The Sage

Swami Vibhooti Saraswati (UK)

I just wanted a little hut, that is enough for me. Whose friend is a sage? He is there for a while and then he moves on. I am not going to get entangled in anything. Whenever I feel like it, I will leave this too.

- Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Deoghar

Home of the Gods, land of santhalis (the native tribe with whom the bhava of the Sage found harmony due to the aura and magnetic force that radiates from them). Chitabhoomi (cremation ground) of Sati, where Lord Shankara performed her last rites. An area venerated as one of the sixty-four peethas (places of knowledge) throughout India. A sacred place of balanced energies. Second tantric seat after Kamakhya. An area permeated by the Shakti of Bhagavati. It is here, in the remote village of Rikhia, that the Sage came when the day and night were equal. For he had received the simple, yet mysterious, instruction from Lord Mrityunjaya (his ishta devata) in Trayambakeshwar, “In the burial ground,” and the word ‘chitabhoomi!’ had flashed through his mind. In later years he revealed, “I came here on the orders of the Lord and forgot myself here, like a person who drinks too much and forgets his wife and children and the whole world.”

It was here in Rikhia that he decided, “Now I have given up looking for the one I had been searching for since childhood. I do not enquire anymore. Now I have decided, ‘Whoever you are, I am your servant and you are my Master.’” And it was in Rikhia that he made the sankalpa (resolve), “I will go only by God’s orders.” Then, living in ekant (isolation) he commenced his most intense sadhana, for all his life he had said, “I am a loner. I seek solitude.” Prior to coming to Rikhia he had always been surrounded by people, but this time his train had finally arrived, and he closed the doors on the outside world.

Now, many years later, on this clear night, the full moon and the stars shine down serenely upon the tapobhoomi (ground where austerity is performed) of this Sage, the Rishi of Rikhia, offering their light in oblation. A thousand tiny candles flicker and dance, illuminating the darkness, creating a soft rosy glow in the pooja area where the Rishi sat in many sadhanas. He has stated, “There is no sadhana that I have not done in my life.” Flowers are tenderly placed all around the places of sadhana. The air appears to vibrate with the presence of celestial beings come to contribute their beauty to this event. All is silent in anticipation, except for the gentle breeze which whispers in the silhouettes of watching trees.

Awake!

At the auspicious time the conch sends forth its long stirring call into the night – “Awake, for you walk on hallowed ground!” The damaru (small hand drum) beats out its rhythmic cry – “Arise from your tamas (darkness of ignorance) and open up your hearts to receive the gift being bestowed on you this night! ” Fragrant samagri smoke and incense waft and curl in the air. The bells around the Maha Kaal Chita Dhuni chime softly in the wind. The steady chanting of the mantra Om Namaha Shivaya issues forth from Raghunath Kutir, signifying that Lord Shiva is also present. Still figures, robed in geru, marking the different places of sadhana, stand as guides for those come for darshan.

Ganesha Kutir

Along the pink path, lit up like a runway for the invisible devatas (illumined beings), the human beings file in reverence. They make their pranams at the door of Ganesha Kutir, where the Rishi lived in solitude for many years. Here he established Lord Ganesha in all four directions, at the time when the statues of Ganesha drank milk around the world. And here, in Ganesha Kutir, having disconnected his switches from the outside world, keeping contact with no one, neither mentally nor spiritually, he continued his sadhana: “I am only interested in one thing now. I want the darshan of God with form (sakara), not formless (nirakara). My wish is that my every breath be permeated by my mantra. This is the main sadhana, to synchronize the mantra with the breath, non-stop, for twenty-four hours.” He concerned himself with only one person – his atman, his soul! Outside Ganesha Kutir the darshanarthis (those who have come for darshan) receive their red tika (mark of anointment), symbol of the awakening of the third eye, before they start their parikrama (sequential tour) of the pooja area.

Raghunath Kutir

Slowly and silently they file through the golden glow of lights and shimmering marble to Raghunath Kutir, the abode of Sri Rama. During one of his anushthanas (completing a sadhana within a fixed period of time), the Sage lived here, sitting sixteen hours daily to complete one full reading of the Ramayana. As a result of this sadhana he revealed the shabar or hidden mantra, lying within the Ramayana, and made the Ramayana a living, vibrant force in the Akhara – jagrat! Now it is very easy to do the Ramayana path here in Rikhia. Tonight, the door of the temple is open wide, giving a full view of Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. Here also the devotees make their pranam, placing their foreheads on the step of the temple door.

