Monday, June 2, 2008

The Pilgrimage

Before I move on with the fable of my past, I must clarify that I do not consider these primitive and sensory experiences to be of much mystic use. What, then is the purpose of bringing them to the light of introspection open to anybody who bothers to read this blog? It is partly to walk on the steep road of truth, as I understand it and more importantly, to bridge the divine and the mundane. My journey from the abyss of psychological turmoil to the glimpses of the bliss of spiritual ecstasy needs to be told, for others would, and are treading on the same path. Maps are made when fellow travellers share and verify their signposts with the notes of other travellers. While my experiences of a tantrik nature may be irrelevant to a majority of seekers, they would at least, make them more aware of the vast and pathless land that truth is.
Soon after the intuitional explosion that the Goddess was a dominant archetype in my consciousness, I felt an almost irresistible desire to present myself at Her shrine and worship Her with deep devotion. However, I had considerable resistance towards such behaviour. Considering that the guiding force of my psyche till then had been agnosticism and empirically verifiable logic, I felt such a desire was regressive, primitive and parochial.But it soon overpowered me completely. I was merged in childlike joy . My mouth had that sweet flavour in it. And I longed for my cosmic mother. I felt my parents had done me a grave injustice by not taking me to the shrine of my birth. Now the only thing I wanted to do was to merge into the Goddess. The night this insight exploded in me, I felt extremely light in body and profoundly blessed in mind. It was a feeling of bodily pleasure and psychological joy. I didn’t sleep but roamed around due to an excess of joy. Towards the morning, I woke up Anil, my roommate and took him to the football lawns. He was shivering as I told him about the Goddess and how She was calling me. As he heard it, he was filled with delight. He said he would tell this to his mother. He felt the Goddess was giving me signals and I should visit Her soon. I lost my skepticism and decided to present myself at Her shrine in the term-end vacation a few weeks from then.
Then the pull became extraordinarily strong. She was pulling out the consciousness from my body. My body was very light and bathed with a bliss I had never experienced before. It was a day of December, 2005. I was in Seminar Hall-1, around nine in the morning. It was Panda’s class. As I was sitting there, in the top rung, I felt an expanding wave of ecstasy . My body seemed non-existent. Awareness was pure and light. I looked around at the class from the vantage point. It all seemed surreal.It seemed everything was pure consciousness without any individuation. As I looked at my batchmates and Panda, the Prof, I was amazed that they considered themselves physical bodies with limiting identities! I was full of compassion for them for having completely forgotten their true nature as pure consciousness and identifying with the confining dream of individuated existence. Panda with his fixed body language and Nikhil with his set responses, all looked like automatons, beings of delusions which were dreaming their absurd and painful dreams of individuation. And I myself was an illusion! Dreaming my individuation. I too had forgotten my pristine nature as eternal undivided consciousness. It was a profound experience rather than a verbal thought. However it was not true expansion of consciousness. Yet it was immensely powerful. I left the class and in the sun, I felt extreme exhiliration. Then with the power of an explosion, the insight that the whole existence had sprung forth from the cosmic orgasm of pure superconscious bliss which divided the original unity into the female unconscious and the male conscious burst in me. It too was not a thought but a burst of insight. I went to the mess and tried to eat something but hadn’t more than taken a bite of the sandwich when it seemed I was dying and my body was being dissolved. I rushed to my room and lied down on the bed for a while. Everything nearly vanished except consciousness. As I came back to the human plane, I was a completely different man. My sole concern in life was to go to Vaishno Devi and merge into the cosmic nature. Carrying only the Geeta and a book on Swami Vivekananda, I left the hostel with only Vaishno Devi in my mind.I took no clothes. It was like a great magnetic pull. It seemed my body was lifeless and was going to be merged in the Goddess. I don’t remember the station in Rajasthan for which I took the bus from Ahmedabad but most probably it was Abu Road. While on the bus, I felt immense lightness of body and was flooded with an expanded consciousness. All creatures, whether humans or birds, seemed mistakenly trapped in the nightmarish ideas of being mere lumps of flesh instead of the blessed purity of consciousness. As I saw people walking by the road, I was filled with extreme pity for them for living under a deep cosmic hypnotism and imagining themselves to be merely physical bodies with random thoughts. Consciousness alone existed yet everywhere deluded individuality seemed to abound. I was especially distressed at the sight of crows, pecking the ground and cried for them. It seemed they were souls in extreme agony due to the mistaken idea of being individuated as crows. There extreme agony seemed to cut through my heart and I cried for them.
