My Pilgrimage to Rikhia and Munger - A Homecoming

Swami Nishchalananda Saraswati (Director, Mandala Yoga Ashram, Wales, UK)

I hadn't been to Rikhia for some nine years, but when I arrive it is as though I have never left. The only thing that reminds me of my lengthy absence is the number of large new buildings which have sprouted up everywhere. From being a sleepy Bihari village Rikhia has become a vast complex - the Akhara - a power house of spiritual energy.

I arrive late in the evening of the 29th November. I am warmly welcomed, taken to my room and given some hot nourishing food.

The following day I walk around meeting old friends. Some are surprised to see me, thinking I had died, and wonder if I am a bhuta (a ghost or an apparition)! Rumours - valid or invalid - spread like wild fire throughout the yogic world community. (I recall occasions when I have said something to someone in the ashram, only to receive a phone call from Australia or somewhere a few days later to ask if it is true that...)

Swami Niranjan calls me and I am delighted to see him again, as well as Swami Satsangi and a group of Indian swamis, old friends, who run ashrams in different parts of India. I soon realize how rusty my Hindi has become. While I can understand perfectly, I find that the words are not articulated by the mouth. But still we chat away merrily and catch up with the news. I notice how well they all look.

Both Swami Niranjan and Swami Satsangi are extremely busy, but at the same time emanate an air of having all the time in the world. It occurs to me that such is the nature of life. Time is short (from the point of view of the personality), and yet we have all the time in the world (from the perspective of Eternity and the Atma, which is beyond Time).

I spend most of the first few days socializing and generally exploring (in the manner of a rooster which is my Chinese astrological sign!!). But my idleness doesn't last too long: one morning I am requested to report for karma yoga duty in the office. Using a computer, my work is to help input details of the large number of gifts that are arriving daily - jewellery, clothing, food and all kinds of things to be re-distributed. Everything is running like clockwork and my contribution is probably to slow things down a bit! But it gives me the opportunity to participate in the yajna without always being physically present in the pandal (the tent in which the yajna is held) - I can still hear the mantras over the loudspeakers. I soon find a nice compromise - mornings in the pandal, and afternoons in the office.

Meal times turn out to be a great opportunity to meet old and new friends. Once seated besides someone, a discussion soon develops on all kinds of subjects. It is also a pleasant time to share with Swami Niranjan who always combines humour with deep discussion or observation. The food is excellent - well prepared and bang on time. So my congratulations to all the people in kitchen which, despite our protestations, can make or break a spiritual meeting. I recall the practical wisdom that if the belly is not full, then the spirit cannot aspire or even be inspired.

On 5th December, the Sat Chandi Maha Yajna (Great Spiritual Sacrifice to the Goddess) is inaugurated and continues with five days of giving, sharing and receiving. The poojaris (people who carry out this type of yajna) are specialists from Varanasi and this soon becomes evident in everything they do. The mantras flow and charge the atmosphere of Rikhia and, no doubt, beyond.

Then there is Kumari Pooja - the worship of the 108 kumaris (young girls) - all from local villages, except three from elsewhere. This is a tantric practice which acknowledges that Shakti (the creative intelligence of the universe) expresses Itself in everything and everyone. The young girls have the potential to create new life, just as the Primordial Shakti (the Cosmic Goddess) has the infinite potential to create the multifarious beings and things of the cosmos. I can only conjecture what an experience it must be for a young girl to be worshipped as the Divine Goddess incarnate! And what an opportunity for us to be able to share in the process - to worship them as Divine Incarnations (which indeed they are, as we are ourselves).

An important part of the yajna is the giving of presents - and over the next five days, each visitor and all the people from the surrounding villages receive gifts. It almost seems as though we have access to the mythical Kalpa Vriksha (the wish-fulfilling tree), which satisfies everyone's desires without ever being depleted. The whole process is flawlessly orchestrated by Swami Niranjan, both with grace and efficiency. Behind the scenes, the enormous organization is orchestrated perfectly by Swami Satsangi with her super efficient and motivated team. This giving even continued in Munger a few days later.

