Sangha Gathering 2016

by Joanne Sullivan (Divya)

Sangha Gathering, 21st to 26th February, 2016

How It Began

When Dr. Usharbudh Arya (later Swami Veda) met his master Swami Rama his work took on a whole new dimension. A large international family grew up around him and seems to still be growing.

The sangha meetings are gatherings of Swami Veda’s kin and were important to him. He wanted Ahymsin to continue. It does. The work, the love, the ongoing practice whether he is smiling at you in the flesh or not - are in full form.

Swami Veda said "a spiritual community is a single mind-field in which the stabilized personal minds, the stabilized lives of individuals, are as soft, gentle ripples in a calm lake."

The 2016 Sangha Gathering brought this family together once again. To those not physically present: yes, your presence is felt.

The event began on a crisp and shimmering, sunny morning. It was the first such gathering without the physical presence of Swami Veda. Many friends came together again joined by a common thread.

We met in the meditation hall that first morning for the Ganesh puja and the Guru puja. Geeta Bhoi sang a poem set to music for Swamiji. It was in Hindi so I did not know the words, but was nonetheless moved to tears by the profound call of her song.

Then Swami Ritavan spoke of Swamiji’s subtle presence and the far reaches around the globe that so many of us have felt time and again--- Swami Veda’s “shawl of love.”

We sat together, worked together, inspired one another, discussed possibilities and accomplishments. There were music, dance and visual art, and we voted for the new AHYMSIN Executive Committee. Shi Hong has written about the election in his article “Can I Have Samadhi?” in this newsletter.

The event was full with morning and evening meditations, hatha yoga, brilliant performances, discussions, and inspiring talks. 

Dr. Stoma Parker and Swami Ritavan Bharati spoke about the theme “Can I have Samadhi?

Other inspiring speakers included Dr. Mohan Swami, the president of AHYMSIN and DMT; Yoong (Wong Young Khiang), the Adhyatma Samiti (Spiritual Committee) communicator; Rabindra Sahu, the onsite Teachers Training and AHYMSIN Office coordinator; Bhola Shanker Dabral, DMT Secretary and head of the Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust; Dr. Manju Talekar; and the SRSG General Manager KK Upreti.

There was a 12-hour akhanda japa (unbroken silent recitation) of the akhanda-mandalakaram mantra, and even before it began I wrote a Guru friend in Colorado that it would take place. She quickly sent back heartfelt thanks and wrote that she was already doing it. No one told her. She would join us in sitting for that practice.

What happened here?

We came together to learn what we have been doing and to plan for the perpetuity of this tradition, of Swami Veda’s and Swami Rama’s loving work as we understood it. We celebrated.

We practiced together, walked together in his meditative garden, which was a last project that Swamiji wanted for a long time. Come see. There are trees with names given by the children of the 2014 Youth Retreat who planted them. The opening of this Meditative Garden right under Swami Veda’s living quarters occurred during the 2016 Sangha Gathering.

Perhaps the most important thing for me was the akhanda japa of the akhanda-mandalakaram mantra that took place one day in Swami Veda’s Initiation Room. So much opened for me that day.

Who is the sangha?

One day during the event I walked up the road and noticed all the pebbles and sand in the road in a new way. It occurred to me that these beings are the sangha too. Why? Long ago Dr. Arya said that there is even life in a rock. To one who has taken the vow of the bodhisattva, not until the last sentient being is realized will s/he take liberation. So we are all his children. In the 45 years that I knew him (did not know him) there were so many people who came before him to glean what they could from this master. (He would shudder to hear me call him a master.)

The strange thing is that even after he, by all that the senses tell us, has gone, seekers keep coming and many of these new people feel so familiar.

Is the monkey who sat on the upstairs veranda also ours? When I opened my eyes from a meditation shortly after Swami Veda left the body, I looked out the window and saw this monkey, his body language one of utter despair, sitting on the ledge as if to ask “Where did you go, Holy Papa, Mama, Friend?” I wonder if this is a relative of the monkey who opened the door to Swamiji’s kitchen, walked in, opened the fridge and helped himself.

Swami Ritavan Bharati

Swami Veda named Swami Ritavan in his will as his successor. The presence of Swami Ritavan Bharati has been a guiding light to many of us here. He met with individuals regarding their practice, led meditations for small groups and sat for one-hour meditations each day with the larger group, mornings and evenings, alongside of other swamis and initiators who were also gratefully present.

