26. Burning Ghat
I continue to feel as if I’m on a magical trip, overwhelmed with happiness, awareness, sensation, and adventure, just putting one foot in front of the other and greeting what comes my way as I force myself out the door of my oh so comfortable room and into the wide tree lined streets. I love this room, love where it is located, love the quiet, and the calling of the crows, and have found yoga teachers I truly adore. I also saw my first funeral procession, went down to the crematorium site, watched the flames and smoke, listened to the absolutely mesmerizing music, the singing of the men, the drums and cymbals being played, was moved, and lifted, and entranced beyond what I have known, literally felt I was in a place of new personal borders, edges, and frontiers. And was welcomed as a visitor and guest, invited to sit down, smiled at. Letting go and being opened are gifts in and of themselves. Also learning a little about Hinduism and Hindu philosophy/mythology and the Hindu worldview in a way that I could never have been open to before, on a path I never would have taken before. I am in an amazing personal place. Om nama Shiyava.
27. Hare Krishna
I go to the big Hare Krishna Ishkon temple in Pune at the invitation of Pravin, my young yoga teacher, who was recommended to me by Guru Dharmavi. Today is a special event at the temple because the current guru of the entire international Hare Krishna movement, American born and raised Radhanath Swami, nee Richard Slavin, son of Idelle and Jerry, Chicago, 1950, is coming to give a dharma talk. The temple is almost all out of doors and mobbed, at its peak this day hosting over 3,000 people, all of whom are bowing to one another, bowing to Krishna, prostrating themselves to Krishna, prostrating themselves to one another, chanting, counting their mala beads, smiling profusely in greeting, acknowledging me with a warmth that feels engendered by my very presence among them at this communal event, and every last one of us needing to take off our shoes before stepping onto temple ground. And while this my seem an odd place to focus, there is an administrative problem here, because you surely do not want 3,000 pairs of sometimes indistinguishable flip flops lying around with 3,000 people going through them at the end of the day scrounging through a big mosh pile of shoes trying to find their own as their leaving, now do you? But there is a simple solution that I admire, and seems so quintessentially Indian to me, I don’t know why, which is to already have 3,000 numbered hooks, and 3,000 numbered cloth bags, and 3,000 number tags, so you can provide a shoe checking service,as opposed to coat checking at the Met, and much quicker too. Plus it’s offered free of charge, which would otherwise really slow the process down.
Then there is the amazing food the temple volunteers serve, both before and after the dharma talk, given out free to the thousands, and I do mean thousands, of people who have gathered here today. Two lines of hundreds of people, a soup kitchen on steroids, men on one side, women on the other,being served, and efficiently served, and served with a smile – rice, sauces, dhal, a dessert, a cup of sweet milk, all on a big tin tray, without utensils or napkins, of course, and without environmental waste either. Everyone eats seated on the ground in rows of people facing each other that seem tohave spontaneously formed. When you finish your food you lick your hands clean and then take your tray over to a very long sink where you rinse it, and then hand it to the tray washers, who spin it around in some soapy water, and then drop it into some cleaner water, and then make a wet pile of trays that are transported back to the serving lines for use by the next hungry devotee. Simple. Efficient. Mighty tasty. Generous. Communal. Not up to Department of Health standards.
Oh, the dharma talk. Swami Radhanath seemed like the real deal to me, a man who sought happiness in the pursuit of a spiritual life and found it inhis experience of God and in devotion to Krishna.I don’t think Richard will own dozens of Rolls Royces. The essence of what he had to say, at least that which I was able to take in, was that the sincerity of one’s devotion is measured by the emanations from one’s deepest heartfelt commitment and belief, that external forms of giving and prayer were merely that, external, and that what really mattered, both to God and to one’s potential for real spiritual transformation and enlightenment, was the quality of one’s belief and devotion, and that to experience the truth of God’s existence required one to engage in a process of knowing or realization other than what is available through intellectual or sensual knowledge/awareness, what we’d call faith or belief I suppose. Nothing earth shattering, just a simple reinforcing message for the troops.
