Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - Dec 2012  

Wandering Sages of the Himalayas

by Dr. Tacson Fernandez and Rajini Prakash

“Dr Tacson Fernandez and his wife Rajini Prakash are initiates of the Himalayan Tradition. Dr. Fernandez is a consultant in a leading hospital in London. He is a pain management expert and is developing plans for programmes in MEDITATION FOR PAIN MANAGEMENT to use in hospitals. Rajini is an expert in human relations and working in a high position helping hundreds of people. Both are SRSG Ashram and promising leaders of the AHYMSIN family. So beautifully sattvic, humble, and saumya personalities whose success in life has not gone into their ego-building.” - Swami Veda Bharati

Account 1

Date: 18th Sept, 2012
Time: around 1730 hours
Place: outskirts of Guptkashi

The day was gently drawing to a close, an hour or so before dusk fell. It had been a surprisingly sunny day, the first after many days of heavy rain. The last remnants of daylight clung stubbornly to the sky as if reluctant to give way to the darkness of the night. Who knows what the night would bring? Had it not, just two nights ago, taken away a few villages? A landslide that suddenly started near midnight had swept away a couple of villages around Ukhimath in Uttarakhand. It had buried even the access roads, leaving no approach for rescue teams to pull out the dead. Only prayers hovering on the lips of the living were left in the end, as always.

All this was silently absorbed as we gazed at the traces of buildings left standing amidst ruins. We caught small, quick glimpses of the landslide as the car that we were travelling in wound round the hills, hugging its safer sides so as not to hurtle down to the rocks.

It was the evening of September 18th, 2012, at around 5.30 pm. It had been a long, long day. For the two of us, who had never trekked in our lives, had, in tacit agreement, trekked up and down the Kedarnath hills to the abode of Lord Shiva. We would not have done it any other way. No horses or dholi (a wooden carriage carried on four shoulders) or copter would do. Prayers for a special person in our lives would be heard, we felt, only if the petition to the Lord were presented in the right manner. Therefore, every step on the hills had been a prayer.

Seven hours of walking uphill, thinning oxygen levels, de-hydrated and staying at a basic hotel without any electricity or hot water had taken its toll. Moreover, it was followed by a four-hour downhill trek the next day. We were tired, the kind of tired that the physical body can experience when pushed to its very limits of endurance. Yet, curiously, the mind was alert, our personal Mantra chanted silently in the background while we looked out the window of the car without the usual dispassion of travellers.

We were on the outskirts of Gupta-kashi, when Tacson decided to take pictures of the landslide. The intent was to post the pictures on the web, with the hope that the shocking images would trigger compassion and ideas for a future project of emergency management in the hills. As the roads were rough, we were jostled around constantly, and it was a challenge for Tacson to focus on the landslide scene on the opposite side of the bank. Noticing this, the driver, Tomar ji, suddenly brought the car to a halt by a small chai (Indian tea) shop. We were quite surprised by this, as Tomar ji was not given to such impulsive actions. He was very predictable and was particular about not driving after 5.00 pm. Therefore, he was rushing to our destination, which was still an hour away.

The chai shop looked a little desolate as it stood by itself without the usual clutter of little shops lining it on either side. Yet, it was by no means empty. Seeing that the benches were already occupied, Rajini decided to have chai in the car itself, while Tacson got the camera ready to take pictures of the landslide.

Just then, we noticed a sadhu (holy man) walking up to the car in a slow, yet determined fashion. We hastily turned our eyes away. By this time, everywhere we went, there had been sadhus asking for alms. Not able to give alms to every one of them and unable to decide who was the deserving one, we had started to avoid them. Now the sadhu walked up to the window and simply stood there.

Somehow, our travelling paraphernalia suddenly seemed too much when compared to the simplicity of the sadhu. It was a trifle embarrassing even. Tacson shoved the camera between the seats, while Rajini busied herself as if searching for something. Still the sadhu simply stood there patiently. Finally, Rajini glanced up and met the eyes of the sadhu. She was struck by something in his eyes. They were not a piercing black, but gently faded ones. They seemed to hold infinite depth and an ageless wisdom. The sadhu’s skin was a particular dark shade, the kind one got from relentless exposure to the sharp sun in the higher hills. The face was not too lined and wrinkled with age, though we are not able to bring it up in our mind’s eye to state it with absolute certainty.  

