(In February 2020 a trip similar to this is being arranged. Contact me for details.)
19 day pilgrimage to Varanasi, Omkareshwar, Ellora & Ajanta Caves, Maheshwar, Mandu and Indore
20 November – 8 December 2018
It’s about time I bring a group of friends to see some of my favorite pilgrimage places in India: Varanasi, Shiva city, the spiritual centre of India famous for tantra and pilgrimage; Omkareshwar and Maheshwar on the Narmada river are major centres of the 3.5 year pilgrimage that sees a steady stream of devotion. Ellora and Ajanta are both ancient monuments of devotion and wonder. We will make a stop by Mandu for a day of cycling, frivolity and wandering thru villages and Mugul ruins scattered across the country side. The final stop will be in Indore to visit a couple important tantric temples and enjoy the comforts of the city before going our separate ways.
The trip will include:
- Land travel within India, most meals, room, guided tours, yoga & astrology
- Traditional Hatha Yoga practice including asana, pranayama, mantra, meditation. Bhakti, Raja, Hatha, Jnana, Tantra and Kundalini yogas will all find expression over the course of this trip.
- A detailed Vedic Astrology reading and remedy coaching.
- Six nights in a simple, traditional forest ashram over-looking the holy Narmada river
- Five nights in Varanasi over looking the Holy Ganges river
- A small group of six allows for deep integration of the practices and teachings.
- Excellent introduction to India for those who wish to continue traveling the country
- A unique yoga pilgrimage
- Deep introduction to yogic philosophy and Vedic way of life.
- Suitable for anyone who is a pilgrim at heart. No prior knowledge or experience is necessary. Sincerity towards the method is the most important attribute.
20 November – 8 December 2018
20 November 2018: Arrival in Varanasi, rest, short evening yoga and meditation next to the river.
While in Varanasi: Morning yoga, site-seeing tours, boat rides, lots of free time, meeting Shiva devotees, astrology charts will be completed for each person.
25 November: Train to Khandwa; bus to Omkareshwar, take rest and get settled at the Gayatri Forest Ashram, easy evening yoga and meditation.
While in Omkareshwar: Two yoga classes per day. Learning traditional stories, parikrama (walk) around the island, visiting important pilgrimage sites, pilgrims and sadhus. Spending time in nature, swimming, enjoying.
02 December: Jeep to Ajanta. While in Ellora/Ajanta trip we will take our yoga where we can get it. There is often an opportunity to practice among the caves.
03 December: Jeep to Ellora and then to Maheshwar, take rest, get settled in the guest house.
While in Maheshwar: One to two yoga classes per day, visiting special holy sites, boating, swimming, meeting pilgrims, singing, & enjoying nature.
07 December: Jeep to Mandu, cycling/site-seeing, and then jeep to Indore.
08 December: Visit Mahakala and Bhairava temple before departure. The tour will end on this day and departures will go from Indore.
- Note: let us know if we can help to arrange transport and lodging before and after the trip.
By the end of this trip participants will have gained deep knowledge of Yogic, Vedic and Tantric practice and lifestyle. One will have gained an appreciation for simple, prayerful living and will have a good foundation to continue a personal sadhana (spiritual practice). You will also gain valuable travel experience and a deep humanistic education as we travel on and off the tourist trail thru the heart of India.
Anyone with a sincere desire for self knowledge thru yoga and traditional knowledge are welcome. Yoga classes are easily modified to be accessible to everyone as well as challenging for every level of fitness and concentration. Much of the philosophical content will be organic (arising from the circumstances and questions) so this too will be both accessible and challenging for most anyone.
India can be a challenging country and we will be living very simply as pilgrims ourselves for parts of trip. This simplicity of nature will hopefully counterbalance the sensory and emotional over-load that Delhi and Varanasi are known for in different ways. Travel can be slow and frustrating (most times) and there will a few arduous days of travel, lots of walking, and a group of eight people traveling and living together for 19 days (18 nights). We hope that lots of free time, optional tours and practices, and flexibility by everyone, will allow everyone to get the flavour they are seeking from life.
This package tour includes:
- 19 days/18 nights in various guest houses and ashrams may be shared occupancy
- Many meals, lots of chai and snacks
- Vedic Astrology consultation.
- Classical Hatha Yoga classes
- Guide fees
- Additional administrative fees, organization costs, booking fees, travel expenses, baksheesh & diksha donations to temples, pilgrims and ashrams in the name of the group
- $1950. A $600 deposit will hold this space for you
- Limited to six people. Must have at least 4 people signed up by October 1 for the trip to proceed. Full refunds will be given if it’s cancelled for this reason. I expect it will sell out fast.
