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A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

A Few Good Things

Category: Spirituality (Page 1 of 3)

Kailash Mansarovar Travel Tips

I feel energised visiting ancient Shiva temples. Having visited the Pancha Bhootha Temples and most of the Jyotirlingas I have had a deep desire to visit Kailash Mansarovar. This materialised between July 30th & Aug 14th in 2018 – a great advance 50th Birthday treat for me. A long and challenging trip that was executed to perfection by the Isha Sacred Walks team.

There is something mystical about Kailash that has drawn pilgrims for thousands of years. Many keep coming again and again. I would say this is how a temple should be – spread over 1000’s of km’s across pristine nature, no rituals, no flowers, no aartis, no poojari – just you and the Lord in direct contact. 

By the Grace of God and the blessings of the Masters the trip worked out magically. Here is a  summary before I delve into the details

  • We travelled via Lhasa (Bangalore – Kathmandu – Lhasa by flight) and then 1500 km bus drive @ 500 km / day from Lhasa to Mansarovar.
  • Lhasa is at 12,500 feet and Mansarovar – Kailash at 16500/17000 feet. For a perspective Simla is 7000 feet and Leh/Ladakah is 12,000 feet.
  • Our journey was across a fortnight spanning 14 different hotel rooms. Wake up at 5 AM, Pack your bags by 5.30 AM, Guru Pooja and Kriya till 7 AM, Breakfast then start the journey at 8.30 AM driving almost 10 hrs every day. Reach the hotel by 7.30 PM – Dinner – Bath – Sleep. It was a blur as the 14 days whizzed by.
  • Temperatures  ranged from – 5 to 10 degrees, cold and wet, and at times the high altitude sun searing down on you. The challenge of altitude sickness, lack of appetite, tiredness – all of this overcome with one singleminded purpose – the goal to visit and experience  Kailash Mansarovar.

The journey in Phases 

Phase – 1 : Planning 

I made my bookings in Dec 2017. I had been hunting for a good reliable agency and finally decided that Isha Sacred walks was the best. They have been at this for years and do a professional job with the highest regard for safety and convenience. This year Isha is conducting passage for 21 groups with ~ 70 people in each group. Thats a total of ~ 1500 Yatris which contributes to almost 15% of all who will visit Kailash Mansarovar. The pre travel communications for packing / medicines / fitness were crisp and efficient.

Phase – 2 : Arrival at Kathmandu  (Day – 1) 

Our assembly point was at Kathmandu. I reached a day early to visit the city and the famous Pashiupathinath Temple (The package covers this on the return leg). Kathmandu looks like a bombed city – dusty, potholed roads, congested, chaotic. We stayed at The Yak & Yeti in central Kathmandu a nice 5 star property. We completed our debrief, tied the Abhaysutra’s, collected our kits (Isha gives you a Duffel bag, back pack, sling bag and a Down jacket on returnable basis), converted currency to Yuan. We were strictly informed to remove all books / T Shirts that had any connotation of “Free Tibet” and travel as Yatris and not activists. One wrong message can put the whole group in jeopardy. Next morning we started with Guru Puja and Kriyas (Something we did every day) and then headed to the airport for the flight to Lhasa with our coordinators.

Phase – 3 : Acclimatisation at Lhasa (Day – 2/3)

The flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa is less than 90 minutes. Clearing immigration was a hassle – the Chinese are not very friendly and it took us over an hour to complete the process. Lhasa at 12500 feet is a modern city, well maintained with the hallmark Chinese infrastructure of broad roads and nice footpaths. We stayed at the Lhasa Mansarovar hotel – a nice spacious property with good facilities. Breakfast was the regular hotel buffet but lunch and dinner were Indian meals cooked specially for us. That was one of the highlights of the trip – we had fresh piping hot Indian food all through the trip.  

The weather in Lhasa was bright and sunny and we had time to visit the ancient Jokhan Temple, The Potala Palace and The Summer Palace. Tibetans are happy friendly people, and they always oblige to take photos. But they seem to be a minority amidst the Chinese population.

The city was disciplined, organised and clean. We spent more time at Lhasa on our return leg and had dinner at a beautiful place, so more about it then.

 

Phase – 4 : Bus Trip from Lhasa to Mansarovar (Day – 4/5/6)

From Lhasa our journey shifted to buses for the next 9 days. Lhasa to Mansarovar is almost 1500 Km and we covered ~ 500 Km / day. Our first stop was at Shigatse, the 2nd largest town of Tibet at 12,500 feet. And this was the shortest drive of the trip for 6 hrs. From Shigatse we drove to Saga and reached a altitude of over 16,000 feet. This was a long day with over 10 hrs of driving. And then from Saga to Mansarovar.

As we travelled from Lhasa the quality of the hotels started deteriorating. However, till Saga we had rooms with hot water and bathrooms.

We were lucky to get Indian food all through. Even lunch was packed. Breakfast was Khichdi, Upma, Cereal, Fruits, Milk, Tea, Coffee and lunch was Rice, Dal, Sabji, Rajma, Canned Sweets, Bhujia, Apple etc.

The landscape changes after Lhasa. Tibet is the worlds highest plateau. It’s a cold desert. All you see is undulating plains of grasslands with Yaks and Sheep and hardy nomads. There are no trees.

After reaching Shigaste (12500 feet), I fell sick. A combination of AMS and GERD hit me. I lost my appetite and felt feverish and weak. I rarely fall sick and was a little underprepared with my medicine kit. The YAK Butter, Milk Powder and Puri with Rajma for lunch must have caused the problem in this high altitude zone. Luckily we had doctors travelling with us in the bus and stationed at the hotels. They were checking everyone twice a day and thanks to their support I recovered in a few days.

(Doc in Green T Shirt was a fellow Yatri who was doing Gods own service by treating and helping us. I owe it to him for getting back in shape)

On this trip it is best to avoid greasy food. I had carried a lot of “Groundnut Chikki” which I gave away. Figs, dates, biscuits, ginger balls, chocolates , energy bars etc are good to have. The family of Yatris helped me out with medicines and useful supplies all through. It’s amazing how people who you have never never met before come together as a family to help you in your time of need.

If you suffer from GERD or acidity, stick to a light diet. We got bananas and apples every day – so you can stock up on that. Falling sick has nothing to do with age. Our group of 75 had people from 26 – 66 and many of the people in their mid 50’s were the fittest of the lot.

Diamox to prevent altitude sickness is a must have twice a day. It is recommended to start it 5 days before you leave for Kathmandu. With Diamox you drink a lot of water so that means frequent restroom breaks. Which is a challenge. There are no decent loos on the highway so your breaks are always in the open.  Diamox kept me waking up every hr at night all through the trip adding to the tiredness. At these altitudes its difficult to get a restful 5 hr sleep at night. And I am a super sensitive light sleeper.

Phase – 5 : We reach Mansarovar on Day 6

After 3 days of long drives we finally reached Mansarovar. We stayed at a camp right across the lake. Our camp was a Pucca brick structure room with no attached bath. For the next 4 days we would have to manage with no bathrooms, which was a challenge. The toilets were sink pits inside small tents and with no air circulation, it can be smelly. You have the option of using open air starry sky toilets also – which was a better option. At 4 AM, pitch dark, no power, armed with a torch on your head like a coal miner, wet wipes, toilet paper roll, a rain coat, layers of warm clothing you hunt for a nice starry corner. (Suggestion if you are using the tent loos carry some Camphor with you – the smell of Camphor minimises the stink)

Mansarovar is a large lake. It is mystical and has a close linkage with Kailash. We could see the South Face of Kailash from our camp. Many have seen lights and divine bodies taking a dip at the lake during the Brahma Muhurtam  – we also woke up at 2.30 AM and spent some time but were not lucky to witness any celestial beings.

The next morning we did our meditation and prayers by the lake. It is a serene experience and as you sit quietly you can’t but help choke and feel the tears running down your eyes.Many brave souls took a bath in the chill cold water. The authorities don’t allow you to take a dip – so the sherpas get water in drums. Recovering from fever, I splashed water all over my body and it was very refreshing.

Phase – 6 : The final Trek to Kailash – day 7 /8

After breakfast we had a short 1 hr ride to Yam Dwar and started our trek. Many people do the full 72 Km Parikrama that takes 3 days. We did a total of 32 Km (16 Km up and down). Starting from Yam Dwar and walking along the Western face till we reached the Northern face of Kailas where we camped for 2 nights.  We had views of the Southern Face, Western Face and the Northern face.

You have an option of taking a pony. Most people walk. Its a easy trek. Broad path, scenic views, fresh air. You can do it comfortably in 4 – 6 hrs.  Good to have a porter as at this altitude even a few 100 grams can tire you out. The porters cost 850 Yuan for the round trip and the Pony costs 2200 Yuan. There are a few stopover points for tea and snacks to catch you breath and warm your hands.

I was all set to walk but after 3 days of fever the doctor insisted I take a pony. Isha paid for the pony – which was a wonderful gesture, 2200 Yuan is almost Rs 24,000. The horses are young, wild and very sensitive. We were in a group of 4 horses and the Yatri on the 1st horse opened his umbrella, which got his horse troubled. In the neighing and confusion, my pony suddenly started running and knocked me down. For a few minutes I was in a state of shock, wondering if I had broken bones. Fortunately by the grace of God all was well, the thick jacket had saved me and all I had was a few bruises. In this panick moment I saw the horse man remove my RADO watch – but was in no state to stop him. With little oxygen, your memory loss is high and I forgot the incident. After the fall, I refused to sit on the pony and trekked the remaining way to Kailash and back. It was only late in the evening after I reached Kailash that I realised that my watch was missing. By sheer luck the organisers managed to get it back. Miracles do happen in Kailash.