28. Rupannga Yoga
I have been practicing yoga for twenty years. I have loved, appreciated, and admired many of my literally dozens of teachers, especially Menalek, my first true yoga teacher, Ana Forrest, who I completed a teacher training course with more than a decade ago now, and also Tricia Duffy, Jennifra Norton, and Don Peccorrill, all of Cape Cod,and each of whom advanced my understanding and my practice beyond where it had been. But at seventy years of age I am simply in love with Aparna (age 37, mother of a 15 year old, married to childhood family friend) and Pravin (an amazingly mature 28, college graduate in civil engineering, living with his parents), my two young teachers in Poona (which is so much lovelier a spelling than Pune), and think they have so much to offer the world, beyond even what they’ve learned at the feet of their guru Dharmavi.
What makes them unique, from my perspective, is (a) their use of supportive props, particularly mountain climbing ropes secured to the walls of their studio that permit the student to realize a fuller expression of a posture relaxed and supported by the ropes, (b) their emphasis on breath, breathing, and pranayama practice as an integral/essential aspect of yoga, (c) their emphasis on relaxation, especially of the heart, as a critical part of yoga practice, (d) their commitment to the mental, meditative, mind focusing and mentally clarifying aspect of the practice, (e) the restorative/healing skills they each possess in dealing with injury, and (f) the inescapable awareness they bring that yoga is a philosophy for transcending duality, and that the duality of happiness/unhappiness is often a product of body first and mind secondarily. They charge three dollars per person for a group class and ten dollars an hour for an individual session. When you’re in Poona find them at firstname.lastname@example.org, because I don’t think I’ll get them to the states soon. In fact, in a revealing moment, I said to them, “Come on, especially you Pravin, come to the States, live in Hollywood, you’re gorgeous, and charming, and exotic, you’ll be the fitness guru to the stars, make two hundred dollars an hour, drive a BMW,” and Aparna responded, “But Mr. Bruce, that doesn’t charm us.” Charm us? “What charms you, Aparna,” I asked? “Teaching yoga as a system of devotion to one’s self and to God,” she said. Sounds good to me. Look them up when you get here.
Oh, just a few things more. Aparna prepared a great feast for me on my last day with them. Pravin’s mother made and sent the chapattis. And they presented me with a book on yoga.And in still another revealing moment, when discussing yoga in America and Ana Forest with them, Aparna said, “Money? Money ve do not care about. But fame … and recognition … oh, that would be so lovely, Mr. Bruce.” And she laughed, and I love the way she laughs.
I will miss them each, immensely.
29. Moving on
Will there have to come a time when I stop saying I’m euphoric, a despondent side to this mania? Can I stay euphoric in America? Have I simply discovered that I like to travel? Alone? In India? I am already sure I want to come back, although I don’t know specifically when or where, though some time in Pune, especially given the personal ties and yoga draw would be nice, as might Auroville, or some time in a yoga ashram, and Sikkim is high on my list. But I also understand that I have to conclude this journey as part of the journey first, that I have to go “home” and “integrate” first. Yet even as I say that, and although my travels have nearly four more weeks to go, I am already missing India and am eager to be here again.
I also know that some harder traveling,the putting on some real miles part of the trip, is about to begin in earnest: Pune to Aurangabad, Ellora, and Ajanta, then back to Pune to catch a train to Allahabad, all between Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon, followed by a twenty-four hour train ride to Allahabadand then an overnight bus to Varanasi, hoping to arrive by Saturdayin time for the big full moon festival there. Stay in Varanasiopen to what the guides and Great Spirit have in store, day trip to Sarnath where Buddha gave his first talk as Buddha, overnight train to Delhi, connect with beloved number one son, Delhi to Agra, to Delhi, to Rishikesh by over night bus, to Dharmshala by overnight bus, to Delhi by overnight bus, then big bird home. Inshallah. I no more want to leave Pune than I wanted to leave Auroville. I like the scene here, the vibration of the city, and I love the gift I have been given here in relationship to my yoga practice/studies. The question is only how I will manifest it. Om tat sat.