in the Nilayam Niketan ashram. The next morning I move to my new home. It is located next to the Ramanashramam – on the slopes of the holy hill.

Footloose Sanyasi #4: A different take on Vedanta

Madhukar Thompson goes to afternoon satsang with Ram

Thiruvannamalai, Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ram is teaching two fundamentals of traditional Vedanta different from what Sri Gangolli used to teach.

According to Sri Adi Shankara (and Sri Gangolli), the deep sleep “state” IS actually Pure Consciousness. According to Ram the deep sleep state is NOT PC (Pure Consciousness) but one of the three states (besides waking and dream state) that comes and goes; a state of pure consciousness but with ignorance of our true nature. The vasanas (tendencies of the mind and body) are resting dormant only to appear again on waking up into the dream or waking state.

The point is: In deep sleep the subjective direct “non-experience” for the “non-sleeper” is that his ego, mind, body and the world don’t exist. Nor is there space and time. So how can there be a seed?

Gangolli/Shankara teach that on waking up, manifestation (or dream) appears in and as consciousness with name and form; consciousness and manifestation “coexist” concomitantly (at the same time). Ram says through conception and perception, through the senses and the mind, respectively, the objects without are reflected within. That is to say the world keeps existing objectively while we are asleep and they are already there, waiting for us, so to speak, when we wake up. In contrast, Gangolli/Shankara teach that only the direct subjective experience counts. This means that the world manifests itself (“each time”) at the moment of waking up from sleep. In fact, the mind, body and world exist only at the instant of conception or/and perception. Pure Consciousness and the appearing manifestation remain always non-dual!

I will need to discuss this point with Ram in one of the future sessions.

Footloose Sanyasi #3: Basking in the loving presence

Madhukar Thompson goes to morning satsang with Mooji

Thiruvannamalai, Saturday, January 17, 2009

I line up for Mooji’s satsang at 08:35; the meeting starts at 10:00. I am told to be early if I want to be seated in the first two rows. Because I believe I will visit Mooji only once, I want to make sure I can observe and participate in his satsang from close quarters.

After reaching the satsang house I sit down and make myself comfortable on my cardboard which rests on a rock. Slowly, slowly the queue behind me grows. When my place seems secured, I go for breakfast at Satya’s Café nearby. Two idlis and two vadas with sambar and coconut chutney and a large coffee. Soon I resume my ‘reserved’ place in the line again. At 9:30 we are climbing up the stairs to the rooftop of the three-storey building. We are blessed with a great view of Arunachala. No music. No talking. Silence. At 10:00 sharp, Sri Mooji walks through the jam-packed mass of people and takes his slightly elevated seat. He closes his eyes for a few minutes.

“Welcome to satsang.” He does namaste to the congregation. Before long he begins scanning/gazing the people, almost one by one. He gives a brief discourse of about five minutes before he reads out the first question. (The questions had been collected by his staff before satsang.) He beckons the author forward and asks him to sit down on the empty chair next to him. The hot seat. It is touching to witness how smoothly Mooji is operating in a heartfelt, compassionate and easily understandable fashion. Step by step he leads the student to the state of pure beingness, silence and peace. One after the other Mooji brings the next three ‘seekers’ to a similar inner tuning of the heart.

Now it’s my turn. Putting my right hand up I make myself noticed. He looks at me with a welcoming smile and somehow summons me to come forward and sit down next to him. As soon as I reach him I kneel and bow down with folded hands. I bow very slowly, consciously; my movement proceeds through my heart. I bow all the way to his feet. My hands are almost touching them. I am relaxed, feeling peaceful. I am taking time… there is simply “being”… When I kneel again, our eyes meet. I feel showered by his sweet smile and the sense of benevolence.

Finally sitting on the hot seat I greet him with, “Namaste.”

“Namaste, welcome!” he responds.

My hands still folded in namaskaram, I continue saying, “I am bathing in your brilliance, your intelligence, your love and the purity of your beingness. I want to thank you for your being here. I feel grateful to be in your presence.”