Kailash is the source of enormous energy. The mountain looks different from others in its vicinity. Its majestic and towering. It draws sadhaks from across religions – Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Tibetans. Many come and spend years drawing energy and knowledge. The 1st Jain Tirthankara Rishaba spent over 7 years, Milarepa the buddhist monk spent many years. Sages, wise men, monks, students are all drawn to the power of Kailash. Some say it was made by extra terrestrials, others say it is the centre of the universe, and the global HQ of energy and power which the puny human mind cannot comprehend. Many holy rivers originate from here. You go to Kailash to dissolve. Not to ask, but to merge and take back a spark of that energy with you. You are lucky if you can connect and get that spark embedded in you.

After you reach Kailash you sit quietly trying to absorb this infinite power. You thank the Gods and the divine masters for a safe journey. And you can sense a catharsis within you as the tears swell up and flow silently. We spent 2 nights at Kailash – I wish we could have spent more. I did get a view of the full mountain, but it was cloudy most of the time. We did not have blue skies and at night could not see the stars. Old timers say that later part of Aug the weather gets clearer.

Our stay at Kailash was also in pucca camps similar to Mansarovar. The toilets were better as they were not tents. they were better designed with open roofs. It snowed at night making it very cold. The rooms were comfortable and the piping hot food was a treat. People started reaching Kailash by 4.30 PM and the last set by 7.30 PM. The sun sets only by 9 PM. Tibet is set to Beijing time so its 2 hrs 30 min ahead of India.

Next morning after breakfast we did our group meditation in front of Kailash and visited the Milarepa Monastery close by. The brave Sherpas went close to the mountain glaciers and collected “Kailash Teertha” for us. Fresh with minerals and the energy of Lord Shiva – one drop is all you need to energise yourself.

Phase – 7 : The Trek Back – Day 9

You dont feel like coming back from Kailash but after 2 nights we had to head back. The return walk is easier. This section is not steep and we touched a max of 17,000 feet. There are however parts of the 72 km Parikrama that are steep and a tough trek with altitude touching 18,000 feet. Many buddhist devotees do the entire Parikrama by prostrating. That takes nearly 45 days to complete. 

Our luggage came by Yak’s. This is Yak land – they are strong wild beasts and the local population survives on everything YAK. From Meat, Wool, Milk, Leather – life in Tibet is tough and would not be possible without the Yaks.

Tibetans are tough people and with all the challenges they are a smiling lot. They may be Buddhists but their religion is steeped in tradition and rites and has a lot of Tantric aspects of Hinduism. They say that when the invaders came the Tantric knowledge of Hinduism was smuggled to Kashmir, Tibet, Nepal & Assam as it was safest here in the remote Himalayas. Somehow from here it managed to find its way to Kerala also.

After 4 days of no bath we finally reached Darchen – to a nice hotel with a bathroom and hot water. What luxuries. A nice warm bath, lovely hot food, contentment, a sense of accomplishment and happiness gave way to a relaxed nights sleep.

Phase – 8 : Back to Lhasa

Over the next 3 days we drove back the long 1500 Km back to Lhasa Via Saga & Shigatse. Most of the drive was along the Brahmaputra that was in spate and we had a few long stop overs were the bridges were broken or landslides had blocked the roads. Small incidents nothing serious. We were lucky.

After reaching Lhasa we  ventured out for dinner to a lovely places called The Tibetan Family Kitchen. Nobody knows a word of english in Lhasa – locating the place was a challenge. After a few misses I was lucky to find a young English speaking couple who escorted me to the restaurant. There are good helpful people everywhere.

The service and food at the restaurant was outstanding. We ordered almost every veg dish (Their speciality was Yak Meat) and enjoyed the meal. The group of 75 was split across 4 buses – we were in Bus 4 and over the last 12 days had built a good camaraderie with the group. Far far away in Lhasa, it was fun dining with a few good people.  The lady who runs the restaurant was the perfect host. She booked us cabs and got us back safely to our hotel. 

Phase – 9 : Back to Kathmandu

On the 13th of Aug we headed back to Kathmandu. And the jinx of 13th played up for a bit. Our flight almost landed at Kathmandu and then had to turn back to Lhasa as the weather was bad. A short stopover for refuelling and we were headed back to Kathmandu reaching in time for a late lunch at 2.30. the 2 1/2 hr time lag was a blessing.

That evening we had a Satsang with Sadhguru at the Gokarna hotel. Its rare to meet Sadhguru in a small group of 150 people. We were lucky. We were the 1st batch, A1, and there was a batch heading to Kailash the next day. The Satsang was for both groups. Sadhguru was in full flow and enthralled us for almost 2 hrs in an interactive session.

Phase – 9 : Back to Bangalore

Aug 14th we headed back to Bangalore. We had left on July 30th. It was day 16. We had covered a lot and had accumulated memories for a lifetime. We had survived on an adrenalin rush till now and as I sunk into the  Jet Airways seats, I was overcome by exhaustion. It’s going to take a few days to recover. Something tells me that this is not the last trip – I will head back again to Kailash again in the near future. And as I sign off a special thanks to our team lead from Isha, the young Pooja from the ashram, who did a stellar job with her band of volunteers in managing and coordinating this trip so well. A big thanks to the volunteers, sherpas, cooks, all the support staff who make this trip possible and the friendly helpful fellow yatris who were like family forging new bonds.

Other Tips 

  • Travel light. Dont pack too many woollens, reuse. Ensure 3 sets of Thermals, Undergarments change every day, Socks for every 2 days. Dress in layers.
  • Carry healthy food – Dates/Figs/Biscuits/Chocolates/Energy Bars/Gur/ Something salty – helps to munch something in the long bus rides.
  • Carry 2 – 3 pairs of Gloves, Caps, Mufflers – they tend to get misplaced. A good raincoat is a must. Wear ziplocks over your your socks so that they dont get wet as you trek.
  • Pack all your clothes in Ziplocks / Plastic covers. Use number locks for duffel bags.
  • Carry a flask for hot water and a regular water bottle.
  • A head torch can be very useful
  • Medicines I ended up having – Dymox, Domistal, Omniprosol, Allegra, Azithrol, Dexam, B Complex. (Carry the list that Isha subscribe – http://www.sacredwalks.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/First-Aid-Kit.pdf
  • Packing suggestions : http://www.sacredwalks.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/E-Brochures/Kailash-Packing-Suggestions.pdf
  • There is network connectivity available in almost all the places including Kailash & Mansarovar. Battery pack is needed only at Kailash & Mansarovar.
  • Hotels in China have Wi Fi – but FB/ WhatsApp / Google are banned – activate Airtel Roaming pack before you travel.
  • How much does this cost? Ex Kathmandu 2.85 Lacs. Flight to Kathmandu, 1 extra night stay, Porter, Misc etc add 30 K – so thats a total of 3.15 Lacs for the trip/person.

A few more Views from the trip

 Mythily with the bus drivers friend 

A Tibetian lady selling flowers at the Jokhan temple

Meghna & Vikramjit

Playing TT at the park at Shigatse

Afternoon view of Kailash

A performer / model near the Potala Palace

Community dance at Park at Shigatse

Locals we met Enroute

Mustard fields on the road to Saga

Room at Lhasa

Are you doing Yoga or 1/8th of Yoga?

21st June – International Yoga day is less than a week away. On that day Malls, parks, schools, play grounds, office meeting rooms –  will be packed with enthusiastic people twisting their bodies and stretching themselves to do 108 Surya Namaskars. To the layman Yoga is primarily associated with “Asanas” and to a lesser extent “Pranayamas”  that help you on the physical front – improve flexibility, enhance your energy, cure ailments and make you feel fresh and rejuvenated.Its wonderful that Yoga is becoming so popular globally.

However there is a lot more to Yoga than this. Lets take some time to reflect on “What is Yoga”? Are we doing Yoga in totality or are we doing only 1/8th of  what Patanjali documented in the Yoga Sutra’s.

My motivation to write this Blog came after I watched a wonderful talk by Sri M on Ashtanga Yoga. This article is a summary of that Video. I am attaching the link below – do watch the 1hr video. The way Sir explains it with witty stories and anecdotes is a treat to watch.

What is the Yoga Sutra 

The Yoga Sutra – widely regarded as the authoritative text on yoga, is a collection of aphorisms, outlining the eight limbs of yoga. These “threads” (as sutra translates from Sanskrit) of wisdom offer guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life, and the steps to merge your limited identity with the Ultimate.  The Yoga Sutras are considered the most accomplished and well compiled step by step writings on Yoga – but it is not the only one. Even the Bhagwad Gita is a book of Yoga with the 18 Chapters each showing a step or path towards enlightenment.

The Yoga Sutras were compiled by the great sage Patanjali. He is depicted as half man – half snake and is said to have consecrated the famous Shiva temple at Chidambaram. When we visited Tiruchi we were pleasantly surprised to see the Jeeva Samadhi of this great sage in a small temple in the suburbs of Tiruchi – the Brahmapureeswarar temple.