Once in that town in Rajasthan, I took an ordinary ticket for Delhi. The bogey was full of all sorts of people and there was hardly any space. People were standing everywhere with no room for manoeuvre. I was sitting there, free from my usual identity and with hardly any thoughts. As the train stopped at a small station, an old Muslim man who was sitting at the window seat, became increasingly anxious and started pointing towards the floor on my side. People were leaving hurriedly and others were climbing into the compartment and there was hardly any room for movement. The Muslim asked me in a breathless tone for the bag in which he had his prayer-cloth on which he had to say his namaz exactly then. I asked all the people to stop immediately with great authority. They were startled and stopped for a moment. I pushed though the horde and grabbed the bag from under the bench and handed it over to the Muslim. He quickly spread it out , knelt down and said his prayers. I asked the people to move out which they did after a comment or two. The Muslim kissed the back of my hand and thanked me with deep emotion upon finishing his namaz. I was touched. Soon a wandering Hindu monk in saffron ( a sannyasin or parivrajak) came and sat by my side. He had a naughty smile on his lips and a remote, blessed look.He had taken some psychoactive substance which a few ascetics use. Yet, I was attracted by his aura and asked him why was I feeling such deep renunciation? I asked him if I should renounce the world. He smiled and said he wouldn’t say anything and that I should follow my heart. When I persisted he said, “ There is only one God. This is all I can tell you. I would go and sit elsewhere if you would ask anything else.” Soon he went to another seat. Later a young man who seemed suspiciously friendly to me sat by my side. My mind was too open to doubt anything, and there was no need for it either. This man started chatting with me and said he was a school teacher. He seemed very suspicious of the Muslim and deferential towards the Hindu sannyasin. I don’t know how but he started talking about the threat of Islam to the Hindu way of life. I told him it was best to be tolerant and to see the essesntial unity of all religions. I talked about the futility of fighting over religious beliefs. He said in an emotionally charged manner, “ Sometimes those of other religions create such provocative situations and hurt our innermost sentiments to such an extent that retaliation becomes inevitable and almost involuntary.” I wasn’t comfortable with his line of reasoning but his deep emotion suggested he had actually participated in some communal disturbance. Then he went on to say that in the world parliament of religions in Chicago, the organizers had kept the Bhagawad Geeta under all the other scriptures of the world religions. On seeing the apparent insult to Geeta, Vivekananda said, “ Hinduism is strong enough to bear the burden of all the religions of the world in its liberal philosophy.” I don’t know if anything of this sort really happened but it certainly showed his chain of thought. Probably he got a cue from the biography of Vivekananda I was carrying.
There was a young couple in the compartment. They started chatting with the old Muslim. The young man asked him where was he from and where was he headed. The Muslim said he was from Bombay and was going on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Khwaja Muiniddin Chishti in Ajmer Sharif ( the blessed Ajmer) for he had been ‘called’ by the Khwaja. The young man replied with deep emotion, “ Khwaja ji ke bulave pe log na jaane kahaan-kahaan se khinche chale aate hain ( People come, as if pulled from diverse places, on being called by the Khwaja.) I myself want to visit the shrine from so long but the ‘call’ isn’t coming. You are blessed, baba, to receive it.” Their conversation touched me and I was filled with deep devotion for the Khwaja and Sufism. At Ajmer station, I almost felt like getting down and supplicating at the Dargah (shrine). I got down at Nizamuddin railway station in Delhi the next morning. I saw an emaciated poor boy lying on the platform, sleeping with his mouth open in which flies were entering with impunity. I felt deep compassion for him. I woke him up and asked if I could get food for him. He didn’t reply. I asked him to stay there for a while and bought something for him to eat. But he was not there when I came back. I asked a man standing nearby if he knew where had he gone but he said he didn’t. I bought ‘The complete works of Khalil Gibran’ from the station book-stall. As I was walking to the nearby bus-stand, I saw a young Buddhist monk in red robes and felt an attraction towards him. I approached him and asked if we could talk. He didn’t understand either Hindi or English but held me by my wrist with enthusiasm and took me to a