Saturday, December 01, 2007

In Loving Memory of Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena

Yesterday, the ICM community lost their eldest and most senior living tabla artiste - Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena. He passed away surrounded by his family and students in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He was a beloved teacher and musician, one of the last ustad's of the Ajrada Gharana. He will continue to live in the memory of his students.

May his soul be blessed with peace.

Brief Bio of Saxenaji:

The first drummer in India to have worked as Professor of Tabla at a centre of higher learning, Saxenaji (b. 1923), retired from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, in 1983 as head of its music department, after serving the institution for thirty-three years. Besides teaching Tabla to generations of students, a lifetime work which he lovingly continues in retirement at his residence, Professor Saxena had, in his younger days (1945-1995), participated in most of the major music conferences of the country as a Tabla accompanist to almost every front-ranking musician and Kathak dancer.

His pupils abound. Some of them are themselves distinguished teachers in India and other countries. Many more are serving All India Radio; and some of them, the very university where he has worked as a teacher. All of them are proud of the authentic training they have received — authentic because Professor Saxena himself had the privilege of learning the art for years from Ustad Habeebuddin Khan, the doyen of the Ajrada gharana of Tabla.

He was the first guru of my guru - Pandit Divyang Vakil.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Foundation of Hinduism – Veda to Upaveda

As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, India has a wide plethora of knowledge to offer. While the number of seers and saints has diminished over the centuries, the wealth of experience and wisdom they had remains through the texts they passed down from teacher to student. As time passes along, the West world is increasingly looking to the East, dipping its feet into its ocean of wisdom. Modern science is making discoveries that the seers of long ago spoke of with the same or greater degree of precision and accuracy. The cosmos were mapped. Surgeries were being performed without the aid of computers and lasers. The vast botanical world, the properties and benefits of different herbs and plants was well understood.

The expanse of knowledge exists, the awareness of its existence, depth and quantity however is lacking. Unlike Christianity, Islam or Judaism, there is no one book, one text from which guidance is found. Over the course of time, countless texts were created, each with a different purpose. Together, they form the foundation of Hinduism. The following described the first three categorizations of texts.

The Vedas

The knowledgeable have called the Vedas “Shabd Brahma.” The power of the Vedas is such that through words, Brahma (Reality) can be understood.

There are four Vedas: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sam Veda and Atharva Veda.

The Rig Veda is comprised mainly of the stutis and mantras in praise of various deities (Indra, Agni, Vayu, Varuna, etc).

The Yajur Veda contains the mantras and procedures for the performance yajnas (sacrifices). It has information on what the preparations for yajna are, the fruits of differents yajna, etc.

The Sama Veda is essentially the Rig Veda. The Sama Veda however provides information on how the mantras are to be chanted, giving fixed melodies for each mantra. The Sama Veda is considered the first text related to music.

The Atharva Veda talks about worldly things. It includes information on craftsmanship, medicine and tantra.

Each Veda is further divided into four sections:

  1. The Mantra Samhitas – the “collection” of mantras. It is often considered that the Mantra Samhita forms the proper Veda. The Mantra Samhita is generally for brahmacharis, those who not have families, those who do not have much to do with the world of maya.
  2. The Brahmanas – the technical guide. Descriptions on how and why to do yajna, etc. can be found in the Brahmana. Priests would perform the sacrifices and this section was a guide for priests or Brahmins, hence the name Brahmana.
  3. The Aranyakas – provides the analysis of yajna. This section is intended for sadhus, not for wordly people.
  4. The Upanishads – books of philosophy, also known as "Vedanta," the end or conclusion of the Vedas. The Upanisads show the Ultimate Reality. It is the recording of the experiences of Reality by saints and seers. The Upanisads are intended for sanyasis, but there is not large different between those on the path of knowledge and sanyasis.

The Vedas are not books. Veda literally means “to know.” Another names for the Vedas is shruti or that which is heard because this wisdom was not transcribed but passed down orally. The Vedas are meant to be spoken in a highly systemized way using only three notes. Each syllable is read many times in various combinations, revealing its nature as it is spoken. The precise sequence of sounds is critical. The true meaning of the Vedas can only be found in the sequential progression of sound and silence, not in the literal translations.

It is said to understand the Vedas, one must not start with the Mantra Samhita, but from the Upanisads and make one’s way back to the Samhitas.

The Six Vedangas (limbs of the Vedas)

The Vedangas are six technical texts that are required to understand the Vedas.

  1. Siksha (pronunciation)
    For centuries, the Vedas were not written down, but passed down orally as its meaning is realized in its recitation. The Vedas cannot be understood in its entirety, nor will its mantras bear fruits as described unless it is spoken as intended.
  2. Vyakarana (grammar)
    Grammar can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Vyakarana details the correct grammar.
  3. Nirukti (etymology)
    Etymology is the study of the history of language. Nirukti is the study of the origin of word.
  4. Chhandas (metre)
    Everything is created of chandas or syllables. Different combinations produce different sets of vibrations and meanings. Chhandas is the study of Vedic metre.
  5. Jyotisha (astronomy/astrology)
    As humans, we reside within the larger system of the cosmos. Changes in the cosmos affect a multitude of things, including human behaviour. Jyotisha details the planetary movements, the implications of such movement on individual and collective life, auspicious times for activities, etc.
  6. Kalpa (ritual)
    Kalpa is manual for rituals relating to various topics including large scale sacrifices to domestic affairs such as births and marriages.

The Four Upavedas (following the Vedas)

The Vedas were followed by four texts, called the Upavedas, that describe different sciences and arts.

The four Upavedas are: Ayur-veda, Dhanur-veda, Gandharva-veda and Artha-veda.

The Ayurveda deals with the science of the body. A healthy body is needed for all work as all work must be done through the body. According to Ayurveda, the body is comprised of three elements Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (sky/land). Perfect balance of the elements results in a perfect balance. Any imbalance leads to ailments related to the element that is in excess.

Dhanur-veda literally means the Veda of the bow, but this Upaveda deals not only with archery, but the entire science of warfare. Dhanur-veda includes information on battle plans and formations, preparation and training of different arms of the military, etc. Every little detail about warfare can be found in the Dhanur-veda.

Gandharva-veda is the text for sangeet (music). A master of music is called a Gandharva. It is important to understand the meaning of the word sangeet. Literally translated as music, sangeet does not only include sound. Sangeet means sam + geet, or the coming together of singing, playing and dance, thus the Gandharva-veda is a text for music and dance. The description of music, its laws, its development, how to do its sadhna, etc. is all found in Gandharva-veda.

Artha-veda deals with the science of statecraft. The Artha-veda provides all details on rulership, different areas of government and society. An example is how the king did not have the power to make laws, but was the upholder of the law.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Importance of the Teacher

Tasmay Shri Guruvey Namah (I bow down to all my teachers, those who have guided, taken me under their wing and taught me all that I know).

The meaning of the Upanishads is very beautiful – to sit devotedly at the feet of the Guru. The Upanisads are a series of texts that transcribes conversations that various learned saints and seers have with their students. To learn and understand the Upanisads is to hear the “amrut vani” of the seers of long ago.

India is rich with a heritage of Guru Mukhi Vidhyas or Vidhya (knowledge) that is learnt from the mouth of the Guru. What does Guru Mukhi Vidhya really mean?