The basic aim of Yoga is to settle the mind down. As Patanjali explains in the 1st chapter the goal of Yoga is ” Chitta – Vritti – Nirodha“. The agitated mind needs to be calmed – and Sir explains it well by saying that this is the tarmac from where you can start the journey.

Like Gautama’s Nobel 8 Fold Path – Patanjali has clearly defined the 8 Steps to follow in Yoga – hence the name Ashtanga Yoga. Many practitioners in the US may credit B.K.S.Iyengar as the founder of Ashtanga Yoga – but he was just a passionate student and teacher of Ashtanga Yoga spreading it in the west.

The 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and finally all of this leading to Samadhi. 

Please go thru Sri M’s talk for a thorough understanding of these steps – I am sharing a quick summary basis my recap from the talk.

  • Yama & Niyama’s are the rules and regulation to be followed. Predominant amongst which is simple living. Moderation is the key. The ability to be compassionate and not harm others – Ahimsa in action, words & thought. Following the path of Brahmacharya – which is not necessarily celibacy but having self control.
  • Asanas – the step that is most associated with Yoga, helps the practitioner to a strong snd supple body. A healthy body is a must for the long and arduous journey of a spiritual seeker. If the body is still the mind is still. An Asana is a posture in which you can sit comfortable for an extended period of time. There are over 108 Asanas that help energise all parts of the body – many of the focused on the spine. Asanas also play an important role in activating your ductless gland (Endocrinal Glands). Which is the reason your Yoga Teacher asks you to hold that pose for 6 – 7 breaths so that the effect reaches the glands thru the muscles. Asanas when done correctly move the limbs from a position of being tense & stretched to relaxed. This helps in flow of energy or “Prana” the life force thereby  balancing the body & mind.
  • Pranayam is the science of breathing. Breath is an important part of life. you can live without water and food for days but without breath you will not survive for even half a minute. The ancient Rishis were scientists – they realised that our breath reflects your mood. When you are angry and agitated you breathe faster. When you are at peace the pace of breathing slows down. The Rishi’s questioned  “if the mind can affect the breath – can we use the breath to effect the mind” – and that is the science behind Pranayama.To be aware of your breath is the simplest and easiest way to mediate. (I again see a similarity with Gautama’s teaching – his 1st step to tame the restless mind was to practise Ānāpānasati. A meditation technique where you focus your entire attention on the breath)
  • Pratyahara is the capacity of a person practising Yoga to be able to switch your mind on and off and focus full attention on what you are doing. This is a skill that can be learnt with time. It is a crucial skill and is the core teachings of even the Zen school.
  • Dharana  & Samadhi  – After you have accomplished Pratyahara you use this skill to FIX  your mind with single-minded focus on 1 sound , 1 image , 1 thought and exclude everything else. When you stay in this state for an extended period you slowly dissolve and there is no difference between the meditator and the surrounding – you melt and become one with the universe and that is the ultimate state of Samadhi. You become empty and the divine energy from the universe flows thru you. This is the ultimate goal of Yoga.

The article is based on the talk by Sri M on Ashtanga Yoga in March 2018. Please do watch the video – the talk on Yoga is for 60 Minutes. 

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Nothing is Everything, Shunya – A Review of Sri M’s 1st Novel

Om Sri Gurubhyo Namah

An interesting book is one that you can’t let off your hand once you start reading. All of Sri M’s books (Referred to as Sir later in the blog) fall in this category. That includes “Shunya” – his latest book. This is his first novel – but it reads like a real life story. A fascinating story set in the suburbs of ” Tiru – Anantha – Puram” (Trivandrum), Kerala.  its the story of an “Avadhuta” called Shunya – A sage free of all social norms who a common man may describe as eccentric or a Schizophrenic.

There are many commentaries on the Upanishads that talk of how you can achieve the ultimate truth by making yourself empty. Being empty is cleaning yourself of all the impurities that you accumulate in this life , it gets you to the core where divinity exists in its purest form. And in this purest form you are merged with the ultimate. The Universe in all its bounty is trying to give you ultimate joy and happiness – but our cup is so full that there is no place.

This concept may be difficult to understand through commentaries and talks , but it is explained beautifully in this book. The lead character Shunya – who the locals call Shunya Saami keeps repeating that he is “Nothing” – but he is “Everything” – he knows all, reads the mind of people, helps them identify their deepest desires and his grace brings happiness and prosperity to all he touches. he breaks all the rules – lives in a tavern , eats fish and berates people. And he has his share of opponents – organised religion , the priests and the quacks – see him as a threat, but all their acts to get the better of him are in vain – for who can crush the Ultimate Truth.

In one of his encounters Shunya advises a monk running a monastery to run away from establishments – to empty yourself of his ego. I found this narrative an interesting takeaway.

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The monk asks “What else should do I do to grasp the ultimate truth , the Brahman wherein lies eternal peace and freedom ? can you help me Saami ?”

‘Fool, said Shunya – “I” Must Go’.

‘But Saami you told me to come. Don’t go away please.’

‘The ‘I’ must go. I,I,I, aren’t you tired of saying “I”? That “I”is the problem – throw it off. That “I” is to pushed off like shit. All your insides are constipated with ego. Take an enema, break your image , get that shit out ‘. First stop chattering – “I did that, did, did, did.” Can you sit quiet for a moment doing nothing. Sit Quiet – be silent . Stop Doing. Shunya , nothing, clean slate , unalloyed joy!’

His guidance helps the monk to ascend  the last few steps to attain the ultimate truth.

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As a child I have heard from my father about the “Yakshas” of Kerala – the hideous demons who are disguised as charming damsels, of the “Kutti Chatans” and the Tantriks who control them – Sir touches upon all of them in Shunya. Everyone will love reading this – but a Keralite would connect exceedingly well with the local lore.

The story is so well written that it actually feels like a real life narration of an Avadhuta who lived in Kerala. Sir has had such fascinating experiences in life and I have a strong feeling that this is more than a novel – there is a wealth of meaning and learnings hidden in every passage of this book.

A few more interesting takeaways. The one lesson that Shunya reiterates is the need for a guru to help you in your path. There are correlation with Sir’s first book ” Apprenticed to a Himalayan master – A Yogi’s autobiography”. The young American girl Sri M meets in Rishikesh with stomach cancer – Jenny comes in the form of Diana in Shunya. The good news is that Diana recovers from her cancer by the grace of Shunya and gets happily married and works as a teacher in Pine Grove School at Sheffield, UK. That reminds us of PGS at Madanapalli. The last chapter also talks of a young girl the daughter of Bhavani & Sadasivan ( Couple who host Shunya Saami in their house) who was born thanks to the blessing of Shunya Saami – who left home as a teenager and roamed around like a free bird with her band of mongrels – that sounded very much like “Mai Mai” the divine lady who blessed Sir when he was a young boy.

Overall a fascinating read – get your copy at the earliest and do share the word around.

पूर्णमदःपूर्णमिदंपूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णश्यपूर्णमादायपूर्णमेवावशिष्यते
शान्तिःशान्तिःशान्तिः

For more details on Sri M – please visit http://satsang-foundation.org

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Shirdi Travel Tips

To visit Shirdi you need HIS grace. When the time comes the trip happens. I have been to Pune numerous times over the last 15 years but never realised that Shirdi was so close by. Since March this year I was getting repeated signals that the calling was coming and as per the Masters Grace a wonderful trip happened on Apr 23 / 24th. 2018 is the 100th year since Sai Baba attained Samadhi, and we were blessed with good weather and sparse crowds all of which translated to a very satisfying trip.

This Blog will provide all the details that a first time traveller to Shirdi would need

Getting to Shirdi

You have many options to get to Shirdi. There are direct AI flights from Mumbai & Hyderabad that reach around 4 PM. There are trains and buses. Travelling from Bangalore the best way for us to get there was to take an early morning flight to Pune and then drive to Shirdi (Indigo 6E 408 departs Bangalore at 5.25 AM and reaches Pune at 6.50 AM) – yes that means you wake up at 2 AM to get to the airport. Our flight reached before time and we had our car from Savaari.com waiting for us (https://www.savaari.com) – this is a reliable, reasonably priced company with excellent service for booking outstation cabs.  The distance from Pune to Shirdi is ~ 200 Km’s and we reached our hotel at 11.30 AM. Its a 4 hr drive including a 30 min stop – excellent road, lots of places to stop for tea / restroom breaks.

Where to stay 

Like in any temple town there are multiple options, including rooms  that are provided by Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust(Shirdi) – https://online.sai.org.in. We picked Hotel Bhagyalaxmi a nice hotel, very clean, spacious rooms, reasonably priced ( Rs 2200 per night for a double occupancy room), and a nice restaurant attached. Its a mere 2 min walk from the Temple. (In the map below it is at the bottom where you have Hotels and lodges written)

Other options to stay suggested by friends included Vasavi Bhawan (http://www.saivasavi.com) and Saish Hotel which is owned by the great grandson of Baijamma a great devotee of Baba.

