Monday, November 25, 2013

Arunachala Yatra (Part 3-Yoga)



Shiva is the primordial awareness, and Shakti is the primordial energy. All sentient beings hold these divine principles within, and even apparent delusion or confusion is merely these aspects in play. They are ever united, and the expressions of that regardless of what one may think or conceive, are ever, always, and only that. And yet, still we move and navigate the landscape of manifest life which is both always reflective of this understanding and at the same time, always operating by laws of apparent contradiction of that simplicity. However, when seen fully, those contradictions only open up into an even greater joy of the ultimate understanding.

Parvati came to Arunachala to do sadhana. The question arises, why did Parvati who is the Devi (i.e. the divine principle) need to go and do sadhana…what was lacking? For that matter, there were episodes where Shiva also performed tapas and engaged in different sadhanas. So, in those cases we may also question, what was lacking? And if Shiva and Shakti, are always in union, why would it be sought? These questions speak directly to the lives of humans (and all sentient beings), as verily, one’s true nature is perfect and without lack, and yet we are embodied in forms and circumstances which may not always appear to conform. However, deep understanding doesn’t get hung up on apparent contradictions, nor does it stifle the need for skillful action when appropriate. With this understanding, perfection and action are in accord, even when action appears to suggest (by just the nature of acting) a lack of perfection. It is thought and ego which divides and sees exclusivity (and action based only on self reason), while the heart understands the beauty and poetry of the accord of apparent contradiction. The famous physicist Niels Bohr once said, “A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a great truth.” Indeed, It is often the lack of true confidence in the perfect nature which presents a rather intellectual (and subtly divisive) perspective that suggests that to act or take action somehow “harms” that perfection (or suggests a lack of understanding of it).


The question maybe more in accord or obvious to the heart regarding the action of Parvati or Shiva (and those aspects in ourselves) is, “they are perfect and without lack, so why wouldn’t they act?” To both see inherent perfection, and to move within the structure which doesn’t always appear to conform to that vision, while being unmoved in it, is to conform that appearance to that vision. Moreover, it is an understanding which doesn’t leave behind, but includes, as even the great impulse that guides the heart toward living for the liberation of all sentient beings has within it both the understanding that all being are at this moment already complete and liberated, while understanding that they are suffering and bound. And it is the former view which truly allows one to act. All this is to say, that Parvati came to Arunachala to do sadhana, how wonderful…how beautiful!


Pavalakundru or the Coral Hill was the place where Gautam Rishi had his Ashram, and when Parvati came to Arunachala, this is where she stayed. It was a rainy day when we arrived at the temple, and the great hill was seen through mist clouds. It was here that Gautam Rishi narrated the greatness of Arunachala, and then after performing tapas, the devi merged with Shiva. Because of this, the temple is for the form of the divine called Ardhanarishvara, and in this form, the left half of the rupa is Shakti while the right is Shiva. We were completely alone at this temple and despite its ancient lore and power, this is a place not frequented by many people. After wandering the grounds a bit, we sat in the front of the temple. However, I felt drawn toward the back of the temple and the view of Arunachala from there. Indeed, this was the view that Parvati had of Arunachala when staying there, so to have this darshan through the eyes of the Devi was special. The shroud of mist during that day would reveal and conceal the peaks, which at the time seems to speak to the playful interaction of Shiva and Shakti and their interaction in/as our lives.


Our final action for our yatra to Arunachala was to perform abhishek, as the hill was in fact a linga. When people make offerings to a linga, they often give either water or milk to bathe it. We wanted to finish our work there with something special, so brought water from inside the main sanctum of Kamakhya. In this, we viewed the offering as not only an abhiskek, but an offering of each to the other, in the great spirit of union and merging which permeates that sacred place. It was to be an offering and merging of the Aadya Yoni and Adi Linga. For this ritual, we climbed the hill on the path behind Ramanashram, and found a big boulder on which to sit. After meditating upon those great principles, we sprinkled the hill with the holy water and sat for sometime. Once finished, we felt it as a great culmination to our visit and trip, and made it our heart prayer to live in greater integrity with what was relieved to us.


If one truly makes a pilgrimage, and there are many different ways both inner and outer to do so, then the where or what of one’s encounter are always with and incorporated into the person. This is so because pilgrimage is to deeply encounter and assimilate, and when it is like this, then the energy or understanding communicated become indistinguishable from ones own being. It is such a blessing for a person to be in the presence of Arunachala, so if one can go there and take it into our heart, then they can move in this world letting this light shine on others. Therefore, the greatest pilgrimages are not only opportunities for grace, but become responsibilities of the heart.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Arunachala Yatra (Part 2-Pradakshina)


The pradakshina of Arunachala is not contained in the explanation of “simply walking around the hill”. There are many different levels of depth and subtlety involved depending upon one’s approach. However, even in the most profound depths of that subtlety, it is still simply walking around the hill. Truth and beauty are so often simple, while effective action direct and precise, and this kriya contains both.

After our initial pradakshina, we took several days to recover and to explore some of the areas on and around Arunachala. In the city, there are temples to Durga, Kamakshi, and Kali, and we were able to spend sometime at these. The following day, we climbed up on the hill and meditated in Virupaksha cave and Skandashram, where the sage Ramana Maharshi had stayed. Being in such proximity to Arunachala and in such sanctified spaces, one can only fall into the primordial silence. The next day was a Saturday, and we wanted to spend some time at Adi Annamalai, however, upon reaching we learned that the temple would not open for sometime. So, first we went and sat at Vayu Linga for sometime. Our subtle “winds” thus empowered, we returned a bit later to sit inside the temple. The linga there was established by Brahma making this area is an extremely powerful place with rarified air that is almost tangible. Indeed, one can hear all kind of subtle sounds in that place. Upon returning from Adi Annamalai, we also sat near the Nirudhi linga, absorbing the fierce and protective energy from there.

