On Pilgrimage with my Teacher pt. 2
I am currently on pilgrimage with Babaji Bob Kindler in India and will take a short break from our ongoing study of the first 50 verses of the Vivekachudamani.
Namaste from Varanasi – City of Siva – where we have completed our first full day. The weather in this region, resulting from natural and manmade factors, has turned the sun into a perfectly round peach floating in a brooding, solemn sky of indistinct color that blends with the sacred Ganga below. Looking out from a roof top a few narrow lanes from the river, only sky can be seen where water should be, yet a narrow boat slides along, a mystic vehicle traveling between the ethers. The sounds of temple bells break the silence in the early morning, and as evening falls, they compete with the horns of the “tuk-tuks,” little three wheeled conveyances transporting people here and there through the tiny, crowded lanes – people, motorcycles, cars, bicycles, goats, horses, cows, bullocks, and dogs all compete for passage between the street stalls.
It is Christmas Eve and we have just returned from the Ramakrishna Mission and Home of Service, wherein the monks operate a hospital, outpatient clinic, and other kinds of social and charitable works. The traditions here date back to 1900 when they launched service to the destitute pilgrims of Kashi (ancient name for Varanasi) lying on the roadsides. We were told by one of the monks that when he first came to the Mission in the 1970’s some of the patients were marked “VIP”. This meant that they had come to Varanasi so they might die in the city of Siva and be liberated. They had no family and no one to look after them and had given their all for Siva’s Grace of ultimate Freedom.
When the Ramakrishna Order here acquired this land it included an ancient Siva Lingam that tradition says was installed by one of the sons of Sri Ramachandra. Thus it became their responsibility to maintain its daily worship.
Tonight there was a veritable banquet of devotional activities for in addition to the regular vesper service, it is also the birth anniversary of Swami Shivananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, and the eve of Jesus Christ’s birth. At a shrine dedicated to Sri Ram and to Swami Shivananda, Ram Nam was sung. In another location, a beautiful shrine was erected for Jesus where the monks read out from the Bible the verses on Christ’s birth, and then everyone sung Christmas carols. In this culture where devotional songs carry the divine fragrance of transcendent Love and Wisdom, our Western Christmas Carols have a fresh and deeper impact.
After Ram Nam and vespers, we were led into a small office where our longtime friend and senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order introduced us to the head of the center. This swami blessed us with a spontaneous spiritual discourse. He explained some of the glory of Kashi. It is known as a Jyotir Lingam. A Siva lingam of Light and is described as Avinashi – eternal, without destruction. Even when all the realms of existence dissolve at the time of Mahapralaya, the subtle, spiritual form of Kashi remains, and with the next cycle of creation it is remanifested. Thus, it is said to be the only place in all the worlds that never undergoes complete dissolution. Another teaching he gave us concerned two kinds of enlightenment. The first enlightenment, he said, is called paroksha, intellectual knowledge. Knowledge, here, refers to spiritual knowledge, that which concerns the nature of Reality/God, the individual Soul, and the world. If one achieves the intellectual conviction of this knowledge then the second enlightenment can manifest – direct perception of Truth. Thus, intellectual understanding is an essential step to real spiritual enlightenment.
Three more days remain for us in Varanasi – more to come!