Temple Darshan

Shirdi can get very crowded. So ensure that you book your Darshan online. You can register to get a customer ID and book your Darshan tickets here. Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust(Shirdi) – https://online.sai.org.in. You have two options – you can book tickets for Aarti that happens 4 times a day or Darshan tickets  for slots thru the day. (The Kaakad Arti was priced Rs 600/-  and the Darshan Arti Rs 200/- per head. You are allowed to book tickets for multiple people – but ensure to carry your ID)

  • Kaakad – Early Morning
  • Madhyan ( Noon)
  • Dhoop ( Evening)
  • Shej ( Night)

We attended the Kaakad Arti – its at 4.30 AM , but you stand in the Q at 3 AM even with a VIP ticket to get a front row spot. The Arti goes on for almost 45 minutes. the good thing about Shirdi is it is very well organised and you can get enough time at the Sanctum Sanctorum – its not a Tirupathi where you will be pushed away in a few seconds. ( TIP – while standing in the Q try and be in the inner line – this allows you to to take a U turn and come out from the open space in the front of the Sanctum Sanctorum – giving you a lot more time in the main temple, the outside row exits from the left)

We also attended the 5 PM Darshan on day 1 with pre- booked VIP ticket – there were less than 100 people at that time on a Monday, the Kaakad Arti had over 500 people.

The Temple Complex – What is there to see (On a good day you can cover all that is to see in less than 90 minutes)

The main Temple or the Samadhi Mandir – is where you have the Samadhi of Sai Baba and the marble statue of him in a sitting pose. There are a few more places to see inside the temple complex

Gurusthan – The seat of the teacher. This is right next to the Samadhi mandir. Gurusthan is the place where Sai Baba first appeared to the world as a 16 year old boy. The place is situated under a massive Neem tree. It also has a shrine on which Sai baba’s portrait is placed with a Shivalingam and the Nandi bull right in front of it. Gurusthan means- the seat of the teacher.

Dwarkamai –   They say that Dwarkamai is the heart of Shirdi, the place where the great Sai Baba spent a significant part of his life including his last moments. This site, at first, was a dilapidated mosque. Dwarkamai is probably the only mosque which has a temple in it! The original Dhuni of Baba is still active here. You can walk by it and see the place where he slept and lived.

Chavadi – During his last years, Sai baba used to spend alternate nights at Chavadi. The place is located right next to Dwarkamai mosque from where the procession of Sai baba along with his followers was carried out in a palki. Even today, the procession takes place on every Thursday with the idol of the saint inside the palki. The Chavadi & Dwarakamai are located outside the main Temple complex – but its a 5 min walk after you exit from Gate 3 (Shani Gate)

Lendi Baug – Sai Baba used to spend a lot of his time here watering the plants daily in the mornings and evenings.

Dixit Wada Museum – The Wada museum is located in the vicinity of the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan trust that showcases vintage pictures of Sai baba with his followers. It also displays his leather padukas, long robes and a smoking pipe along with gramophone records, bathing stone and cooking utensils, among others. The museum is open for public to visit from 10 am to 6 pm. Between the museum and the Lendi Baug are a few Samadhi’s of Sai Baba’s closes devotees both Hindus & Muslims.

Few Important Points for visitors

  • Cell phones are not allowed inside the temple complex – so leave it in your room. Also leave your belts and bags. Only wallet is allowed.
  • Footwear has to be left outside – you can leave it in any of the shops outside
  • You get prasad as you walk out after darshan – a packet of Boondi and some small pouches of “Uddi” (ash from the holy Dhuni) – you cannot buy extra.

There are a few more important places you must visit. The first of which is the Mahalsapati Kutir – located very close to the Chavadi. Mahalsapati was a great devotee of baba and to this day the afternoon prasad from the temple is delivered to their house. If you are lucky and are visiting around 1230 – 1 you may get the prasad. The house is currently inhabited by the 4th generation

A minutes walk from Mahalsapati’s house is the residence of Laxmibai Shinde Patil. She used to cook for Sai baba and on the day before he left his body he gifted her 9 silver coins. these are on display. Ask the locals and they will guide you to these places.

Between 23rd afternoon and 24th early morning we had experienced to our hearts content the energy and divinity of Sai Baba and left Shirdi at 9.30 AM on 24th. On the way back we took a 90 min detour and stopped by at Shani Shingnapur.

The unique Shani Shignapur Temple of Ahmednagar district is well-known for the magical and powerful Lord Shani, who is believed to reside in a black stone. The Hindu God symbolising the planet Saturn is referred to as Swayambhu, which means that he has emerged himself in the form of the black stone. It has absolutely no architectural beauty, and just the simple stone with the spiritual aura of the lord entices scores of devotees every year.

The trust of people in the lord is so strong that none of the houses in this village has doors and locks. People believe that Lord Shani is protecting their valuables

The drive from Shirdi to Pune is partly scenic / partly barren. This is home to lovely Pomegranate and Guava orchards and you can pick them up at throwaway prices. So do remember to keep some bags handy.

Our flight to Bangalore was at 10.20 PM and we had time to visit the Samadhi of Dnynaeshwar at Alandi. A 13th century Marathi saint considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu he took samadhi at the tender age of 22. Alandi is located 20 Km from Pune – the Temple complex that houses his Samadhi is located on the banks of the Indrayani river and is accessed by foot. The Dnyaneshwar Samadhi Complex  includes the Samadhi,the Shri Sidheshwar temple and the famed Ajanvriksha tree. The Sidheswar temple is an ancient Shiva temple and a “Swayambu”. The whole complex is a highly energised space – within a few minutes of meditation you can sense the  intensity of the place.

We were back in Pune by 6 PM and met up with a close friend at Vaishali – and as we walked down FC road and JM road could not but help compare Pune with Bangalore. And Pune does score high on all counts. After dinner at Shreyas (A nice homely place that serves authentic Marathi Thali) we reached the airport by 9 PM well in time for our 10.20 PM flight to Bangalore reaching home by 1.30 AM.

It was a long day waking up at 2 AM for the Kaakad Arti – almost 24 hrs of no proper sleep. Two consecutive days of waking up at 2 AM. There was a sense of happiness at having accomplished a lot and we thanked the Masters and Sai Baba for an excellent Darshan and a safe and fruitful journey.

Other Useful Points 

  • Weekends and Thu are very busy at Shirdi – avoid school holiday season – best time to travel is Nov – Feb
  • Nasik is 100 Km from Shirdi – so is Aurangabad. You can make Shirdi as your base and cover these two cities. They both have a lot to see including a Jyotirlinga each. Aurangabad is also the getaway  for Ajanta and Ellora
  • The total cost for this 36 Hr trip was ~ Rs 40,000 for the 3 of us ( Rs 13,000 each ie $ 100 / day ) inclusive of Flight, Cab, Hotel, Darshan Tickets , Food – that is value for money

 

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Discovering Madanapalle & The Satsang Foundation – Sri M

A short 3 hr drive (120 Km from Bangalore) is the town of Madanapalle.Head to old Madras Road and after the 1st toll near Hoskote take a left and get off the highway.  Madanapalle is  famous for its mangoes, fruits  and vegetables and is  the biggest tomato market in Asia. Horsley Hills the highest point of Andhra – a hill station is just 25 km from here. Set in the midst of the E Ghats, rocky hills and lakes the landscape is rustic and captivating. If you leave Bangalore at 5 AM you can be blessed with a divine view of the rising sun as you drive into Madanapalle.

This is also the place where Rabindranath Tagore translated  “Jana Gana Mana ” from Bengali to English and set it to music in  1919 to the now familiar tune.Madanapalle is also the birthplace of Jiddu Krishnamurti the famous Philosopher, Writer and Speaker

My purpose of visiting was to stay at the Satsang Foundation – the HQ of Spiritual Guru Sri M. Sir is a living Yogi, a spiritual guide, social reformer and educationist. I had read his autobiography about 6 years back and met him at a discourse on Karma Yoga. His presence was electrifying. My first two visits to the Satsang Ashram were day trips. It was during my last visit (Thanks to a good friend for making that happen) that I had the joy of meeting him in person. He suggested that I  visit the Ashram frequently . This was my first trip where I spent 2 days at the beautiful ashram.

Its a small and divine ashram. The centre piece is the Shivalaya – which is a serene place housing a statue of Ganesha , Shiva Linga, and the Sri Yantra besides a beautiful peepal tree. This is where the group meetings and the functions are held.

There are two energised meditation rooms – the Babaji meditation room even in the summer heat felt cool and comfortable. These are powerful centres and a 30 min session here feels like meditating for  hours.

The rest of the Ashram has rooms , a dining hall, a meeting room and the administration office. The rooms are spacious, airy, clean and functional. Bathrooms have W Toilets and hot water. Many who revere Sir as their Guru have built their houses in the Ashram. Sir also has his house here. The Foundation  runs a school and a healthcare centre that are alongside. This is not an Ashram where you will be woken up with devotional songs nor are there evening Bhajans. The place was almost empty – its a place to go within and connect with your inner self.

The Satsang Vidyalaya – provides free, high-quality, multi-lingual education to rural children from the tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh. I met the school principal as he was waiting at the gate welcoming the students. It was a joy to see the high energy students trooping in  – some walking , some cycling and some running in at the last minute, all of them stopping by and greeting us Good Morning . The school was spotlessly clean. Most of the teachers have a Masters degree , many are B Ed and one of the volunteers is a microbiologist from Harvard. The students are mainly from the local Lambada community.

The Satsang Swasthya Kendra is a very well stocked, well managed centre. Run by an efficient doctor and her competent  team – the place is spotlessly clean and feels like it was inaugurated yesterday. But its been there for over 5 years delivering excellent service to the local community.

The ashram also has a woman self help centre – but it was closed and I couldn’t visit them. The Admin office has an excellent stocks of DVD’s and Books – Sri M communication is simple and lucid and his explanations of the Upanishad and Bhagwad Gita is a joy to listen. I stocked myself with almost all that they had to offer.

