Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - October 2013  

Navaratri, Autumn 2013

by Joanne Sullivan (Divya)

This is a Navaratri Diary. It highlights some October 2013 observances and reflections on the glorious landscape. There have been other Ahymsin articles on Navaratri which discuss this extraordinary festival. It occurs in the spring as well, but the autumn Navaratri is generally considered more important.

This is a time of anticipation to many old residents and friends of the ashram. It was a wholly new experience for many guests and most of our 1st-year gurukulam students, most of whom have just arrived.

This year, the Tara Devi Temple on our grounds is where an akhanda japa (continuous stream of mantra) of the Divine Mother takes place. There is nonstop chanting of the thousand names of the Goddess pulsing through the air. Here, Tara Devi is a living, breathing presence beyond sound and form.

Some priests have come and they will take turns night and day to ensure that the pulse and throb of the Goddess’s thousand names is not dropped for even a moment. Pandit Harshanand coordinates the festivities and prayers from 4 am to 4 am, floating through it with just a few snatches of sleep. Elsewhere in the ashram, various people have opted to quietly take on special practices of mantra, fasting, fire practice or silence to celebrate these sacred 9 days and nights.

Many residents also gather at the Tara Devi Temple to chant or just soak in the presence of the Devi. The ashram children often play nearby, alternating between joyful whoops and awestruck silence. They quietly weave in and out of the sacred spaces. All of them come with their families at dusk to the daily evening puja of Navaratri. Today, little Shankara, Nuria’s and David’s infant who is just cutting teeth, sat in awe for most of the morning puja in front of Tara Devi, with his father, David. Older children paused from play and drifted in to absorb the powerful vibrations and the ancient chanting in the temple as it has been done for centuries in the villages and cities of India and throughout the world.

The akhanda japa is of mantras from the Śri Lalitā Sahasranāma (The 1000 Names of Lalitā Devī), but this is not the only goddess prayer that is traditional throughout India. There are many. The 1000 names are in Sanskrit, but the Divine Mother knows no bounds and is not the sole property of any one culture. This is a central theme in the Himalayan Tradition - a profound respect for other cultures and religions and a sense that all are welcome, no matter what their beliefs are. The commonality we are invited to share is the aspiration for a deep and abiding peace.

The HIHT 2013 Calendar October page has a beautiful photo of Swami Rama with this quote:

“The goal of humanity is to attain that culture where the whole universe becomes a family, and everyone feels love for each other.”
-Swami Rama

As Swami Veda said in 2007 after he initiated us into the Ityukta mantra, another Sanskrit mantra of the Sacred Feminine:

“Now which Divine Lady is it being referred to?

“There is only one in the universe. Some know her as Sarasvati, the lady of wisdom, knowledge, music, inspiration.

“Some know her as Laxmi, the lady of wealth and good fortune and so on. Some know her as Tara, she who takes us across. Some know her as Dolma, in Tibetan, some know her as Kwan Yin, some know her as Kwannon, some know her as Mother Maria, some knew her as Isis, some knew her as Athena.

“It is the same One. So whichever form of Her you prefer, you may address the mantra, that is, dedication of your mind to that form.”

The Vibrant Grounds

SRSG is lush and green after heavy summer monsoons---overflowing with beautiful trees, flowers, fragrances. There is a rudraksha tree in front of a friend’s cottage. There is an amla tree in front of another’s. Roses, lilies, jasmine, hyacinths, champa, bougainvilleas, morning glories, gardenias, flame trees and trees of eucalyptus, neem, amla, rudraksha and so many others abound.

All manner of living creatures glitter the landscapes -  butterflies, insects, geckos -  though there are noticeably fewer geckos this year. In summer, the cicadas sometimes make a unified piercing noise such that, one night this summer, I mistook the call of the cicadas for an electrical mishap. Mr. Tushar, our electrician, quickly came and said “Oh, that is not an electrical fire. That is cicada!”

This is a birdwatcher’s paradise. There are egrets, eagles, owls, doves, swallows, cuckoos and countless tropical birds like kingfishers, sunbirds, hornbills, hoopoes, parakeets and bulbuls. Bulbuls made a nest in the yellow jasmine tree on my back porch last year. I was startled to come upon a white-throated kingfisher one day, its metallic turquoise back so bright it blinked back the sun. Many have distinctive voices.

One particular bird eludes me. I cannot remember ever hearing that bird before this summer. I described its call to a dentist at Seema Dental College up the road. She told me that she and her colleagues were wondering about that same bird. They too had never heard it before. Try as I might, I cannot find the bird who makes that one-note arc of a call that goes straight to my heart.

Friend, I ask, who are you? Where are you? Sometimes I have opened my door and gone out in search or left the path I was walking on to find that bird, but I have yet to find out who it is who calls so deeply to me. It is a deep and poignant call. I even asked Dr. K.K. Upreti, our General Manager, what bird was making that sound. He is an ecologist who knows the flora and fauna of this area well. We were about to go into evening meditation with Swami Veda when I asked him. He stepped out onto the balcony, lured by that sound, and even he could not see or identify the bird who was making that sound. He stood there listening, seeming to forget for a long moment that now the door to Swamiji’s Initiation Room was open.

