Late in the afternoon, we flew to Bhubaneshwar. Bhubaneshwar is also known as the "Cathedral City of India," because it has innumerable sandstone temples. Located in the center of the city is a sacred lake called the Bindu Sagar, which is said to have once had seven thousand temples on the outskirts of its shores. We took a bus to Puri that is about forty miles from Bhubaneshwar and spent the rest of the day resting at the Toshali Sands Beach Resort.
Pious Hindu’s believe that spending three days and three nights in Puri will free you from the endless cycle of death and rebirth.
It was extremely hot and humid in Puri. The flies seemed to have taken a real liking to me; presumably liking the remnants of all the fruit juice sweetened cookies I had been eating throughout the trip, which I was probably sweating out of my pours. They were probably sick of Indian food, because the others weren't as bothered. That was our scientific conclusion!
We visited the place where Yogananda's guru, Sri Yukteswar's went into Samadhi and consciously left his body while sitting in a full lotus posture. The body remained in that position when they buried it under a marble floor in 1936. Over his remains was a life-size picture of him. On an altar in front of his picture sat a bronze cobra decorated with pink carnations and red roses. We chanted and meditated, as we paid our respects. We then walked to his bedroom and to his meditation room and briefly meditated in each.
Sri Yukteswar Giri was a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya’s. He is known as the Avatar of Wisdom. Yukteswar initiated Yogananda in Kriya yoga. His mission was to establish an organization to promote the integration of all religions in a yogic scientific framework. The responsibility of this organization, which is called The Sabhu Sahha or Society of Saints was handed down to Yogananda, shortly after his death. He was remembered for being an extraordinary healer, having psychic powers, and his ability to travel in the astral plane.
We then walked over to where Yogananda had lived when he stayed with Yukteswar. Yogananda had a view of the ocean at that time, but the view is now blocked because of newly constructed buildings.
In a few minutes time our shoes were off and our feet sank in the warm sands of the Bay of Bengal. The water was calm and clear blue. What a sight it was to see a lazy brown Brahma bull lying on the beach absorbing the sunrays, while a very dark skinned Indian boy was fidgeting with his toes. As they were amusing to us, so were we to them. The beggars seemed to come out of the ether, and Indian men had a grand time watching Wendy, a beautiful woman with soft brown hair and sparkling eyes, undress down to her bathing suit and run happily into the waves. We were told that Indian women do not wear bathing suits, so this was an "event" for the spectators. By the time she came out of the water, there must have been one hundred men at the shore captivated by her exhibition.
At 3 p.m. we had an appointment to meet with Sri Shankaracharya. He is to Hinduism what the Pope is to Catholicism. He is the sanyasi, meaning one who is free from earthly desires. We were quite honored to be able to meet with him. Approaching his place of residence, we passed by light blue buildings with pealing paint. We entered to find a frail old man lying on a twin bed in the center of the room covered with an ocher robe. His attendant told us he was recently in a car accident in Benares, which left him in a weakened condition and was experiencing a lot of pain in his left arm.
It was an effort for him to talk, and it must have been a drain on his energy to have a group of forty people in the same room. I felt selfish being there, and I wish we had not imposed.
David, our minister who is a tall man with dark hair and wore clear framed glasses, asked if we could sing a song to him. He declined saying that sanyais cannot partake in song or dance. I was upset with David when he persistently asked him again, saying it would only be a short holy chant. I was upset with David, not only because he was ignoring the sanyasi's belief system, but I also felt we overstayed our visit. He was in such a weakened condition.
We chanted, but I felt it was more for us then for him. David
took a picture of him, and then we quietly walked away. I felt shame.
It was raining off and on while we rode in the buses back to Bhubaneshwar. We checked into Oberoi Bhubaneshwar for a little R & R before our trip home that would be in two days time. A number of us spent the day by the pool feeling a bit sad that we were going to be leaving this amazing country that touched all of our hearts in such a deep way.
In the evening we all dressed up in Indian garb, the women in beautiful saris, and the men in their kurtas, an Indian style shirt. For three and one-half hours we joined in a satsang (good company) of chanting, meditation, and a powerful arati in which our whole souls entered into. Drums, the blowing of the conch shell, tambourines, and the harmonium were played loudly, as we offered ourselves to the Divine. With Asha's wonderful sense of humor, she handed out, what we could say was an "American prasad," chocolate chips. Asha said, "East meets West!"
It was November 18th, my thirty-eighth birthday, when we returned to Dehli to prepare for our departure home. Indeed, it was a new birth for me, but in a way I would never truly be able to put into words. The feelings come from a place in which there are none. We were bathed in Divine light for three and one-half weeks, and our human vessels were full. I feel when one comes to India with an openness to Spirit, as we all were, one is never the same. I believe it was all of our birthdays.
At 3:00 a.m., we departed for home.
As I mature more deeply into my spirituality, I appreciate the wonderful teachings I experienced in India so much more. I understand more deeply the significance of the myriad of gods and goddesses in India, and how they also apply to the human psyche. At the time I was not ready to own the many traits I deemed negative or many of the positive qualities that these aspects of the Divine represent. This would all come in its own time.
Visiting the holy places where the reputed Avatars once resided left me knowing there was something quite extraordinary about these souls. The energy that was present embraced me with peace, love, and truly a sense of God. However, I do feel the Avatar is not without personal ego. I do not feel the Avatar is the totality of that particular person. That doesn’t at all negate the greatness of these souls, because they were beautiful and extraordinary vessels for the Divine light. I feel that is why there is so much despair with many spiritual seekers when an Avatar acts in a way that isn’t “holy.” There are two people that come to mind who have been deeply hurt by Avatars: The brilliant physicist David Bohm went into severe depression when his teacher and said Avatar, Krishnamurti had alleged liaisons with a number of women. Scholar Andrew Harvey was devastated when his teacher, reputed Avatar Mother Mira disowned him because he decided to marry a man. I feel David Bohm and Andrew Harvey mistook the personality of the human for the Avatar. They appeared to have projected divinity onto the personality of the human vessel. The danger in this projection is that it becomes a parent/child dynamic, which I believe can inhibit the individual’s soul’s progression.
When I look back at my experience of India, it also saddens me that a country imbued in spirituality, one that has so much reverence for Divine mother and women avatars, can treat their own women with disgrace. Here are some examples: In some religious sects widows are sent to ashrams to live in poverty and hellish conditions including being subjected to prostitution. They are told they cannot experience pleasure, as this will offend their dead husbands. Of course, this does not only apply to widowers. Young brides in India are daily being burned to death or forced to ingest poison by their mother-in-laws just because their dowries aren’t sufficient enough. This illustrates how many women have internalized male oppression and have become like their oppressors. Rape and physical abuse are rampant throughout this country. This is just another one of the great paradoxes in India, one that is deeply disturbing to me.