“You are welcome!” his answer falls ever so lovingly from his lips.

I know the ball is in my park now.

I say, “That is all I have to say to you.”

“Good… good! Thank you!” Mooji keeps smiling – and beginning to send me off with the namaste.

“Wait, wait! I am not finished yet!” I object. “In fact, I brought you a few gifts.”

I grab my bag (which has ‘Ramanashramam’ printed on it) that I had earlier put on the floor next to the hot seat chair.

“Then let us see them,” Mooji invites me.

I take the first item out and hand it over to him.

Unwrapping the protecting plastic bag he mutters, “Oh, what is this?”

“It is a special Christmas cake. It is called Christstollen. I brought it for you from Germany.”

“That is very kind of you,” he says and then exclaims, “Wow! You packed it very nicely.” Then he speaks about how he used to wrap things nicely as a kid. From the moment I tell him that I had already eaten the bigger part of the cake, Mooji and me and the entire satsang laugh uproariously throughout our exchange that lasts about 15 minutes.

My second gift to Mooji ‘becomes’ my cartoon book about Osho called The Path of Celebration. Actually, I had intended gifting him my other book, Satsang, the cartoon book on Papaji because Mooji is, or was, a Papaji disciple. Somehow I must have mixed up the two booklets while packing. While I was explaining to Mooji what had happened, he and the people roar with laughter. In any case, Mooji studies the cartoons for quite some time and says how much he loves humor and light-heartedness especially in the spiritual world.

My third gift to him is a giglee art print from Hawaii, depicting a Hawaiian woman welcoming a guest with a lei (orchid flower mala). I invite Mooji (a standing invitation) to come to Hawaii to give satsang.

“Yes, one day I will visit there. In fact, I must go there! The lady operating the camera over there keeps insisting. So we will see what Existence will bring about.”

In the meantime I pick up the flower garland that is lying out around the edges of Mooji’s footrest. “In order to complete this invitation ritual,” I explain, “I will need to garland you with a lei.” Holding it up, I continue speaking to the crowd which is laughing with joy: “I found this one. Knowingly or unknowingly it must have been prepared for this occasion!”

I garland Mooji. He wants to be photographed and he is – many times over.

“Now I know you will be visiting the Hawaiian Islands. I am certain about it. Why? Because we have completed the required ritual!”

After my interaction with him, Mooji continues to guide each following questioner to the unchanging, eternal beingness/awareness that is the same in all of us.

Truly, I have a magnificent satsang experience.

Footloose Sanyasi #2: Three satsangs in three days

Madhukar Thompson has satsang with Ram, meets a Peaceful Presence, bumps into sundry seekers

Thiruvannamalai, Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I go to another session with Ram. We are 11 people. The topic: Enlightenment according to Advaita Vedanta (on the lines of Sri Adi Shankara and Vedas).

In the evening at 20:00 hrs was supposed to be satsang with Pratima, an ex-Osho disciple. She became enlightened (whatever that means) with Poonjaji. I know Pratima from the Poona and Papaji days. On her flyer it says: “In 1993 Papaji asked her to give satsangs which she did for seven years all over the world. In 1993, when Pratima actually asked Papaji In Lucknow if she could give satsang, he is said to have been reading the newspaper. Supposedly he was hardly looking up from the paper when he simply grunted some kind of a yes…” There is no website of Pratima’s anymore. The website that gives “guru ratings” for many gurus says “Pratima Sephton is now a deeksha giver in the Oneness movement.” Her email address is pratima@divingparadise.com.

The satsang was supposed to be on Bharat’s Pink House. But there is no light on – neither in the house nor on the roof. As I walk away someone comes down the steps (in the dark). It turns out to be a young (22 years old) Swiss lady student studying Indology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. I had met her earlier in the day at the grocery shop where she gave me a piece of Swiss chocolate. Instead of satsang, this evening we have a chai together. She tells me that her mother taught her to listen to her inner voice and follow her heart. She says she doesn’t need a guru and is not looking for one. However, except in Ram’s satsang, I see her at every satsang I visit. Is she fooling someone or herself?

