Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi

Tarkeshwar and Dunagiri

by Tacson Fernandez and Rajini Prakash

“I wish you this day a view of the paths of truth from the Peak.”

Swami Veda (The Light of Ten Thousand Suns)       

It was like stepping into an ancient, timeless realm, – the hush, the deep silence and the tall devdars (deodars) standing like silent sentinels as if guarding and sheltering the place. No hint from the surrounding forests that such a place existed; it nestled quietly, almost secretly, away from well-trodden tourist paths. In the middle of a natural basin in a rare microcosm, there stood the ancient temple of Tarkeshwar Mahadev, the temple of Lord Shiva at Tarkeshwar.

Having heard of Tarkeshwar several times from our kalyana-mitras at SRSG, a longing had arisen to visit the place. With the understanding of how important the site was in our Tradition, it seemed like a place to visit only when one was summoned. Therefore, no attempt had been made to travel to Tarkeshwar until December last year. Even then, it was to be only a cursory visit. The idea was to stay in Lansdowne, a small town, 33kms from Tarkeshwar. As we were on holiday and Tacson was unwell from a chest infection, it was decided that stay in a hotel would provide the required facilities, comforts of heating and such that would insulate us from the December chill.

After leaving Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, we travelled by taxi to Lansdowne, checked into the hotel with its semi-luxurious surroundings and enjoyed the cozy warmth. Unfortunately, one had to listen to loud rock music, which the hotel had decreed as a necessary form of entertainment for its guests, well into the night. Next day, in the intensely cold morning, a hasty decision was taken to make a sortie into Tarkeshwar and return to the warmth of the hotel. We feared that the cold would aggravate Tacson’s ill health.

As the car wound its way on narrow roads, almost hugging the mountainside, the sheer beauty of the surroundings unfolded before awestruck eyes. One soon became aware that the personal Mantra had arisen of its own accord and continued ceaselessly. This was the land where sages from the Himalayan Tradition had roamed, lived and meditated. It was deeply humbling to traverse the same grounds.

It would be a futile exercise to attempt to convey with words the experience of Tarkeshwar and its profound spiritual power that prevails in the area. It is a place where one does not need to make a conscious effort at silence; silence happens. One grows quiet and contemplative; one becomes naturally still. The beauty of being in a state of effortless stillness was experienced throughout the stay, allowing one to “just be”.

Here one may effortlessly feel a direct connection with the Supreme regardless of religious affiliations, personalities, inclinations and any other differentiations. It is a place where thoughts have to be guarded and promises carefully given, for thoughts could manifest into reality and promises would be unfailingly collected. A great sense of calm comes over a person when seated in the small Shiva temple. There is a reluctance to move, let alone get up and leave. The air resonates with Gurudeva’s presence. 

The cold and the illness receded to the background. The magnetic aura of the place was so strong that it was getting harder to return to Lansdowne. The kind and hospitable people at the Ashram lovingly urged us to stay. In the end, we needed little persuading to check out of the hotel and move to Tarkeshwar. The hotel’s comforts and new-year eve’s grand dinner paled in significance to the irresistible call of Tarkeshwar.

As the evening drew in, it got bitterly cold at Tarkeshwar. Huddling around the fire, we ate a quick, simple but delicious dinner while being serenaded by animal calls from the surrounding jungles. In Tarkeshwar, the nights are different; they do not seem to have the usual heavy, tamasic quality that characterizes the night elsewhere. The night appears more alive here as if a live energy is crackling around, unseen but strongly sensed. Retiring quietly to the room, we covered ourselves with four woolen blankets, used hot water bags and slept in thermals, caps and gloves. It was a deep, dreamless and thoroughly refreshing sleep.

The morning dawned bright and sunny. As soon as the frost thawed, we set off for Toli, the place where Gurudeva was born. One of our wonderful hosts, who cared for the Ashram at Tarkeshwar, accompanied us. He mentioned that he always escorted those who visited Toli, showing them the way and bringing them back. One wondered at his seva sadhana.

At Toli, we gazed at the room where Gurudeva was born; try as we did, it was hard to imagine the larger-than-life celestial being as a baby! After an appetizing lunch at Toli, the return journey, the walking especially, seemed to take longer. Our city feet were growing tired and complained. Our wonderfully patient guide was slightly anxious that we might not reach Tarkeshwar before dark set in. Suddenly, we saw a deer bounding along in the forest. It lifted our flagging energies to see such joyful gamboling!