The peepal tree

From Raghunath Kutir the line weaves on, guided by the lights, past the peepal tree, guarded by the mighty Hanuman, who stands beneath it with his gada (mace). It is believed that only this tree contains the trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. The peepal, a medicinal tree, is also the only tree from which mercury can be extracted. It is said that to prevent the power of the Ramayana being misused in Kali yuga, Hanuman put a lock on it. This lock, or kil, the Rishi opened through his sadhana. Due to this utkilit (unlocking) the benefits can be shared by all those who come to chant the Ramayana in Rikhiapeeth.

This tree was also worshipped by the Sage, morning and evening, as an external part of his sadhana. Holding a bell in his left hand and a dhoop daan (incense holder) in his right, he would enter the pooja area in all seasons from Ganesha Kutir, wearing wooden shoes, bell ringing, flames leaping, beard flowing, and squat before the tree to perform arati (worship). Bell still ringing, he would rise and enter Raghunath Kutir for the worship of Lord Rama. Finally, he performed the pooja of Tulsi Ma, placed the split shaligram on his forehead, and blew the conch three times.

Tulsi Devi

Forward now they go, through the lights, for the darshan of Tulsi Ma (Vrindavati Devi), ishta devi (tutelary deity) of the Akhara, as she sits high on her pink throne (the tulsi chaura) surveying all and protecting all. It was Tulsi Devi who cared for the health of the Sage as he sat in the heat of up to ninety degrees centigrade, in the panchagni vedi (raised platform where ritual or sadhana is performed), burnt to a golden copper colour by the flames. Every morning and evening, during the sandhya period (the twilight time of dawn and dusk), he worshipped her unfailingly, wearing only a langoti (small piece of cloth worn by a sadhu). “Keep me healthy as long as I practise spiritual life” was the prayer of the Sage to Tulsi Ma, and she answered his prayer. Now, devotees pray here at the shrine of Tulsi Devi, with full faith that she hears their prayer due to the power of the sadhu’s tapasya.

Panchagni Vedi

Then, on they move, between the illuminated rock gardens, symbols of the four major dhams in India, (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath), Amarnath, Kailash and Manasarovar. Miniature snow-capped mountains, tiny yogis and rishis meditating in tiny caves represent the great spiritual tradition of India and Tibet. The line of darshanarthis meanders on with folded hands to the Panchagni Vedi, now covered in rich pink marble. The wall that previously surrounded the vedi has been removed, and where the Sage sat, Lord Shiva is now dancing, silvery mercurial amongst the flickering glow of candle flames. Where the fierce fires once blazed around the tapasvi, where the heat of the sun beat mercilessly down upon his head, the gentle tulsis bloom, the cool night air blowing blessings through their healing leaves.

The panchagni sadhana is mandatory for a paramahamsa. It is also a form of prayashchit (atonement). During the twenty years of his mission to spread yoga ‘from door to door, and from shore to shore’, the Sage had collected the karma of his disciples and devotees throughout the world, and he had to purify himself of this. So, for five years he sat amidst the fires between Makar Sankranti, when the sun enters Capricorn (winter equinox) and Karka Sankranti, when the sun enters Cancer (summer equinox). Maha bhasma (ash) was smeared all over the body of the Sage, which he prepared himself from pure cow-dung cakes and reeds, as described in the Devi Bhagavata Purana.

Only one who has extinguished the five inner fires of kama (passion), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (infatuation) and mada (ego) can perform this sadhana. His guru, Swami Sivananda, had told him in Rishikesh that he would have to wait forty years before living in ekant and performing this sadhana – “You can’t see your face in the mirror unless the mirror is clean. You have to clean the mirror first. The base should be ready. What is the use of doing all kinds of sadhana when you are blind.” But now the base was ready, the train had come, the eye was open, and the black flag flew.