Taking the opportunity, Tacson asked him about the landslide. The sadhu started talking, describing the loud, unearthly sound at night when hills shifted and readjusted a small twitch in the grand scheme of things, but that, which caused untold damage to several villages in the vicinity and took several lives. Entire families were wiped out in a blink of an eye, the sadhu said. He recounted the experience of watching the drama unfold in a calm, unemotional voice. The villagers on this side of the bank had, he said, come to him and asked him why did these things happen. Was he not the messenger of God? The sadhu would know. The sadhu had merely replied that it was what God had decided.

The conversation now being established between the sadhu and us it was acceptable to move on to more personal topics. The sadhu asked where we were from. We were reluctant to mention London for in these parts of the world, London mattered little. Delhi or Rajasthan or Mathura was more popular. Therefore, we responded saying that our journey had started from Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama.

We watched the sadhu closely as we mentioned Swami Rama’s name. The sadhu gave an imperceptible nod, more a twitch of the facial muscles, which we took as confirmation. The more they know, the less they feel the need to show.

Seizing on the slight nod, we persisted, “Did you know Swami Rama?” 
This time the sadhu nodded. We waited, studying his profile, while he turned and gazed at a distant spot in the hills. Several moments passed and turning back to us, he said that he had spent nine years with Swami Rama.

We were taken aback by this bit of news; it was certainly unexpected! Early life experiences and sharp lessons had developed a degree of skepticism in us. “Healthy skepticism” was how we referred to it, feeling a sense of pride that it would be hard for someone to take advantage of us. And now, that skepticism prevented us from simply accepting what the sadhu was telling us. If our initial disbelief showed in any manner, the sadhu did not give any indication of it. It mattered little to him, anyway, whether we believed or not.

After a brief pause, the sadhu continued, saying that he had lived with Swami Rama for nine years, cooking for him every day.

“Swami Rama would not eat anything else, but what I cooked for him,” said the sadhu. Our eyebrows rose in healthy skepticism, while we watched the sadhu silently. It did not deter him in the least. He continued, relating several incidents in Swami Rama’s life. He spoke of Swami Rama’s son who is now in America. He mentioned accompanying Swami Rama to the Institute in America. By now, it dawned on us that the sadhu could indeed be speaking the truth. Humbled and a little ashamed of our initial disbelief, we leaned forward in our seats, silently encouraging the sadhu to go on. The tea arrived. We offered the sadhu a cup of tea, while both of us shared the other one between us.

The sadhu graciously accepted the tea, held the hot steel tumbler with both hands and gazed at the tea a few moments. He took a sip, looked at us and continued his disarming tale. He was there, on the day when someone had attempted to shoot at Swami Rama, he said. This admission shocked us; we looked at him, open-mouthed! By now, we were fully in thrall of his tale. Swami Rama was then also known by another name. The sadhu mentioned the name, but our inattentive mind failed to retain it. Perhaps, we were not meant to.

The sadhu spoke with reverence of the great Master, Swami Rama. There was contentment in his voice and a deep love in his tone as he recounted his brief story.

We asked the sadhu his name. “Swami Hari Singh”, he said. He was 85 years old. Pointing to a mature tree on the side of the road, he said, the tree was planted in the year of his birth. To honour the sadhu, the village had erected a board in his name by the tree. The sadhu had once been a householder. He had several children who were now settled with their own families. But he had no wish to live with them. He did not wish to be dependent, he said. There was no need. Pointing to a small cave-like structure some way off the road, he said it was where he lived when he was around in these parts. He went away often, he said, on his wanderings, to Rishikesh and other places, usually in the hills. This was later confirmed by Tomar ji, the driver, who shared that the sadhu was rarely found in the village and was usually off on his journeys. He carried nothing with him save a staff, a brass pot and a blanket.

We remembered Swami Rama saying that when one travelled far, it was best to travel light. We looked at the sadhu, trying to imagine how it was to travel as light as he did. What did it take to surrender so fully to a higher grace that it ensured you wanted for nothing, that someone, somewhere would always step up when you needed it. What higher freedom existed other than complete surrender? When one surrendered fully to a higher grace, what was here to fear?

