I came to Ganga Darshan for the four-month course in yogic studies with a great hope and a lot of doubts too. Would I be able to cope with the stress and strain, and would I be able to learn anything new at the age of 67 plus? I had been practising integral yoga for some time, but did not know how to disseminate the knowledge I had received through ashram life and through yoga. I joined the course to equip myself with knowledge of the various yogic practices and paths shown by the rishis for the evolution of humankind.
I met students from all over the world. They were divine sparks as if chosen by a higher force to gather together in search of a path to realize the highest aim of life: harmony and bliss. Like me, they came with hope and doubts. They came to the India of their dreams, to a sacred place on the shores of the Ganga. They came to a gurukul, a residential school living and teaching yogic disciplines under the direct guidance of a realized soul, a guru, a person who can lead us along the uncharted path of the spiritual journey.
Since 1995, students have been coming every year to learn yoga in the certificate course. This year things started on a different note. The environment was such that the mind and the spirits could enjoy a breeze of freedom. There were no lectures or exams, but a spirit of enquiry was generated with which we had to search for answers from living ashram life and from the books made available to us. Students read the books voraciously because most were seekers and we read to quench our thirst for knowledge.
Fortnightly assignments were to be written in limited time with books open. The books were the Bhagavad Gita, some Upanishads, the Yoga and Kriya book, the Yoga Sutras and the spiritual discourses of Swami Sivananda, Swami Satyananda and Swami Niranjanananda. The questions were quite difficult for a newcomer, but the process of writing assignments helped in concentrating the mind and developing understanding, sometimes to a deep level.
We had to get up at 3.30 a.m. to reach the asana and pranayama class at 4.40 a.m., five days a week. It was such a powerful time of the day, full of divine energy and alpha waves. In this class, we started with the body and afterwards went from the external to the internal dimensions. People think that asanas are performed to make their body trim, supple and flexible, and to maintain health. However, we learned that asanas can be, and should be, performed like a musical rhythm, with synchronization of the breath and with complete awareness of every part of the body involved. You have to live in the present if you want to derive any benefit from asana. You transcend the body and can feel the energies flowing smoothly, which in turn makes the mind calm and steady. When we bring our whole awareness to a certain body part, a kind of pratyahara (sense withdrawal) takes place and the mind can reach a meditative state. Through yogic breathing practices we learned to breathe correctly and scientifically. Then the practices of pranayama started very gradually, which made us aware of the ida and pingala pranic flows. A sense of peace, wellbeing and harmony was created.
Yoga nidra classes were superb, fantastic. The practice is the innovation of Swami Satyananda, which he derived from the tantras and experimented with. Yoga nidra can give complete relaxation of body and mind. When this is achieved you can teach a person any type of lesson. We were also taught ajapa japa practices and chakra awareness in yoga nidra. It was a thrilling experience when we chanted Om from bhrumadhya all together. Our worn out painful memories from the subconscious and unconscious were being removed gradually. We became lighter in body and mind, and the inner joy of the self could find expression. Actually the inner joy of our group infected the whole ashram.
I cannot but describe the walking meditation that we practised in the garden. As we walked slowly with awareness of hearing and touch (with eyes closed), we had the unique experience of love. An interaction took place between our feet and the earth, the grass and other vegetation. We could listen to the leaves when they talked to the breeze. We could hear the meaningful sounds and music made by different birds, insects and other small lives in the environment, which we could not possibly see with our limited eyes. We felt oneness with the trees with whom we exchanged breath to live. This touch of life made one feel glorious. It was the dawning of the realization that they and we together make the universe, that we belong to the same pranic field.
Karma yoga or seva was part of our curriculum and it played a very important role. During different types of seva we recognized our strengths, imperfections and problems, every situation was a lesson. Karma yoga was the medium to achieve a balance between ida and pingala, bringing calmness to the mind and making the body fit and active.
After the days stress and strain, every evening was made divine by the practice of mantra chanting, kirtan and bhajan. The devotional voice of the singer, and the harmonium, mridanga and guitar all created such a magical atmosphere that every student became absorbed, sang and clapped, rhythmically dancing with the kirtan, diving deep into the ocean of bhakti. The Navaratri sadhana, the Bhagavata Saptah and the regular chanting of the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramacharitamanas all created their own effect in our mental dimension, making us worthy to receive higher knowledge and to walk the spiritual path.
The final touch was when we went to Rikhiapeeth, and entered the strong energy field of a saint, Swami Satyanandaji. We entered an ocean of power as soon as we arrived. Our whole existence surrendered to the sublime aim of revering the poor village folk, the women and men, kanyas and batuks. Give, Give, and Give! This is the mantra there. Swami Sivananda says, You can purify yourself so much by serving and giving that your sadhana comes to fruition, and you can see God.
We participated in this maha yajna of giving, and joined in the Sat Chandi Mahayajna. The Divine Mother was invoked through this tantric ceremony and we could feel her love and blessings showered upon us. On the day of panchami, the kumari kanyas (girls below 12 years of age) were worshipped as Devi Ma. It was a feast for the eyes and an experience to see hundreds of innocently smiling, happy village girls being fed with so much love. Paramahamsaji said, I see the Mother Goddess in them, they are the living Devi Ma. We were very lucky to have Paramahamsajis darshan every day and to grow in his powerful spiritual touch.
Thus gradually we all become bhaktas without knowing it. We were given one more opportunity to go to Rikhia on the merry occasion of Christmas and to take part again in the celebration of giving. The Christ consciousness was dawning everywhere, in every being, and each moment was lived and experienced with an intensity that made the heart pound with excitement. When we came back to Munger, we celebrated Christmas again. The programs performed by us exhibited that excitement, and as we danced in the garden our guru came to join us.
As the time to end our journey came nearer, we asked ourselves, Did we come here to study and to know a few important things related to life outside, or to transform our whole being inner and outer, the personality, the attitude, our behaviours, our reactions, our thoughts, and our emotions? We used to live at the periphery of consciousness but learnt to live nearer the centre, and learnt to serve, to understand, to forgive and to spread love. All this was not only the result of the practice of hatha yoga, karma yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, Sivananda yoga and the yogic lifestyle. It was more the result of the appreciation that Swamiji gave us, his forgiveness, his unbounded love trickling down into us through the swamis, through the environment, through the butterflies and the songs of the breeze passing over Ganga Darshan. His love was like alchemy transforming us into good human beings. Swami Satyananda has said, It is easy to become a god, but it is very difficult to become a good human being.
We understood that there is nothing wrong outside us. Each one is following their own karmic path in the fabric of creation and each ones destiny is to evolve and realize. It is I who have to evolve and change my perception. As raja yoga has said, practise ahimsa, practise satya, practise Ishwara pranidhana, practise santosha, and accept yourself first. As Swami Sivananda has said, See the divine in each one serve, love and give, purify yourself. Then be a candle to light someones path if required. Play down your ego and become the channel of guru and God. I pray, Swamiji, help me to become empty, like the flute which Krishna plays so enchantingly.