As Dr. Mohan Swami said, “Swamiji (Swami Ritavan), you have absorbed so many of the qualities of Swamiji [Swami Veda], his sattvic qualities as well as some of his nature. And I know that AHYMSIN will spread its wings far and wide through you.”

Swami Ritavan is suffused with an unmistakable energy that has profoundly inspired me personally in my practice as well as with some habits which have not moved for a very long time. Undoubtedly the Guru lineage, Swami Rama and Swami Veda, have been instrumental in all this.

Shi Hong

Shi Hong spoke from a very personal place, retelling profound and hilarious stories of his first meetings with Swami Veda. When Shi Hong first met Swamiji, Shi Hong came from a background of international banking and finance. He thought that Swamiji wanted him to help in this area. But this was not what Swamiji wanted of him. Shi Hong told himself that he soon learned that Swamiji wanted something much more of Shi Hong—not to make it cost cutting, not to calculate the number or rooms, high season/low season, to make it more efficient as a money-making operation, for example.

Shi Hong said it took him 10 years to understand that this place is for the individual spiritual development and not a business. The spiritual development of each one of us is the aim. Whereas in corporations, individuals are disposable. Not here. We still have to think about finances but this is not the primary concern. He was listening to some people from Taiwan discussing how they could help the tradition. He heard them say something like “we go back and we must deepen our own practice and inspire other people.

In this way, we can spread the teachings.”

In speaking of Swami Veda, Shi Hong said “the way he walked, he was teaching. The way he talked, he was teaching. The way he interacted with a shopkeeper he was teaching.”

Shi Hong also spoke about how the concept of sangha or spiritual community is important among Buddhists and how it relates to yoga and to the Himalayan Tradition. Swami Veda spoke about the importance of spiritual community from as early as 1970. It was in recent years that he began using the word “sangha” more. SVB preferred the word sangha, that we were not an organization. That we were more a community.

Shi Hong said “Sangha is not about buildings or properties. It is every one of us---the common mindfield.”
He said that there is an important phrase in Buddhism: Namo rattana trayaya. It means I bow to the 3 treasures. In Buddhism, one takes refuge in the 3 treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

“These are the most valuable things in the Buddhist tradition. You take refuge in the Buddha, the historical Buddha, the teachers and also the Buddha in everyone’s heart,” he said. There is a chant Buddham sharanam gacchami. Dhammam sharanam gacchami. Sangham sharanam gacchami. It means “I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.” The Dharma refers to the teachings. He said that it is very important for the Buddhist to take refuge in these 3 things.

“There is all this talk about refugees these days,” said Shi Hong. “I am a refugee! I want to run away from my samskaras. I want to take refuge.”

Shi Hong continued. “In the Sangha there must be harmony, not only harmony with each other, but there must also be humility and mutual respect. Harmony in speech. Harmony in the mind.  So that people can enjoy together. Harmony in shared vision and harmony in shared disciplines and harmony in shared resources. It is so important to live in harmony also with your family, your neighbors and co-workers.
He spoke of the Chinese correlative to Hitam mitam priyam, the admonition that speech is ideally helpful, measured (i.e., what needs to be said) and pleasant. He explained that the Chinese symbol for harmony indicates communicating with control and in helpful ways.

Using the symbol for harmony, Shi Hong showed how the parts of a Chinese ideogram depict the building blocks of a word, form a sort of etymology. It was fascinating.

Shi Hong felt that SVB’s book Sadhana in Applied Spiritualityshould be the operating manual for any organization. He reread it recently and was very, very touched by how it emphasized sensitive communication and harmony and about how communication is presented (hitam, mitam, priyam). Swami Veda wrote that sadhana with eyes closed is easy to attain. But the sadhana of citta prasadhana [pleasant mindedness] in daily life is more difficult to attain. SVB wrote “There is excessive un-gentleness in the world.”

Carolyn Hodges’ Interview with Dr. Mohan Swami

Then Carolyn Hodges, who had interviewed Dr. Mohan Swami, the president of DMT and also AHYMSIN, spoke about Dr. Mohan Swami. She had been here for the Shraddhanjali, the 14th day after Swami Veda left the body and when the mantle was passed on to Swami Ritavan.