The food at the Ashram is simple and Sattvik. You will love it.

I spent a lot of time at the Ashram – but I also had time to go with Dr Priyam and her team to the villages nearby. Our first visit was to a mobile health camp run by the Govt of Andhra with the Piramal foundation. I was impressed with the process and the efficiency with which this camp was run. Cheers to the committed team of doctors and their support staff.

Our second visit was to the Satsang rural school that imparts education to about 30 children. This is located 12 km from the Satsang Ashram. This is where you see the difference between city children and the rural kids. There was so much joy and happiness in the little things they had. Intelligent , sharp kids with great life skills – but sadly at a disadvantage from day 1. The Satsang foundation has clearly identified the two pillars for India to succeed – Education & Healthcare, without that India cannot progress.

I also found time to visit the local village market (Tue is the day to go) and eat the tastiest Idlis and Vadas at CAM’s idli. Needless to say a plate of idli , Vada and Dosa cost me less than Rs 50/-.

A 20 min drive from the Ashram is a beautiful Shirdi Sai temple on the Kadiri Byepass road. Its spotless clean and has a live “Dhuni”.

Places I could not visit

Mallaiah Konda – which I was told is a beautiful place with an ancient Shiva temple. This is a hillock located off the road from madanapalle to Bengaluru. This is a hillock with a large monolith at its peak. On top pf this peak is a temple of Mallikarjuna Swami (Shiva). One can reach this place by taking a left turn near Vempalli village, while travelling from Madanapalle to Bengaluru. Luckily, the place is still pristine even though it is located near the town. It offers beautiful views of Madanapalle town. One can also see the surrounding Mahamalleshwara hills. The flat area found on peak of the hillock is an ideal location for stargazing during clear nights – best in summers.

Obalesh Temple: A Vishnu temple located on the same road, but still farther towards Bengaluru. This place is located inside the state of Karnataka very near to the border it shares with Andhra Pradesh. It belongs to the rayalapadu panchayat. Unlike the malliah konda, this temple is not on a peak, but is nestled between two tall hills. A good place for silent contemplation. Every Saturday bhajans happen in the temple from morning 7 to 10 am. There was another Vishnu temple I saw atop a hill from the Ashram – this is a trek with about 600 steps.

Rishi Valley – Once a drought ridden valley, but now a throbbing forest. Thanks to the Krishnamurthi foundation which has taken upon itself the task of afforestation in this valley and has done it successfully. Rishi valley is famous for the School. but, deep inside the valley one can find pristine locations, which I feel, equally deserve the fame. One such location is the Enugu Mallamma cheruvu. A natural percolation pond. One can enjoy a swim in the pond and also enjoy the view of surrounding hills.

Peepal Grove School (PGS) – a residential school run by the Satsang Foundation – It is one of the few schools providing alternative education in India.

There is also an organic farm close by that merits a visit. Horsley Hill may be worth exploring – I am told that during weekdays its empty.

The weather in Madanapalli is excellent between Oct & Feb. Summers can get hot. The area gets only a few showers every year and water is a challenge. There were no power cuts when I was there and I was told that things have got a lot better in the last few years. The network is decent – Airtel 3G works but Jio doesn’t.

 

For more details : http://satsang-foundation.org

 

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The Sound of Silence – My 2nd Vipassana experience

Its 4.30 AM on a cold winter day in January and I am  sitting in a pitch dark small 10 sft cell in the confines of a beautiful Pagoda. And its pin drop silence – but wait you can hear something , after a few minutes of meditation as your mind calms down  you can actually hear the Sound of Silence. And as you try to observe this beautiful sound with equanimity you hear two more sounds – the soft sound of breath and the rumbling sound of your stomach.

I never felt hungry during my Ten Days program but the stomach grumbled everyday – well it had reason to do so. My last meal was at 11 AM the previous day and post that all I had had was a cup of lemon juice at 5 PM. Thats a gap of 19.5 hrs between two solid food meals. Thats the world of Vipassna – 10 days of Noble Silence, 10.5 hrs of meditation every day starting at 4.30, a light breakfast at 6.30 AM , healthy lunch at 11 AM and a cup of lemon juice or tea at 5 PM.

To know more about Vipassna – read my blog from last year – https://vak1969.com/2017/01/30/insights-from-my-10-day-vipassana-session-at-bangalore/.

This time I was at the Dhamma Khetta Hyderabad – a serene and beautiful Vipassana centre in the outskirts of Hyderabad , the 1st centre set up Goenkaji in 1976 a few months before Igatpuri.

The second experience was easier, a lot more easier. Most of the piled up defilements had cleared up last year and I had led a stress free relaxed life since then. The first few days I felt I was in a resort with a nice room , timely meals and total peace – all of this FREE. The weather was excellent. Everything was perfect. And barring a few storms that came up and helped clear some long pending blocks Vipassana 2 was a song compared to Vipassana 1.

It was also a little repetitive – and the instructions are so detailed that and old meditator may find it an overdose especially when its repeated in English , Hindi and Telugu. But then you have no choice as the program attracts people from all backgrounds and the instructions have to be crystal clear. It was also a little disappointing to see the over harping and sarcasm on rites and rituals that goes on and on over the ten days. But given the benefits you can ignore that. Will I go back – yes I will but maybe for the 3 day or 5 day programs in one language. I don’t think I will be able to manage the repetition of the 10 day program again.

So what makes people go again and again ? The idea is learn the technique and go deeper and deeper and clean up layer after layer of embedded defilements in the mind – not just of this birth but also of the previous births. Its a dry, arduous technique and tests your patience and tenacity. But it does help – I have observed significant changes over the years – especially in Anger management and the ability manage the ups and downs in life with equanimity. And the 10 day program acts like a great detox and helped me lose ~ 4 kgs

But I am just a beginner – a good example of how Vipassana transforms you is my good friend and his family. They are a family of Vipassana practitioners and their house has so much peace and tranquility it feels like an energised temple. This person exudes warmth, compassion and happiness. He is like a conductor of pure joy. He always has a smile and a kind word to people most of us will ignore – From the security guard  to the toll boy in a busy highway , the servers in a restaurant, he even greets and wishes the CISF guard who pats you down in the airport security. He is a conductor of Joy. He is loved by one and all. And it flows from the infinite spring of joy and peace that is deep inside him. Brimming with compassion and happiness. I have seen him face with equanimity the challenges of life. He is a role model to me and he attributes all of this to his many years of Vipassana practise.

So the question arise who should go ? I guess everybody should experience one Vipassana session and see if the technique works for them. Its logical and it works. I have also interacted with people who are at the other end of the spectrum from my friend. People who are conductors of misery. They give a tough time to the people around them. And this comes from the fact that they are full of misery inside. Throttled up tension , ego , sadness, frustration , all tangled up in a complex maze. Vipassana can help you untangle these knots.

As Goenka Ji explains in one of his Dhamma talks – the Sugarcane is full of sweetness , every fibre is saturated with sweetness so people like my friend are like a Sugarcane. And then there are others who are like a Neem tree – who are full of bitterness. Be rest assured – the teacher who was nasty in school , the dominating boss who made your life miserable, a murderer , a rapist –  are all people who are full of misery within , because what comes out is what is within.

I strongly believe that deep down everyone is a small pure innocent child – the situations in life make you full of bitterness and a conductor of misery. These people definitely need to go for a Vipassana session and clear up their defilements and bring that pure child back to life. They will find deep peace and help transform themselves as better human beings

Life is all about getting the Blessings of others, when you show compassion and help people the Blessings flow to you. On the contrary when you purposely make lives of others miserable you miss out on the good will and Blessings of people. Accumulating Blessings and Positive Karma is probably the biggest asset you can build in this life – which is nothing but one step in the multiple lives we will have to purify ourselves in the search of eternal truth.

Cell Inside the Pagoda 

 

Rooms

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History of Guruvayur

This blog is based on “Chapter 5 – My Darshan of Guruvayurappan” – by Sri M in his book “The Journey Continues”. All the information is directly quoted from there.

Guruvuyaur  is a small coastal town in Kerala famous for the Guruvayurappan temple where the prankish heart stealer Lord Krishna is worshipped as a boy . In terms of popularity it ranks with Tirupathi. Thousands visit the temple every day mainly from Tamil Nadu & Kerala.

Legends have it that the deity is 5000 years old – although there are no historical records. The story goes that the idol, carved out of a sacred material called Pathalanjana Sila was once worshipped by the great God Maha Vishnu and handed over to Brahma. After many generations it was worshipped by Sri Krishna’s parents Vasudeva and Devaki and later installed in Dwaraka and worshipped by Krishna himself.

Before giving up his body Krishna handed over this Idol to his foremost disciple Uddhava and instructed him to hand it over to Brihaspati, Guru of the Devas so that it may be installed in a suitable place and worshipped during Kaliyuga.

Dwarka was submerged in a deluge but Brihaspati with his prime disciple Vayu the lord of the wind managed to retrieve the idol. While looking for a suitable place to instal the idol they met Parasuram who was also searching for the idol.

Parasuram led Guru & Vayu to a lush green spot behind a beautiful lake. The Yogi God Shiva and his consort Parvati who were spending time there in contemplation permitted Guru & Vayu to install and consecrate the idol there. From then on the place came to be known as Guruvayur. Shiva & Parvati are said to have moved to the other bank and settled down at Mammiyur. The pilgrimage to Guruvayur is to this day considered incomplete without the worship at the Shiva temple at Mammiyur.