The sadhu said that he was instructed to continue living in this manner, until he reached 102 years of age, when Babaji would come for him. He had received these instructions, he said.

The driver returned to the car after his break and sat in his seat signaling that it was time for us to move on. The sadhu blessed both of us and we made a small contribution. Our journey parted ways.

That night, we wondered if we should have made a bigger contribution? Should we have also given the sadhu one of our jackets to keep warm in the oncoming winter? Should we buy a woolen blanket and return to the spot the next day hoping to find him again?

But there was no doubt about who was the giver and who was the receiver. There was only gratitude that Swami Rama revealed a sliver of his glorious life to us in this manner. We are grateful for the blessings received.

Account 2

Date: 24thSept, 2012
Time: around 1300 hours
Place: enroute to Uttarkashi, before Tehri

If one carefully and with attention observed one’s own life, it is quite possible to notice certain patterns emerging from it. For us, such a pattern demonstrated time and again that important, life-changing events were accompanied by a quirky twist. For instance, Char-dham yatra (pilgrimage to four major holy shrines in the mountains that many devotees undertake) had only been a dream the kind you knew can be dreamed of but never about to become a reality. Yet, here we were having finished visiting two Dhams (holy shrines) at a difficult time. The unusual thing was that instead of starting the yatra (pilgrimage) with Yamunotri (source of river Yamuna) as is normally done, prevailing circumstances in the region had us starting the yatra with Kedarnath. The routes to Gangotri (source of river Ganga) and Yamunotri were closed due to severe flooding and landslides. But in these parts of the world, aptly named “Dev bhoomi” (Land of the gods), one quickly learned that we are but a speck in the cosmos. Our plans were at best tentative; the universe had its own plans. We needed to be adaptable and accepting, not in a resigned sort of way, for that would defeat the entire purpose of a pilgrimage. Swami Veda Bharati’s writing on “What Is a Pilgrim” became an invaluable guide to which we returned time and again. Hence, we were quite prepared to not be able to travel to the two remaining Dhams (Gangotri and Yamunotri). However, in yet another blessing that came our way, the route to both the Dhams were reopened. We would be amongst the first to traverse roads that were barely passable! We were soon en route to Uttar-kashi from Rudra-prayag. Our destination was Gangotri via Uttar-kashi.

As if the sun was throwing a challenge to the rain-god, it blazed as brightly as it would have in summer. We were soon hot and tired despite travelling in the comforts of a car. For a long time, there was no chai shop at which we could stop for refreshments. It was almost noon, and we desperately needed a drink. Eventually, in a non-descript road, baking in the sun there was a scattering of small shops selling odds and ends that its owners thought travellers would need. Thankfully, one of them was a chai stall. Tomar ji must have been as driven by thirst as we were, for he immediately brought the car to a halt. No sooner than we prepared to jump out of the car, a sadhu materialized seemingly out of nowhere.

Despite being a person of advancing years, the sadhu was clearly more fit than either of us! He was unperturbed by the hot mid-day sun that beat relentlessly on the asphalted road. His demeanor was gentle and his eyes crinkled at the corners as if testimony to a sense of humour. He approached us like one who knows that he will not be refused and indeed, by now used to meeting with such gentle souls, we were ready with a small contribution. The sadhu accepted it with dignity. We invited him to join us for a cup of tea; he declined. He did not leave the area, but went up to two other cars that also drew to a halt like we had. A few minutes later, he returned to us and indicated to Tacson that he would like to bless the “gudiya” (little girl). He was referring to Rajini. The sadhu instructed Tacson to take a picture of the blessing. He would graciously allow us to finish our tea first.

The gudiya was reluctant to be photographed with the sadhu. Not wishing to appear rude by outright refusal, she slowly took her tea, hoping that the sadhu would get weary of waiting and leave. But with immense patience, he waited. While he waited, he shared bits of information about his life. He did not volunteer information, but answered questions that Tacson asked him.

It emerged that the sadhu was a Sikh from the Punjab. He wandered the Himalayas on foot, he said, roaming at will. He was returning from Gangotri, he said. Prior to that, he was at Mana-sarovar, the sacred lake at the foot of the holy mountain Kailash, in Tibet, that is sacred to four religions.

