Day 15 – End of February, close to the end of the trip
This morning my phone predicts rain all day. The app I use is pretty reliable. The clear blue skies and bright sunshine mock my technology. Good. After yesterday a sunny day is more than welcomed.
We are nearing the end of our trip and unlike last year, this year I am ready to go home. Rishikesh has broken me. It was to be the jewel in the crown of my spiritual journey, instead it has beaten me down with its rain and aggressive drivers, its steep hills and bouncy bridges. But it is not the fault of Rishikesh, it is the expectations I have been trying to keep at bay. I know I’ll return another time, it’s beautiful and serene. You can’t turn around without bumping into a swami or an ashram. It’s a yoga mecca and a pretty darn good shopping area as well. But for now I am ready to bid it adieu.
This morning we have satsang with another member of the Sivananda lineage, Swami Vimalanandaji. We await his arrival in Sivananda’s mahasamadhi hall. There are devotees already there walking around his tomb, moving their hands to their chests and mouths the way they do. They tap a photo of him that has become sticky with red paste as he is blessed over and over throughout the day. As they make a full revolution around the tomb they stop, kneel and place their forehead on the cold marble for as long as they deem appropriate. I love this devotion.
As a child I was fascinated with the rituals of my Jewish and Catholic friends. It was so different than my generic protestant upbringing. I wanted to chant in foreign languages and swing smoking pots. I loved the kneeling and sign of the cross, Hail Marys and Our Fathers. Hanukkah. Seder. Holy water. As I got older the Black Gospel churches of the south held my attention. Moved to worship, they spent a whole day devoted to church. They danced and sang. In church! The women wore hats.
The common denominator in all of this, including the yoga community and the beautiful Hindu people I have seen and met here, is the embodiment of belief. It is part of them, of everything they do, it is who they are. It informs their decisions and defines their relationships. They are made richer by their beliefs. They are fed spiritually. They have an anchor.
I realize this is a somewhat romanticized observation. My friends and I growing up would rather be anywhere than church, but as I got older I began to appreciate the ceremony of some religions and the inclusiveness of others. This itch is what led me to search and cobble together my own belief system, which turned out to be nicely wrapped in the philosophy of yoga. As Swami Satchidananda so eloquently said, “Truth is One, Paths are Many.”
Back to Swami V. There is a little ado when we hear his car has arrived. A moment later a little white man with bushy white eyebrows, dressed completely in orange – from his socks to his ski hat – shuffles in with a can in one hand and the arm of an assistant under the other. He pays his respects to Swami Sivananda then makes his way down a central carpet which we are lining to greet him.
As he looks up he is amused to see so many faces. Smiling, he says something I can’t quite make out. He looks an awful lot like Clarence the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s hard not to love a guy like that. He makes his way to his chair, settles in and begins to chat with those he knows. One of them is Swami Divyananda. Apparently they shared a roller coaster ride some thirty odd years ago. She introduces us. After a few rounds of questions about where we’re from, where we’ve been and where we’re going, he begins his satsang by sharing Swami Sivananda’s words on devotion to God.
As he is speaking people keep wandering in. With each one, Swami V interrupts himself to say “Hari Om” and either accepts gifts (usually food for prasad – an edible gift as offering) or hands them prasad, then continues without missing a beat. This goes on the entire time we are there. After a while, he begins handing out the gifts he has received to those seeking prasad. Swami recycling. He wraps up with a Sivananda chant in English. I can make out “be go, do good.” This is engraved all over the ashram; it is Sivananda’s call to action. Simple, not necessarily easy.
As we walk back up the driveway to our hotel lunch together, we begin to make shopping plans to fill in our early afternoon free time. It’s beautiful, sunny and light, a nice contrast to the rainy, dark night shopping we endured yesterday. Something to look forward to.