The last few months have been a personal journey in understanding Guru-Shishya parampara (Teacher-student tradition). I could attend Prof Shastri’s lectures at Gujarat University, but both of us can tell you that it would by no means be as fulfilling or deep as our one-on-one meeting. I could pick up a book on tabla, complete with pictures to show me placement, but my hand will not develop the way it should, nor will my personality be articulate in my music.

If you look at many traditional cultures around the world, knowledge was not transcribed but passed down orally. Why is this the case? Because the essence of knowledge cannot be transmitted in a book. In fact, in India another name for knowledge is shruti, which literally means that which is heard. The essence of the Vedas cannot be communicated through any book or translation, it is through its recitation that its meaning becomes known.

Embarking on the study of knowledge is a difficult task, which requires guidance, supervision and protection. A wrong turn could be disastrous. One easy example – one of Guruji’s students (A) in the States had learnt from one of his older students (B). A would go to B for a few lessons then practice at home for a few months on his own. B tried to best to correct him when he would return and dissuade A from taking such long gaps between lessons, but was not successful. When A met Guruji, under continued supervision, Guruji attempted to fix his hand positioning, but the level of damage was too great. If A wanted to really continue his study, he would not be able to do so unless he started again. So 2-3 years after he began his “training,” he was re started his training, but this time playing tabla with his left hand instead of right (a SUPER challenging task).

The Guru becomes a Guru because of their level of knowledge and experience. Only after intense sadhna and training do they become the trainer. A good Guru holds the keys to the secrets of the art (and believe me each art has its secrets). The ancient arts would not have lasted so long, unless their innermost essence was not shrouded by so many secrets and tests.

A cool example. Every composition in tabla has a pair. When the composer creates a cayda, gat, etc he creates not one but two pieces of music (a jod). The pair serves many purposes. The most obvious being the ability to track theft. If someone claims to be the composer and there is a doubt, the person can be asked for the composition’s pair. Another more interesting purpose its demonstration of a teacher’s trust on a student. A guru is morally bound to their gharana (or family), they cannot teach someone if they do not have trust in them. To receive the jod of a composition is a sign of ultimate trust of the guru on the student. Traditionally, if a student went to another teacher, the latter would ask if the student has received any pairs. Through this test they get an understanding of how much the former teacher trusted the student and can decide whether to take them on as a student or not.

It’s like a video game, you have to pass level one to move onto level two. A book doesn’t have those levels. You flip the page and more information is available, whether or not proper mastery has been achieved or not is not determined.

Whatever the pursuit may be, the fortunate find their guru (or mentor). The person who helps you get your foot in the door, trains you on how to behave and pass on the tricks of the trade.

It is one thing to find one’s guru and another to be a student in the true sense of the word. It is hard to understand what it means to be a student until one actually becomes a student. When I went to Kailash, I had many conversations about what a Guru is etc. An interesting point was made to me. One might take someone to be one’s Guru, but it is another thing for the Guru to take you as a student. The binding of a student to teacher entails the teacher taking on complete responsibility for the student and student taking complete surrender at the teacher’s feet. In the end, the student will become a guru.

To be a student means to enter into a egoless condition with utmost faith, devotion and love. It is surrender to something that is higher than oneself. A student of philosophy recognizes that the knowledge is much more than the oneself and that to learn it, to understand it, one must give oneself completely to its study. Ultimately, it is surrender to the art, to the knowledge and the guru is the key holder.

The Guru holds the future and present of the student. The more willing, the more dedicated the student, the more the Guru can do. Ultimately they (the teacher) are bound to preservation of knowledge, they have the responsibility to ensure that it does not pass into the wrong hands. Many traditional and ancient arts and knowledges are dying out, but you will find the master unwilling to write it down and leave it for the public for this reason only. The belief is that it is better that the knowledge “dies” with the person than go into the hands those who are not ready for it. The knowledge does not “die,” but is lost until it will be time for it to be remembered again.

We live in a day and age where knowledge is not respected or given the value it deserved and consequently its keepers’ too do not have the same position they did centuries ago. Fewer in number, but the teachers do remain. When one is blessed to find such a person, pray that one has the clarity of vision to recognize them for what they are and ability to take as much as possible of their precious wisdom.

Transcendental Freedom (By Osho)

Freedom from creates the politician, the reformer, the social servant, the communist, the socialist, the fascist. Freedom for creates the artist, the painter, the poet, the dancer, the musician. And just freedom for its own sake creates the sannyasin, the spiritual person, the truly religious.

The real freedom is the third kind, the transcendental freedom. It is neither from nor for; it is simply freedom. It is just freedom. That is moksha: just freedom. Neither against anybody -- it is not a reaction; nor to create some future -- there is no goal. One simply enjoys being oneself, for its own sake; it is an end unto itself.

“Freedom has to be understood. It is a very delicate matter, a very subtle matter, one of the most profound, because freedom is equivalent to God.

That's why Mahavira refused the existence of God, because he accepted the existence of freedom, and that was enough. He called ultimate freedom moksha. Moksha means absolute freedom, ultimate freedom; then there is no need for God. Freedom is another name for God.

Three things have to be understood. First, there is a kind of freedom that you are acquainted with: that is freedom from. A child wants to be free of the parents. The slave wants to be free from the master, from the boss. This is freedom from; it is a reaction, it is the ego asserting itself. And I am not saying there is anything wrong in it; you just have to watch the different colors of freedom.

When you are seeking freedom from, sooner or later you will fall into another trap -- because it is a reaction and not an understanding. That's what happened in all the revolutions in the past. In 1917 the poor masses of Russia revolted against the Czar, wanted to be free from Czardom. And they became free just to become slaves again, because they had no positive idea of freedom. Their idea of freedom was negative. Their whole interest was how to be free from the Czar. They forgot, they completely forgot, that just to be free from the Czar was not going to help; some other Czar would be waiting.

The moment you are free from the old Czar, the new Czar will jump upon you -- and the new will be more powerful, and the new will create a far more dangerous slavery, because the new will know that you can revolt. You have revolted against the old: he will have to make a better, stronger structure of slavery so that you cannot revolt anymore. He will be more cautious, obviously.

Now it is possible, scientifically it is possible, to fix electrodes in your head. You will never be aware of them, because deep inside your skull there is no sensitivity. So if something is put there you will never know about it, you will not feel its presence. But it can go on reporting what you are thinking to the headquarters, what kind of thoughts are moving in you; it can give signals. And there is every possibility that it is going to be practiced on people in communist countries.

So when you are seeking freedom from.... For example, if you are searching for freedom from the society, the established society, then you will fall into the trap of some alternative society. You will become a hippie or a yippie or something, and there you will again be in the same trap. If the established society wants you not to wear long hair, then in the hippie community you will be asked to wear long hair. If you do not have long hair you will look odd. People will laugh at you, they will think that you are a square. They will think that you are stupid, that you are not a rebel. So if you are trying to escape from one slavery, you are bound to fall into another, because your inner mechanism is already conditioned to being a slave. You can change masters, that's all.

The Christian can become a Hindu, the Hindu can become a Mohammedan, the Mohammedan can become a Jew -- it doesn't matter. You only change masters, you remain the same. First you Were dependent on the Hindu priest, now you are dependent on the Christian minister. First you were dependent on the Koran, now you depend on the Geeta, but dependence continues. This is not true freedom.

Freedom from is not true freedom.