Thiruvannamalai, Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Last night I went to bed at 21:30 hrs. This morning I wake up at 11:20 hrs. Thirteen something hours sleep! Still jetlag. Missed Ram’s teachings.

In the afternoon, at around 16:45, I happen to pass a hall in Ramana Nagar. It is filled to capacity with about 100 foreigners. They are sitting in silence. Curious, I open the closed iron-gate and go into the yard where I take off my slippers. I take the rear entrance to the hall. Even though the hall is full, Chandi Devi shows me, in a very joyous and friendly fashion, to a seat. She has recognized me. We had last met in Lucknow some 15 years ago.

(Chandi Devi used to live in Papaji’s household which means she was “close to Papaji”. After Papaji’s death she became a kind of administrator of his legacy in Thiruvannamalai. Since 1997 she is permanently residing in Tiru. She organizes a Papaji video show every Wednesday evening at 19:00. The video evening draws 150 people!)

After taking my seat and making myself comfortable I look around. And there she is! A most beautiful elderly woman, perhaps 70 years old, is sitting in a chair. In silence. Radiating joy and bliss. She reminds me immediately of Ramana. Before closing my eyes, I drink in the beauty to the max. When I open my eyes again, the woman is standing some 5 feet (1.5 meters) away from me gazing into my eyes. No words. Simply radiating benevolence into my heart. Slowly, slowly she moves on and along the sitting rows of students. Sometimes she smiles shyly. All peace. I find out that she is Sri Siva Sakti Ammaiyar and gives silent satsang for 15 minutes every day at 10:00 and at 16:45. What a blessing.

Before attending the Papaji video satsang at 19:00, I go to Auro Usha Restaurant to have dinner. Usha is an Indian who is married to a German man (they both are about 50). They have two boys aged 10 and 11 who help in the restaurant. They offer German/Swiss/Continental/Indian food. It is one of the best and most frequented restaurants in Tiru. Ram sits by himself at a table. We talk, gossip, eat and joke together. I forget the video showing…

Thiruvannamalai, Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ram’s session is from 10:00 to 11:30. I just about make it there. “This is a non-dual reality,” says Ram. “Madhukar if you want to smoke a cigarette in satsang, it’s okay. The wind blows away from the satsang area which has a thatched roof top. Smoking is a vasana (ingrained habit). Although it’s a violation against the dharma, it is still (really) awareness/consciousness that is doing the smoking.” Madhukar smokes a Davidoff, a German cigarette. I am actually stopping smoking on or before January 28. Since a couple of days, I am actually taking Pfizer’s new anti-smoking tablets Champix.

After Ram’s I have a chai and two idlis with chutney and sambar at Satya’s Restaurant next to Ram’s satsang outfit. I am accompanied by a German Osho/Poonjaji Ma (I forget her name) who lives in Byron Bay, Australia. About 25 seekers/disciples are sitting together at a long table. It turns out that Mooji, their guru, sits amongst them with the back to us. He is a big guy, perhaps 1.80m tall, weighing a good 90 kg. He sports matted hair rolled up in a bundle on top of his head. At some point I observe that the seat next to him is unoccupied. I get up, walk to his table and sit down next to him. “Hi Mooji. Here you are! I saw you only on pictures on your flyers. I am very happy meeting you in person for the first time.” “Hi man, I am happy to meeting you!” he answers holding my hands, looking into my eyes and hugging me sweetly for quite a long time. We slap each other on the shoulders. “Come to Satsang!” he invites me. “Yes, I will be with you on Saturday.” As I get up to go he puts his right hand over his heart. I put mine right over my heart. This is how we part – both beaming and smiling from ear to ear.