The ashram is often a quiet place except for the sounds of the animals or builders or the man down the lane calling out his wares, like fresh yogurt! Fresh yogurt! (in Hindi) But the quietude here goes beyond the absence of sound, as those of us who have learned to let the night blanket us when the music of weddings, festivals and prayers comes blasting over distant loudspeakers until quite late. The sanctity here stems from a place within that ebbs and flows according to our sankalpa shakti (the power of will and determination), training, vasanas (tendencies and inclinations cultivated perhaps over lifetimes). It is bolstered by steady practice and the supports that helps us when we waiver such as group meditations and prayers like the Shiva Sankalpam astu which arouses a sense of determination. Whether it is quiet outside or not, the quietude within usually takes increasingly greater hold with practice, a growing awareness and grace. We all rise and fall periodically and thankfully there is no place for competition in the path of yoga. Fortunately, there is an abundance of loving support here in fellow seekers and in the guru presence.

Champa (A Type of Flowering Tree)

There is a tree here that makes an arboreal temple right over you. There are varieties of champa, but the ones on our grounds are also called the common white frangipani. Some say it is a kind of plumeria though some disagree. It has mysterious trumpet-like buds all coiled up with indescribable fragrance. The petals finally open with turgor into vibrant and mysterious spirals of fleshy yellow and white petals. When I look at the closed bud it reminds me of a stupa, a spire, or Divine Mother - Her wrap drawn close around Her.

Some years ago, I saw someone assume the form of Divine Mother in hiding. This flower evokes that memory in a fluttering.

How is this possible, I ask myself, I who doubt? How can any one person assume the form of the divine?

While looking for another passage I think I found the answer in the Bhagavad Gita XIV, 19.

When the seer observes no agents of action other than the gunas and knows the transcendent beyond the gunas, he attains the state of being Me.

The Me here is God in the form we call Krishna. In the case of the person who appeared to be a secret form of Divine Mother, I believe that person to be in the category described in the passage above. Hence I believe it was (is) a case of man uniting with God.

After the final puja of Navaratri this year, a handful of us were sheltering from the sun under a majestic champa tree while Swami Veda wrote a note to one of us. Medha, Swamiji’s assistant, told us that this is Swami Veda’s favorite flower. In India, it is called a champa. In the English-speaking world it is called the common white frangipani. There are many myths about this tree and its flowers and it is regarded as holy in many cultures.

Puja in the small Fire Hut

On the day before Navaratri ends, Pandit Harshanand gathers more people than can fit into the small yajnashala (fire hut) by the goshala (cow barn). Some people observe from outside, standing close to the door. This mud hut has a history that goes back to the first 40-day silence group that sat there for fire offerings. Many others since then have done fire practice there. The vibration in that space is high.

With unbelievable ease Pandit Harshanand offers a long and involved puja before Agni, the living fire, chanting mantras, the sound bodies of divine vortices, naming the sage Markandeya several times. He hands food for the fire to Nepal’s Swami Uttamananda, offering it all to Agni, the very soul of fire, and to God and Guru. The experience is breathtaking and the fire rises very high near the end. They say that champa trees will only burn in extreme heat—over 500 degrees. I wonder if the fire in the hut today is that hot.

The final day of Navaratri

Priests and students sit and stand wall to wall inside and outside the Tara Devi Temple.  We are at the conclusion of the akhanda japa (unbroken recitation) these past 9 days of the Śri Lalitā Sahasranāma (1000 Names of the Devī).

The puja begins alongside the akhanda japa of the Devi’s thousand names. Together, they make a magnificent fugue.

Swami Veda Kneels before the 9 Devis

Imagine 9 little girls transformed into goddesses. This is not a metaphor. On the last day of Navaratri, Swami Veda wrote something on his slate in Hindi. I do not recall the exact translation but someone said that Swamiji wanted us to know that we should not regard these girls as cute. There is a transformation that occurs. Each is sanctified as a goddess. We watched him kneel and touch his head to the feet of each Devi, offering a special meal, gifts and finally, the gift of his whole being to Her as each she became She. I felt deeply moved to witness this simple gesture of total surrender from this man. I was once again reminded that I see and understand so little – that ordinary people the world over perform sacred rites that transmute an ordinary space, an ordinary person into the divine light and Divine Being that perhaps only few can see. But that I cannot know.

A Pillar of Living Light

Swami Veda has arrived at the Tara Devi Temple. After his offerings to the Devi, he sits before Her. Fragile, he seems almost porous, all the interstices of his being filled with light. Yet he sits still and tall, a pillar of living light. An ancient story comes to mind, one that Dr. Arya told us many years ago. It is a story of an infinite stream of light that stretches above and below. He seems to have become that.

He sits like a bolt of lightning - still, strong and fresh as a single blade of spring grass. Nearby, at the side of the altar, the brilliant green of stout-hearted barley grass sits, traditional on Navaratri.