Then there is another kind of freedom: freedom for -- the second kind of freedom, which is far better than the first. The first is negative. The second is positive: one wants to be free to do something. For example, you want to be free of your family because you are in love with music. You are not really against the family. You are for music, and the family creates a hindrance, so you escape from the family. You are not against the family, against the parents, but they want you to become an engineer and you want to become a musician.

And it is good to be a musician even if you have to suffer for it. It is better to be a musician if you really want to be a musician, if you have a passion for it, than to be a successful engineer, rich, comfortable, safe. You can be safe, rich, comfortable, secure, but you will be dead if you do something which you never wanted to do. If you want to become a musician or a dancer or a poet and that is your passion, then go for it. You may be a beggar, you may never become known, you may never be rich -- because the society does not need much poetry.

The society does not need much music, it needs more weapons to kill. It does not need poetry because poetry cannot be of much use in War. It needs atom bombs, hydrogen bombs. It needs soldiers, not sannyasins. It is a society based on hate, it is a society which is rooted in violence. It is a society which is greedy and lives through greed, ambition, lust -- lust for power.

If you become a good ladder climber your parents will be happy -- although the ladder leads nowhere. One day suddenly when you have become the president of the country, on the last rung of the ladder, then you see the point: that you have come to the highest and now it looks as if your whole life has been a wastage -- because the ladder leads nowhere. You are just in the sky, hanging. You have not arrived anywhere.

But now to say this is not right... because at least the people who have not arrived believe that you have reached. To say, "I have not reached," will need great guts.

That's what Buddha did when he renounced his kingdom. He said, "There is nothing." That's what Mahavira did when he renounced his kingdom, what Ibrahim did when he renounced his kingdom; he said, "There is nothing. " But these people are really courageous people. Otherwise it looks so stupid; when everybody thinks you have reached, why say it? Why not let the illusion continue? And what is the point in saying that you have been after something which was absolutely absurd, ridiculous, that your whole life has been foolish? Why Say it, why confess it? Just keep quiet. Go on holding on to the top, remain there till you die, but never tell the secret to anybody because that will prove that your whole life has been just a life of utter mediocrity, unintelligence.

If you want to be a musician or a poet, be a musician, be a poet. And this is a second kind of freedom: you will be at least happy that you are doing your own thing, not somebody else's thing.

And this is my experience: that to be doing one's own thing is the greatest joy in the world -- whatsoever that thing is appreciated by the society or not, valued by the society or not, whether it can be sold in the marketplace as a commodity or not. If it is the thing that you passionately desire, intensely desire, then do it; and whatsoever the cost, sacrifice yourself for it.

This is the second kind of freedom: freedom for. This is a positive approach, better than the first. The first type of person becomes a politician. The second type of person becomes a poet, a painter, an artist. The first freedom is negative, the second freedom is positive -- but remember, they are aspects of the same thing.

Even the first type of freedom at least pretends that there is some goal. Even the politician says, "We are fighting to be free -- from this kind of society, this kind of structure, this kind of politics. We are fighting to be free from this society just to create another society. We are fighting for some goal, some value, some utopia, some ideology." Even he has to pretend that, because the negative cannot exist alone; at least the positive has to be talked about. So communism talks about a classless society, utopia, where everything will be beautiful, where paradise will have descended on the earth. It will take infinity, but that goal has to be given. Otherwise people will not fight for a negative freedom.

So the negative implies the positive; and vice versa, the positive implies the negative. When you want to become a painter and your parents are not agreeing and your society thinks it is foolish, you have to fight with them. So freedom for will have something to do with freedom from; they both are together.

The real freedom is the third kind, the transcendental freedom. What is that? It is neither from nor for; it is simply freedom. It is just freedom. That is moksha: just freedom. Neither against anybody -- it is not a reaction; nor to create some future -- there is no goal. One simply enjoys being oneself, for its own sake; it is an end unto itself.

Freedom from creates the politician, the reformer, the social servant, the communist, the socialist, the fascist. Freedom for creates the artist, the painter, the poet, the dancer, the musician. And just freedom for its own sake creates the sannyasin, the spiritual person, the truly religious.

Pagal, your question is, "We must be free. Yet where does freedom end and selfishness begin?" The first two are selfish, ego-oriented. The first, freedom from, is very egoistic because it has to fight against. It is violent; it has to be very egoistic. It has to disobey, it has to destroy, it has to conspire against the status quo. It needs great ego. The politician is nothing but pure ego.

The second, freedom for, also has ego, but more delicate, more subtle, not so gross as the politician's. The musician also has the ego, but more delicate, softer, more gentlemanly. The poet also has the ego, but nice, sweet, not so bitter as the first. They both are ego expressions.

Only in the third, pure freedom -- neither against nor for -- is there no ego and is there no selfishness, because the third freedom happens only when the ego has evaporated. If the ego is still there, the freedom may be either the first or the second. The third requires as basic the phenomenon of the disappearance of the ego :FANA. One has to understand the ego to attain the third freedom.

Watch the ways of the ego. Go on watching. There is no need to fight for, no need to fight against; there is only just one need: to watch and be aware of how the ego functions, its mechanism. And slowly, slowly out of that awareness, one day the ego is found no more. Because the ego can exist only in unawareness. When awareness comes and the light comes, the ego disappears like darkness. And then there is freedom. That freedom knows no ego.

And that freedom is love, and that freedom is God. That freedom is nirvana, that freedom is truth. In that freedom you exist in God, God exists in you. Then nothing wrong can ever happen through you. Then your life is virtue. Then your very breathing is meditation. Then you walk and it is poetry. Then you sit silently and it is dance. Then you are a blessing to the world. You are blessed.”

Sunday, November 11, 2007


My friend wrote this fantastic post, which she calls a “Darpana Moment”. The topic: life.

It begins like this:

How many times do we forget that the life we live is the life we choose to live. Many people feel that some of the decisions that they have to make are based on family obligations, and perhaps some are, but sometimes to achieve the great we have to break out of the norm. There is a saying that goes along the lines of being scared of our endless possibilities. How true can that be? How can one be scared of the endless possibilities? Are we scared to dream big because we do not want to disappoint ourselves or others? Why are we so scared to dream big? To achieve greatness? What holds us back?

The first sentence highlights an important point. Namely the life we live is the life we CHOOSE to live. As humans beings we are placed at the top of the animal kingdom because we have intellect. We have the ability to make decisions based on reason and understanding, we have the ability to CHOOSE. The sad part is that the world or so-called society does not create an environment that promotes choice. After all, order is needed for so many billions of people to co-exist.

But what does that mean for the individual?

What is life?

If we have the ability to choose the way we live, why are the majority of people unhappy? Why do they feel like something is missing?

Pick up any self-help book, listen to motivational talks, hear inspiring stories and you’ll find a common theme through them all. The people who succeed, the people who set themselves apart and can say that they are happy, realized that they had the ability to CHOOSE and CHOSE to make their lives according to their own wishes. Though they may have failed (many many times for that matter), they held on to their vision of the life they WANTED to live and did everything to make that life a reality.

The conversion from a dream to reality doesn’t happen on its own. It takes conviction, it takes determination, its takes the ability to continue on despite all the obstacles.

It’s ironic when you look at it. Society (now this is a vast generalization I know) idolizes those who achieve great heights, but does not provide the support or encouragement for someone to reach those heights. God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, has given each soul a talent, a gift, a capability. But as that soul moves along with the normal practices of life, if it does not tune itself to its abilities or if there is not someone around who can help one recognize these capabilities, the soul continues in the circle of average life, while feeling that something is missing, having a dullness over their general being.