Her impressions “Like so many people who accomplish so much in the world, I found him very humble and down to earth. Being asked to do that interview was a gift to me because there were so many things I wanted to know about what was going to happen after SVB left,” she said.  “Dr. Mohan Swami was so gracious, though ill at the time.”

Then Carolyn Hodges and Paul Emerson read aloud to us some of her questions and Mohan Swami’s replies. To read the interview, click on Interview with Dr. Mohan Swami.

Carolyn said that what became clear was how important it was to Swami Veda that the various arms of Swami Rama’s mission work together in harmony. Mohan Swami is on the Board of Trustees of Swami Rama Himalayan University and the Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust as well as the president of the Dhyana Mandiram Trust that supports and works closely with AHYMSIN.

Swami Ma Radha Bharati: the 5-year practice

Swami Ma Radha heads up the Vidya Mandiram (Education Office), the Gurukulam, and is a member of the Adhyatma Samiti, the international spiritual committee. She is also the coordinator of Guest Programs, SRSG teachers, is a silence guide and initiator. She breathed new life into the practice that Swami Veda gave at the 2013 Sangha Gathering which he said was for the next 5 years and the rest of your life. She explained how one can change even one’s own mind with the help of these practices and our other personal practices.

As an initiator and an experienced guide in the many facets of meditation practice in systematic progression, she was perfect for this talk. She explained how one can even change the content and habits of one’s own mind with the help of these practices. She went into some depth about the meanings and how to practice the Shiva sankalpam astu and the Om kham brahma. She explained that the latter was a mahavakya, a contemplative phrase, and how a mahavakya is given by a master to a new renunciate in the sannyasin ceremony.

Her reflective nature calmly led us to a better understanding of these practices and how they can actually shape the mind as she has observed them to do in her own personal experience. She said that sometimes she notices that she opts to shift the mind’s direction by simply taking a moment to mentally affirm one of the verses of the Shiva Sankalpa Stotra or even just its bare refrain: Tan me manaha shiva sankalpam astu!

Ashutosh Sharma

Ashutosh Sharma spoke about the process of sitting for meditation. He went into some depth regarding asana and its relationship to mind and how we carry ourselves mentally by habit.  He said “I have seen people getting older but the mind becoming wrinkle-free.” He posed questions like “What is an asana? Asana is how do I stand in life? Am I standing with a restless mind or with clarity? How do I stand in relationships? How do you hold yourself? With fear, with an agitated mind or with a rested mind? A body held with a rested mind is still.”

He talked about many things that Swami Veda taught him, saying “He was very, very practical. We came with our dramas. We wanted him to entertain us. But he said ‘there is no drama’.”

Ashutosh said that we should all find time to have a good relationship with our minds and that there were many techniques, such as nadi shodhanam (purification of the subtle nerve channels), makarasana (crocodile pose) which induces diaphragmatic breathing and gently strengthens the diaphragm muscle which is so important for relaxation, good health and a calm mind. He said that asanas are needed to open the body and that work with the mind and the breath are needed as well.

Ashutosh said “hold yourself with all your loving care. Stop beating yourself up. We are so skilled in giving responsibilities to others. [Remember to tell yourself that] It is my job to hold myself with all my love and care.” He spoke of how “Swami Veda could drag that almost dead body around wrinkle-free for decades” and how Swamiji told us to “unknot the mind.”

Ashutosh also called everyone forward as he demonstrated on one person in the audience,  pointing out places to correct the posture followed by asanas that would strengthen, release and correct the spine for sitting.

Pandit Chandramani Sharma

Pandit Chandramani Sharma gave an informative talk about emotional purification and pacification of emotions and their role in meditation practice. Drawing from Sanskrit grammar and ancient texts like the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, he spoke of pure consciousness, by its very nature as being without color or quality. He explained how emotions form in the mindfield and described how the crystal clear mind has the ability to wander and take on the qualities of objects it comes in contact with. He linked all of this to explanations of the four functions of mind: manas, buddhi, citta and ahankara as well as the 3 gunas or strands of matter: sattva, rajas and tamas. Pandit Chandramani also spoke about citta-prasadanam, pleasant mindedness, to which Swami Veda gave considerable attention in lectures and guided meditations as key to developing samatvam or even-mindedness.

