Living Ritual in Rikhia

Swami Dharmananda Saraswati (Australia)

Paramahamsaji told us that the aim of this Ram Naam Aradhana was for everyone to find again the relationship they once had with God and somehow had lost. Children have no problem with God. For some time after they come into the world they are still at home with God. They feel the touch of unseen hands; the mystery in the air excites them. They live the stories they tell. Children naturally make games and rituals with their own yantras and mantras, with sacred knowledge, sacrifice and initiations. They know that their mother and father are not their real parents and this is not their real home. They live with the gods and with truth. And the hero, the godman, lives in their heart. Then as time passes they grow up. They learn the ways of the world and defend their heart with walls. They no longer hear the voice of the hero. Then life becomes suffering. Our show starts and ends with dust.

But in India, alongside the corruption and the dirt, that purity still shines, that open space of the heart still exists. The gods are alive because people have kept them alive. Here the gods are fed and clothed first. This is the charm of India where worship is natural and unceasing and the air is thick with the conspiracy of the gods and men. At 6.00 a.m. a bicycle ambles past, the rider with mala at his throat, a song of God pouring from within. Temple bells vie with one another for a place in heaven; a child serves chai with an upward lilt of the eyes and body tilting in surrender to the dance. The elders and the godmen are valued because everyone knows that there is a sacred knowledge, that this life has another dimension. Men tread lightly on mother earth and sense control is valued because without sacrifice there is no experience of God, no transfer of energy between heaven and earth. Here life is a pilgrimage from one celebration to the next. The offering is gathered and prepared, raised up at the peak and the blessed prasad is brought down.

In India there is everything good and everything bad, but it is this living ritual which is India's gift to the world. It is the play between man and God which is the reality. While the play is on, both worlds exist in creative union. The players know it is a play and so can shoulder their responsibility more easily. They can forgive the imperfect world while bowing to the perfect, they can accept the human and the external in one being whether in God, in others, or in themselves. And the ritual works. India gives back that mythic dimension of time and space which we lose so easily, that space where man is close to God again and transformation is possible. And so we look to India and the godmen of India to help us find our own relationship with God according to our own dharma.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Paramahamsaji said that life is suffering, that Buddha, Christ and Krishna showed the way but no one got out, and that only the sannyasin will get out. This is an almighty push for the ordinary man. The only way out is to become like the sannyasin, extraordinary. But who is the extraordinary one we are looking for? Where is he? How can we reach him? The auspicious one, the original yogi, Lord Shiva, resides at the peak in silence. But the practices of yoga and tapasya can be as lofty, cold and inaccessible as Mount Kailash for the sensual man. Even the great tapasvin Ravana once tried to challenge Lord Shiva's meditations by shaking the foundations of Mount Kailash, but he could not disturb him. Lord Shiva simply pressed down with one foot and crushed Ravana's hand. So Ravana took another road to Shiva, the way of confrontation with Lord Rama, even though the demon king was so wicked that he could not utter Rama's name during his life except with his last breath as he merged with his goal.

The way of the yogi, the renunciate, is only for the few. Even the heroic path of confrontation is only for the unusual man. How many are like Ravana, who is so desperate to unite with truth that he can throw himself into the line of fire, straight at the arrow of Rama? Nevertheless, to think of approaching our goal via Lord Rama is to follow the right track. For Rama's way is open to all. He recognizes only one relationship: devotion. Whatever way he is approached, if it is sincere, he will respond in the same way. The way of devotion, bhakti, of celebration via the senses by singing and remem- bering the name of God, and of serving – this way can revive the spirit of our hero, help us find the natural relationship with God which was lost in the battlefield of life. It can bring even the robber, the sensual man, to the feet of God and transform his expression from 'mara' to 'Rama', from death to light. This was the experience of Valmiki who first received the story of Rama and then wrote it down and gave it to the world – Rama's way, the Ramayana.

So on behalf of the common man, the Ram Naam Aradhana is staged at Rikhia, the greatest show on earth. It presents the pageant of Rama, where right thinking, acting and living are at the core. From the stage, with the sun of Dharma blazing behind him, the statue of Rama presides, waiting for Sita. Paramahamsaji, the ring master, sits astride his tiger. The three-eyed conjuror doesn't miss a trick. By his side Swami Niranjan stands tall, his 1,000 eyes ever vigilant, 1,000 arms ever ready, like Rama protecting the yajna of Sage Vashishtha, existing to facilitate the show and defend the Dharma. Between Swami Niranjan and Paramahamsaji stands the trident invoking the unseen Lord Shiva.

