Devotion frees, or so they say! Since childhood this statement has continued to churn in my mind and heart in a typical eastern mystical way and has raised much skepticism and some faith. So when Ben, a dear friend from Australia talked about setting up a “India Mystic Express” to explore the madness of the divine, it was a calling devoid of cynicism but sprinkled with some skepticism, or so it seemed at that moment. Despite the play of logic and love, the good news was that we were on our way….on the express!
Over the years, Ben and I spent many moments of mystic dialogues and questioned each other over much that we believed and didn’t believe, in the hope that we could believe in more. These dialogues (mystic or not) lead to ideas that would transcend the landscape of religious boundaries and take us into a realm of experiential bliss. It was thoughtful and dreamlike of us to imagine an express of divine madness.
After 4 years of planning, exploring and articulating the essence of Indian mysticism it was evident that no single express could be fast enough to take us through the labyrinth of mystical diversity that defines the core of Indian thought. Fortunately for us, we found Daroll Bryant and Yanni Manniates, or actually they found us, either way as soon as we found each other, the mystic express was already on its first leg.
Daroll and Yanni were old buddies, shall I call them fishing buddies, for they had their fishing lines deeply entrenched in the waters of inter faith spiritual unity for over four decades and were still patiently fishing. Their journeys to India over these decades had given them insights into a space where few have access and yet fewer have insights. Yanni came up with the initial blue print of a possible express and that was that.
My first reaction to the plan was skeptical to say the least, for in my mystical (read skeptical) eyes the spaces were reserved for only a few and most of them were missing from this one. After 6 months of work the program was ready for take off and Ben in his charming salesman attitude was convincing enough for me to join him on the journey, even if it were merely as an observer (read brother). I was happy to do that.
Delhi - The Interfaith City
Delhi, the city of peaceful chaos, a paradox of intense proportions, an ancient gateway to mystics of all traditions and beliefs was awaiting a rather strange group of mystics. These mystics were soon to fall prey to the spell of Delhi (like many in the past had) and fall in love with the spaces that this city had created over centuries. One by one the charm of Delhi that remains so elusive to the people who live here started to unravel a magic that consumed those that had come to fly on with the mystics. In my initial phase I was merely a witness to their emotions for I missed most of the visits to the spiritual centers such as Gobind Sadan, Bangla Sahib, Akshardham and Lotus Temple. I was certain I wasn’t going to miss anything, till I would meet my fellow mystics on the express and see the light in their eyes. It was magic! Well, for my fellow mystics it was and for me it was all but revelations.
The culmination of the express in Delhi came with a small event that Ben and Yanni had organized to bring together a community who would champion the cause of inter faith spiritual unity in India. This had been the space in which Yanni and Daroll had been fishing for decades now, so it was something that was desirable and inevitable. The response of the group that came (almost 40 of them) was overwhelmingly positive. The ‘Convergence’, was a truly prophetic event in a manner so to speak, since all the mystic fellows were here for more than one reason and the purpose of the journey was slowly unraveling its mystery. We were all absorbing and accepting whatever was unfolding with grace and gratitude, and what was unfolding was a path of a united humanity.
Our next destination was Vrindavan, the land of the divine madmen and mad girls. Cruising through the Yamuna Expressway, the Mystic Express seemed in a different world for a moment (similar to the one these mystics had come from), till the narrow chaotic yet magical streets of Vrindavan started to weave a web of its own, both physically and spiritually. After going back and forth through the streets, lost and found and lost again, we eventually decided to bring google to our rescue and while it took us back to a route we had been told to abandon, google won the popular vote in the van (to the gentle irritation of our driver). As we treaded along the same street as we had left previously, the drivers irritation and worry kept growing. We eventually ended up in a street which was just about big enough to accommodate our van and to the horror of our dear driver we hit bulls eye, no! not the ashram but the end of the road (quickly learning the lesson to listen to the ground expert) beyond which our mini bus wouldn’t go. Radhay Radhay!! Hallelujah! After a short walk along the streets we were at the Jai Singh Ghera Ashram/Palace, which was to be our home for the next 3 days. Google was right but in the wrong sort of way.