That is as far as legends go. Historically the earliest mention of Guruvayur or rather Kuruvayur comes from a Tamil work Kokkasandesam. Kuruvai means sea in Tamil hence the name Kuruvayur. The earliest temple records date back to 17th century. The temple is mentioned in the songs of the Alwars. By the end of the 16th century Guruvayur was a popular pilgrimage centre in Kerala.

In 1760 the Dutch looted Guruvayur and raided the treasures, the gold plate that covered the flagstaff and set fire to the temple. In 1766 Hyder Ali captured Calicut and then Guruvayur. On the request of Srinivas Rao the then Governor of Malabar, Hyder Ali granted a free gift – Devadaya and handed the temple back to the Hindus.

In 1788 Tipu Sultan marched to Malabar. Fearing destruction the priests hid the deity. Tipu Sultan destroyed the smaller shrines and set fire to the temple but it was saved by a sudden and heavy downpour.

Later on people like Chempakassery Namboodiri, Deshavarma Namboodri and the Ullanad Pannikars offered everything from service to property to revive the temple. Worship at the temple started again in 1900. In 1928 the Zamorin of Calicut was reinstated as the administrator of Guruvayur. In 1970 a massive fire broke out and the public irrespective of caste , creed or religion rushed to join the fire fighting. There was massive destruction but the sanctum sanctorum was protected. The temple was renovated and once again opened for worship on April 14th, 1973.

The name of two great and saintly persons who made Guruvayur famous have to be mentioned Melapathur Narayana Bhattathiri ( 1559 – 1632) was one and Poonthanam ( 1547 – 1640) was the other.

Melapathur Narayana Bhattathiri  apart from being a scholar and mathematician was the author of Narayaneeyam.

The Narayaneeyam is a devotion Sanskrit work in the form of a poem comprising 1036 verses and gives a summary of the great Bhagvatha Purana. The story goes that his Guru Achuta Pisharodi had painful arthritis. . Unable to bear his guru’s suffering Bhattathiri by his yogic power took the disease and relieved his Guru. He soon discovered that the pain was excruciating and resolved to make a pilgrimage to Guruvayur confident that Guruvayurappan would relieve him of the disease.

While entering the temple he is said to have met Thunjat Ezhuthacchan the author of Adhyatma Ramayana.

Ezhuthacchan shocked him ( an orthodox brahmin) by saying “Mean Thottu Kottuka” (start with the fish). On reflection , Bhattathiri realised that Ezhuthacchan was not asking him to eat fish but to start writing the Bhagavad, beginning with the story of Maha Vishnu’s incarnation as a fish, the Matsya Avatara.

He then started composing One Dasaka (Ten stanzas) a day sitting before Sri Guruvayurappan and in a hundred days had completed the Narayaneeyam. It is said that on the last day he was blessed with a full vision of Guruvayurappan and got cured of his painful disease. Even today Narayaneeyam which is in Sanskrit is held in great esteem in Kerala and chanted with great devotion.

Poonathanam, Melapathur’s contemporary was not a great scholar but a true devotee of Sri Guruvayurappan. He is remembered for his masterpiece Jnanappana which means ” the song of wisdom” . Poonathanam was married at the age of twenty but had no children for a long time. he is said to have prayed with tears in his eyes for a child and was finally blessed with a. son. Poonathanam called for a grand celebration where everyone he knew was invited. Unfortunately and ironically an hour before the ceremony the child died suddenly. Grief stricken Poonthanam renounced all worldliness and turned to Sri Guruvayurappan. His attitude underwent a sea change and he believed that the child god Krishna Guruvayurappan was his own child. He wrote ” whilst little Krishna is dancing in our hearts , do we need little ones of our own

The Jnanapanna begins and ends with

Krishna Krishna , Mukunda Janardhana,

Krishna Govinda , Narayana Hare, 

Achutananda Govinda Madhava 

Satchitananda Narayana Hare.

“Here!  Krishna Guruvayurappan, has come to take me to Vaikuntam, sing his Parises.” said Poonthanam pointing upwards and letting go of his last breath and passed away to be forever with his beloved Krishna.


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Recharge & Connect in 48 hrs @ Isha Yoga Coimbatore

Some say that we are at the end of bad times (Kali Yuga) and the new cycle is on the verge of starting. I don’t know if this is true – but if you visit the Isha Yoga centre in the suburbs of Coimbatore for a few days you will start experiencing a unique feeling – it feels like you are in a world of peace and harmony , it feel like you are in Sat Yuga. 

After my Inner Engineering program in 2011 I had visited the Ashram in 2012 – that time there was a lot of ongoing construction . I visited a second time last week ( June 2017) with a few friends and did not want to come back. If I have to describe the Ashram in 3 words  it would be Energy , Peace & Nature. Sadhguru is not a normal guru and the Isha Ashram is very different from the other Ashrams I have visited.

Let me try and explain and set the contours for you to plan a visit. And please do visit – if I have a choice of going to Goa for two nights or to the Isha Yoga Ashram – I would without a second thought choose the Isha Yoga Ashram. There is a lot to see and do and  a sense of deep satisfaction at the end. And you leave knowing that you will be back very soon.

Reaching Isha Yoga 

Located in the suburbs of Coimbatore its about 380 Km from Bangalore , we left Koramangla at 5.30 AM and reached the Ashram by 1 PM after two breaks for breakfast and lunch. The road is excellent and the FastTag  helped us avoid the Q’s at the Toll gates. Choke points are in Salem and Avinashi Road Coimbatore – rest of the journey you can zip at 100 + km / hr . We stopped for breakfast at Krishnagiri and lunch at Annapoorna Gowrishanker (Avinashi Road – immediately after Le Meridian). After you cross Coimbatore city you drive for almost 40 Kms thru excellent Village roads and reach the foothills of the verdant Velangiri Hills. ( Trust Google Maps it gets you to your destination correctly)

Stay at Isha Yoga

They have excellent rooms at the Ashram – you need to book in advance. Room rates are Rs 1300/- per day that includes pure veg Lunch and Dinner at the Ashram. Excellent, nourishing, healthy food. Its a sit down meal. Lunch is served at 10 AM and Dinner at 7 PM. Book  well in advance – on any day there are well over 300 people attending the different programs at the Centre. The place is buzzing with energy. Everything is managed by volunteers and it is done with efficiency that will put the largest of corporates to shame.

In between if you want some snacks or Tea (I would say avoid if possible) you can visit the lovely Pepper Vine eatery that opens at 830 AM and serves a wide variety of snacks , juices , fruits – all at very reasonable prices. For those who want a early morning cup of coffee you need to walk to the main gate – the restaurant there opens by 6.30 AM.

How to plan your day 

You have the choice of starting your day at 4.30 AM with the soothing chants of Nirvana Shatakam and Guru Paduka Stotram. After a shower we headed to the large open platform near the SuryaKund that faces the Lily Pond , Dhyana Linga and Linga Bhairavi Temple. This is the perfect place to do your morning Yoga and Kriyas.

At 6 AM we headed to the Dhyana Linga ( it opens at 6 AM) – we were lucky to be there during the Full Moon and were amongst the first to do the Milk Abhishekam.  The best time to visit the Dhyana Linga is at 6 AM in the morning or late evening. Rest of the day it gets very crowded – avoid weekends when the crowds are bustling.

The Dhyana Linga is a highly energised space for meditation. The sole purpose of Sadhguru’s life was to create and consecrate the Dhyana Linga something he has been trying for the last few lifetimes. (For the full story on Sadhguru and his journey of building the Dhyana Linga read Sadhguru: More than a Life by Arundhati Subramaniam)

 

We were lucky not just to be the first to do the Abhishekam but also to do the ” Linga Snanam“. This activity happens at 8 PM the day before the full moon when you can volunteer to wash and clean the Dhyana Linga. Its a rare and unique opportunity and we were blessed to be able to do it.

We have all grown up knowing that the Shiva Linga as being very auspicious and only the select few are allowed to come near it. And hear was a group of volunteers and visitors who were doing what normally only select ordained brahmin priests can do.

After an hr of meditation at the Dhyana Linga we headed to the Linga Bhairavi temple. A powerful sanctum  dedicated to the Goddess. The design and aesthetics of everything in the Isha Ashram is unique and classy and you cannot but stop admiring every walkway , every wall , every stone – the eye for detail is amazing. The walk from the Linga Bhairavi is thru a beautiful green garden and you cross the Sadhana Centre, The Aum Meditation hall and the Chandra Kund before exiting the complex near the entrance of the Dhyana Linga.

 

By now it was 8.30 AM and we stopped by at the cafeteria for a cup of tea and then slowly walked by the verdant green landscape to our room for some rest before heading to the Bhiksha Hall for lunch at 10 AM. The lunch hall closes sharp at 10 AM so be there by 9.55 AM. You can always join the second group at 10.40 AM if you miss the 10 AM slot. The food served here is tasty, nourishing and filling. And after the meal you need a little rest post which we headed for the Aum Meditation.

This is conducted in a small hall near the Chandra Kund as you are walking away from the Linga Bhairavi. A 30 minute session you are initiated to the correct way of chanting AUM. Sadhguru explains in a video the reason why it needs to be chanted in a certain manner and the

benefits of the same. You are advised to do this practise for 40 days twice a day – 15 minutes each. The practise can be done anytime even on a full stomach.