The system is not meant for those who want to be more than average. Understandably, it would be scary every person was trying to realize their potential and continually living with uncertainty about whether or not success will be achieved.

It is the UNCERTAINTY that makes people afraid.

Why marriage? Legal security. But does legal security guarantee mental security?

Why a “respectable” steady job such as that of a doctor, engineer or lawyer? Job/ financial security, but does financial security guarantee happiness or job satisfaction?

We get degrees, etc to qualify ourselves for certain positions, but what piece of paper tells the world of your passion and determination, which turn out to be two of the biggest qualifications for success?

The first challenge of life is to find that passion, find that god given gift. The second is to follow through on it. It is not only the responsibility of the individual to find one’s own passion, but also to support others in the pursuit of their own.

In his last lecture, a young professor in the last stages of cancer asked the audience to do one thing for him – allow their children to decorate their rooms however they want - let them scribble on the walls, do whatever they feel. Allow their inner creativity to come out.

The talent exists. The creativity is there, but often the outlets for its expression are blocked. We are too busy trying to make people like ourselves to allow them to be themselves.

Khalil Gibran has a beautiful quote on children, which can be applied in general.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself….
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts…..
You may house their bodies but not their souls…
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.

So it is a challenge to me, you and everyone else.

Instead of trying to mold someone into our personal model of ideal life, which often is that of the life we wished to have, but don’t have; let us support each other in one’s personal journey to realize one’s own life purpose, to uncover one’s talents and gifts and make them in a way that they become the life we live. Success may not be guaranteed, but one will be better than the average.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

All Alone

We come into this world alone, we leave this world alone, yet why are we so afraid to live alone.

I was about to post this this morning and found the perfect quote in the Quote of the Day:
Do not blame Heaven, and do not blame earth, for your loneliness. You are traveling the ways of loneliness because your mind has not tried to conquer the darkness of frustration-frown. - Sri Chinmoy

The novelty of living alone is starting to wear off, the time is beginning where the lessons are starting to come in. It’s funny you know because you can’t really say that I am alone, I mean I’m not holed up in my apartment, on average once a day I am doing something that is not related to philosophy/music.

Those who want to be a true sadhak of music get restrictions, imposed upon them by the teacher (particularly if you are starting late in the game in terms of age). Very limited social life, full focus on music, cutting out people and things that will disturb your practice. Movement is restricted. It may seem overbearing, but completely necessary to do the sadhna. It is not just a sadhak of music, but any sadhna. Why is it that Vipassana has no cell phones, no contact, even eye contact with anyone. Because they really want you to spend time with yourself.

Spending time with yourself is hard. (note I am not complaining, just trying to go through the thoughts running in my head). To gain complete control over your mind and actions (ie doing everything with full awareness) is difficult and not something that your mind will easily allow you to do. Our training and upbringing typically is such that we are the slave of the mind. To try to change that power dynamic is not simple, who would want to give up power and become the one who follows.

My yoga instructor is always telling me, we have to gain control over the mind, even if you don’t want to hold the position, you must hold it (unless I absolutely can’t). Be strong, yog requires determination. The more determined you are, the stronger you are, the more powerful the experience. Be it for the postures or breathing exercises, everything requires control over the mind and strong will power.

In philosophy classes, after 20-30 minutes, the yawning begins and drowsiness begins to set in. Not because I am tired. All of sudden I want to pee. I try pinching myself and forcing myself to concentrate – wanting to listen, wanting to understand. Not wanting to seem rude or that I am not interested, I try to stifle the yawns and concentrate even more – after all what teacher wants to see the student yawning. But the teacher understands. “Your mind does not want you to understand reality, which in turn of course is linked to control over the mind. So it’s defense mechanism – causing you to become sleeping, once it distracts you once, it wins. It takes effort to build concentration, which is why we are beginning with the basics, easy stuff, slowly training the mind to listen and absorb this material.”

Tabla practice. Little Rahul once said to me that once you sit down for riyaz, you cannot get up. “Ha.” I thought. I can’t sit for that long at a time. It is always during riyaz that I remember the twenty-five thousand things I need to do – call this person, pick up this, etc, etc. But taking motivation from the comment, I sat down one day and with strong determination decided (made a “sankalp”) that I would not get up for 2 hours. And I did it. But the sad part about it, and this is me being completely honest, is that when I tried it again the next day, I got up. It was as if the one time was to prove to myself that I could do it. Good news though is that it is improving.. I remembering less things to do and trying harder to make a mental note and move on vs acting upon it immediately. The physical challenge of practice is hard, my lack of flexibility in the inner thighs makes it difficult to sit cross-legged for extended periods of time. However, esp with yoga, the flexibility is increasing and the stamina particularly in the arms and shoulders is building. Going from around 1hr/day straight to 4hr/day was a big jump, but its happening.

When challenging the self on so many different fronts, living on my own and cutting social ties on one side does not “help”, though in reality is it critical. The old Heena loved being around people, but at the same time stayed separate from them. I am glad to step away from social things, particularly of an Indian nature, which so many times I find to be very forced and artificial, but at the same time, I love to talk and share and limiting the people I interact with has been challenging. There are two sides to this – one is that I am not completely ready to share because I am still figuring it out and am in the process, yet two I miss the social comfort of having people around. (this last paragraph doesn’t make a lot of sense I know)

I’ve been sick for the last two days. While I could easily go to the ashram house and be around people, I want to be alone so I can keep up practice, etc (which hasn’t really happened). But what happens almost everytime I get sick happened again- I wanted to be taken care of. I wanted someone to be around to cook, to do things to make me feel better. At one point, I felt sorry for myself that I had no one around (which is not completely true – I could go to the ashram house), but that really isn’t the point. The craving for another to provide for me arose. I wanted someone else to do stuff for me to make me feel better. When I look at that question a little closer, the topic for this long post came up. What does it mean to be alone. Here I am, enjoying the time for self, but when a physical challenge comes up in terms of health, I feel sorry for myself that no one is around. What is that really? I have all the resources. All I have to do is call someone, let them know I am sick and they will more than happily do things, but I don’t do that. Subconsciously, I don’t want to take action, but I want something done – which is completely unrealistic.

Being sick is simply a metaphor. We come into this world alone and leave this world alone. In the middle, most tend to live their lives surrounded by others, trying to find that happiness with the crowds, but ultimately something is missing. If we can’t live with ourselves, is it possible to find true satisfaction? True happiness only comes from within and when we seek it from the outside world, at some point, we will be disappointed. If I want to achieve anything, ultimately I need to do it myself. I am lucky that I have people around sending me their support and love, but in the end I need to find the determination within myself. Things are going to be harder and are going to get harder as I enter deeper into the battle with the mind, but to win, I have to keep faith, determination and strong will.

The study of Indian classical music and philosophy are a huge help as I delve deeper into the self. Ultimately it is knowledge that brings a person out of their misery, their suffering and ignorance.

All alone? Of course. We all are. They say though, that the deeper one goes into the self, the more one truly sees the connectivity one has with the world and the world becomes an extension of the self. Walking on the path to get there, til then, the lessons will keep on coming.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Oct Quick Update

I don't know where to start... I say that every time.

On one side there is nothing to share, on the other side so much.

There are moments in life where you clearly see that you are at or have passed a fork in the road and that is what I have done.