We gazed at him in respectful silence wondering once again the manner of courage, faith and fortitude it required for a person to choose the path of a wandering sadhu. It occurred to us, as it would have to many others before us, that the societies we have built, the systems we have put in place, ensure that we remain ensnared to our own creations. Intermittently, the strange, yet familiar yearning of the soul reminds us that it seeks to return to where it came from. Our rational mind puzzles over this yearning, which at times manifests as vague discontent, until grace brings us in the presence of an advanced and compassionate being who points us in the right direction. When we met wandering sadhus, there was a sense of awe that they had embraced a way of life that we sought, but did not dare.

At last, unable to delay any longer, Rajini finished the cup of tea. The sadhu immediately gestured that we should get ready for the picture. Facing the camera, he placed his hand on the head of a giggling gudiya. In that single expansive and gracious gesture, the sadhu gave us back tenfold thus ensuring that the karmic cycle of receiving and giving was closed. Once again the blessing was received with gratitude.

Account 3

Date: 25thSept, 2012;
Time: around 1300 hours
Place: Krishna Ashram, Gangotri

Another clear, bright day: the sun defiantly shone as if the heavy rain of the previous night had never happened. We had witnessed the aftermath of floods in Uttar-kashi, houses, roads and bridges had been swept away leaving many homeless. People were stunned at the ferocity with which it had happened. It occurred in the dead of night when most of Uttar-kashi had slept fitfully, perhaps, unsuspecting of the impending disaster. Some inhabitants stood firm in their belief that Mother Ganges had reclaimed the ground that had been taken over for building hotels and houses.

This made us nervous. The hotel we stayed in was also nudging the Ganges; it stood a mere 7-10 feet from the swift flowing waters. When the rain started, we were asked to keep an eye on the waters so that should the water rise to alarming levels we could clear the room in safety! But the calm, soothing, yet powerful energies of the entire region were such that we were soon lulled into sleep permeated by a deep sense of security that we would be taken care of whatever may be the situation.

The route to Gangotri turned out the most hair-raising of all. At several places along steep inclines and deep gorges, we were convinced that if not for grace, the journey would have been impossible to make. The slim line that divides life and death became rather stark and stared us in the face every now and then, reminding us of our fragile existence. At one point, an unbidden question rose from within asking, “What do you fear?” The learnings from Swami Veda Bharati’s talks emerged in response as if to prove that if we had questions, we also had the answers. One had to learn to listen from within. Is fear not born from lack of feeling of oneness?

And here we were in Gangotri, some five hours later the next morning, on a beautiful, albeit cold day. Each of the Dhams resonates with subtly different energies, which we do not feel learned enough to write about. Gangotri seemed to be the place that effortlessly drew seekers to meditate in the environs of Her bleak, though majestic splendour. We were seeking the cave in which Swami Rama had meditated many years ago. It would be marvelous, we thought, to meditate at the spot were the Master had sat. In our search for the cave, we came across Krishna Ashram where two or three sadhus were seen in the courtyard. One was seated in a chair, while another lovingly massaged his legs.

On approaching them, Tacson learned that one of them had just returned from Kailash-Mana-sarovar, where he had gone on foot. The next day, he would continue his pilgrimage to Rameshwaram (one of the Char Dhams along with Badrinath, Puri and Dwarka) (to be contrasted with the four sacred places in the mountains, this set is around the four corners of India), which lay at the southern tip of India. This bit of information, brought back memories when as a young girl as part of a school trip, Rajini had encountered a wandering sadhu en route to Rameshwaram.

It was a dark and rainy night. The train was crowded as Indian trains normally are when one travelled second-class sitting. The girls all wore school uniforms, as it would help the accompanying teachers to keep track of them. Some of the girls were settling in for the night simply by crouching lower in their seats and shutting their eyes. Others peered outside, trying to see the waters on either side of the railway tracks. The train chugged onwards slowly into the night as if struggling to pull a reluctant convoy of carriages. A sadhu sat crossed-legged in one corner of the opposite berth by the window. He was a wizened old man. His face was lined and his skin was a sunburnt, dark chocolate. His eyes however, were bright, sharp and twinkling. He carried nothing other than a staff, a brass pot and a small bundle bound in a slightly soiled, once white cloth. He wore ochre, which alone defined him. He sat quietly looking into the night and impervious to the girlish chatter around him, some of who stared at him every now and then.