More bronzed and provocative than ever, Paramahamsaji stands up, head flung back, the arrow of his intent challenging the skies above. “We are here to lure Shiva and Lord Rama is the lure!” he flashes. For wherever the story of Rama is told, wherever his birth or marriage is celebrated, Lord Shiva cannot refuse the invitation. And it is our great luck to also be invited to be part of this play of the gods.

In India the people live the story of Sita and Rama. It is their life blood. Sita and Rama live in the hearts and minds of everyone. The performance continues on the stage of everyday life. At the time of rites of passage: birth, marriage and death, this living ritual is the sacrament. For these times are the crossroads where Paramatma and jivatma may glimpse each other. A living ritual can celebrate and connect us with this eternal, joyous truth. No wonder thousands came to the wedding ceremony of Sita and Rama in Rikhia, when all there was to see were statues of Rama and Sita. But here the relationship with God is so developed that the murtis are real: they live.

In Rikhia we partook of Paramahamsaji's munificence and the concrete example of right living at the Akhara. The things we needed – discipline, duty, simplicity, good work, good clean fun, working with others for others – were all there in a natural way. It wasn't always easy. So many people pushing in different directions in Paramahamsaji's open house. For many sitting still for long periods was difficult, for others following most of the official program in Hindi was a trial. But people surrendered to the richness of what was there and forgot about what was in the way. The tiny sacrifices were offered up and an experience was brought down which was beyond words. Something extraordinary happened – or something so ordinary you could almost miss seeing it. It was like being children again – playing together, sometimes laughing, sometimes fighting, sometimes the boss, sometimes the lackey, but with no fixed roles, simply playing the fluid game of life together, as children of a loving God. That closeness we had somehow, somewhere lost.

Afterwards no one spoke of seeing bright lights or earth shattering phenomenon. Some said they had felt so at home that they didn't want to leave. Others felt so satisfied that they were happy to go back where they came from. One house- holder said, “Before Rikhia I felt in conflict because I thought I could only find spiritual life in an ashram and not with my family. Now I know that for me it is with my husband and children and so I'm happy to go home.”

And when the last day came it was Christmas day with angels, wine, bread...and allelulia, it was the real thing. Already mellow, many people from western countries watched eastern people bowing down before the Christ child and suddenly saw themselves again and could remember a sweetness that they had turned their backs on.

In that one month people of different colours and different ways came to honour the divine hero inside and outside. They came to the feet of Lord Rama and the Christ child just as the local shepherds and the three kings from the east and the three wisemen did 2,000 years before against the same starfilled backdrop. The world had come to Rikhia to take Rikhia to the world. The parts of the world came together and for a while God became whole again. And the sun was full of colour, round and bright once more just like the drawing that you did when you were small. So the story must be told and retold. It is our story and like children we have to recognize and live it. We have to be vulnerable, we have to make the commitment to go through the struggle, we have to enter into battle to make the hero in the heart a real presence. It is so simple – a hero to look up to and a way to live.

In Rikhia Paramahamsaji gave us the two keys to the open secret. He shared with us his sadhana which he said had brought him closer to God – singing the name of God and serving in the world. Work and worship – nothing new. But he did not just tell us, he made us do it. He gave us the experience. Everyday for one month working together and celebrating the name of God with every sense – singing, dancing, satsang – until in the evenings the consciousness melted into night without the mosquitoes of the mind to disturb the starry sky.

No one left empty handed. India gave a space for the gods to play. Valmiki, Tulsidas gave the story of Lord Rama. Paramahamsaji invited us to participate in a living ritual, gave us an experience and a heartfelt way of bringing God close, a way to heal our broken relationship with God.

And so for now this divine play ends. But the arrow has been loosed and must reach its target. The show must go on all over the world and the prasad distributed to all the neighbours. In Rikhia the dust settles mingled with the dust from the feet of the gods. For a while we breathed it. Together we created a sacred space and played in it. Then we undid it, dismantled the structure and pavilions. The show packs up, the guests and players depart. Everything is toppled as though it had never been. But for the participants nothing is the same. The gates at Rikhia may be closed again but now we have a foothold on the experience. We have seen where the chinks are in the wall, we have been shown the ropes. We know the way in: where the keys are and how to use them. Some kind of breakthrough has taken place. Somewhere the trident has pierced the sky and Shiva is visible.