As Swamiji offers flowers to the Devī, their gaze meets. His reach quivers like the string on Arjuna’s bow, near taut at the flight of the arrow. Like his master, H.H. Swami Rama, he has come with the mission of love.

And What Is This Love?

I remember once coming home from a Swami Rama lecture and arguing with Swami Rama - not in person, of course - but from my room - a mental conversation.

“I’m not so sure I want a guru,” I said mentally. “It’s just someone else pasting their views onto me.”

Two circles appeared just then in my mind’s eye. “Have you ever been in love?” came the silent reply.

The two circles overlapped, forming a shared locus in the middle, intersecting area where they overlapped. I took this to mean that when two people love one another, the place where they are one is love.

Then the image of the two circles moved and the overlapping, shared area of the two circles increased. I understood this to represent a greater love, a greater understanding.

This cleared up my confusion. A guru cannot paste anything onto you. When the teacher shares what he knows - more, what he lives and is with the student - I believe that is the overlapping of the two circles, or communion of two souls.

In the case of a very great disciple and his master, there remains only one circle, the complete merging of the two circles into one, the absolute union of lover and beloved.

I concluded that the guru-disciple relationship is not that of a master superimposing his vision onto the disciple or of telling him what he knows. How limited my earlier grasp of the guru-disciple relationship now seemed and certainly, before discipleship, indeed still is. It must be based on initiation of the highest level and until I experience this, I cannot know what it is. But I believe that it is absolute grace and love of the purest form, that it has no body, no mind, and no residue. I thought about Dr. Arya and his initiation by Swami Rama, his guru.

I had heard that Swami Rama said that he was taking no new students in this life. Later, I heard him say that he had many students, but very, very few disciples. Again later, I learned that he had said that he had only 4 or 5 or 6 disciples. I do not recall the exact number.

The lesson for me was this: When a master and disciple are fully yoked, there are no longer two separate entities. This is love. Not romantic love or platonic love or motherly love or any ordinary kind of love. Perhaps this is what absolute love is - complete unity. I believe it is far less common than many of us might think. Still, I am grateful for the light and love I have felt from such rare beings as H.H. Swami Rama and Swami Veda.

In that perhaps imagined conversation from my room, he also spoke of the human being as a microcosm, of the upper and the lower, the right and the left. But he did not talk of the Dark Night of the Soul, when the yearning is so great but there is nothing but sand so high you cannot see the top of the next sand dune.


Navaratri this year was the most beautiful I have witnessed. Such is grace, ever-present and indestructible. Navaratri culminates in Dussehra and celebrates the moment in the Ramayana when the many-headed evil demon Ravana is obliterated by Lord Rama. It represents the conquest of good over evil, of light over darkness.

I was still absorbed in Navaratri and had forgotten about Dussehra. One night, coming up the hill after the evening meditation with Swami Veda, I thought I heard sounds that reached beyond physical sound. They seemed to evoke or reflect other worlds - or at least a larger world. The whole day had felt like that.

Three of us were standing by the arches that were dripping with bougainvillea in front of the sadhaka cottages. Just then, Swami Ma Radha started to talk about Dussehra.

Silvia said “Yes! They build this huge effigy of Ravana every Dussehra in both Haridwar and Rishikesh and at night they burn it down. It’s when Rama finally destroys Ravana. It’s the conquest of good over evil.”

Then I realized that the sounds of trucks, traffic, crushing sounds, and yes, moaning sounds -  manmade or not - were Ravana, the many-headed monster who kidnapped Sita - set ablaze! Right here in Rishikesh! The Rama of the great epic is alive and present. Ravana is gone. And the night is blazing bright.

Photo Slide Show

  • 11a_Frangipani

(Photos courtesy of Jay Prakash Bahuguna and Swami Ma Radha Bharati)

Editor's note:

Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita was written by Swami Rama.  The verses were translated by Pandit Usharbudh Arya (Swami Veda Bharati), and the commentary was written by Swami Rama.  Krishna is speaking in these verses. The following is Bhagavad Gita XIV, 19 and 20 with the commentary:

“19. When the seer observes no agents of action other than the gunas and knows the transcendent beyond the gunas, he attains the state of being Me.

“20. The body-bearer, transcending these three body-creating gunas, freed from the sorrows called birth, old age, and death, enjoys the immortality.

“The perfect seer, well established in the supreme Self, knows all the gunas create the play of the universe and that the Atman is not the doer. Therefore he does not become involved and entangled in the play of the gunas. He knows that the real Self remains above the gunas, unaffected and untouched. The body functions because of the three gunas, but the sage is free from identification with body consciousness. Therefore he is free from death, birth, old age, and misery. He has already attained immortality.”

The Ityukta practice was given to the AHYMSIN sangha in 2007 by Swami Veda Bharati and lasted three years.  The Purna Ahuti of this practice was 12th February 2010 and can be viewed at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CO1H23V1oQ4

The current practice given by Swami Veda on 9th March 2013 can be found at this link: http://ahymsin.org/main/practice/practice-for-the-next-five-years-and-the-rest-of-your-life.html

For more about the Tara Devi Temple: http://www.ahymsin.org/docs2/News/1204Apr/12.html