So many changes.

This is going to be a short update as I want to just tell you what I am up to but am not ready to share it all just yet.

I have moved from the ashram house to a flat. Two weeks of running around, getting this and that, waiting for delivery people, etc was hectic and I am glad its over. My new space is beautiful and completely what I needed. Space for myself was needed for me.

I am learning vedant and philosophy. Topics include different religious outlooks, meditations techniques and philosophers.

My tabla practice is improving. It's gone through lots of ups and downs.

I am going to the gym (getting my aerobic stamina back…) and taking yoga classes and have really improved on my eating habits.

My bookshelf is loaded with philosophy and music books – titles include Intro to Indian Classical Music and this INCREDIBLE book called the Mysticism of Music Sound and Word by Hazrat Inayat Khan. The book perfectly describes why I am studying Indian classical music.

Life is hectic on one side and calm on the other. I am still working with MS and ESI, finishing up the exhibition work for the van, while Parth (the new Indicorp fellow) has taken over other responsibilities.

I am doing a lot of things, time flies by (except sometimes when I sit to practice…), but the lessons keep coming and growth continues to happen.

At some point, I'll write about why music and philosophy. Why I am taking the time to focus on them for a while.

In short, I am doing well. Current plans include returning to the US at some point within the next year. There is no upcoming trip planned as of yet. Will keep you posted.

Monday, September 10, 2007

[09-10] Time for a Time Out

There comes a time when you begin to wonder what really lies beyond the illusion of a world we live
There comes a time when the questions just need answers
There comes a time when you simply ask why?

The time doesn’t arrive for everyone in this lifetime, but it comes no doubt at some point along the journey. The arrival of the moment is not set, though “we” (and by we I mean society – but then what is society besides us?...) tend to say that it is after one has fulfilled one’s obligations – “settled” down, gotten a job, gotten married, had kids, seen your kids have kids, etc…

But I don’t agree with that…

and I have good reason not to… because I am asking those questions now.

Five years since I left home (I got an email about my upcoming 5 year high school reunion…)

Five years since I began to take on life on my own…

Five years of running non-stop. From one activity to the next, from one thing to another.

It’s time to STOP

and breathe.

I’ve been super fortunate you know. I’ve met fantastic people so far on the so-called journey called life. People who know what they want and are doing what they believe in. They are getting up every more (or close enough) looking forward to moving one more step closer to their destination. As Dr. Seuss says they have “feet in their shoes and brains in their heads” and they are “moving in any direction (they) choose.”

In short, they have chosen to be different. To make their mark. Do whatever it takes to follow their dreams.

I’ve been super fortunate you know. I’ve had such a wide variety of events, particularly over the last year and a half. I’ve interacted with poor, been to super-charged places of the world and most importantly, struggled with myself and watched myself through the experiences gaining insight into who “Heena Patel” (whoever that may be) is.

In short, I have experimented. Listened to the voice within. Allowed myself to be guided by the spirit that is connected to the spirit of the universe.

I’ve been super fortunate you know. I have learned and experienced and explored. Learned from these fantastic people, experienced a wide range of emotions, explored ideas and places. In all this, I have progressed, attempting to understand more and more… Now its time to digest.

It’s time for a TIME-OUT.

It’s time to say “see you in a while” to the world and go within. Time to digest the lessons. Find answers to the questions (or dig deeper into the questions). Take more care of myself. Re-evaluate where I am and where I want to go.

I have questions about the reality. I want to develop focus. So for the next few months, I’m moving away from the outside world into the world within. I’ll be meditating, doing yog asan, reading, writing, dramatically increasing my tabla practice and learning philosophy.

So if you don’t hear from me, don’t be offended. I appreciate all the love and support that you all have sending me all this time. I’m following my heart and doing what I need to do to make my life what it can be.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Year in Review

Today a year of volunteering is complete.

The journey has just begun. Lots has happened over the course of the last year. Lots of ups and downs. Lots of frustration, anger, confusion, lots of masti, excitement, love. Ultimately I have been happy through the ups and down, following my heart, trying to listen to the voice within. It hasn't been easy. There have been plenty of moments where I have had my doubts and have been confused and thought it shouldn't be so hard. But I've been blessed with so many people in my life to guide me and support me and bring me back when I venture off a bit too far. Going to Mount Kailash was a powerful journey and many things have happened quite rapidly since then.

Time has come to transition, new way is being lit on the path and the heart compels me to follow the road. There has been immense personal growth in the last five years and its time to really let it all sink in before moving forward. As you might be aware from previous emails ( this and this were the last two), music is playing a larger and larger role in my life and is now a permanent fixture. I don't know what my relationship is going to be with it as the years go on, but somehow I will always be connected to it. So its time for introspection and serious individual learning. I want to be able to practice tabla for 4-5 hours a day instead of barely getting in 1-2 hours (there have been many times where its not even been 3 hours in a week!). I have questions about the world and what reality really is, so I want to understand what the learned has to say, so I will be learning Indian philosophy. I want to have the time to look within, so time to meditate. I want to take care of my body, so yoga/gym. Read and Write. So philosophy and basic tabla training, and while that's happening - yoga, meditate, read, write, play, learn. From there what happens- we'll see.

Before I can take the plunge into indian classical music training I need to complete my basic training. I need to prove to myself and Guru that I am capable of diving in. When I finish my basic tabla training, I'll have a better understanding of how I want music to play a role in my life. Music is an infinite ocean, if i think about swimming across, I'll get frustrated and disappointed. Its really all about enjoying each wave to its fullest. (i mean i get a kick out of my basic compositions...). My personal goal at the moment is to get myself to a playing level where I will be good enough to play a solo at Guru Purnima next year... let's see. (btw that can be Guru Purnima in India or the US since my Guru has schools all over the world).

Essentially it's time for a time-out from the world and time to focus on me and do the stuff I had wanted to do when I came to India. So I am taking the time to learn some of the best things India has to offer the world- its philosophers and music. It's not going to be easy, a lot of people don't understand or get it, but I am ultimately putting 100% trust in myself and inner voice, which is connected to the soul of the universe. Everything will go from there. "Everything is clearer when you are in love" and I am in love- with myself, with music and with the world, so the doors will keep opening when it is meant to be.

So that's the current life and times of Heena Patel. I'm happy and continually marveling at the way the universe works, it really is kya baat hai.

Monday, June 25, 2007

[June 12] Reflection on a year

Note: this is a really random piece of writing. Just writing the words that are moving in head, not really thinking about sentence structure or whether it not makes sense to a reader. It’s thought coming down onto paper (or a laptop screen). Take it as you please.

From the moment a soul is created to the moment that it merges back into the Infinite. The number of times it is born and dies, the number of breaths it takes each time and then of course the souls that is crosses paths with.

I look back at the year and can only marvel at the kamaal of this world and the one who has fashioned it all. As I too have started say saying thanks to the influence of tabla class, kya baat! It is truly a marvel.

One year and 2.5 months ago, I made a decision to trust the universe and its been quite a journey on the path that I have set out on. Really incredible, full of “miracles” and “coincidences”, markers and milestones.

Really quickly into being here, there was the STRONG period of negativity, why am I at this organization, how can something like this be happening, etc, etc. The emotional conversation with Jayeshmama, the tears and removal of doubt. The affirmation that I would not stray from the path because when I begin to veer there are people who will bring me back.