Dr. Stephen Parker (Stoma)

Dr. Stoma Parker (Stoma) gave more than one lecture, but I have chosen to focus on only one of them. He gave a wonderful talk on relaxation and meditation where he went through key essentials, many of which I realized I had forgotten and bypassed.  In writing this article I listened to some of the lectures again and quickly found myself unstuck by just applying a few steps he mentioned. If you are at all like me, the perennial beginner, this is a lecture filled with gems and is worth reviewing every so often. For easy access, this audio file goes by the name “Guided Meditation Going through the Steps” and is part of the 2016 Sangha series.  [Inquiries about recordings can be made to [email protected].]

Stoma gave one answer to the question Can I have samadhi? “The answer is yes,” he said. “Open your sushumna.” He gave a progression of steps, first saying, “Sometimes we think about these segments as a sort of progressive process and that some of these segments are exterior to the others. That is not true. Each of these segments can take you into samadhi….and each has a slightly different emphasis…. assuming that you are sitting in a good posture already.…” Here is a summary of the sequence he gave.

Step 1:  Awareness of your body space... of the akasha guha, the cave of space your body inhabits…. and the seat where you are sitting….It is a very useful practice to surrender that seat to the guru in the beginning in whatever way you do that….with the guru prayer or … your own little prayer.

Step 2: Awareness of breath in your nostrils. This is really important because---in addition to the yogic and pranic things….neurologically, you are also starting all the processes that help your body to relax and that help your mind to concentrate. So you focus on the awareness of breath in your nostrils and by doing that you stimulate the middle prefrontal cortex in your brain and you turn on the relaxation response in your body. So this is the beginning of the process of being able to relax and let go.

Step 3: Awareness of breath in the whole body. The sweeping breath from head to toe, up and down the body... cleansing with the exhaling… and energizing with the inhaling breath from the toes to the top of your head [and back].

Step 4: Relax the body. Send your attention [to tensed parts]….Your body is like a 2-year-old child. It yanks at you for your attention and the minute you turn your attention to it, it calms down. It’s a way of loving your body…. Feel into the middle of the tension until that tension just lets go. You can do this with the [traditional progressive] relaxation. Or, Swamiji used to say “at a minimum the points are forehead, nostrils, corners of the jaw, throat center, shoulder joints, heart center, navel center, hip joints.” If you need more, put more points in and perhaps even do a full …progressive relaxation in a sitting posture.

Step 5: Focus on the flow between the navel and the nostrils. Allow that to become nice and easy and natural. Here’s where you can begin to …watch the smoothness of the breath, keeping your awareness steady [at] the transition from inhalation to exhalation and from exhalation to inhalation. If you hold your awareness steady, gradually, over many years of practice, the gap will close and your breath will become entirely pauseless. When that happens, it’s a big step in your meditation because this is how you begin to dissolve the phenomenon of time. The life of your body is counted not in the number of years you may live but in the number of breaths….and a breath is counted from pause to pause. As long as your breath is pauseless that’s all one breath. This is how these yogis manage to live for hundreds and hundreds of years….So learn to lengthen the breath and make it [smooth] and pauseless.

Stoma then recounted a story of a guru who was about to leave the body and all the disciples had come but for one who was delayed due to transportation difficulties. Someone told the master that it would be another day before that disciple could arrive. The master replied “well, I have 2 breaths left. That should suffice.”

Step 6: Listen for the mantra….Let that practice become very stable and well established…. I emphasize the word “listen.” All the time we think about doing the mantra….A lot of effort. [This] creates obstacles. So listen. The mantra will come to you….

Stoma said that sometimes it helps to listen in the vicinity within the right ear for awhile, that the mantra can come back as the vibration was established in the process of initiation. He said  that sometimes it happens  very quickly and sometimes slowly and to avoid making it a matter of work.

Step 7: Focus on the nose bridge between the eyebrow center and the spot where the nose bridge meets the upper lip. [He points to the place between the upper lip and the nostrils under the nose.] [Swami Rama] used to call this upper sushumna breathing….Nasagra. This is the ‘triveni sangha’…. the spot where all the streams of prana come together in the sushumna.

Step 8: Focus on the breath flowing in the left nostril, then in the right nostril and then into the center. As your concentration improves, you will notice your breath following your mind and …the nostrils opening up more when you focus on them. It takes awhile for this to happen. You have to cultivate some concentration. And then eventually when you go into the center, your concentration will guide the mind and the prana into the sushumna. At that point…a very joyful feeling [ensues]….When both nostrils are flowing evenly and the sushumna is open, you naturally want to meditate….So you won’t have any trouble staying there. It will be very pleasant.

