I have been reading the Indian epic, Mahabharata, and was touched by the moment when Arjuna meets Krishna for the first time. (This is well before their conversations comprising the Bhagavad Gita.) Arjuna the warrior prince is profoundly struck by the recognition of the Supreme in Krishna: of God-consciousness fully embodied in the fullness of its own freedom, knowledge and power. And of the awesomeness of the compassion and love which that is. Arjuna recognizes that from that moment his life will never again be the same.
I am today completing a pilgrimage in India of three weeks visiting traditionally sacred sites with a group of Acharyas, authorized teachers and practitioners of Nilakantha meditation. I came on this pilgrimage because I was called to it, despite all of my doubts and small fears. I came to support the Acharyas and our own meditation teacher who was also there. And I received something very precious and essential along the way.
My thinking, my mind’s biases, would like to say that location does not matter. That Consciousness is truly expresses and fully present in every thing, person and circumstance. And that is completely true. Yet for how long have I wandered about failing to recognize that? What does it take to open whatever remains of the doors of my very own heart?
Location, sacred places, can act as transformers or lenses, as catalysts by the very intensity of Grace they bestow. Arunachala, a sacred mountain in southern India, is the location or vortex of the Agni lingam, the Divine becoming manifest as the power of fire. This mountain contains the meditation caves of the 20th century saint Ramana Maharshi. These caves still contain his presence, his love for it. And here we connect to this form of support.
But beyond the caves the route upward is more challenging with giant boulders and confusing choices. How do we get to that summit that calls us? Then we see that those who have gone before us are showing the way. There are actual arrows painted on the rocks showing: “This way”, “This way to the top”. And others indicate “Not this way. Don’t go this way!”
So we have the support of those who have gone before us, ancient and recent teachers. Just as I am following close behind you, my dear Acharya friends. Because this is the only service that calls me. This direction of becoming a teacher, to stand in my own freedom and embody the knowledge and love contained in these teachings. That is my mountain and life path.
This journey has provided so many extraordinary gifts and unexpected pivots that it would indeed read as chapters from the Mahabharata. I will mention just two.
The first was when we finally stepped into the inner-sanctum of the Kashi-Vishvanath temple in the ancient and most revered Indian city of Varanasi. As I entered the small space I glanced to my right and glimpsed the black monolithic linga, there naturally emerging from the earth. Being in its presence broke some dam deep within my individuality. Some unseen walls came tumbling down. I was laid bare to a great depth of freedom and love that had always been there, but now I was naked before it. So here I am.
It was disorienting and part of me was terrified by it. But another part so grateful said “Yes. This yes. Thank you yes.”
Then we all walked to the great cremation grounds of Manikarnika, the cremation grounds of “the dropped earring of the Goddess”, which has been operating 24/7 for over 3,000 years. And this, these cremation pyres and the relatives’ devotion, resonated with what was going on inside me. I felt a sacred sort of peace and even beauty in the fires that burn away the temporary- freeing life and lives to move onward. I am already in that fire, burning away that which is unnecessary. But as for this body: Not yet.
Later, in the purifying life-giving river “Mother Ganga” (the Ganges), I immersed myself completing a ritual for accepting the liberating gift of fullness I had received. This is what happened in Varanasi in the company of the Acharyas (who certainly also received them, each in their own way.)
The second pivotal, what I would call an initiatory moment was at a fire-offering ceremony, called a “homa”, at another sacred location and temple a few days later. This was at the Nataraja temple of Chidambaram, home of the dancing form of Shiva, the Absolute Consciousness. It was on the evening of an extraordinary day of honoring and invoking Ganesha, the intelligence that governs and removes our obstacles. During this elaborate fire-sacrifice ceremony, while the temple priests were performing the rituals, I was there silently offering my own limitations into that fire, all of my own separative and limiting individuality into that fire. I did this systematically.
I offered, released and burned my own 3 malas (root errors), that of smallness and inadequacy; that of difference, separateness and differentiation; and that of arrogance, of thinking it is a separate person and not the Whole that acts.
I offered my doubts and my fears (Yes all of them.) and my holding-back. I offered my false identifications. The ideas that I am this body or this mind or my roles in life, etc. I offered all my obstructing-patterns in life: patterns of fear, of anger, of hatred, of depression, of refusal. Then my opinions, my ignorant judgements, ideas and suffering-laden beliefs and karmas.
I offered my entire limited individuality into the fire. I was enacting my own cremation. And I was inwardly shuddering and grieving for what was being “lost” to the fire. All of this will certainly one day be consumed in fire. So it may as well be here and today in this sacred place surrounded by these friends. I knew and trusted that what was essential would not be burned but would arise.
I celebrate life! I want to live fully and free. All live is indeed one. So I live in everything. In this very body that you see I am most honored and grateful for the opportunity to step forward again to serve. The highest is to offer oneself in service to the Highest: In Sanskrit “atma-samarpana”.
Postscript: A few days later I felt that I was still in the process of “sifting through the ashes” of my own fire-offering, to see what shards of my relative and temporary self still remains among the ashes. Most of it was of no use and is happily let go. Certainly there are some necessary fragments to be kept, such as the wisdom hard won from past experiences. So I will finish sifting through the vibhutti ashes. Who knows? Perhaps I will find a jeweled-earring there amongst the dust!