The ticket inspector soon came around, someone handed him our tickets in a bulk. He counted them and then referenced them by a head-count. The numbers did not add up, as the sadhu’s ticket was not amongst them. The ticket inspector approached the sadhu and held out his hand for the ticket. The sadhu merely ignored him.

“Ticket!” the inspector demanded raising his voice. Here was someone who dared to challenge his authority! The sadhu turned to look at the inspector and shook his head. They stared at each other for a long minute, the inspector glaring, the sadhu calmly gazing back. We watched with bated breath wondering what would happen next. Abruptly, adopting a resigned manner, the inspector turned away. He was heard grumbling beneath his breath at how he was supposed to handle sadhus who never seemed to follow the rules!

The inspector was gone and yet we continued to rudely stare at the sadhu in open curiosity. Catching our gazes, he smiled and explained gently for the past twenty years or so, he had travelled all over India on pilgrimage, visiting several temples and sacred sites. He used the trains as often as possible. He had never bought a ticket, and no one bothered him.

Our young idealistic mind was secretly horrified at this blatant flouting of rules. Still, it was also a lesson that nothing was black and white in India at least. Most things were negotiable. If a holy man, who had eschewed all possessions and trappings of modern society and wanted nothing from it, desired to spend the final years of his life visiting sacred sites, then he should be allowed to do so without interference.

Here many years later, in Gangotri another sadhu was about to start for the same destination, though on foot. He would be traversing the entire length of a large country to get to the holy site. The thought occurred that though India was gaining ground as a growing economy and re-emerging onto the world stage, the sadhus simply carried on as before. Spirituality and the chaos of modern living continued to co-exist as it always had done. Like India’s great rivers, the country gently absorbed the changes and adjusted her stride, while the waters continued to flow, inexorably and with great certainty in the direction that it was meant to go.

The massage being finished, the sadhu left the travelling seer still sitting quite motionless in the chair and moved to sit a little way off. Tacson followed and asked if he could direct us to Swami Rama’s cave.

An astonishing change came over the sadhu’s countenance on hearing Swami Rama’s name. A look of great love shone on his face. He acknowledged that he had known Swami Rama. He had the great fortune, he said, of accompanying Swami Rama in his intense sadhana at Gangotri. There is no one like him, he continued, with a far away look in his eyes.  He went into a trance.

“What a voice he had!” said the sadhu suddenly emerging from the trance, “Why do you seek Swami Rama’s cave? Just uttering his name in these parts is enough! The entire region is permeated with his essence. Thank you, thank you for bringing him to my mind today.” The sadhu bowed his head and joined his hands in a namaste. He went into another trance. His countenance continued to reflect the great love he had for the Master. It was stunning to witness it. It reminded us of the love evident in Swami Veda Bharati at the mention of Swami Rama. It was an immensely humbling experience to be in the presence of such pure love.

The sadhu looked after Krishna ashram when he was not on a pilgrimage. The ashram was a brief resting place from which they prepared for a journey.

It may be said that we are all travellers in a way as we are merely passing through this world, which we have to leave one day. But the wandering sadhus have in their unique manner, mastered the art of such a travel. The ones we were fortunate to encounter cared nothing for the things that most of us spend a whole lifetime working towards. Owning very little in terms of material possessions, taking each day as it comes and eschewing all manner of comfort they left barely discernible footprints as they passed. Yet, in ways that truly matter, they remain towering figures of spirituality.

When they looked at you, their gaze was unwavering and it seemed like they saw too much. They spoke little and only when required. It was their compassion and gentleness that made them respond to our queries. They reveled in their solitude and thought nothing of covering great distances on foot in inclement weather. Their manner was unhurried and speech was soft. Sometimes, it seemed that the wisest of men had the softest of voices. One had to carefully listen to what was said and to what was left unsaid. If not, the words would be heard but the message would not be understood. Most of all, they were one with the deep, deep silence that permeated the entire region of the Dev-bhumi. Perhaps, the best way to experience Char Dham was by walk. Every breath the Mantra and every step would be a way of giving thanks to all the grace and the blessings received.