- One place will have preference for someone with knowledge in Ayurveda and/or Jyotish and would like to do a mentorship in astrology over the 19 days of this pilgrimage.
- Unless your seat can be sold to someone else we may only be able to refund 50% of the fee in case of cancellation. There will be an administrative fee retained in any case, but we look vary favorably upon those who find someone to fill their place for them.
- Bring a friend and save $100 each (not available for early bird pricing). Bring two or more friends and save $200 while each of them save $100.
What is not included, and why?
- Many meals, snacks and chai throughout the day since you will be on your own.
- Baksheesh, diksha payments, tips to temples monks, sadhus and service people which are best given by your own heart & hand
- Flight to India, travel insurance, immunizations are all your responsibility.
- Souvenirs, personal items, personal travel or personal entertainment.
- No certificates will be available as this pilgrimage is meant to be a personal healing, learning & potentially transformational journey. If you want a certificate, go to Rishikesh.
- If you are unsure about what may or may not be included, please ask before departure.
Your host and guide:
Mike Holliday has had a deep spiritual and personal connection with Varanasi, Ganga & Narmada since 2007. He has been teaching yoga around the world for almost ten years and offering philosophical/spiritual coaching and counsel for over half that time. He has guided many people thru Varanasi and well as thru Indian culture and a few have even come to experience the magic of the Narmada river with him. He is an engaging teacher and story teller; a very knowledgeable guide thru the unknown; a sincere, grounded friend and adviser & he has a strong passion for sharing traditional knowledge. He is an off the beaten path teacher who mostly follows orthodoxy but does not not believe it is necessary.
For more information:
Many people are interested to hear my stories. I’m one of these lucky fellows who have had the pleasures of travel and the leisure for philosophy. I’ve spent about half of the past ten years in India following pilgrim routes and spiritual places; I didn’t intent to, that’s just the way it happened. I’ve spent considerable time in various destinations around the world that have some connection to healing, spirituality and indigenous cultures.
I consider Varanasi India to be my home and I hope to one day own some kind of home/workshop there some day. Sanjay is my brother, his family – my family. I’m the beloved outcaste brother. This is not a negative designation, but rather the reality of the foreign values and western corruption I have brought into their home. I don’t even write corruption in a negative way; but the individuality, lack of traditional values and other things are a corruption of the traditional life still represented so strongly in Varanasi.
Varanasi is not just a spiritual city. Varanasi also has a strong culture of arts and entertainment. Worldly enjoyment and deep spirituality in one place makes it the epitome of Tantra. Dark and light are equally present in everything here. Looking at many of the spiritual practices that go one here; one might even think that the light, the pure, the sattvic is better represented in the worldly enjoyments (bogha) than the worship (yagya).
Varanasi is famous for many other things beyond culture and spirituality: garbage, shit, pollution, corruption, poverty, mystery, cheating; it all goes on here. Everywhere Varanasi gives off a dark and disgusting image on first look; everyone looks so poor, just covered in pieces of cloth that have never been stitched together. Tourist often ask: “What’s the difference between a holy man and a bum?” Only when we see more deeply within ourselves can we see within others. If you have a holy man within you; you will find one.
The places we choose to live tell a lot about a person. Home and happiness are closely connected. I’m happy in Varanasi. I love all this filth that keeps people away. We don’t need to clean India, or clean Varanasi, or even clean Ganga; the filth keeps the image conscious people away.
I haven’t had a home in Canada for many years. Even when I did have a steady apartment I was constantly on the road somewhere living out of my car, my tent, or hotel rooms. I’ve spent time all over Canada in the mountains, forests, prairies; small towns and cities; on the rivers, the ocean, and some of the massive lakes we have in this country.
I’ve traveled hard, I’ve dug deep to find my inner will power; I’ve pushed hard, broken too many bones, explored every kind of fear and too many emotions and too much pain in every way. I’ve cried like a baby in the face of the most trivial fear. I’ve never conquered my fears; not once. When they come, I feel every bit of them, but what choice do we have but to keep going in life.
Many people think I’m crazy, many others think I am freer than most, living the good life. I think many people imagine their two-week vacations and assume my life follows that pattern. Most don’t know what to think: I’ve been years wandering foreign lands; I’ve become as foreign as the lands I’ve been traveling; an outcaste in my own land.
And I have to argue against being any more free than the next person. We are all free; we just need to cultivate the awareness to recognize it. The limitations of our bodies and minds and our place in time and space are incredible. All of nature limits us in the ways we think we are free, and we are free where we think we are limited. But if there was no nature and thus no limitations what would there be?