Our next stop was the “Theertha Kund”. Ancient and powerful temples invariably held a sacred water body, where visitors could take a dip before entering the main energy space. This was not only for physical cleansing and freshening, but also to activate and sensitize the energy body of the visitors, to prepare them to fully receive the energies of the space. There are two theerthakunds at the Isha Yoga Center – the Chandrakund for women and Suryakund for men.

Embedded 30 feet below the ground, and approached by a descent of thirty-two massive steps, the Chandrakund is framed by gigantic granite stones and vaulted by a colorful mural depicting the Mahakumbha Mela. Measuring 55 x 15 ft., this exquisite artwork follows the traditional Kerala style of painting dating back to the 15th century, using only natural colors and vegetable dyes.

The Suryakund is larger and measures 130 by 40 feet, and is embedded 22 feet in the earth. It is surrounded on three sides by a wall of 200 massive, 50-ton granite blocks. One major feature of the Suryakund that nobody can miss is the Sun sculpture which hangs from the ceiling. Constructed in just two days, the Surya sculpture is 20 feet across and has been constructed out of brass and copper. The water is energized by the submerged Rasalinga, weighing over 660kgs. A dip in this vibrant water significantly increases spiritual receptivity and also rejuvenates the body.

The Kund is indeed magical – the cold water refreshes end energises you. Its ideal to take a dip at the Kund and then visit the Dhyana Linga but the Kund opens at 7.30 AM and the Dhyana Linga at 6 AM. (Do take a towel with you to the Kund, this is for drying yourself, they give you a towel / robe for women  to wear while entering the holy water space), you can leave your valuables in a locker.

Post our dip in the Kund we again went back to the Dhyana Linga for an hrs meditation and the on the way out stopped by the Cafeteria and Isha Shoppe. The Shoppe has a wonderful collection of items – dresses , artefacts etc – budget at least an hr to browse thru all the items at the store.

A glass of lemonade and then we headed to the grand Adiyogi statue that is a 10 min walk . Its massive and the area is so windy – the whole experience is breathtakingly beautiful. We were lucky that there was hardly any crowd and we had the place to ourselves. Its best to come here in the evenings or in the morning when its not very sunny.

As we headed back to the room we were able to witness another rare spectacle  – the Linga Bhairavi Procession that happens on every full moon night. A high energy spectacle of Drums , Dance , Fire with the procession of the Linga Bhairavi and the Aarti in the open space near the Nandi. Try and visit the Ashram doing the New Moon or Full Moon time – then you can get to see these rare ceremonies.

The day ended with an outdoor dinner near the Nalanda Cottage. Another unique experience eating a tasty piping hot meals in the darkness below the cloudy sky with the dark hills looming in the background keeping a watch.

Between the two days we also attended the evening Satsang at 5.30 PM in the Sadhana Hall. (If Sadhguru is in the Ashram he conducts it in person – with his travel schedule thats rare) and managed a short visit to the Isha Rejuvenation centre for a Massage. While here do get a pack of the Snana Powder – its a great body wash.

An important thing you will observe all through the Ashram is the connect with Snakes. They are everywhere – right from the entrance , the Lily pond, even the knobs in the room are designed like snakes.

You can even buy a copper / silver snake shaped ring. Sadhguru has a strong connect with snakes – and we all know of the connect that Shiva has with Snakes. Wonder what this means.

Isha Yoga centre is about Hatha Yoga in its pure form and meditation techniques to connect with your inner self. This is a  place of Yoga and Karma – people at the Ashram are dedicated and work hard. This is not a place where you will find lectures on Vedanta and Gita.

The two days we spent flew by and it was wonderful to have the company of two wonderful people – company does make a difference, when you visit an Ashram like this find people who are not garrulous and can absorb the energy of the place. The trip was perfect from start to end – and we owe it all to the blessing and grace of Sadhguru.

Running an Ashram like this day after day, catering to large crowds and managing everything so efficiently is remarkable and hats off to the administrators and the band of volunteers who make this happen and create this amazing experience for us.

 

Most of the Photos are from the Public Domain space and not shot by me. Photography is prohibited in most places inside the Ashram.

For more details visit the Isha Blog

http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/lifestyle/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-isha-yoga-center-and-more/

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Journey of Souls – Book Review

Most people are scared of death – some are inquisitive of life after death. I belong to the latter group. From our childhood we have heard so much about heaven and hell – its as if there were two big mansions up there in the sky – one which was full of gardens and fairies and everlasting happiness and the other where they tortured  you and dropped you in cauldrons of boiling oil.

Spirituality, Materialism, Energy, Infinity, Supreme Power, Life , Death, Purpose …. how do you connect the dots with all these interesting but deep subjects ? Read the book “Journey of Souls” by Michael Newton.

 

This amazing book reveals the hidden mysteries of life in the spirit world after death on earth. Dr. Michael Newton, a hypnotherapist in private practice, has developed his own hypnosis technique to reach his subjects’ hidden memories.

The book is a real life log of his sessions with  twenty-nine people who were placed in a state of superconsciousness. While in deep hypnosis, these subjects movingly describe what has happened to them between their former reincarnations on earth. They reveal graphic details about how it feels to die, who meets us right after death, what the spirit world is really like, where we go and what we do as souls, and why we choose to come back in certain bodies.

 

What the book can educate you on 

  • How it feels to die
  • What you see and feel right after death
  • The truth about “spiritual guides”
  • What happens to “disturbed” souls
  • Why you are assigned to certain soul groups in the spirit world and what you do there
  • How you choose another body to return to Earth
  • The different levels of souls: beginning, intermediate, and advanced
  • When and where you first learn to recognize soulmates on Earth
  • The purpose of life

So Why read the book

It will remove the fear of death. The book explains that after Death you will go to a beautiful place where you are loved , nurtured , taken care of , healed and then you decide when and where to come back in a physical form. There is no hell , there is no boiling Cauldrons.

You will realise that the time you spend on Earth is a learning curve , you are sent here to work on your weakness and help your soul advance in its journey to immortality. A learning that there is a purpose for this life. You were born in a family and with a set of friends as per your choice to change yourself. Soulmates come at pre defined times to help you in the journey. They try to help you – but its up to you to decide whether you want to change or not. Some people adapt and change and progress – while others resist change and the journey for them is longer.

 

As you evolve the colour of your soul changes. The highly advanced sages and masters who guide other souls are Blue & Purple in colour while the beginners are white. (I have heard Sri M talk about how when life ceases he can see a white wisp of smoke emerge from the body and move on) – less than 1% of souls are in the Advanced + category

You will start understanding the concept of energy and infinity and time better. A Soul can choose to be in any Planet, Galaxy or Universe, or Astral plane – there are numerous points in space where life forms or energy forms exist. Souls can recollect their previous lives thousands of years back  – the concept of earth years is just a flash of a second in this infinite universe.

After reading Journey of Souls, you will gain a better understanding of the immortality of the human soul. You will meet day-to-day challenges with a greater sense of purpose. You will begin to understand the reasons behind events in your own life.

Journey of Souls is a life-changing book. I found the initial section very interesting , it was a tad boring in the middle but the last few chapters that talk about Life Selection and Choosing a New Body is fascinating. 

 

Insights from my 10 day Vipassana Session at Bangalore

It was an intense and powerful program and by the 10th day I could clearly see the benefits. And this they say is just the beginning. A program conducted with deep commitment and compassion that touches you. A program conducted purely by volunteers for which there is no charge. A unique program that all should explore.

Vipassana is a powerful technique of Strengthening & Purifying the mind. Its the original pure technique that Gautama Buddha shared with his followers after his enlightenment. The intent of this Blog is to help first timers attending a Vipassana session to get a fair understanding of how the jigsaw puzzle falls into place over the ten days. My first Vipassna session at Bodh Gaya was about 3 years back and I left on the 5th day. Now after having completed the course I realise that I made a mistake and was looking at it piecemeal day by day. I hope first timers after reading this blog will not make the mistake of leaving in the middle.

Disclaimer – There is no substitute to attending this program – the learnings , benefits , awareness that one will get from attending the program cannot be documented in a blog.

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What most people say when you tell them ” I am attending a Vipassana session” 

When I told friends that I was attending a Vipassana Course the initial reaction was – “Its very Tough , you hardly get to eat anything , you have to wake up at 4 and meditate for 10 hrs every day , you can’t talk for ten 10 days… ” – all of this is true. But this was easy for me . I am used to waking up at 4 , and with no physical activity and talk the healthy vegetarian food they provide was enough – never felt hungry. Staying quiet for ten days was a pleasure – away from noise and pollution in a serene and peaceful ambience.

So what makes it Challenging 

Its a mind game. A wild elephant does not want to get tamed. Similarly the mind does not want to be controlled. This is the battle across the ten days. Your mind feels like a paper boat on a stormy ocean being tossed up and down. The mind is so strong and free willed – its been roaming freely for so many years – suddenly trying to control it is a challenge.

Lets step back and define the problem – Why Vipassana , what is the problem that we are trying to solve. 

2500 years back Buddha saw Misery not just in his life but across all his previous births. That stands true today – rich or poor , old or young there is a lot of misery in the Human Mind.

The root cause for Misery is Craving and Aversion. Every seer and enlightened person has said this but nobody has been able to give a solution. Vipassana is a simple, proven technique that when practised regular help us solve for this problem .

 

So whats the solution 

Two skills you need to develop – 1. Be Aware 2. Be Equanimous. These are like the two wings of a bird that helps you soar and overcome the challenges of misery.