Srivatsa Goswami, our host and spiritual connector to the Krishna mysticism is (in all probability) the 28th generation lineage carrier for the Goswami’s of Vrindavan, which Chaitanya Mahaprabhu initiated. The Goswami’s were sent here to revive Vrindavan as a bastion of Krishna and to re-create the magic of the divine play. This was during the 15th and 16th Century AD, a time when the Mughals reigned supreme and finding a foothold for Krishna in the backyard of Akbar’s capital would be a challenge for some highly accomplished masters. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was fairly confident of the Goswami’s spiritual and political acumen to manage this and his confidence in them has been amply justified.
Inheritance is a wonderful privilege, but it comes laden with responsibilities. Our dialogues with Srivatsa Goswami were evident of the wisdom that he has inherited and his laughter and joy were strong indicators for us to see that he was managing to pass on the inheritance. He crafted some masterful weaves where the magic of his devotion to Krishna wound and unwound us in a play of spiraling consciousness. Up and down, left and right, round and round, the dance continued unhindered and set in motion a mood that led us to connect more deeply with a devotion so sincere and grounded that all we could comprehend in the end was love.
Over the next few days we ventured out into the streets of Vrindavan absorbing its spirit and energy, visiting the numerous temples, listening to stories of Krishna, sailing on boats across the Yamuna, hailing Hari Bol and Radhay Radhay, sipping on tea in corner shops, experimenting with sweets and the sweetness of India. For my fellow mystics the magic was real and perhaps surreal to some extent.
The banks of the Yamuna had engaged us in the play that the divine madness of Krishna requires and we had responded well. It was now time to meet the mother for another immersion.
The Mother – Ganga
Our Mystic Express was now on the last leg of its journey and it was only apt that it was mother Ganga that awaited to hold us in her loving embrace. While we all awaited with eagerness to meet the mother at Rishikesh, the joy of Krishna was already pervading us in all its charm and beauty. A good journey, albeit a bit long.
The entry to Rishikesh through the Rajaji Tiger reserve set in the mood for a deep connection with nature. The beautiful forests allowed for the drive to move in silence and enabled us to disengage. It was beautifully calming.
The Parmarth Niketan was to be our home for the next 4 days and as we weaved our way into its busy life, things started to move rather fast. We were told that a satsang (a gathering of righteous beings for conscious dialogue) was going to happen in the next 15 minutes and that we could attend it before heading to our rooms to settle down. Well that turned out to be a bit unsettling for some (especially after having been in a van for the last 10 hours) and while the satsang itself was a tad tedious, the tiredness of the journey didn’t allow most of us to engage actively in listening. The audience was predominantly western (American in large numbers) and so was the speaker, a middle aged woman who put in way too much effort in trying to sound godlike (goddess like). I can safely say that my neutrality towards such spaces was seriously challenged amidst the bling blang of tonal interludes. My prejudice might seem vicious, but it is honest. I might be wrong but I think some of my fellow mystics also struggled through the dialogue, albeit not with similar emotion as mine.
After a good nights sleep we were all back up in the morning in high spirits. Ganga had already washed away the tiredness of those that went and dipped into the glacial waters and others were just happy to be back in the group’s energy. Rishikesh was all about slowing down and culminating the last 10 days of active engagement into a gradual withdrawal. The group spent time talking about relationships, silence, nature, love and more and trying to understand how our lives can benefit from mutual insights and learnings.
The next day we visited the Divine Life Society and it was an emotional experience for most. Like blake says, ‘excess of joy weeps, excess of sorrow laughs’. The dialogue with Swami Padmanabhananda (General Secretary) was brief but meaningful. After the Swami had given us insights into how the DLS perceived the idea of one lord (and it was a wonderfully articulated insight), it was rather amusing to hear Ben tell him that while it was insightful would he mind repeating his dialogue so that we could record it. In the true spirit of a Swami he agreed with a gentle smile.
Ben was beaming post the recording and thought he could now get the Swami to pose for his 1GOD.com with the index finger pointing to the heavens. You only need to ask.
The tea and coffee shops around Ram Jhulla and all the talks of life, philosophy and love made time in Rishikesh almost seem still. The easiness of the town was a good indicator to head out further into the wilderness and experience the elements as the seekers of the past had done.