When I graduated, I was sad, well sad is not the right word, but def feeling some remorse about leaving. Not because I would be leaving my friends, because that was inevitable and something that even on a subconscious level I was aware of. Our four years were up and we were going to continue on creating our own destinies and would always stay connected with the certain few. But because I would be physically distancing myself from the people who were my inspiration to trust the universe and through whom I was starting to learn about the path of self-discovery and service. Nipun and Guri were and are such inspirations to me and within those few weeks, I gained so much from their support, stories and words of wisdom. I was moving away physically from the CF group whom I was just starting to get to know.

Soon after I got to India, I realized that I was not left to fend for myself on this journey. From the Bay, I was transported to Manav Sadhna and the hands of Jayeshmama and Anarmami. In them, I found incredible mentors and of course the Manav Sadhna love was more than I could imagine. Just being allowed to be in the space and witness its daily miracles has been a blessing.

Floods came and went, more stories, more experiences, more sharing, more growth. For positive growth to occur of course, negativity must come out. And another period of strong negative energy began, this time confined more to the home than work space. I distinctly remember the conversation with Sonia at Safai Vidhyalay that raised my awareness about the energy field I was emitting. Soon on the heels of that conversation, came the Akanksha retreat and a clear experience of selfless service (as I realized in retrospect). I rode the wave of positive energy that came after for a while.

Few weeks later, I headed south to Tirupati, etc with ESI. I did not realize it then, but many things were in the works in the universe that centered around events and experiences that occurred on this trip. Unaware of the change, but noted by those around me, when I returned from southern India, I was unburdened some.

Right after the Southern India trip, my family arrived and many changes occurred. I was able to deepen relationships with my brother and sister. For the second time in our adult lives, we were able to spend some quality time together, just the three of us. As my family saw my work, the space in which I lived and moved, the understanding between us all grew. Face to face conversations with loved ones after 6 months were more meaningful, we had all grown and importantly, while seeing and experience my life here, I could better explain the stage I was in.

Family left and simultaneously new volunteers arrived and with them came the wave of music and the start of my musical journey. Balaji’s guitar filled the atmosphere with a love for music, Laxmi’s guitar motivated me to act on a desire I too had when coming to India (to take up dance or an instrument) and when the February batch of volunteers came, my world began to sing and move the sound of music. Anjali had mentioned learning tabla in lieu of kathak and my lack of follow-up on kathak led me to start tabla. As I sit here today, I realize that this instrument had always been in the blood. All those moments of my fingers moving as I listen to songs, always thinking at random moments that its cool. BUT I can never say that I always had a burning desire to learn tabla, yes the desire to learn has def crossed my mind on several occasions, but it was never on the forefront. This time it was a comment of Anj’s that sounded cool, that made me think okay kathak or tabla. And I ended up at Rhythm Riders, where another world emerged.

The February volunteers came and went, but the music lived on. The support I have received from the house (Sonia and Anchal and the feb volunteers) that pushed me to keep it up, Jagatbhai’s continual support, it all made a difference.

With the February volunteers, also came a period of deeper personal understanding, revealing conversations and opening up of closed doors. From sharing, came forgiveness. Telling of each experience, fully experiencing it and releasing oneself from it.

March came and went and with April came the All in One project and a month of non-stop rehearsals and of course the amazing chance to choreograph a really cool piece. With the month conclusion came a period of great confusion. Who am I? What makes me tick? Where do I want to go in life?

On All in One’s heels, came Vartik’s wedding and the turbulence of going or not going to Mann Sarovar. Mann Sarovar. Conversations where I received support and invaluable advice, the feeling of the blessings from afar and a personal reaffirmation of faith in the universe, something that was becoming a bit shaky amidst the confusion. Many brought new light and reminders to be patient, trust and enjoy the ride.

And now June is half done. I don’t know where the path leads, but I am blessed to have it connect with those of so many powerful souls. A year ago, I left home not knowing where the path will end and I can’t say now that I know much more, but there is greater awareness and there has been much growth. There is an energy within me and purpose for which I have been born. The signs will direct me as I move along the path. When I look back along the journey so far, I can only marvel at it’s (it being the universe) work.

So many lives, so interconnected. Who knows what our relation was before? Think about each soul and its lives. Each intersection it has with another soul, from its creation to its enlightenment and the thousands of births in between. Jayeshmama, Nipun, Guri, Sonia, Guruji, Anchal, Ankur, Laxmi, my family, all these people who come and go, these “people” are the not the ones who have changed the course of my life, but rather are the milestones and instruments through which the universe has directed my life on its course. And this is only my life… Each person’s life, each person’s interaction with another person, already figured out. It’s all in the master plan, the crossing of my life with yours, yours with your neighbour’s, yours neighbour’s with their employer’s, their employer’s with their relative, their relative’s with their dog, the dog’s with the bird on the tree outside, the bird’s with the worm in the earth, the worm with the bacteria in the mud and it goes on and on and on. All figured out. That is one heck of a master plan.

When I look back at the year I can’t help but marvel and this is but one year of the life on the path… When I think about the larger picture that I fit into, I can’t help but marvel.

Thanks universe for looking out. And I def got to hand it to you.

Sachi mein. Kya baat hai.

Mann Sarovar and Kailash Yatra

Om Namah Shivay Om Namah Shivay
Har Har Bole Namah Shivay

The song of the moment, the song of the yatra

I resisted, resisted till the last. Ultimately, the will was powerless against the will of that which is much greater than I, yet encompasses “I”. You gotta marvel at the way God works. I remember the moment mom called and asked. Outside of tabla class, I quickly said yes without really thinking. I didn’t even know what Mann Sarovar was. It was an impulse, but really with retrospection something else said yes. Two weeks prior something told me I shouldn’t go to Bangalore with MS, so after signing me and mom up, I cancelled and instead signed up for Vipassana, which too was replaced. Mount Kailash, the abode of Shiva was to be the destination…

That was until a week before the trip; when I tell my parents that I am not going… A five hour conversation with my parents in Canada ensued, with me ultimately begrudgingly, yet out of my own will saying I would go.

I made it to Kathmandu, but I can’t say I was really there.

Day 2 Kathmandu: the Nepali agent comes to tell us that our trip has been delayed and our return date to India was uncertain.

Are you kidding me? I had so much to look forward when I got back, I can’t get delayed in getting back to Ahmedabad…

The agent goes on to the talk about the yatra. The trip to Kailash is dreamed by many, but realized by few. There is something that calls devotees to the place. It is a difficult journey based on faith. Your faith ultimately determines you journey and your experiences.

Here I was, going because I had. Still not really knowing where I was going besides of course the obvious that I was going to Shankar’s abode. I wasn’t going with any internal conviction to see the home of the Divine. The Divine instead had called and I was with great internal resistance coming.

As the guide spoke, I couldn’t help but feel that my lack of presence was playing a role in the way plans were panning out. If I was going without faith, how was this journey going to occur or occur smoothly.

Heena, you need to be here. You are in Kathmandu and are going to Kailash. Go with resistance or be here and enjoy these moments.

Deep breath… am going to attempt to be here.

Day 1, Arrival in Kathmandu: Check into the hotel and visit nearby shops, lots of handicraft shops and even a Gandhian org that works with women and children and produces textiles and paper crafts. Make a list of things to buy for people on my return

Day 2: Sight seeing in Bhaktapur and Patan. Beautiful cities and temples. Visit the temple of Pashupatinath. Om namah shivay in on automatic pilot in the head and on the lips.