shopkeeper nearby. He said something to the shopkeeper in Bengali who addressed me in Hindi and said he could act as the interpreter. I asked the monk through him that I wanted to renounce the world and become a monk like him for I had severe dispassion and was dead to all this world had to offer. I asked him to initiate me into monkhood there and then. He replied, “ But I belong to a Bangaladeshi order.” I said, “ There is no nationality of one who has renounced every worldly tie.” Both, he and the shopkeeper started laughing at that and the shopkeeper said I was speaknig from a different plane. I left them and took the bus to my hometown in Punjab (Malout). Next day, I left for Vaishno Devi from Malout, accompanied with my father, who insisted on doing so due to what seemed like my strange behaviour to him. I asked him to let me go alone but he said he feared I would never return if I went alone. I had never been to Vaishno Devi before. Indeed I had left visiting religious places many years ago. Now , however, I felt my entire soul was being pulled towards the shrine. As we reached Katra, the base for the holy trek to the ‘Darbar’ or court of the Goddess, I was thrilled at the sight of the mountain with a path woven with lights. After depositing the luggage, we sat doen for a while in a rest-room. There I had a great weeping-spell. I wept like a child and all negativity seemed to flow through the tears of remorse. I kept on weeping loudly for quite some time. As I composed myself, I was feeling light and fresh. We began the trek late in the evening. My father hired a mule but I insisted on walking. It was a deeply emotional journey. I was brought up in the mountains and the sight of the Himalayas always gave me peace and a feeling of being at home( now, I have transcended this attcahment). But this was quite different. It seemed those hills were intimately related to my past. I felt my love for the mountains was only because of those hills and that throughout my life, the only desire which I had but which had lied dormant or taken multifarious forms was to present my sel fat thst shrine. The more I ascended, the lighter I felt and it seemed my entire being was infused with a great energy. I was growing in will power and determination. However, another thing which was a constant presence was a childlike devotion for the Goddess. She seemed like everything to me- my mother, friend, sister, beloved, enemy, an intimate friend and an enemy at once, in short absolutely everything. Now, twenty- two years after my biological birth, I had come to her shrine for the first time. However I deeply felt that I had always been with Her, that I had lived in Her astral realm before being born as a human being! I didn’t even know the legend behind the shrine the pilgrimage spots within it till then. It was there that I learnt the legend of the young ascetic girl, whom Bhairav, the star-disciple of the tantrik Gorakhnath, tried to molest. The girl fled from her tormenter and hid in the cave called ‘garbh-joon’ ( birth through womb) for nine months to meditate deeply. When Bhairav located her there, she fled to the peak where the court of the Goddess is now located. Bhairav chased her to the peak. On reaching the peak, the girl took the awesome form of the Goddess and beheaded Bhairav with one powerful stroke which made his head fly away to a point two kilometres away , where the temple of Bhairav is now located. Bhairava’s soul begged for the Goddess’ forgiveness before leaving the mortal coil. In Her infinite grace, the Goddess forgave Bhairav and granted him final salvation or moksha, the aim of human existence. Thus, Bhairav was triumphant even in his death. This , of course looks like an incredible fable. However, it is the symbology which is important. ‘Bhairav’ is symbolic of the ‘mumuksha’ or the aspirant who seeks moksha or final liberation from the cycle of individuation and de-individuation of consciousness( birth and death). The girl, who later becomes the Goddess, is the cosmic hypnotic delusion (Universal Nature) or Maya which gives an appearance of reality to the dream of human existence. Bhairava’s trying to molest the girl is symbolic of the seeker’s developing yogic insight ( that which unifies the individuated with the infinite is yogic) which makes him violate the profound hypnotism of maya. The girl’s fleeing to the cave of womb for nine months is symbolic of the evolution of Maya to increasingly subtle dimensions as meditation progresses ( The waking existence is gross while meditational realms are very subtle). Further the nine month period is symbolic of ritual rebirth of the sadhaka through meditation. The discovery of the girl in the womb by Bhairava after nine months is symbolic of the experience of the causal nature by the yogi. The girl’s flight to the peak and taking the form of the Great Goddess is the revelation of nature’s infinite power and majesty. Bhairava’s being beheaded by the Goddess is symbolic of the extinction of individuated existence of the yogi in the deepest samadhi ( In samadhi bliss remains but the enjoyer is transcended) when the cosmic hypnotic delusion liberates him from Her shackles by