Every time there is a Craving or an Aversion you sow a seed in your mind which grows and multiples. By being equanimous you do not sow the seed and over a period the old seeds die.

Vipassana helps you to purify the mind of the old seeds that have been sowed and stop new seeds being planted. So over time you mind becomes pure.

Sounds easy but whats the methodology  

You follow a 3 step process

You need to take a vow and follow the foundation of the practice sīla — moral conduct. Sīla provides a basis for the development of samādhi — concentration of mind, which is the second step, and purification of the mind is achieved through paññā — the wisdom of insight to observe things as it is. This is the third step.

  1. The key percepts of sīla are – Maintain Noble Silence (Silence of body , speech & mind – even eye contact is not allowed). Other rules – No Stealing, No Lies , No Killing ( Not even a mosquito) , No sexual misconduct , No Liquor /Intoxicants and total segregation of male and female meditators.

2. samādhi is about taming the mind and using it in an incisive manner to purify the mind.

3. And finally paññā is about observing things as is – observing the Truth within you with equanimity – neither like or dislike.

A fundamental principle behind Vipassana is that everything is constantly changing – nothing is permanent. The minutest cell in the human body  the smallest subatomic particles that are in constant transition – generating and regenerating itself almost a trillion times every second. In effect the body is nothing but wavelets.

So whats the Viapssana Technique that you practise for ten Days 

There are two Techniques that you Practise.

Anapana Sati – a simple technique to control your mind by observing your breath and then observing the sensations in your body. A sensation is nothing but a Electrochemical reaction and the body is full of sensations – our gross mind is unable to observe them. But when you sit in meditation for ten hours a day concentrating on a specific part of the body you are able to observe the sensations on the 2nd or 3rd day. Anapana Sati is a technique to sharpen the mind.

On the 4th Day evening you are initiated to Vipassana. You now move the mind from the head to Toe and Toe to head observig the sensations all across the body. Sensations may be gross or subtle , some you may like , some you may have an aversion to. The training is to observe the sensations with equanimity and move on. You will also see that every sensation dies after certain time following the rule of impermanence.

As you continue this process observing pain, itching , heat , perspiration , tingling, and many more sensations Gross & Subtle …. in an equanimous manner you are purifying the mind of impurities and they emerge as old hidden thought , as tears , some get gassy , multiple things happen and each experience is unique to an individual. You can sense changes happening within and thats what causes the upheaval of the mind. Thoughts flow in abundance – I remembered my class 8 Newtons Laws and all the Trigonometry formulas from Class 11 / 12. Minute details from 30 – 40 years suddenly come in front of you. Sweet memories make you smile and the bad ones bring tears. Fantasies and dreams float by. And you observe and observe quietly.

How intense can the sensations be

They can be very intense – in one of the Dhamma Talks Goenka Ji talks about a Scientist from US who came to his teachers meditation centre in Burma and his body was literally jumping up and down while in meditation. His sensations were intense – this was not a flying Sadhu who was experiencing weightlessness but a person full of impurities that would require a lot of cleansing.

Sounds simple – so can we cleanse ourselves in ten days by doing this 

This is just the beginning. You will definitely feel a lot better after ten days as you would have started cleaning the store impurities of so many years – but you need to continue this for a long time. The recommendation is to practise for at least 2 hrs a day after the ten Day program and also to attend a Ten Day session once every year.

And its not just the practise you follow the principles of Sīla or morality in your day to day life. Experienced Vipassana practitioners then move on to 15 , 20 , 30 and even 45 day programs.

Which are the most Challenging Days 

Day 2 and day 6 are the most challenging days after learning the Technique and practising them for a day the mind gets boiling and frenetic. There are terabytes of thought that flood your mind, you go up and down. Old memories from childhood, from work , from old friends , acquaintances , good memories , bad memories, they all come gushing out. You are quiet – there is no other outlet to distract you , so you have no option but to reflect.

I had attended an earlier program at Bodh Gaya and exited on day 5 – so I was aware of the 1st 4 days and actually enjoyed it. The routine was quiet , the peace and quiet and serenity was enjoyable. I have been doing Aana Pana for the last 3 years so the technique was not new to me. On Day 3 I went into deep meditation and did not hear the 11 AM Gong for lunch and the friendly attendant had to shake me awake. Maybe If he had not I would stayed in deep meditation for days and got enlighted !

But Day 6 was very challenging. At 5 PM after tea as I was sitting quietly by a corner under a tree reflecting on the burst dam of thoughts a mosquito comes and sits on my nose. I instinctively try to clap and crush it – but remember that I can’t kill it. He is a smart mosquito – he comes back after 6 PM inside the meditation hall during the “Addithanaa” session – this is a 1 hr session where you try to develop strong determination by not changing position , moving legs or opening your eyes. I can sense him sitting on my face. I twitch my face but he hangs on. I can feel the piercing of my skin as he draws blood and I remember the instruction – ” feel the sensation – this will also pass” – and it does pass. The guy sensed easy blood and came back the next day – but this time I was prepared with a. liberal dose of Odomos and had the last laugh.

On different days aI saw different symbols that expressed the state of my mind. On day 3 there was a eagle soaring in the sky – gliding up , coming down sharply and then being static mid air. On Day 6 there were multiple monkeys in a Tree in the campus. Jumping up and down – and thats exactly how the mind was. And on day 9 the same tree was full of parrots chirping happily.

Things start getting better by day 7, and 8. You also tell yourself that 70% done , 80 Done and the end is near – that helps.

By day 9 & 10 the mind is so focused and strong that you feel its like a beam of lazor. On day 9 I tried focusing my mind at the eyebrow centre – and boom there was a flash of light and I could immediately sense a strong pulsating sensation at the Pineal gland in the back of the head. Normally this takes 5 – 15 minutes of focused attention during my Yoga sessions and even then I feel a warm sensation and not throbbing. I then tried focusing my attention in all the energy Centres and there was instantaneous reactions there also. ( The practise does not encourage focusing on any specific spots and concepts like Chakras are not talked about in Vipassana – this was my own experimentation)

So what is unique about this Program 

Its an experiential program. There is nothing theoretical about it. Your experience is basis how you implement the teachings. Goenkaji explains this very well with an example. When you visit a Restaurant you see the menu and feel hungry , you then see the person next table relishing the food , that makes you more hungry – but finally you taste the food and relish it. Attending lectures and hearing about the experiences of others is good – but there is no substitute to experiencing the eternal trust as is by yourself.

Its different from other meditation where you chant a mantra or “Om” or Focus on a god or goddess. That helps to calm the mind at the surface level – but does not get deep to cleanse the mind. Been mantras like Om create a high level of Vibration – but these are externally created vibrations – In Vipassana nothing is created from outside , all you do is observe whats happening inside.

Who is the Teacher and how is the course conducted

The principal Teacher is Sri S.N.Goenka ( Late). All the sessions are his Audio / Video recordings. Goenkaji or Guruji was a successful businessman in Rangoon and learnt this technique in 1955 from his teacher U Ba Khin. He worked with him for 14 years and came to India in 1969. The technique that is taught is the pure and pristine form of Vipassana that Gautama Buddha had shared 2500 years back. It had got lost in India and Goenka Ji brought this back to the country. He is a great orator full of compassion and logic. There is no mumbo jumbo of this program – it will appeal to the analytical mind. There was a prophecy that 2500 after Buddhas death the knowledge of his teachings would come back to India and then spread across the world. 1969 was the 2500th year – that was the year Goenka Ji came to India – so maybe the prophecy is coming true.

At the session there are Assistant teachers who facilitate the program and can help you with any questions you may have on the technique.

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So is this Buddhism

Goenka Ji emphasises again and again that this is universal and people from all religion attend the Vipassana program. It is a program that help in conversion from Misery to happiness. There are no mantras, Talismans , Images, etc referenced anywhere in the program. these are the original pristine teachings of Buddha on how to develop on the path to enlightenment.

However during the program you are told not to practise any other rites or rituals.

Where are the centres located and how do I enrol

There are multiple centres in the Country. You can register online at https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/vipassana. I attended the session at the Bangalore centre in Tumkur. Most sessions get completely enrolled 2 – 3 months in advance. The HQ are at Igatpuri – Nasik and the centre there looks like heaven.

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Will I get to stay in a single room – How is the food – Whats the schedule …. 

Depends on the centre. The Bangalore Centre has 40 Single rooms and also Dormitories. Old Meditators are given preference for single rooms and then its allotted on first come basis. Rooms are simple but clean and functional with hot water, fan , western toilets etc.

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The schedule is taxing you start at 4 and and at 9 PM. Food is simple and nutritious. A good sumptuous lunch , and a decent breakfast are the primary meals. Tea and a very light snack are served at 5 PM.

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Food is simple veg – we had Upma , Poha, Pongal , Idli for breakfast  on different days and Rice , Roti , Vegetables , Sambar , Rasam, Raita , Salad, Buter Milk for lunch. Its self service and you clean your own plates after use. You can help yourself to additional servings if you are hungry.

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Whats the Charge , who are the attendees 

There is no charge – everything is provided free of cost. On the last day you are free to donate whatever you feel like.  Anybody is welcome to attend- there is no class or sect bar.

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Any other benefits ? 

Yes its a great detox program – the soulitude , simple food, No talk calms your mind and also helps you to lose weight. I lost 4 kgs of body weight – but I can’t measure the head weight I have lost.

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