Many modern people don’t believe in anything higher than nature. I have no difficulty in believing that nature has tremendous power, but if there is only nature, it becomes impossible to express freedom. Nature is well represented by the movement of the planets that are, from our perspective, in perpetual motion due to the complex balance of various natural laws that are the domain of the modern science.
I come at life as a skeptic, doubting everything and always asking: why? I’ve always been this way. I want to know for myself. You could say that besides the question, “who am I?”, the next main question I’ve spent my life on is: “how am I free.” I can assure you I have not found any evidence of freedom in the material world. I’m sure scientist would agree that we are, for the most part, just carrying out the activity of the natural laws. Hormones triggered in the spring become more dormant in the fall. Our attachments and repulsion are merely chemical and electrical signals in our bodies responding to chemical and electrical signals in the world.
So why am I writing this now? Why not wait until I’m an old man and can avoid the criticism of self-indulgence? Who am I to write some story of my life? I’m certainly no one special. I have not achieved anything that is particularly noteworthy; unless you count my joy of living. And perhaps this is enough these days when so many people are unhappy and feel trapped in their situation; unable to do what they think they really want to do.
Perhaps I’m at a turning point in life. I feel secure in my spiritual life. It’s not something that comes and goes; there is no struggle to maintain a spiritual outlook despite living in the Canadian cities again. I can safely mingle with the material world without it dragging back into its oblivion. There is actually nothing spiritually negative about the material world, it’s the distraction it causes, making us oblivious to our true nature; bringing our awareness up to the surface of things and making us think that “image is everything” (as one young man recently pointed out to me). As long as we can maintain awareness of that true nature then matter is just another extension of consciousness; a power, or a means for consciousness to express itself.
Anyways, you get my point. I’ve done nothing, yet people are amazed. I have nothing, yet people a jealous and want what I have. Everything I have is inside of me; I can offer with my words and my presence; but what people take from this has little to do with me. I don’t take it personally: neither the praise nor the criticism. Whatever they get from me was already there inside the person; it didn’t really come from me. At best, I’m a signpost; at worse I’m a distraction.
In any case, lets go back to 2007 when I found myself buried in debt and facing a work lay-off with a Canadian winter quickly approaching. I thought about several options: wintering in the back country, throwing away whatever I had left on a week or two in Cuba, living out of my car and perhaps heading to the southern USA. At some point I decided on Cuba and actually made it all the way to the travel agency before suddenly changing my mind for India in the moments I waited for the agent to get off the phone.
I had already managed an Indian restaurant, loosely followed Buddhism, and had dreamt of going to Asia, so, why not? I gave myself five weeks to prepare. These days, five weeks preparation for a trip would feel like a lifetime, but for my first really foreign travel it seemed like an insanely short timeline.
Anyways, I was fed up with Canadian culture and society, and I certainly felt like I had more to offer than the physical effort of my construction job. The romance I was involved in was completely dysfunctional from the very beginning, and the truth is that I didn’t know either what I wanted, or what I had to give. Life was pretty much lived without vision. I was mostly too exhausted from work and worry that I didn‘t even have a concept of awareness. Chronic pain was still a serious issue for me then. At the time, I felt more like a passive agent only able to react to what life threw at me. But I can see how it all arose from me. It helped me to forge this sense of personal identity that I am now projecting onto the page and use daily in subtle ways to fulfill all my material and social ambitions. Life is not actually as complex as we make it out to be: our egos are useful in the material world; even the most out of balance ego completes its task. Like children, we don’t have to worry about the many things mother is taking care of, yet we do worry all the time.
So, off I went to India in 2007. It really did blow my mind. It shattered my dreams and made me realize just how small my vision of myself was compared to what it could be (or compared to who I really am). How small was my vision of life?
“When a yogi walks; behind him is nothing, before him is the infinite.”
How often do we hear people say, “I’m only human,” and then insist on their free will? Can we choose for ourselves or can’t we? Are we free or are we bound? Are we personally responsible, or are our actions the result fixed laws of the universe?
Thank god Indian logic allows us to accept both propositions. We are free. We are bound. We are free, but due to incorrect knowledge, we have, as it seems, chosen to be bound. Too much freedom can be a dangerous thing.
Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m walking thru some known past or walking into some unknown future. The people I meet along the way all appear to me as dear old friends rather than people I’m meeting for the first time. I become familiar fast, I tell people what I want and expect it with the same ease with which I give what is asked of me. The demands are not unreasonable or unexpected, just what the situation demands. We’re all just fulfilling our duties to the other; to humanity; to ourselves; or, if you like, to God.