At 15:00 is satsang with Premananda, a British Osho/Papaji-‘enlightened’ master (he calls himself that). Premananda is running a three-week spirituality course in Tiru attended by 30 participants – each paying USD 1000. Premananda has published three books. The latest one contains interviews of 16 Vedanta and other “masters” where he has posed the same 12 questions to all interviewees. He may publish my book The Odyssey of Enlightenment in German. Currently we are negotiating about it. Premananda runs an ashram in Germany with about 25 inmates in the village of Hitdorf, located between Cologne and Düsseldorf.

Premananda is 25 minutes late. He adds another 15 minutes’ silence to the waiting. He has installed a ‘hot seat’ opposite his own chair. The person who has a question takes the seat facing him. After the first four boring questions and answers about how to live one’s life and the meaning of spiritual experiences, I leave the satsang after about an hour. I get a ride back on an oxcart.

Today is my sister Ilse’s birthday. I am calling her up in Germany to wish her Happy Birthday and best wishes for the year and time ahead.

You may like to check out the websites of Osho and Papaji

Footloose Sanyasi #1: The 3 R’s of Thiruvannamalai

Madhukar Thompson goes to satsang with ‘Rajneesh’, Ramana Baba and Ram

Thiruvannamalai, Monday, January 12, 2009

Last night (Sunday, January 11) I attend my first satsang. It is with ‘Rajneesh’. Yes, the new Rajneesh. Actually, it was quite a sweet satsang although the teachings were not Vedantic but more on the lines of Osho’s.

What he says to me is: “Madhukar, you don’t need a guru. Just listen to your inner guidance. Take all pictures of the gurus down. Even the one from Ramana. Hang up your own picture. Greet yourself every morning. Bow down to yourself, to your divinity.”

This morning (Monday, January 12) I attend satsang with the British yogi Ramana Baba (Muz Murray). He clarifies my own experience about mantra japa (repeating of a mantra). During my entire spiritual search Sri Ranjit Maharaj was the only guru who gave me a mantra. It was ‘Shivoham’ meaning ‘I am Siva’ which again means I am Brahman or the All.

I hardly ever used the mantra because I felt uncomfortable with the breathing rhythm that went with it. For me it is almost impossible to breathe in with the syllable ‘shivo’ (Shiva), while ‘ham’ (I am) on the out-breath is quite easy to manage. Ramana Baba suggested that I could simply use the mantra ‘Aham’ (I am) and forget about the ‘Shivo’ part. Chanting ‘a’ on the in-breath and ‘ham’ on the out-breath works just great and feels absolutely correct for me. Furthermore, Shivoham means I am something; in this case Shiva. As I said earlier Aham means ‘I am’ which is my direct experience, every single moment. There is no need to imagining a Shiva or anything/anybody else or other (which is not a direct experience). (Check out www.mantra-yoga.com)

This afternoon I had my first session in Ram’s three-week seminar on Advaita Vedanta. All of us there (about 10 people) had a great time. The teachings were crystal clear. The funny thing is from tomorrow the retreat will be on the rooftop of a house which is located next to another house on whose rooftop the (relatively) young guru Mooji is holding his satsang at the same time as Ram does. Mooji is the new star in Tiru drawing easily 250 people per session. He is a Neo-Advaitin in the lineage of Papaji. Mooji is/was (?) a Rastafarian from England. I plan attending one of his satsangs in the near future. (You may visit www.shiningworld.com)

After our session with Ram, I go up to the empty rooftop where Mooji holds court every morning. On the table besides his chair he has placed a big picture each of Papaji and Ramana.

Tonight I am planning a special pradakhshina (circumbulation) of Arunachala. Usually devotees walk the 13.5 km around the mountain on foot. However, for a change, I decide to use my Dutch neighbor Roland’s mofa.

PS: The first person I talked to in Tiru – after arriving at Arunachala, and on checking into my apartment – was Roland. It turns out that he is the sidekick and right-hand man for Ram.