To understand the depth of what pradakshina can be, one needs to understand the principle of accord, and accord is learned in deep openness and surrender. This means that one is not only able to give all of oneself into a certain “energetic field”, but able to see within themselves the subtle processes required to come truly “in line”. At the highest levels, it is a deconstruction and construction in a moment. To place ones life breath and each and every tattva directly “into” a power while also taking responsibility not only for what is revealed, but also for completely being it.

On Sunday, we resumed our pradakshina with better planning which included leaving in the late afternoon and avoid the mid-day heat. Each day of the week for pradakshina is a bit different in the type of energy and empowerment available. For example, it is said in the Arunachala Mahatmyam that a Sunday pradakshina helps one “penetrate the regions of the sun”. That being the case, we stopped at Surya linga along the route, which is a linga said to be established by Surya himself. (Both Surya and Chandra at one time were cursed to loose their shine, so both established lingas at Arunachala to regain their luster.) While doing all of the pradakshinas, we would stop briefly to acknowledge each of the Dikpala lingas, and on different days we would stop to linger longer at certain places. Sometimes this was intentional while other times it corresponded to our needing to rest a bit during the walk. During that Sunday pradakshina, we stopped at Kuber linga to sit sometime, then afterward visited the panchmukha darshan temple (so named because from that spot one can see the five faces/peaks of Arunachala).

It is said that to circumbulate Arunachala is to do the pradakshina of the entire universe. On a more microcosmic level (at least from the perspective of the universe), the route is also linked to the houses of the zodiac, so even the different portions of the path have a unique aspect and feel. Leaving aside all of this, in just the process and environments, one can see the pradakshina route as a life cycle or as elements of life which one may transverse. There are quiet and peaceful areas of the path (where one should remain sharp), there are areas where the view of Arunachala is completely obscured (where one should persist in knowing and having the confidence that while seemingly obscured it is still present), and there are areas in the city section where it is pure noise and chaos which seems all the more intrusive after coming from more peaceful sections of road (where one not only should not be distracted by the bustle and play, but should also not divide the sacred and mudane). Regardless of where one is on the route, there is a unique darshan, and true darshan is not just seeing with the eyes, but experiencing from the depths of the heart. In this, darshan is also transmition, and the art of accord is to learn to receive transmition.

Monday is a sacred day for Shiva, so the Monday pradakshina was special. It is said in the tantras that to worship Shiva, one must become Shiva, so to walk united with Arunachala is the best devotion. Indeed, a true bhakta always unites and becomes what they love, and once truly united, any separation and duality is played with fearlessly…this is true lila. Yama linga was the final dikpal linga before reaching where we stayed, and we’d often spend time sitting there before walking the last portion of the journey. During this last portion of the pradakshina, it started to rain heavily, and we were drenched within minutes. We walked together as a group, but after it started to rain, people scampered quickly and in no time all were thirty yards ahead of me. I had kept the same pace. It is important especially when doing a great kriya, that one finish properly, and not get complacent with the “finish line” in sight. After sometime, I just stopped until they recognized that I was missing. They got the point. I thought it rather revealing and a teaching moment about life in general, that when the proverbial “rains” (adversity) come, then people shouldn’t loose sight of the guru, loose sight of devata, or loose sight of their own nature. When things get adverse, the tendency is to get absorbed in self and in escaping, but if one is unshakable in these times then real power grows. The Guru (and Guru- tattva) will wait with a heart breaking patience, but will not follow. I thought the experience pointed to another lesson as well, which is “if your already wet, then don’t worry about getting wet!” One can see people in so many circumstances who metaphorically are constantly worried about getting wet when they are already soaked in it. (In many ways the metaphor applies more to what one would call a “good” things, as opposed to “bad”.)

(“The Sage Ashtavakra had many disciples, and when the great king Janaka became his disciple many of the others felt envious of his relation with the Guru. Several disciples expressed that there was a favoritism at play because Janaka was a king and had wealth and great influence. To show the reality, Ashtavakra contrived a situation to reveal the real reason that Janaka was close to him. As the disciples were sitting with their Guru, someone came running and told them to come quickly, as monkeys tearing up the clothes they had left for drying. All left the Guru and quickly ran off to secure their garb. Later, while Janaka was sitting in the assembly with Ashtavakra, someone came shouting that the entire palace was on fire and that the king was needed immediately. Janaka scolded the fellow saying “can’t you see I’m with my Guru. Go away!” The disciples then had to admit that they were moved by a few pieces of clothes, while Janaka wouldn’t leave his Guru for a whole palace with all its wealth.”)

After various excursions on Tuesday and Wednesday, we resumed the pradakshina, completing on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Thursday is the day of the Guru, so during pradakshina on this day, that tattva was foremost in mind. Shiva is the Adi-Guru, so we felt honored to do the pradakshina on that day in such a place. Many great Gurus had come to Arunachala, and around the hill are temples and places of Gautam Rishi, Durvasa Rishi, as well as the Rishi Agastya. It is said that the pradakshina on Friday brings the blessing of Vishnu and Laksmi, and each day contained a unique flavor which the so-called “benefits” hinted at. Saturday turned out to be our final pradakshina, and it was a powerful day. One of the names of Arunachala is Mahakaal, and on Saturday that energy predominates. The perspective included the energy of all planetary bodies, and the perspective included all of time. There was only one day of the week left for pradakshina, which was a Tueday, but circumstance and life had a different plan.