I’ve faced some hard traveling in the past as I faced off against the scorching hot winds of the Indian plains, or the cold isolation of the Himalayan mountains, or perhaps even when I walked in my vain attempt at hitchhiking thru the nomadic lands and salt flats of western India. The Narmada valley kicked my ass and so did the Naga hills, but none of it so hard as Canada’s west coast.
Over the past few months, I’ve been from Edmonton to 180 miles out on the North Pacific, I’ve walked, trekked, hitch-hiked, bused, flew and boated uncountable miles; moving far too frequently, ready to give up time and time again but unable to stop due to some invisible hand of fate. The isolation, the untamed nature, and the magnitude of accidents and incidents has challenged me on every level stretching my emotions thin (sensitive as a champagne glass), sharpening my instincts so that they cut like a razor without hesitation, and, of course, breaking my body with frost bite on my fingers, cartilage torn in my ribcage, and infection setting into even the most insignificant cut. (I found out after writing this that I also crushed three vertebrae in a ladder fall a couple of days after I tore the cartilage in my ribs.)
The bear that was foraging on the beach where I camped in Winter Harbour came to give me a sniff at night. I know how these weak dogs feel when they decide to crossing thru another packs territory. At least I didn’t piss myself. I was camping/hitch-hiking on the edge of town for three days before someone came along who was heading back towards civilization (if you can call Port Hardy civilization, and it seems you can only call it that if you’re coming from Winter harbour, otherwise you still have a long way to go before you can make such a statement). It’s not a matter of cars driving past you and not stopping, everyone stops, but they’re all locals, nobody is going back to civilization. And when someone did finally come along they had to honk and call me up from the beach because the last thing I expected was a ride. Speaking with the locals I was expecting to be there for another three days.
I remember when I was going up to Nepal to trek the Langtang valley in January so many years ago. A Brazilian girl was in the jeep with me and she spoke of her fathers belief that Nepal was like going to the end old the world. The cold, she said, exacerbated this feeling for her. Dante, after all, portrayed the lowest levels of hell as a most frozen wasteland of demons. I’ve been out past Winter Harbour and I can say that it really is the end of the world. There is nothing beyond except wind, water and waves. The people of the town frozen in some time long in the past making it feel less like I’m traveling thru space and more like I’m traveling thru time. But perhaps this is the effect of a Ketu pratyardasha during a Mercury retrograde.
Ketu, the dragons tail or south node, is known as one of the shadow planets. He’s a mysterious mystical planet that brings our past life karmas to the fore. He is one of the great balancers of our karmic debts. He works in the most mysterious and unpredictable ways. In a flash he can raise one to the highest status or bring them crashing down to the lowest. Ketu usually shows us our most natural talents that we’ve brought with us from previous lives. These being areas of our lives that we’re already comfortable with, we rarely have have the sense of challenge it takes to stick with something until we master it. With Ketu, we’ll pick something up because it’s there and drop it completely when we’re finished with it. Mercury in retrograde also bring us back to our past, so that we find ourselves thinking about past lovers, past mistakes, or any other unfinished business. During the last Mercury retrograde in the early summer of 2016 I edited over 70 pages of past writing and wrote two unsent letters to girlfriends from far in my past. During the retrograde that occurred last fall I was saved by an ex-girlfriend who suddenly thought to repay a debt that I’d long since put behind me. I was hoping this current Mercury retrograde would allow me the time to finish my editing task. Unfortunately Ketu’s strength had me out on the seas pulling in tuna on hand lines and slicing their throats: brutal, blood soaked work. Ketu has long since suggested to me that my past life followed such a brutal blood soaked path. This is perhaps why I feel so blessed regardless of the Saturneous difficulties of my current life: no matter how hard things may seem, they could be a lot worse.
I started moving back in May when the heat of Varanasi started to rise well above 40 degrees. I headed north to the Himalayan Mountains, wandering villages for a couple of months until I found some nice place to rest. By then it was time to leave India and come back to Canada where I’ve been wandering for about 10 weeks.
About a month ago, I thought I was done and finished. I thought the highways and forests of the interior had finished my off. I though that I couldn’t possibly go on. And then I got the call to go Tuna fishing. It’s often like that, just when you think you can’t go on, just when you think that your heart and soul has given all that it has, just when you think you’ve lost everything, there comes some fresh spark from god only knows where. I’m amazed time and again how much spark, how much illumination is within me even when I think I’ve spent it all. Such will to live. Now, once again, I honestly don’t feel like I can continue any farther.