A few words on Char Dham:

It was one of the most difficult times in the region when we started on our pilgrimage. We would never have attempted it had it not been for the blessing of Swami Veda Bharatiji. The grace was evident right from the start and every step of the way. The weather co-operated, routes opened up and everyone we met were most helpful and kind.

Swamiji’s message in “What Is a Pilgrim” served as our guide all through the journey. We were sometimes scared by the conditions of the roads and were frequently physically tired, but simply returning to “What is a Pilgrim” constantly revived our spirits. Our personal Mantra was a steady companion and chanted unceasingly in the background of our mind and beyond.

It must have been our fanciful notion fuelled by our deep desire to know the Master that we felt Swami Rama’s presence with us especially at Kedarnath and Badrinath. It was evident, we thought, in many small and big inexplicable things that enabled us to receive the darshan (holy view) of the presiding deities. But when we went to Gangotri and Yamunotri, we experienced subtle energy shifts where Swamiji (Veda Bharati)’s smiling countenance appeared again and again in our minds and especially, when we prayed to the Divine Mother. Initially, this was puzzling, but suddenly the answer came. The Mother, whether She manifests as a river or the Guru, is an ever–flowing, nurturing source of enduring love. She looks upon all her children with great tenderness and reserves a special touch to those who need it the most. Though She will not hesitate to display Her displeasure when necessary, Her forgiveness is never far away and once again Her children are enveloped in the soft cocoon of an eternal embrace. Though the above description is limited, it is exactly how we regard Swamiji (Veda Bharati)’s love. It is natural therefore that Swamiji came to mind whenever we thought of Divine Mother.

The reasoning nature of our mind gnawed away at how Swami Rama and Swamiji graced us with their constant presence at different times. To us, they have always appeared as one and the same. Therefore, in our understanding, we gathered that it would be the masculine and feminine aspects of a single source of divinity, spiritual energy and inspiration.

The Char Dham was a journey on all levels, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is not an easy pilgrimage to make at the best of times. It frequently tested our physical endurance, emotional stability, mental strength and faith. We experienced first-hand that nature can be both a benign and a terrifying force to be viewed with awe and respect.

It is impossible to remain untouched by the spiritual energies of the region. The hills and the valleys are marinated in spirituality. As mentioned above, each of the Dhams are tinged by their own special aura. But the deep silence that envelops the whole region is prevalent everywhere. It is easy to believe that it is here where Heaven and earth come together, where the different worlds merge. There is hope that the layers of ignorance can be shed so that one may come in contact with the higher plane of Truth. We were merely touching the fringes of that deep, abiding silence, and yet, it filled us with a vast sense of indescribable peace. It is kind of silence that haunts the soul and makes it long for more. The soul recognizes it and rejoices in it.

For a fortnight, we were caught up in this magical spell of a magical land. In the words of Paul Brunton, “I feel that the ship of my soul is beginning to slip its moorings; a wonderful sea waits to be crossed; yet you would draw me back to the noisy port of this world, just when I am about to start the great adventure!”

We are back; the spell is broken. Yet, touched by a heavenly grace, we are changed forever and the soul will never forget.

In retrospect we understand that Swamiji’s “What Is a Pilgrim” applies to life itself. One would wish to go through this life as a pilgrim, ever mindful of the goal and gently accepting of that which is dealt to them.

We concluded our yatra (pilgrimage) at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama. As we lay down to sleep, we realized how tired we were. Though our journey had taken us to incredible places, where we had experienced beauty beyond words, where we had met many people who had chosen to walk different paths, where we had seen and heard unbelievable things, there was only one place where we could fully rest and let go of all the tiredness and excitement of the last couple of weeks. And that was at our Mother’s home to which we had returned and where we slept a deep, peaceful, restful sleep. 

Our heartfelt gratitude to Swamiji (Veda Bharati), our beloved Gurudeva Swami Rama, and the Sages of the Tradition for their grace and guidance on this wonderful and uplifting journey.

Editor's Note:

To read Swami Veda’s writing “What Is a Pilgrim” please use this link: http://www.ahymsin.org/main/index.php/Swami-Veda-Bharati/what-is-a-pilgrim.html

Tacson Fernandez and Rajini Prakash, along with Denise Martin-Harker, are representatives of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Group of UK.