The next day, 31st December, was spent quietly, mostly in silence and meditation. A sadhaka who had been closely associated with Swami Hari was visiting from Delhi. No words were needed to convey that each of us was making our own journey in prayer and quiet contemplation. The day was spent in silence and prayer. Much later, the sadhaka shared that he spent every new-year’s eve at Tarkeshwar. This time, he had twisted his ankle and it was painful. Determined to keep to his schedule and be at Tarkeshwar for the start of the New Year, he had travelled from Delhi nonetheless. He had taken a bus that dropped him off at the main road, the first entrance to Tarkeshwar. Just when he was wondering how he would walk the last few miles with a twisted and painful ankle, a car with pilgrims going towards the temple drew up and offered him a lift to Tarkeshwar.

Exchanging experiences and musing how fortunate we were to belong to such a profound Tradition, we waited for midnight. Then we sat in quiet meditation in our room and rang in the new-year, not to the beats of rock music, but to the eternal and abiding music of mantra and chants. We were deeply grateful for being given an opportunity to begin the new-year at Tarkeshwar. It could have only happened through grace.

One is reminded of what Swami Veda says in “What is a Pilgrim”, while referring to the Kumbh Mela, “it is a pilgrim destination and not a tourist attraction”. In certain places, one cannot be a tourist. One had to be a pilgrim, forsaking comforts, giving up the promise of rich food, setting aside illness and braving the inclement weather to experience even a small portion of the divine beauty of Tarkeshwar.

Tarkeshwar itself remained an enigma.

On January 1st, after a short meditation at the temple, we started for Dunagiri. Tacson had always spoken of visiting the place where Babaji’s aura prevails to this day. We reached Dunagiri after an arduous drive of 12 hours.

The Dunagiri hills are spread out over a wide area; hills abound in all directions; one finds themselves in the lower Himalayas. A deep, serene stillness pervades the region. One may sit anywhere for meditation and be assured of an easy connection, as if it were a hotline to the Supreme. It is a place where the past and future recedes into nothingness; one may only simply be. Even reading books on spirituality seems impossible. One notices that the breath has calmed of its own accord and flows freely. Thoughts do not occur at the usual pace. The mind has been persuaded to be your great friend, even if only for a short while.

It rained heavily the first two days, the worst rains the local people said they had ever experienced. The cold was so intense it was unbearable at times. While the rain confined us indoors, for the region was wild and our hosts suggested that we not navigate on foot through the terrain, it gave us valuable time to meditate and contemplate to our heart’s content. One had longed for this so much and for so long that it was a dream come true.

The third day, the rain abated and we ventured out. No explorations in Dunagiri may begin without paying respects and seeking permission from the Mother Divine at the Dunagiri temple. It is a Shaktipeeth. The temple is situated at the top of a hill with a lengthy path of steps leading up to it. At the temple, one experiences the same sense of deep peace as that which prevails in the Mother’s temple at SRSG. One may sit in the temple precinct for any period of time enjoying the serene tranquility.

The sun shone the next day and we started for Babaji’s cave. A local jeep took us on a short bone-rattling drive of maybe, 3kms and after that we walked through thick forests uphill for another 5kms. A vibrant, cheerful young mother whose hut was at the bottom of the hill, offered us each a stick to use for the climb. The steep and rocky terrain was made difficult due to illness and altitude. But one was resolved to reach Babaji’s place of meditation.

Babaji’s cave was wet and damp. Spreading the waterproof jackets on the wet ground and placing a cushion on it, we sat. It was day of the full moon when our Sangha meditates together. The Guru’s strong presence was felt while sitting in the cave, the mantra flowed unceasingly. Energies held us in thrall as if someone was continually beckoning us to our true home. To sum up, it was bitterly cold and utterly divine touched by the gentle warmth of Guru’s grace.

If a question arises on why travel to these places, Swami Veda says,

“…where the guru has meditated; where those who were made one with the universal mind have meditated; where saints have dwelled; places where nothing has ever happened except prayer…a force-field is created. And when one individual person comes to meditate there, he joins his individual mind entity to that universal force field and is thereby uplifted, elevated, pacified, made calm and energized.”
(Meditation: The Art and Science)

After returning to the daily routine of life with all its busyness, the connection remains. It seems one has received a blessing the fullest extent of which is not comprehensible. The flow of breath is smoother, awareness of one’s state of mind has increased, thoughts do not flit from past to future in rapid succession, rather it seems as if the past has never been, and the focus is increasingly on service. One has come to understand that the mind must maintain chitta-prasadanam should one wish for the divine connection to continue; therefore one tries to remain vigilant.

Our experience has been that whenever a pilgrimage has started from SRSG, it has unfailingly invoked the grace of the Divine Mother.  It was with Mother’s blessing that this journey began and it was Mother’s grace that protected and gave safe passage despite bitter cold, rain and illness.




The Himalayan Tradition of Yoga Meditation

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