A few nights ago I was sleeping in my tent when the breath of a bear woke me up. I could smell him and hear him as he sniffed at the tent. I dreamt about him the night before and thru my dream I knew somehow that I was welcome to pass thru the territory. He left when I spoke to him. I’d seen him on the beach, I knew he was in the neighborhood.
“Life,” a wise man once said, “is mostly about wastin’ time, and I waste my share of mine.” Sometimes this seems like all I’m ever doing is wastin’ time. I’ve gathered up all kinds of knowledge that I could not have imagined, I’ve had experiences that are quickly fading from this planet, and I’ve loved and lost so many times that I don’t know the difference any more. But all of this I keep within me. When I start to put my experience and knowledge to paper and print it sounds like some stereotype that cannot possibly be real. How can one man do all of that? Perhaps I’ve taken my memory from books and movies or merely dreamt it.
On the other hand, few of my stories have the sparkle and shine or the outlandishness that people seem to associate with my kind of travel. This search for freedom has not been an exploration of the drug culture: I’ve managed to avoid the coke in Central America, the Ayuasca of the southern shamans, the ‘shrooms of the west coast, the acid of the cities and all the rest of that mind altering experimentation. I’ve done my best to maintain what I consider a certain level of legitimacy in my quest. Many people seem somewhat disappointed that I haven’t explored this drug fueled consciousness. It’s like my legitimacy is lost by not having gone thru this drug fueled route to higher consciousness.
I cannot say that good old fashioned meditation has brought me here alone, just like I cannot deny living in a world of altered consciousness. Experience has been just as important as meditation and fate has done most of the work for me. This path is written in the stars, this consciousness has been a gift of God. If any one little thing was changed then it would all be changed to such an extent that I would no longer be me, but someone else with a whole different set of knowledge, skill and experience.
Sometimes I wish I could view my life from the perspective of my friends and family who see me as a great adventurer, mystic and yogi. Of course my pride has elevated me to Baba with so many clients calling me doctor and guruji, but this very pride keeps me quite about my travels and these people who come across my path.
A wise man said that there’s no use trying to figure it all out, it takes the time that’s needed for talkin’ about the places you’ve been and the faces you’ve seen. Perhaps I waste too much time trying to figure it all out; trying to see how one piece fits onto the other and what piece will come next. So, perhaps it’s time I speak, or write a little more about the places I’ve been and the faces I’ve seen.
A truck driver picked me up somewhere around Mount Robson. He told me that he stopped because I was wearing a cowboy hat rather than a rag on my head. I felt lucky for a moment that I happened to be wearing that hat that was plunked on my head by a friend as he left me to seek my fortune on the side of the highway; it’s more common for me to have a rag on my head. By the time I shared this news with the trucker we had already established a friendship and he was no longer in the mood for insults.
I sometimes come across these big burly manly men who wrestle bears. Of course they don’t really wrestle bears so this little adventure that is my life seems to threaten them as though my meager existence somehow knocks them out of the alpha-male seat they are so accustomed to. Perhaps they could handle it if I was competitive and boastful about my adventures, but the truth is that I never seek out adventure, adventure just seems to grab a hold of me and drags me thru the mud or the sea and then spits me out in some strange place like Winter Harbour or Port Hardy. All I can do when I come out the other side is marvel at my surroundings and wonder just what it is I’m doing here. I ask this of the wind quite a lot: What am I doing here?
As a philosopher I’m used to asking questions of myself. I used to always ask and wonder, “who am I?’ but now that I seem to have that figured out to some degree, my question is more often: “what am I doing here?” It’s a fair question. I have no reason for being here, I’ve never even looked at this part of the world on the map, but yet here I am in Port Hardy putting off my bus ticket one more day over and over. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll go somewhere. I’m too far away from everything to get anywhere in a day.
I was in this situation a few months ago in India. There I was in the village Tatapani which had been mostly flooded out by a dam a few years earlier wondering to myself what I was doing there. As is often the case, I was just wastin’ time. There was nothing there to see or to do, and as usual it was the people who touched me in a way that the land out here touches me. Sometimes these touches burn a hole so deep that the mark will never go away. Sometimes it’s just a gesture; a sentiment.
How often have I made it thru someplace that I’m sure has changed me forever only to run into some old friend who reminds me that I haven’t changed one bit. All the scars are internal. All the perception arises from within. We cannot even imagine what it must be like to see thru another’s eyes. How often the vision changes; that inner vibration seeking it’s harmonious match. Every note is beautiful on it’s own, but it takes a certain degree of magic for harmony to arise from a whole cluster of notes. We often forget this when we’re in conflict with others. We point our finger at the other person throwing blame upon them and challenging them to change their inner music to match our own.
