Showing posts with label mauna. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mauna. Show all posts

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Happiness in the mountains - India part 3

3 hours into the bus ride from pondy, passengers are craning pothole-jolted necks for a glimpse of the holy Arunachala - it is said you can feel this mountain before you see her.


India is a place where towns are famed for, or defined by spiritual leaders; monumental human beings as much as ones made of stone and earth. Thiruvanamali is synonymous with the late Bhagavan Sri ramana mahrishi (1879-1950)see Www.sriramanaashram.org. He never aligned to one particular philosophy or label but Advocated a path of jnana and Bhakti (no surya namaskar here); of knowledge and going beyond knowledge, wisdom; the practises of satsanga, meditation and self enquiry.

'Thiru' is also a shiva town. Legend has it that brahma and Vishnu were arguing over who was the more superior deity, so shiva turned himself into an endless column of fire and challenged them to reach its source or beginning. Conceding that shiva was in fact the supreme of the supreme trinity, the other gods bowed and shiva turned fire into stone, creating arunachala, an imposing reminder in matter of the underlying divinity of all creation.

Think of something in India and it appears it seems it appears instantly: a Kung fu master/ karma yogi tour guide (I am so sorry not to have his name having lost the card) runs after us in the vast arunachalaswara temple to offer a speed satsanga, shiva he explains is 'CEO of the universe, all others are the executives'.

Here and in the north of India worship of 'shiva' does not only mean the trident toting destroyer (although he, king of yogis and renunciation is obviously the coolest) rather than another god or goddess but the underlying supreme consciousness, or shivam, which can be both in form and formless. All gods are in effect 
representations of whatever you call 'that'. 

The highlight of a stay in Thiru is giripradakshina, the circumambulation of arunachala, 14km on the outer path, mostly main road passing through a few villages and marked by 8 shivalingams, providing a protective, sacred compass. The way is peppered with temples, shrines, trees flapping with wish bags, hundreds of saffron clad sadhus, playful monkeys and friendly stray dogs.

Tradition was set by Bhagavan who walked in the early morning, slowly and bare foot, so I'm following his lead, starting shoe-less before sunrise and finishing before the midday heat kicks in. The walk celebrates the glory of arunachala, symbol of shiva himself and instills in the devotee a deeper connection with the divine within. To walk with reverence by doing japa or devotional singing keeps this as a moving meditation. In case the mind is wandering to the next chai or idly stop, all along the way loudspeakers loop a slow chant of 'aum namah shivaya'. Like a good yoga practise there is a challenge for the ego, for the body and for the mind.

Compared to the hectic tooting and heat of the outer path, the inner path of arunachala is peace and silence itself. Less to see and more to absorb - as you wander up and up guided by om painted rocks and handy arrows, you can visit the various caves where ramana spent most of his years in thiruvanamali, before the building of the current ashram. Racing against sunset to reach the top (in flip flops, no torch) everything else seems a world away.

It is amazing that a man who spent most of his days in silence is so well known, but when words are less used it seems their energy is stronger. The more time I spent in mauna on this trip the more I notice how words are often used to please others, but actually only appease our own ego, uncomfortable in silence; how saying thank you ten times is about our obsession with being seen to be behaving well and that if you actually smile from the heart and bow with reverence all these word are totally unnecessary.

The middle site, virupaksha cave, shaped like an om, was crafted by Ramana himself; he spent 17 years here mainly in Silence while a throng of devotees trecked for satsanga. The cave is alive with the buzz of the pranava and like much of the ashram property there is no need for technique here, just to sit and wait for peace, wisdom and truth to awaken within.

Everywhere at the ashram the spirit of Sri ramana is very much alive, in the atmosphere of the meditation room where he spent his last days, in devotees flocking to circle his samadhi (shrine), in the Seva of feeding 200 sadhus and local homeless every day. In the background peacocks are shrilling while each morning the young Brahmins lead Vedic chanting and puja. Don't miss the singing of arunachala mantras in the evening by ashramites. There are not really words to describe it here, simple and joyful without any drama, I just feel happy. And that is more than enough. 

Ramana never touted for followers or fame, never creating a lineage. Not once are we even asked to honour the donation system to stay in the beautiful guest house facilities, to use the library (which is a treasure chest of ancient and rare books not to be missed by us yoga geeks), or to eat 3 deliciously simple sattvic meals per day, served on hand stitched leaf plates.  It is as if silence is still the more powerful messenger here, trusting that those who can support the continuation of Sriramanas spirit will, and giving all the freedom to feel and taste for ourselves the essence of the teachings.

So that was Thiru - as is my usual trick we arrived at the end of season, just missing maha shivarathri, falling between the celebrations of full moon, when a million devotees take giripradakshina and the new moon shakti puja. Still, if this is arunachala off peak, I'm sold.

As towns are defined by people, so are our travels through them: eshwan owns the travel company who whisked us from Thiru to bangalore tonight. As the bus was running late he called personally to tell us not to leave the ashram just yet, then he met us at the crossroads and welcomed us to wait in his family home at 3am due to another delay. At the start of each trip this kind of kindness always comes as a surprise and by the end I realise, hey this is the way it should be: to treat all as equal is easy when you believe all are one, to trust before doubting. 

Goa and teaching calls - om namah shivaya.

Monday, 6 June 2011

After the sound...silence

Living on a boat, the silence of night can be thick and soothing - in cities like London or Glasgow its rare to get away from background noise. We learn to tune out the hum of nearby motorways and noisy neighbours.


I'm writing about silence now, partly because I've been focusing so much attention on making and using sound...and because I've been moored up next to a major construction site. 


Silence is like Shavasana for the mind: just as important as the way we breath and move is absorbing the restorative effects of Yoga on the body. 'Corpse' looks the easiest posture, but laying on your back for 'final relaxation' is often the most discomforting part of class. 


The mind races and the body wants to twitch...likewise 'Mauna' takes some getting used to after being bombarded by the sound of everyday life.


In most ashrams it is part of routine: perhaps refraining from conversation between 9pm - 9am or for several full days after a cleanse. And there are several levels of silence:  not answering others, but continuing to read and write; to steering clear of all communication verbal and non-verbal...especially a sly peek at facebook or reading a text from a loved one.


Rarely when we are alone and quiet is there really a complete void of noise; instead we pick up the layers within the stillness, often natural sounds instead of man-made din.  

It encourages us to really listen, which may mean when we go back to work, family, friends and communicate more effectively; with less misunderstanding.

By choosing mauna we can tune into our own self. Our deeper thoughts - which we often block by chattering on the phone, playing loud music - are suddenly shouting to be heard, as anyone who did the old 'sponsored silence' at school will know.

From Lala Vakyani: 'Vows of silence do not lead directly to Him. The utmost they can do is to lead the mind to that knowledge of the Supreme that brings it into union with Him.'

It doesn't mean you have to retreat to a cave or bite your tongue for 31 days (Guinness book of world records, 2000). Who has the time, right? But could be as simple as a day's travelling without the Ipod or enjoying dinner in silence (this one is powerful).

Silence, like darkness, is a chance to feel your way through and explore new ways of thinking instead of snapping into 'can't', 'won't', 'shouldv'e' mode. 

As Thomas Carlye said: 'Do thou thyself but hold thy tongue for one day: on the morrow, how much clearer are thy purposes and duties; what wreck and rubbish have those mute workmen within thee swept away, when intrusive noises were shut out!' 

The reason we block things out is of course because they are scary, so turning down the volume is part of deciding to get under our own skin. After all silence is widely observed as a powerful mark of respect.

Back to Carlyle for the last word: Speech is Silver, Silence is Golden...Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity."