Date: Sun, 6 Mar 2005 04:05:58 -0800 (PST)
From: Send an Instant Message "Michael Tselman"
Subject: Note 10 - India

Dear friends,

I just realized that already 10 days passed since I have sent the last trip note. I'm still in the town of Rishikesh that I have started describing in my previous note. If in Pushkar I have converted from tourist into a traveller, here in Rishikesh I'm becoming more of a student. A student of yoga, a student of meditation, a student of ayurveda, a student of people communication, a student of acceptance of life as it is. Not that I'm actively engaged in each of those disciplines. In some, I am and some just come as a part of overall experience. This is the second time in my life when I realize how much absence of a return ticket or a return deadline changes the way we experience things while away from home. There is no "have to do", "have to see", "should not miss", etc... The thinking becomes more clear, and there are no worries about day-to-day chores. I think I'm beginning to understand some of the eastern ways of life and thought. I think people on the west suffer/unhappy too often because they cannot get what they want. A lot of the education and upbringing comes from the "want" principle. Even discarding the obvious "want" for "things", you still have other "want"s: you want to be better (than others), you want to make your dreams come true, you want to succeed (according to one criterion or the other). The mentality here seems to be based more on "accept". The life is accepted the way it is. And please do not think that I'm idealizing. There is a lot of "need" in people here, but their overall state seems to be more of acceptance than of "want" (or wishfulness or desire). I think the harmony may lay somewhere in the middle with the right balance of "want" and "accept". But let me get back to reality. So, for over a week I've been going to a yoga class, which lasts 2.5 hours everyday. The teacher is well known and people come to him from all over the world year after year. There are different leve student in class but all go through a similar set of postures - just some can do them much better or do advanced forms of them. The teacher is indeed amazing - you think you cannot move any further and he comes along and touches you in the right spot and suddenly you feel you have much higher degree of freedom in the posture. My stiff, inflexible body puts on quite a struggle against the yoga postures, but even after a week I can see some small progress. So I decided to stay here for a few more weeks.

In my last couple of notes I wrote about Sanjeev - a friend I made while playing chess in Pushkar. We came to Rishikesh together and have been hanging out together quite a bit. One of the days we went to the nearby town of Haridwar. Haridwar is located just 20km below Rishikesh on the Ganges river and is considered to be even more holy town than Rishikesh. The same strict rules of vegetarian food and no alchohol apply. While Rishikesh has become somewhat of a yoga and meditation center for foreigners, Haridwar bears a similar status for locals and has some of the strictest ashrams for serious studies of yoga and vedic sciences. There are a lot of piligrims who come to Haridwar to take a dip in the Ganges river. Sanjeev and I visited a famous Shiva temple up on the mountain above Haridwar. A cable car runs to the temple, but we preferred an hour long hike up the path with other piligrims. But even a more prominent Shiva temple is located in the mountains above Rishikesh. We went there on one of the mondays. Monday is a Shiva day and lots of piligrims come to the temple. To get to the temple one can either go on a shared car (about 8 people sit in a car the size of Honda Civic) for 20km on a serpantin road or hike up for about 4-5 hours directly up the mountains. We chose to go up by car and back by foot. At the temple we poured down the water we brough from Ganges onto the Shiva lingham and got safron dots on our foreheads. Then aftrer some snack of pakoras and chay, we headed down. The trail going down is well maintained at some spots, but completely destroyed in others. Yet we saw a tremendous number of people going up the steep rocky and dirty trail. Everyone went - very old and crippled, young, with kids and without, carrying kids on the shoulders all the way, helping each other. It's a big human motion. The most impressive were people who were doing the trail in "bodylengths". I.e. the person would lie down on the trail, his assistant would mark with a stick the place where his head is, then the person would get up, move to the position of the stick, lie down again and the process continues untill he will get to the temple. If walking to the temple up the trail takes a 4-5 hours then this process would take them a few days. People go barefeet or in really badly worn slippers. It is absolutely amazing - only a very strong faith would make them go through all the suffering they must feel. Or maybe it's just the "acceptance" of "this is how it should be".

India is a place, where things just happen to you. Meeting some unique people is one of those happenings. I was sitting on some rocks just above the Ganges river in a secluded spot that I have found about a kilometer above the village. Suddenly a monk appeared - all dressed in orange cloth. There are many of them going around the town, but those who try to talk to you are usually not the "true" ones, but are there just to get some money from you, while the "true" ones usually don't bother talking to you. This one, named Rajaji, seemd quite genuine, so I agreed to keep the conversation. This was one of the best conversations (or rather teachings) on internal spirituality that I've ever heard. He has been a monk here for 30 years, jsut studying everything about yoga, meditation, sanscrit, and philosophy. It was interesting that he referred to all the temples as pieces of stone and was explaining how many people just go and bow to a stone thinking it is the god, forgetting that the god is inside them. He spoke about how meditation clears the mind and various meditation techniques. About yoga he explained the purpose of yoga from his perspective. And the purpose of physical part yoga (asanas, movements etc..) are just aimed at making our body so controllable that we can sit in any posture and completely forget about presense of our body. Only when we forget about body and it does not remind about itself, then we can really use meditation to start clearing the "pollution" out of our mind. And by "pollution" he ment many varieties of thoughts. Only one kind of thoughts was acceptable to him. Those related to the immediate, present activity. Everything else is pollution according to him. Thoughts of woman are a very big "pollution" in his book. That is because these thought make us worry and are useless. And worrying is not healthy for mind and for body as well. He gave an interesting analogy. "You came here by a very expensive plane" - he said. "But you do not remember the plane". "Then you took a train, and then a bus, but you do not remember the bus or the train". "Yet, if have met a woman that you liked on that plane, you would still be thinking of her or remembering her even though she is not here, (nor is the bus, the plane or the train)". How true! And another example. "You came to these mountains, these forests, this river with a women, and you really enjoyed and loved these surroundings, and felt happy about them. Then you came here alone and see the same things but you are not happy about them (from them). That means that your happiness is not inside you, but requires somebody else to exist. This is wrong, as you have to learn to be happy yourself and then it will be very easy to be happy with anyone else, as you are no longer dependent." This are just little pieces of the discussion that I remember. I wish I had recorded the whole conversation. In the end the man said thank you to me and left.

I've been thinking about "ego". This is something, that a lot of eastern spiritual books write about. One is supposed to dispose of his ego and it is one of the big steps to becoming "enlightened" or reaching state of nirvana, etc... The "ego" is your inner "I am". It is your "I'm good" and "I'm bad" and "I think" and everything about yourself. It is your way of separating yourself from the rest of the world. So, one is supposed to get rid of that "ego", but that's not an easy task. I realized that just thinking that you can get rid of your ego actually builds an even bigger ego, since you think that you are stronger than your ego and can get rid of it. That led me to thinking of how meditation as a tool works towards the goal of "no-ego" and I think it just makes you sort of "forget" about it. But then again if you meditate specifically with the purpose of getting rid of "ego", then aren't you back where you started i.e. building even bigger ego. And I think this comes close to the idea of acceptance. Once something is accepted, it can be "discarded" or "forgotten" or "not noticed". So meditation as a tool and acceptance as a lifestyle probably can work together and the result may be reached. Dear readers, if you find those passages boring, please let me know and I will cut them out from the pages. If you find them trivial, then please try to think about it some more, and if you find them interesting, I would love to have a discussion.

As I menitioned before, I'm meeting a lot of wonderful people. Yesterday, with Birro from Brazil, Catarina and Athenia from Greece, Magda from Prague, Rodrigo from Spain and Sanjeev from US/India we went to explore what is known as Beatles Ashram. That is actually the ashram where Beatles came to see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 60s. The ashram itself is now completely abandoned. It used to be a palace of some important royalty in the very old times and then has been leased for 25 years by Maharishi from the government. The buildings are amazing - single stone huts of conical form inlayd in small pebbles and now overgrown by the jungle. And there are hundreds of those spread through the forest. There are a couple of main buildings and we got onto the roof of one of them and on the top there were large 5-7m high conical structures empty inside and inlayed in white stones outside. The ladders led up and into the cones inside down onto the floor. The small round opening at the top of the cone provided sufficient light. Birro, Athenia and I climbed into one of the cones. The accustics was great and we started making sounds. Firs we were singing some "Ommmm" sounds from the yoga classes, but using different tones and voice variations. Then we started to add some beats using rocks, pebbles, planks of wood. We scratches rocks with nailes, tapped on our chests with the rithm of a heartbeat, made loud noises and very whispery noises and never lost the harmony of the overall "music" created. This was the best music improvisation in my life and they had the same feeling. We were completely lost in it, forgetting about the time, the others, patiently waiting outside, the dirt on the floor... What a wonderful experience. We now plan to come there with some "natural" musical instruments and try again.

The same day in the evening I went for an ayurvedic massage, which is extremely rejuvenating and for a procedure called "shirodhara" - a thin stream of warm herbal oil is slowly poured in the middle of your forehead for about 30-40 minutes, while you are lying on the bed with eyes closed. I do not remember at which point I drifted away into dreams, but I woke up highly energised and with a very clear feeling of being. Suppousedly this procedure imporves memory and some other mental capacities. We'll see...

I feel like I've written more than I should have, and got into too much details. But India is sooo different that there is no other way to describe what I see and what I feel.