Day 3: Morning in Kathmandu before we head to Dhulikel where we are put into a 5 star hotel overlooking the valley. Gorgeous view. I roam nearby and end up hanging out with a bunch of kids. We play stella ella ola, thumper and slide. Lots and lots of fun.

Day 4: Sitting on the plateau overlooking the valley, I finally here the voices calling me from the hotel, the buses from Kathmandu had arrived, time to leave. We drive through the mountains of Nepal, gorgeous greenery, reminded me lots of Yosemite and drives towards Kedarnath and Badrinath. End up in Kodari, the border crossing point into Tibet/Nepal. Our passports have yet to arrive from Nepal and when they do the Chinese border is closed (3 hour time difference!) so we spend in the night in Kodari. In the evening I had a LOT of fun helping serve the group that was traveling with us from Hyderabad and the rest of our group. Reminded me of serving at Seva CafĂ© which I haven’t done in a LONG time.

Day 5: Cross the border into China. After immigration and customs, we get into jeeps and drive towards Nyalam, the first high altitude stop on our route at 3500 ft. The drive is fairly smooth and we quickly move out of green mountains into rocky and barren land. We spend the night in Nyalam. Abhinav Uncle knew about a Buddhist temple nearby, which is really nice. A scene I will not forget is when the cars first stop for a pee break. All around, men had their backs to the line of 15 jeeps, peeing away without a car, while the women all stayed in the car…

Day 6: The hardest day of the trip. From 3500 ft we climb to 5000 ft and drop back down to 4300 ft to land in the city of Saga. Me being so smart, decided not to take Diamox, medication for altitude sickness until I really needed it, but it should be taken the day before big altitude changes, so I end up having a non-stop headache and nausea, which prevents me from really enjoying the scenery and waiting for Saga. En route is Shiva Tal, a beautiful blue lake. Some memorable moments include 5-6 land cruiser driving across the plateau at one time, feeding the animals wherever we stop and the amazing contrasts in the landscape- from the step terraces to barren lands with small clusters stopping the land here and there to the sands of Jaisalmar with snow-capped mountains in the background. Again I am wish I could remember my geology class as I see the beautiful shades of minerals in the land. In Saga, we thankfully had really a really nice hotel (saga hotel) with no central heating, but hot water, clean beds and attached bathrooms versus the common bathroom between 60 people we had the day before. As soon I got to the hotel, I jumped into bed and tried to doze off, but the headache would not go away. The internal struggle with God began, resulting in my ultimately taking on his challenge. I’m here, I had faith, you have brought me here for a reason for which I am grateful. I will not go back and trust. After some throwing up and a hot shower, it was bed time, knowing the morning would bring a brighter day.

Day 7: Day three of travel. Again most of the driving is done on the plateaus, this time we stop in one of the clusters for dinner and I get a lesson in always remembering to feed the black dogs. Sanitation facilities continue to be a problem while traveling, but we have a good driver. When we told me we needed to pee, he would make it a point to spot in places where there is a mound of dirt so some place where we could answer nature’s call away from the view of other stopped or driving vehicles. It is our first night in mud houses. There is a toilet (a hole over a large pit) with walls on all sides, away from the view others, clean and not that smelly. I get a chance to hang out with more of the fellow travelers, learning some valuable lessons and sharing experiences growing up and living in North America. It was great to be able to talk out some of the internal confusion. At night the stars were stunning, so close by.

Day 8: Mann Sarovar. You climb up the hill and driver circles around a large pole with prayer flags eminating like rays in all directions before he comes to a halt. Just below the large plateau a crystal blue lake stood in front of us. Om Namah Shivay Om Namah Shivay Har Har Bole Namah Shivay. We had made it to Mann Sarovar. After doing initial darshan of the holy lake, we begin our parikrama (by car), stopping to have lunch on the banks of mann sarovar, where we dip our hands for the first time in the waters, with Kailash showing clearly in the background. Our parikrama takes us by Rakshas Tal, the home of the dark side of Mount Kailash (now not so dark, since due to an animal made tunnel, water from Mann Sarovar have entered into Rakshas or Ravan Tal). The hotels on the banks of Mann Sarovar are booked, so we end up spending the night in tents on the banks. Not a big deal for me, but quite problematic for all the uncles and aunties who had never been in a tent, let alone in such cold weather (the winds were super strong and cold). As night falls, the wind begin to let us and the stunning night emerges with stars covering the canvas overhead, but it was only twelve. The stars would not come to take a dip in Mann Sarovar until 3am. We end up hanging in the jeep until 12ish (under the cover of our sleeping bags) before deciding to retire and wake up it is meant to be at 3am. I awake from my sleep as I hear Aunty and Uncle stir beside me. It’s 330am. I head out into the cold and find Mahesh Uncle wrapped under a sleeping bag staring at the lake and sky. The formerly clear night has turned into one full of clouds and only a few stars were in sight. We stop a few that began sparkling, from the left to straight ahead, three formed a triangle. The one across the lake began some downward movement. As I focused ahead, knowing that it would not take a dip, but nonetheless was moving, the star turned into a lingam and began rotating around the vertical axis. Then it began to snow. Wetness. One of the three things to AVOID when camping in cold weathers. Gathering our sleeping bags, we headed back to our tents around 430am.

Day 9: New morning, new day. The sun rose ever so beautifully over the lake, sharing its splendor and heat with those below. After helping pack up camp, it was time to move to the base of Kailash, 40 km away. The snow fall from the night before spelt bad news – the parikrama of Mount Kailash (which is done on foot) would not be possible. The schedule regardless was to start the parikrama the next day so we ended up just hanging out in the hotel. The hotel was more like a concrete tent, a step better than the tents we were in, but the sanitation facilities were horrendous. As you walked outside the hotel complex, you couldn’t help but notice the open defecation EVERYwhere you looked. The toilets smelled so bad that I didn’t even bother going inside. One purpose of the walk outside the compound was actually also to identify a place for defecation the next morning. On the positive side, the views were beautiful, you could see the stunning snow-capped mountain ranges and when it began semi-clear for a few minutes the next day, Mount Kailash was visible also. You had to admire the persistence of the Tibetan women (and few men) who came to the hotel selling their handicrafts, determination is most definitely necessary.

Day 10: Stuck in the “hotel” Snow fall meant no parikrama as it meant the situation higher up was worse than the conditions where we were. There was very poor visibility in the morning due to the snowfall. In the afternoon, around three, the sun emerged and great visibility. Frustrations built as we wanted to go explore things nearby, but the drivers and cars were no where to be found. A theme that occurred during the trip was frustrations with the way the trip was being handled by the company. The next complex of rooms behind us had attached bathrooms, while our rooms had the common outdoors, poorly kept toilets. Of course, foreigners were staying in the rooms with attached bathrooms. When we arrived to the base camp of Kailash, a tour group was leaving and we were told that 10 ppl attempted the parikrama of which 5 died, whether or not this is true we are not sure. But the group of 48 from Hyderabad that was traveling along side us took the decision to head back down on this day as a few were getting sick. We were told that a few of the elders were having difficulty breathing and were on oxygen all night, on our way down when we reconnected, we found out that they were only on oxygen for 2 hours and that many weren’t sick. But these were all tactics to scare people and motivate them to want to leave sooner (which ultimately results in savings for the tour operator). Def some very questionable statements were made to us and the other group while on the trip.

