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The Forty-Day Spiritual Festival at SRSG

by Tarinee Awasthi

All narratives are oriented towards their telos [Ed: 'an ultimate object or aim'], or so tell us thinkers who contemplate these matters. To that extent, they are also determined by their telos. And while the implications of the forty-day spiritual festival are beyond the grasp of narrative and time, this little write-up is no more, and likely far less, than a narrative; for we narrate to make sense as much as to express. Again, the inexpressible of the forty-day festival will necessarily escape this attempt at gratitude. And yet, insofar as this forty-day festival can be contemplated at all, it is in its orientation towards the Guru. The opportunity to be at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) during (most of) this period is the kind of blessing that one can only stare at in wonderment.

Each iteration of the forty-day spiritual festival is naturally different for each person; this year, for me, what came through was the festivity of this festival. There is a certain abandon, which comes to define these forty days, and being present in the ashram gently reemphasizes the centrality of this endeavour to one’s existence.

Swami Ritavan said that this year’s festival would focus particularly on the Vasudeva principle, which refers to the experience of the indwelling, all-pervasive divine spirit. This principle has been further elucidated through the intertwined ideas of ahimsa, aparigraha, and isvara-pranidhana—non-harming, non-acquisition, and the practice of the presence of God. To help develop a more complete understanding of this, wonderful posts which brought in Swami Rama’s and Swami Veda’s writings on each of these were created, and also put up on the soft-board in the main building, along with Swami Veda’s injunctions as to the ways in which one might try to intensify one’s practice. This is only one instance of the way the ashram was completely engulfed in the sentiment and spirit of these forty days.

Right at the beginning of the forty-day period, we observed the International Day of Yoga, emphasizing the ‘inner core’ of yoga, and were reminded of the true purpose of all that we endeavour: samadhi, or moksa. In a sense, this forty-day period can be thought of in terms of the (decidedly non-linear) progression from this reminder, to Guru Purnima. A few days later, on the last Thursday of June, which was also Purnima, there was a twelve-hour long akhanda-japa of the akhandamandalakaram mantra, seeming to imbue the ashram with an echo of Swami Veda’s commentary on it,

‘May I through that surrender find in myself that release. Release of that energy which I have kept blocked and because of which I have felt blocked in my life. In my endeavors, in my undertakings. I was blocked because I had not surrendered my mind. Having surrendered my mind I say namaha. This is the nature, this is the meaning of my surrender, my homage, my prostrations. I take all of these claims and I burn them.’

and so setting the tone for the next month.

With the coming of July, of course, we were preparing for two of the most sacred, most significant days in our spiritual calendar; the anniversary of Swami Veda Bharati ji’s Mahasamadhi, and Guru Purnima, and the five- and nine-day long observances which marked them. The fire offerings with Gayatri and akhandamandalakaram mantras performed during the former seemed intent upon conveying, by force of the sacred repetition, the nature of the supremely pure love which Guru Purnima celebrates. The Mahasamadhi observances also prepared for Guru Purnima in emphasizing the limitations of limitations in the way they pertain to such figures as Him. As Swami Ritavan said on the evening of July 14, it led seamlessly into the Guru Purnima observances which began in just a few days with Guru Puja each morning, and fire offerings with the akhandamandalakaram mantra in the afternoons, performed both at Sadhana Mandir as well as Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, honouring the lineage, its continuity, and its immediacy for each of us. Through both these observances, the dedication, expertise, and effort of the ashram priest, Deepak, was truly remarkable. Further, there was an akhanda patha of the Guru Gita throughout the nine says.

In a sense, all observances at the ashram during the forty days follow a certain logic of moving steadily towards the core, the telos, the Guru.

‘…I left the mountains and the Ganges with immeasurable pain, as though we had been visiting venerable relations and had to leave them, with…the perfume of their feet in our nostrils.’ -Raja Rao



The Himalayan Tradition of Yoga Meditation

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Breath Awareness     Qualified Preceptor
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