But even in conflict there is some match between people. I’ve seen this in astrology charts when people clearly do not match with each other. Although their personalities may not match, their karma matches; their miserable time together matches. I’ve seen horrible relationships come in front of me and I’ve had to say that yes, there is an astrological match in the charts. Soul mates do not only come into being between butterflies and rainbows; everyone we encounter is a kind of soul mate fulfilling some need in our lives; fulfilling some vision we have of life. Sometimes we need the conflict to feel fulfilled; that duality of righteousness that bring some tension to life.
Some people say this about astrology: “I don’t want to know, I’d rather it comes as a surprise.” But even knowing what I know, life always comes as a surprise. Reading a future in a chart and experiencing that future are two very different things; two very different ways of knowing. When I see an accident coming in my chart it never occurs to me to try to avoid it. One always tries to be careful, but such is the nature of an accident that we never see it coming until it’s already upon us.
A wise man once said that: “We all got holes to fill, them holes are all that’s real. Some fall on you like a storm, sometimes you dig your own.” To this I could add that we usually know when we’re digging a hole for ourselves even without predictive astrology, but this does not keep us from digging the hole. Actually, I’ve written before that most people know their future without seeking out astrological advice. Just as something deep inside myself knew that I was facing the Saturn effect on my luck long before it became as apparent as it is today. People mostly know if they are going to be successful or miserable, rich or poor. Of course crazy things happen some people worry about everything while others worry about nothing and who can say what will come of them. Strange luck strikes from anywhere when the time comes.
I’ve always had high hopes for myself. I certainly never expected to be living on such an edge of existence; clinging to the edge of world wondering where my path will take me next. Venus will soon be giving influence where Ketu has been for the past month. I pray that she will be kind to me, and embrace me with the kind of love and luxury and creativity that she’s famous for. I’ve noticed in the past that her location in my third house with Saturn and Jupiter looking at her often influences this very traditional art of astrology that I’ve been practicing. I remember years ago asking my teacher about this combination as I wondered why I was not using my hands for art and design as I expected from Venus. One look at the charts covering almost every page of my notebook laid my questions to rest.
The difficulties of these past months has left me wondering if things can get any worse, though of course I know that they can. I have a not on my own astrology chart that Venus should bring both a relationship and some writing which sound quite pleasant, but of course I cannot ignore Venus’ rulership of my 12th house of loss and the 7th house of the loss of longevity; both of which are obviously quite ominous. Since she’s living in my third house of effort it makes perfect sense since I don’t feel like I have any effort left in me and if this continues it’s sure to be the death of me. But I don’t suppose death in in my cards just yet either as my previous figuring should give my at least another 15 years in union with this body. My teacher assures me that I have even longer than that.
Speaking of astrology, I’ve had some wonderful clients lately as well as some disastrous feedback. This great intimacy I feel with my clients, although wonderfully touching in a familiar way, occasionally gives me a kick in the ass since I share their pain as readily as I share their joy. And of course regardless of what I do, I cannot change anything for them (and lucky nobody expects me to do this), and still there exists suffering and confusion in this world. Patience and awareness seems to be the only remedy; but such remedies are only bestowed on those of us who are fated for such patience and awareness.
In any case, I’m merely writing for the sake of writing; singing for the sake of the song. I’ll continue to walk in this world between the past and the future, between heaven and hell and all the rest. Non-duality and non-difference between the poles. This fleeting stillness being the only real reality. It’s been said that when truth descends upon us, the only response in worship. So please accept this writing in the spirit of worship, just as I pray each step I take in this life continues to be taken in worship.
One of the richest men of India graced the evening aarti (ceremony) in Varanasi one evening. Not unlike Obamas visit to India, several private planes landed in the days before his arrival to ensure he would have all the comforts to which he’s accustomed, as well as the security preparations to keep him safe. Aarti time was even changed to fit his schedule. Of course, he was also giving some money to repair some damaged ghats and beautify the city.
Varanasi is famous for it’s discomforts, unappealing poverty, illness, garbage, shit, decomposition, and stench, to say nothing about the ease by which terrorism can be done here. Kings like this man have to worry about that kind of thing though it may be nothing to us. The filth of this city gets inside of all new comers, especially those most sure of themselves. Standing before the fires that consume over 10 000 bodies a year can have it’s effect. Doubt is sure to arise in the mind of the firmest ego. In this regard, I can understand why someone with the means would take all precaution: I’m sure he has no more time for doubt than he does for illness.