terminating his individuated existence. The forgiveness and moksha which she grants to Bhairava is what he always wanted . The forgiveness is due to the crime of transgressing maya before the dissolution of karma in its due course by the faster route of yoga or tantra ( thus transgressing Her hypnotic virginity or ‘molesting’ Her). Moksha is what Bhairava aspired for and for it, he adopted the faster route by violating the laws of nature. Thus he dissolved his being into ‘infinite bliss of pure being’ or blessed consciousness beyond the confines of nature .. After liberating him, the Goddess merged into Her three constituent qualities of Sattva ( bliss and harmony;Saraswati), rajas( passion and activity;Lakshmi) and Tamas ( illusion and divine mystery;Kali). These qualities are worshipped in the form of the three ‘pindas’ or holy rocks of different hues in the shrine proper.
Of course, I didn’t know about this symbology at that time, but my emotional experience was profound. I felt, on the one hand, immesely guilty and full of sin, and on the other, being blessed with divine forgiveness and motherly grace. As I ascended towards the shrine, I gradually became free from the guilt and moral weight I had been carrying for ages. One thing which struck me was the pervasive presence of paramilitary forces with checkposts after every hundred metres. It was due to the shrine reportedly being on the hit-list of terrorists. however it seemed unnatural to me. If the Goddess Herself needed to be protected, why was I supplicating before Her? Besides, how dare they frisk me when I was there to meet my mother? My father told me about ‘Ardha-Kumari’ on the way where the narrow cave of ‘Garbh-joon’ ( realm of womb) was located. He asked me not to enter the narrow cave as it frightened some people and besides the queue for the entry-slips was too long and time consuming. I had heard about the narrow cave for the first time and it struck me deeply. From later childhood, I used to repeatedly fantasize about a narrow cave through which I had to crawl. I insisted on going through that cave.When I passed through that narrow cave, I was flooded with an ecstasy and a strange sense of vigour and power. Along with it, words came out of my mouth spontaneously. I asked the Goddess to give me back my sadhana (spiritual practice) of all the previous births, which She had kept in Her safe custody. This was a spontaneous outpouring as I would have never consciously thought demanding anything from any deity, least of all such a seemingly surreal and fantastic thing. Upon coming out of the cave, I was lost in bliss and vigour for hours. In the morning, I went through the cave again and witnessed a very strange incident. A woman and a group of people were carrying a young wild looking girl, with a foaming mouth ,shrieking wildly and making the most painful sounds and trying to break free of them with all her strength. The woman, who seemed to be her mother, was begging forgiveness from the Goddess and praying fervently. When passing through the cave, she asked all the devotees to hail the Goddess. At their collectively hailing the Goddess, the girl, already in pain, seemed to be in hellish agony and made the most heart-rending cries as if she was being tortured to death. The more the Goddess was hailed, the more her increasingly violent and painful body-movements and shouts increased. She had to be restrained by the group which was carrying her to prevent from breaking free and nearly ran away once. However, with great effort, they were able to put her into the cave. By the time she came out of the cave, she was relaxed and without any sign of abnormal behaviour or psychological distress. After a while, I saw her sitting peacefully with her mother with a calm, relaxed expression. I won’t further dwell on this incident which may have entirely psychological causes or may be a combination of psycholgical and as yet unknown factors. However it did show the reason the majority of people visit religious shrines; to redress their worldly problems rather than to seek final bliss of salvation. Indeed, worldly desires vitiate the atmosphere there and make pilgrim spots unappealing to mystics who turn inside the temple of their own bodies. Whatever caused the girl’s abnormal behaviour, faith seemed to have healed it quickly enough.
Early in the morning, I began the final leg of my pilgrimage, the ascent to the court of the Goddess. The three-fold aspects of the Great Goddess as Saraswati ( Sattva or Bliss), Lakshmi ( Rajas or Passion) and Kali ( Tamas or Mystery) increasingly attracted me and I asked Her for ecstasy, vigour and final salvation through Her manifestations.


Anonymous said...

I have been recommending a book called "My Stroke of Insight - a Brain Scientist's Personal Journey" by Jill Bolte Taylor and also a TEDTalk Dr. Taylor gave on the TED dot com site. And you don't have to take my word for it - Dr. Taylor was named Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People, the New York Times wrote about her and her book is a NYTimes Bestseller), and Oprah did not 4 interviews with her.

aman said...

Dear anonymous,

I appreciate your recommendation.