Step 9: The chamber of silence. Allowing the mantra to lead you into a subtler and subtler repetition of the mantra. The syllables of your mantra are only its gross body….Eventually you relax the syllables away and all that remains is the feeling of the mantra, and gradually that becomes just a vibration. And that will eventually resolve into a single point….where you begin to approach the experience of bindu.

--Guided Meditation: Going through the Steps.

To recap, he said that any of these can guide you into the depths. “Our focus in this tradition has been opening the sushumna so that people have the opportunity to move into Samadhi,” he said.
Among the talking points that occurred at the end was the importance of inner dialogue before you meditate. “Ask your mind as though it is your best friend, ‘is there anything we need to deal with before we meditate?’ After awhile you’ll hear your mind talk back to you….You think about it …and identify the action item and it’s done. Now you can drop it. [Swami Rama said] that, next to meditation, it’s the most important tool in spiritual practice.”

Dr. Prakriti Bhaskar and Company

Through Bharatanatyam, classical Indian dance, Dr. Prakriti Bhaskar, together with some of her excellent students, danced the Devi into living darshan and breathed life into an unbelievably beautiful ground from which the Devi arose. At the beseeching of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, Durga incarnate defeated the Buffalo Demon before our eyes.

Bhaskar, her husband, was a vital force behind the scenes, and the visuals and sound were impeccable. Just before the performance, he also shared on a large screen the book he created of Swami Veda quotations and photos, which included many recent photos of Swamiji. This book contains gems that we have not seen before. Bhaskar, like Prakriti, is also a true artist. I hope that one day this book will be available for purchase.

Attila Kondor

On another evening, Attila Kondor of Hungary showed us a magnificent film he made of many of his paintings. His work is impossible to describe. Still, here are some of my notes.

The atman dwells behind the painting. Glimpses of light---as if the atman flashes behind it. Kashmir Shaivism. Spanda. Flashes of consciousness. Stay in it.

A holy basilica of books, maybe of books that contain all the mysteries of all holy traditions.

Walk through that door. I always wanted to walk through that door. Every single thing the eyes light upon is a flame, an entryway to another world. Yes, a flame is an opening to another world. Windows. Stairways. Water. What is water? And again, later, I ask myself ‘What is water?’

Sadhana Mishra: The Overview

Sadhana Mishra serves on the DMT Board and is General Secretary of AHYMSIN. She gave an illuminating talk one day. I had no idea how much Ahymsin charitable work, teaching and other programs had been going on in India and the world. Her Powerpoint also clarified these organizational relationships.

The Association of Himalayan Yoga Societies International (AHYMSIN) ... consists of a global membership including various centres and other arms of its activities including teaching, training, initiations, publications and so forth.

Dhyana Mandiram Trust (DMT) is a parallel organization consisting of eleven trustees.  Its main purpose at this time ... support[s] AHYMSIN and SRSG.

Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) is ... an ashram ... the spiritual headquarters of AHYMSIN and also... [provides] space for the DMT office.

Sadhana went into much detail about outreach programs, research, publications (online, print and audio), International Yoga Day, administrative updates and key milestones.

Randall Krause: Brainstorming Groups

Randall Krause (Mokshadeva) facilitated brainstorming sessions for various topics. He spoke about Swamiji’s tireless efforts and facilitated discussions about how we can support the tradition. So we came together in small groups to address this question. He mentioned Swami Veda’s book Sadhana in Applied Spirituality and our tendency to want to be business-like and perhaps dominate.

The group broke up into focus groups that addressed different topics, children and education; centers, -how they can grow and support the mission; outreach; marketing and communication; translation + publication group (e.g. meditations in various languages).

Fondest Memories

I asked some friends about their fondest memories of the 2016 Sangha Gathering.

John Wilson replied, "I liked the people best. Wonderful, blessed family. Then the meditations, unending. Third, the flowers scenting our minds.”

And Lori Beron commented, "The meditations were the best, one got a sense of an amazing gentle sattvic presence. And John is right, SRSG really feels like love and family."

Photos by Jay Prakash Bahuguna.



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