Maha Kaal Chita Dhuni

After darshan of the panchagni sthal (place) they come before the fire (Maha Kaal Chita Dhuni), which raged like the fierce Kali Ma during the panchagni, and which is now established in the mandap where the Sage sat doing japa. It sleeps peacefully flanked by three dancing Shivas, now surrounded by candles, its silent power radiating out to all those who pass by for its darshan. Now it is at rest, eternally smouldering under its gentle cover of grey ash, symbol of the celestial fire, which was awakened in the yogi through his severe tapas of the five fires. It is kept going continually by specially prepared balls of gobar (cow-dung) mixed with various herbs. Many prostrate before the fire, because they can feel they are in a powerful energy field. As they pass this celestial fire, the bhaktas (devotees) receive their panchagni bhasma, which has the power of the Rishi’s sadhana behind it, and which can therefore elevate the consciousness of seekers and sadhakas during their own spiritual practice.

Original dhuni

In front of the Maha Kaal Chita Dhuni is the original place of the dhuni (sadhu’s fire). Not a single tree or herb was growing here when the sadhu first came to this pavitra sthana (sacred ground). One day he saw an enormous geru-coloured snake, twelve feet long, move like lightning around the property. He lit his dhuni where he saw the snake disappear. A flowering tree grows there now, and a shivalingam marks the spot.

Before the fire was transferred from here, during the panchagni tapas, the sadhu sat on the mandap (raised platform) where the fire is now resting. On this mandap he repeated his mantra, synchronizing it with the breath, arm supported by a yoga danda, a white cloth tied around his head. Because he had received the command from Lord Mrityunjaya in Trayambakeshwar, in a small hut at the foot of the Neel Parvat hill, “Twenty-one thousand, six hundred times” (Repeat the mantra with each breath for a full twenty-four hours).

Parna Kutir

The devotees now pass behind the Rishi’s first dwelling, a simple small hut called Parna Kutir, although he slept outside in all seasons during this period of his sadhana. It is just a few feet from the Maha Kaal Chitra Dhuni. In the days of his sadhana it was thatched and without glass or netting on the windows and door. The Sage had to be physically near the fire all the time because the external fire ultimately takes the form of a celestial fire. Then it becomes the internal consumed fire within the yogi. This is a very high-potency energy. In front of Parna Kutir he performed the twice-daily pooja of three trees – Rudraksha, Gullar and Shivalingi. The Gullar is no more, but the Shivalingi and Rudraksha remain. The Sage had made a sankalpa that unless the Rudraksha tree bears an ek mukhi (one-faced) rudraksha seed, no seed should come at all. A one-faced rudraksha is very rare and powerful for sadhana.

The Akhara building

Finally comes darshan of the Akhara building where the murtis (statues) of Adi Guru Shankaracharya (the founder of the Dashnami order of sannyasa) and Swami Sivananda (guru of the Sage) have been installed. Shankaracharya, right hand raised in blessing, left hand holding the shastras, radiates jnana (spiritual wisdom). Swami Sivananda, carrying a staff and a kamandalu (water pot) radiates love and joy. In 1992 the Sage completed a purascharana (special type of anushthana where a mantra is continuously repeated) of one hundred and eight lakh mantra (10,800,000), ashtottarashatnam. On completion of the panchagni sadhana the performance of this anushthana is an obligatory act. With this darshan, the parikrama of the pooja area is complete.

Bodhisattwa

The Rishi of Rikhia (Swami Satyananda) is still with us today in a physical body, still choosing to remain in solitude and continue with his sadhana. He has said, “I can go anytime I like . . . Rikhia is my airport. My aircraft will fly away from here,” for he is no longer bound by the laws of time and space, of life and death. The choice of coming and going is his. He has also said one more thing, which reveals the depth and greatness of his compassion. Let us end with these words of the Sage: “When I leave my body I will choose to be born from the womb of a mother who is of a very inferior caste. After being born in that family, I will teach dharma to my father and mother, as well as to the labourers and sweepers who live around me, so that they also can inculcate good samskaras. This phenomenon is called Bodhisattwa. Let me live with the poor, downtrodden, dirty and illiterate people. If I can live in a small hut, have a family and children, face the pleasures and pains of life, and still live like a sadhu, while moving in the cycle of worldliness, that will be something!”