Day three in Rishikesh was an outdoor day. We left early towards Vashisht Gufa (cave) a space enlivened by Swami Purshotamanada (who did tapasya in this cave for over 40 years) who is a lineage holder of Ramakrishna Paramhansa. The cave itself is ancient to say the least and our first record of its use comes from about 5000 years ago. A special place and some interesting experiences for our fellow mystics. A connection with nature has the power of making us feel home, for we have all evolved in the lap of nature and this was no different.
Later in the day the group went sailing down the Ganga, actually rafting down the Ganga. A 2 hour 20 minute rafting ride on the river was a beautiful way to deepen the connection with this mystical river and while some plunged into the waters for a swim, others stayed on board and rowed their way down. As the Buddha says, “empty your boat, it will go faster”, I am not sure if it was a case of extreme compassion that one of our fellow mystics jumped out of the raft to let it sail faster, whatever the thought, our fellow mystic lapped up the experience of being in the waters of Ganga.
It was time for some quiet personal time and a bit of introspection so on the last day of our stay in Rishikesh I decided to stay back and not visit the Mansa Devi temple (a Shakti peeth) at Haridwar. Yanni, who wasn’t feeling too well also decided to stay back and stay easy.
Introspection is a good way to unwind days and days of intellectual gibberish and heartfelt love. While the former would need elaborations, the latter has already been summed in the very phrase itself. I am going to start with the former. Over the days we had tried to unravel the mysteries of the relative and the absolute in ways only the uninitiated can, I speak not for Yanni and Darroll but for the rest J.
Ben is a mystic of deep feeling and love, carrying within him the simplicity of goodness and faith, an innocence almost, but not that of immaturity but one of insight. A dreamer and a truly wonderful friend!
Yanni, a soft kind hearted mystic with a definite depth in feeling and faith mixed with an impetuosity of youthful vigour (bordering on impulse;). He has tested the waters of spiritual and philosophical seas for long and hence knows way too well how to be quietly in his groove when he needs to, which is that of harmony.
Darroll is an awakened soul, gentle, balanced and deeply compassionate. His humility is a cloak for his wisdom and when you can peek through it the insights are flowing. A great travel companion on a mystic express for sure but I can safely say a wonderful friend to have for life.
Rebecca is a mystic of the eastern spirit, questioning the essence in presence and in absence. Her divine madness was manifest in her uncanny ability to dissolve and evolve at will. Deeply connected to nature, she showered us with magical art and wonderment of nature. A genuinely candid person, she was wonderful to listen to during our group circles. She took a while to get going but once she got going the honest feelings just flowed unhindered in the spirit of a true mystic.
Irina was our quite master, a kind and loving human being who was going from a state of joy to a state of Sat Chit Ananda. She was the one who truly allowed the mystic express to unfold in a manner that it ought to and she enabled all of us to find that spirit of joy and happiness through her infectious spirit.
Eden, was the master of enthusiasm. If a mystic needed to be fun, it had to be in the form of Eden, deeply aware of the space he was in and considerate enough to plough through the soils of mutual learnings in a soft joyous state.
As for me, I was harsh and tough, skeptical and blunt and kept questioning the good faith, albeit in good faith. I tried hard to be the loving mystic but always ended up a skeptic who believes in all and hence questions all. Hopefully I was kind enough to be remembered with kindness J.
All in all it was a bunch of interesting insights into the minds of those who are venturing into the space of eastern philosophies, whether for the first time, since decades or who knows for lifetimes.
The ability of most of them to be able to move through these spaces with good faith and open hearts was a key learning for me. It didn’t take much in-depth understanding of the various philosophies to be able to feel the energies as they came in the temples in Vrindavan, the ashram in Rishikesh and Gobind Sadan (as I heard) in Delhi. The fact remains that beyond the intellect the intuitive forces take over and go beyond all logic and reasoning. If we are able to let this intuitive intelligence evolve, we can surely find the calm that brings deep insights through experiential learning.
As for the next Mystic Express? Well, I am still letting my mind find its heart and the heart is lost anyway. So long my friends! till we meet on the express of love and find out hearts again