I asked one Varanasi man what he thought of this; being visited by such a king? “Go away man, we don’t need your money and show. They just come and disrupt our lives, demand special favours, just so they can show how great they are. Go away from here.” Time and again I hear this kind of attitude in Varanasi. Whenever there’s some initiative to clean the place up, or fix it or preserve it I’m usually just reminded that Varanasi people don’t want change. While the cities of India are surging ahead with change, most people in Varanasi are happy doing things like they’ve always done them. Let them fix things, let them push their initiative, as soon as they go things will go back to they way they’ve always been.
I can see the argument for such conservatisms in India much more clearly than I can in Canada. The family and community structures are much more intact here. Their lives are like iron, hard, but solid and dependable from birth to death. Family is their insurance, the community is their support.
The caste system is often spoken of in deplorable terms, but if you think in terms of structuring a community, you need all four castes to work together. An of course, the outcome of any cohesive group is that there will be people who don’t belong (outcastes and foreigners). A self-sustaining community needs a diversity of castes: labourers to build and maintain infrastructure, farmers and merchants to supply our goods, teachers and knowledge seekers to preserve and promote wisdom, as well as leaders and protectors to facilitate the smooth harmonious flow of people and goods. The outcastes forever challenge us. Those who think differently, act differently, have different norms, languages, gods. As much as their ways challenge us as individuals, they pose even greater challenge to the community.
What we’re seeing is a breaking down of the social structure in India. The west went thru this after World War II. By the time the 60’s rolled around everyone was freely completing their desires without fear of social recrimination. But of course there are still strong social taboos here that still make it necessary to underground to complete ones desires. The growth of urbanization along with massive need for itinerant works who leave their families and villages to find work where they can. To the western eye who sees them with their wife and children along with, a brother and his family it might seem as though family is still abundantly present, but from the Indian perspective this is the first stage of a broken family; broken home.
This is all old news in the west, but over the years of coming to India I’ve seen the changes that I have been a part of. As a foreigner, I’m an outcast here, if it was not for the weight of the currency from my home country, it’s likely I would be treated as more of an outcast than a king, but because of the weight of my western currency I am given the power of a king. As tourist outcasts we all arrive with this power. With this power we can change the society to suit our own needs just as the richest man in India did when he came to Varanasi. Of course, compared to him, you and I are poor people, our advantage is numbers and long durable work. In other words, our comforts were not flown in for us alone, but over the years of so many of us coming and bringing our own values with us we have gotten out way. We can have a croissant with jam for breakfast along with a cappuccino and a cigarette in any mildly touristic town in India, even if the locals have never found a taste for it.
We have created small unsustainable economies in the tourist sectors. The people, the real rulers of the land, are relying on us outcaste tourist for their prosperity. We’re nice enough rulers, we give good tips and are generally pleasant enough as people, but we’re still outcastes; we don’t belong as a part of their society. So whenever we bring our good ideas and insist that others adopt them, we are introducing foreign elements into the culture. We might not insist on the supremacy of our values without words or actions, but this supremacy shines with the power of our currency and the sophistication of our lifestyle.
Many people are of course overwhelmed buy the shine of modern sophistication and pride exuded by western people. Imagine yourself a villager, still no electricity or running water, never a day in school (learned from the land), some ox cart road for so many miles before there’s even a decent road, maybe watched TV a couple of times on the way thru the village to make trade. Then bring into the picture a shiny young American with a 300mm zoom lens and a million dollar smile.
“Oh maharaja, what can I ever do to get some of what you have?”
The funny thing is that for the passed 1000 years Hindustan (Hindu India) has had what would be considered outcaste rulers (the Persians followed by the Mughals). Perhaps this division between government and society helped to give Hindu society strength, because now that they’ve had over 50 years of self rule, traditional Hindu society is facing it’s most daunting challenge: materialism. They were fine so long as they were in opposition to the outcastes, but now that we’ve come back as friends offering the material comforts so long denied to the typical Hindustani they have no shame in dropping their traditions. But these traditions are what have held the people (the society) together through all the changes and upheavals of rulers and empires.
All ancient traditions are the same in this long-term view of things. It’s not a conservative resistance to change, it’s rather an understanding that the truth of a place (or a person) lies beyond all the changes. So let them come, they will go too. It will look like change has happened, but in the end everything will be just as it’s always been.
War and materialism will leave its mark on every society (every person even), but behind the marks of suffering and the cloaks of prosperity lies the same wisdom that cannot be lost for it’s preserved in every heart, in this way traditional culture, traditional society remains preserved and ready to support people thru the changes of war and materialism. The change is merely the appearance, the truth is that the same heart is beating now as has been beating since the beginning.