Increasingly, everyone wonders when Paramahamsaji will come. This inner question is repeated on everyone's lips. There are endless rumours - later today, tomorrow, or, horror of horrors, not at all! Everyone is in suspense even though the yajna was going on perfectly. Finally, to everyone's relief, he arrives on the last day and stays in the pandal for six hours - talking, joking, presenting presents and giving satsang. I haven't seen him since my last visit and so it is with pleasure that, with a nod from Swami Niranjan, I touch his feet.

On 10th December it is time to move on to Munger by taxi. Travelling through rural Bihar I feel very much at home and I speculate that I must have been a Bihari in a previous incarnation!!

Ganga Darshan is now an accredited University - Bihar Yoga Bharati. The whole building is dedicated to putting yoga on an academic footing worldwide and giving people yoga training. I meet Swami Mangalteertham, Head of the Applied Yogic Studies Department, whom I have known for many years. He kindly shows me around and gives me an idea of what he is doing. There is also a superb library and the present librarian, Swami Vigyanchaitanya, explains what he is doing to link the library with the University activities.

My feeling is that the University offers a new way for higher education where intellectual learning is combined with inner change and vision (which, according to Swami Vivekananda, constitutes 'real education'). There are many problems to be solved, but the first step has been made and Ganga Darshan may well present a new paradigm of University education to the world.

Every morning there is satsang on the lawn, followed by chanting from the Ramacharitamanas (the old Hindi version of the Ramayana written by Tulsidas). Every evening there is kirtan. One evening Anandajyoti from Iran gives a heartrending speech in which he explains the cultural and spiritual links that have existed between India and Iran since time immemorial. He explains how he has been introducing yoga to the Iranian people - not an easy task. But he is succeeding and his face emanates resolve.

Throughout the day there are meetings to discuss various topics, including the proposed standardization of Yoga Teachers training in Europe. It is also a chance to meet other friends from Europe and elsewhere.

Ecology needs yoga

Then there are the trips to the Ganga - the sacred river which inspires and nourishes so many people in India. I notice it has changed course enormously during the last nine years. The huge demands on its waters and the silt that is being washed down from the deforested Himalayas seem to be taking its toll. I realize that human need and human greed is savagely changing the face of the miraculous planet on which we live. Bhu Devi, or Gaia, the World Goddess, is able to tolerate a lot of mistreatment, but how much can She bear? It occurs to me that the Ganga symbolizes planetary issues which have to be addressed by humankind - immediately - before Gaia addresses them for us by finding Her own radical solutions.

I ponder that we see two processes in the world, and it has probably always been this way. Life, after all, is based on the play of duality symbolized by the ida and pingala, the fundamental symbols of hatha yoga and yoga in general. In the present world we see, on one hand, a process of degradation and desacralization - the pollution of our sacred planet and the erosion of the quality of life (in a wider sense than that measured by the short-sighted economic yardstick). On the other hand, we see a process of consolidation - represented by places like Rikhia, Munger and other ashrams and spiritual centres worldwide - where there is a process of integration and sharing (symbolized by the yajna), of respect for the sacred in the world and within ourselves. It seems to me that the next evolutionary step for humankind is to balance science and technology and all its fruits (negative and positive) with spiritual values. When the balance is found - and this is what the present world demands if we are to survive - then we will all be enriched on all levels - from the material to the spiritual. This will allow all of us to live a full and joyful life, enhanced by the realization that we are all living incarnations of Underlying Intelligence.

In the early hours of the 22nd December I leave Munger in a taxi to Patna. My stay had been very constructive and joyful, so much so that I decided to bring a group the following year. My best wishes go to those whom I met at Rikhia and Munger (most of whom I have not mentioned in this article) - fellow travellers on the path to Infinity. Thanks for sharing with me. May we meet again at Rikhia next year and, when this play of life is finished, may we meet where there is no separation - in our real home, the Infinite Being.