Day 11: Fortunately, our tour guide, it was his first time working with Satyam, had a good heart and was trying his best despite having his hands restrained by the company to make the best of the situation. So unlike the other groups who came up the Kailash at the same time as us and were also unable to parikrama, we were atleast taken to Yama Dwar, the location where the parikrama of Kailash begins. This location has a lot of significance for Buddhists also and on Buddha Purnima (which happened to be a few days away) all the lamas in Tibet gather at this location and the prayer flags are replaced. A mini Kailash stands next to the prayer flags and it is said that if you cannot do Kailash parikrama, then parikrama of mini Kailash is still valid. In the distance lay a hill with a flat plateau at the top. This is the location where the Buddhist cut up their dead and leave the pieces for vultures and dogs. From Yama Dwar (the Gate of Death) you could the see the path that wraps its way around the holy mountain. We stopped and paid our respects. From Yama Dwar, we went to Ashtapad. The cars went over a half frozen river to get there. The previous day, the clouds had not let up over Kailash, preventing us from an extended darshan from the hotel, but today as soon as we reached, the cloud parted and sun shone brightly. In its full form stood Nandi and Mount Kailash in front of us. We had beautiful darshan for a good half an hour. Two to three times during this time, the shadows of the clouds fell upon Kailash in the shape of Aum and slowly rose to the peak of Kailash. We were at the closest point Mount Kailash. At this location, it is said that if you build a house of rocks that you will get a home. After quenching our thirst for darshan, we headed back to the hotel. The sun was shining, it was the perfect time for a dip in Mann Sarovar. After lunch, which took about an hour, we drove the 40km to the holy lake. By this time, the wind had begun to pick and sun was on the descent. With the last rays of sunlight lighting up the spot where we parked beside the lake, most of us took the plunge in the cold cold water. It took over a half an hour for my toes to regain proper feeling. A lot of respect to Abhinav Uncle who dunked himself around 20 times in the lake and also to the staff who spent over an hour filling container after container of water for us all. After bathing, the Jaipur travelers performed a haven on the banks of the lake, by this time the sun’s rays no longer reached over the large hill behind us and the wind was even stronger. Upon returning to the hotel, we all warmed up with Bournvita and/or chai. The next day was Mom’s birthday and Gurudev had been planning since the day he found out it was to be her birthday during the trip. At midnight, we all went to Gurudev’s room, where he had saved the best mithai for the occasion. Suresh Uncle had saved FerroRoche chocolate also. Mom gave out chocolates and Baba’s prasad. It was truly Mom’s good fortune to be able to celebrate her birthday like this, as Baba’s disciples told us, Swami doesn’t participate in worldy activities, but he took special interest in celebrating this birthday. Also we were in the holy grounds of Kailash and Mann Sarovar for the date.

Day 12: In the morning we packed up quickly as we had a LONG drive ahead of us. We were going to cut a day of travel and go straight to Saga, where we had the hotel with attached bathrooms and hot water. The drive really took a lot out of us. When we got to Saga, the hotel (Saga Hotel) was completely booked so they put us in a hotel across the street. They did not plan the sanitation facilities well for the space and I believe did not put in an exhaust pipe for the sewage, which lead to the formation of very bad odors in the bathrooms. There was no hot water, but Vikas Uncle was determined to have a hot shower and found a shower shop. 10 yuen for 15 minute shower. A hot shower def took away some of the tiredness.

Day 13: Another long day of driving. Over 350 people were descending from Mount Kailash while hundreds more were climbing because of Buddha Purnima which was two days later. This meant accommodations were packed and the crossing the border could take a long time. So we decided to stop right at the border with plans to get in line before the group of 200 the following morning. The drive was another long drive, particularly because we were stopped at a roadblock for 3 hours and then stuck in lots of traffic. While we waited for the roadblock to open, I was hanging out with Vikas Uncle, Abhinav Uncle and Vamshi in their jeep, while my land cruiser was first in line. When the block went up, I didn’t make it to my jeep and it didn’t stop… I jumped into another one of our jeeps until we caught up with my vehicle in Nyalam.
Day 14: After chai, we were in line for immigration. Long lines of land cruisers and pilgrims could be found at the road block. We cleared customs quickly and waited for our land cruisers to come across. After saying adieu to our land cruisers, we entered back into Nepal via the friendship bridge at Kodari, where we had bfast and found out that the handbag of one of our fellow travelers was lost. Several phone calls and a few hours later, the bag was returned and we proceeded towards Kathmandu. The travel company sent a bus for 16, while there were 18 pilgrims and a staff of 5 in the group. Slightly cramped, we made our way down through the beautiful, lush green mountains of Nepal. I def would want to go back with my Cal Engineers for a month where we would trek, go white water rafting, etc in the great outdoors of Nepal. It would be lots of fun. The scenery at times reminded me of Yosemite. TBPers- whenever I do outdoors stuff, I think of you all very fondly. Zack’s teachings about backpacking came in handy and of course all the experiences of camping trips helped on this journey. In the evening, we reached Kathmandu and said our farewells. Very few of us had our return tickets finalized, but it was likely to be the last we would see of each other for a while.

The trip had its ups and downs, def learned lots about the wonderfulness of travel agents who are out to earn as much as possible and capitalize on the pilgrim’s sentiments. Like with all other religious yatras, tour companies had sprouted up to facilitate the process for pilgrims. Unlike Chote Char Dham (Badri-Kedarnath, Yamnotri, Gangotri), Kailash is not a yatra that can be done independently, but there def are certain tour companies that are better than others. Satyam Travels, the agent that we ended up with via via three other agents is NOT RECOMMENDED. You could tell that they were doing all that was possible to save costs, even at the expense of the comfort of their travelers. On such a difficult yatra, the lack of sanitation facilities can really break down the morale and a few comments here and there can most definitely make people want to leave. One of the uncles on the trip was saying how a friend had actually warned him that we would not be doing the parikrama of Kailash as many travel companies somehow or another convince the group otherwise. For us, snow was a valid reason (though on the third day at base camp when we went to Yama Dwar, the location where the parikrama actually begins, we saw a group of foreigners being led on the trek….) It was blessing to have Baba on the trip. Out of all those that went to Kailash when we did, no one got the wonderful darshan of Kailash and Nandi as we did and few even when to Yama Dwar. Baba’s presence and blessings played a large role in us getting the most that was possible from the trip.

Of course, the trip wouldn’t have been complete without the countless conversations with Abhinav Uncle (thank you for your insights and advice), Vikas Uncle (who is always great for a laugh and conversations about toilets ;) and Vamshi (the only other person my age on the trip). There were LOTS of conversations about toilets (naturally) and it goes without saying, internal reflection and growth.

Personal note on me and yatra:
A season for all, a time for everything.

I can only bow my head in gratitude when I think about how the universe literally forced me on this yatra. End of April/May was a period of great confusion (which still persists, but in a different way now…) and frustration. My patience has been growing thin as the path has not emerged. But through the internal struggles of the yatra and encouraging conversations, my faith in the universe was re-established. At Yama Dwar, I surrendered myself again to the higher forces. At Mann Sarovar, I threw four minds in the lake (in the form of pearls) and left with a firm resolve to trust. A burden was cast off during the yatra, lighter and with full faith I move forward again. The period of confusion, in a different form now, is to be rough the confusion with lots of patience, love and humility.