I was welcomed to the City of Light this year by a cycle rickshaw ride from the train station that was a nice change from the ever-frantic auto rickshaws. The familiar odors of the city rose up to greet me as well: The pungency of burning garbage, the sour of urine, and the sweetness of Ganga as her shore retreat after monsoon. These familiar smells were joined at this time by those emanating from the heaps of goat, buffalo and camel parts that were discarded following the Muslim festival of Id. The city tried to suppress the smell under white lime but to little effect in the heat and humidity.
The old man cheerfully peddling the bike stopped two other rickshaw wallas to collect money from them. He was a shrewd and demanding businessman, let there be no doubt. He collected some money from both: a sum total of 70 R’s (or about a $1.30). And although this collection happened right in front of me, he somehow had no change when it came time for me to pay the bill of 80 R’s. To his great disappointment I found some change to pay him with.
Last year when I was here, there was a week when the corps of a puppy seemed to be following me around town. I saw it first when another puppy was dragging its already rotting corps along the banks of the river. Despite his hunger and his youth he seemed to recognize that something was wrong with the picture: a puppy eating the bloated corpse of another puppy. I continued to see the same corpse sitting along side several other garbage heaps before the climactic final viewing of a bicycle stopping at a busy intersection of the alleyways only to have his back tire slid out from under him as it dragged the slippery corpse beneath it.
This year I took note of the rather fresh kitten corpse with one eye blankly fixed on the sky. As I write this, the same kitten already showed up near another alleyway garbage heap about 200m away.
Two years ago when I arrived at the alleyways from the train station with my girlfriend at the time we enter a short distance behind a group of devotees following their guru down to Ganga. Guruji had no lack of enthusiasm. When enroute to Ganga they came across a momma cow taking a pees, he took that auspicious moment to scoop the urine with his hands and throw it at his devotees who were trembling with excitement. We who were clustered with them were not quite so overjoyed. My girlfriend, whose first time it was in Varanasi, felt quite the opposite as she trembled with disgust. She later explained that coming from a Muslim culture she could not imagine a religion or culture more opposed to Muslim ways than the ways of Hinduism.
The local drug-dealing duo managed to harass me four times on my first day with such persistence that it’s already become a comedy. They have been coming to me with the same light hearted persistence every single time I have seen them over the past seven years. Our final meeting of the day culminated in a heart to heart over why I haven’t bought anything from them in six years. In his own defence he told me about how he’s changed over that time: he got married, had a child and actually gives away much of his profit to a disabled woman and her daughter. He asked for a second chance to once again acquire my trust and friendship. I told him he had a month to become a human being and not just the local drug pusher.
Amongst this backdrop were hugs and warm welcoming’s, news about friends who were missing from their usual posts, and many friendly welcoming smiles amongst the usual stares of curiosity.
My studies in Astrology continued immediately as well. Sanjay seemed as eager to get back to it as I am. I found again the spirit of astrology that seems to be getting lost in the details of my self-studies in Canada.
It feels good to back to a place that for some reason makes more sense to me. Where consumerism is on an individual level between two people rather than between a corporation and a consumer. But mostly I’m happy to be again with with people who share my passion for philosophy as a path of spirituality. Study as tapasia, conversation as satsang, mere sitting and going about town acting as asana. It all seems so easy here in isolation from my work and my car and the many other so called “conveniences” of western living.
Om Namah Shivaya
I was reminded of a time in Varanasi, sitting at the burning ghats, watching bodies burn. Everything is happening here. The whole city goes by, nay, the whole world! Seasonal festivals pass thru, all the animals of the city are represented, except they’re bigger stinger healthier and more menacing somehow. Aghora tantrics sit around. Madmen come to extort money for you. Families mourn and carry out the last rights. Morning and evening everyone gives and recieved blessing from the river passing thru and the light that’s is Kashi…. Prakash.
On this evening I was sitting with a long time friend. One of those people you have such varied experience with that he’s more like brother. In any case, one of the mourning family members took offence to having a couple western tourist gawking at his burning relatives body and he chased us away. We left easily, we weren’t there to offend anyone.
He didn’t ask us why we were sitting there. If he did, I would have told him that my father burned, but I didn’t get to see it because of Canadian law and policy. He was killed by fire and then about a week later I gave his body over to the fire. Ashes to ashes… His ashes didn’t go into ganga where she passes thru Kashi, but with the lords blessing, someday his son’s will.
OM NAMAH SHIVAYA