Last days in Kankal

The next day I went to visit Drove who had not left as yet but was quite sick and awaiting his flight back to Europe. He did not look good at all. A very yellow complexion. He wanted to be outside on the ghats and so we took two cots and placed them there on the first steps, their legs in the water and we sat on the straw talking about meditation and he telling me about his experiences.

He was a good student and before leaving we meditated sitting right there on the River Ganges with the soft sound of the water around and below us and in the distance every so often, bits of prayers in Sanskrit chanted by some priest doing his devotions came floating in the soft breeze towards us. In the end, it began to rain and after bringing in the cots, I said good bye to Drove.
One day I know we will all meet again.

Back in Kankal,there were prayers and hymns sung in the temple and Ma was there. The hymns were in Sanskrit and very beautiful and I still remember the chorus which went somewhat like “Namaste,Namaste Nmaste Namo Namaha”

They were honoring the Mother. I was lucky to have a place in the hall where I could see her and although she was still lying on her back I could see her face, a picture of serenity.

One of the priests offered the lights and afterwards it ended and she was taken out and back to her room. It was on Monday 10th May 1982. and in the evening, the darshan was very special.

Ma was leaving the next day for her ashram in Dera Dhun and many devotees had come from far to see her. the place was packed. We were outside and Ma was on a sort of deck so that we could see her.

At the end of the prayers, I recognized the swami who offered the arti lights. It was Swami Chidananda. He was in charge of the Shivananda Ashram in Rishikesh. they called him the “St Francis of India.

After the prayers, one of the swamis came and asked everyone to leave in silence. Ma had gone into ‘samadhi’ (deep meditation)

The air was thick with a peaceful silence as we walked away.

It was the last time I saw her.

She left next day for Dera Dhun where she passed over

“She had stopped taking food for many months. The attending girls could give her a few drops of water only at odd moments. Sri Ma spent her last days at Kishenpur Ashram. She made no farewells apart from saying “Sivaya namah” on the night of the 25th; this mantra is indicative of the final dissolution of worldly bondages. She became Unmanifest on Friday evening of August 27th, 1982 around 8 P.M. Kankhal at the foothill of the Himalayas is holy land. All monastic orders have their Head Quarters at Hardwar.
By a consensus of opinion the entire body of the Mahatmas came together to assume charge of Sri Ma’s physical remains. The highest honour was given to her; a procession of thousands escorted the vehicle carrying her body from Dehra Dun to Kankhal. The Mahanirvani Akhadha arranged for the last rites of Samadhi. As Sri Ma had said she did belong to everybody and so everybody participated in bidding farewell to the human body which had sustained their beloved Ma for 86 years. Sri Ma came at a time when India as well as the world passed through many crises. She remained as one of the people, throughout it, imparting hope and solace and upholding the age old ideals of our tradition through overwhelming impacts of alien influences. She fully understood the existential implications of the present age of technology and by her way of being in the world put it in a correct perspective for those who wished to see beyond it. That God is as much present in the world given over to scientific research as in the age of mythology we may say is the “Message” conveyed by her sojourn on earth.” (

Outside on the little street I met Steve, the guy from California. “Rolph, did you see Swami Chidananda. we spoke about him a few days ago?”  “yes, I would like to meet him” I said and he said “Look, he’s just a short distance ahead and we can catch up and talk to him” “Really,” I asked,  “yes follow me” he said and soon we were at his side.
“Swamiji, theres a Franciscan monk who wants to talk to you”. “A Franciscan monk?. where is he” he said and Steven answered “Right here Swamiji!” and he pointed to me.

(A Note about Swami Chidananda)
Swami Chidananda first heard about Sri Ma, when in the presence of his guru Swami Sivananda he heard a Bengali Professor related a story about Sri Ma. He was not a Swami at that time but was very much interested in what he heard. In a talk given on 9th December 1990 at Massabielle near Paris he related the story.

“Three or four years later an occasion came when I found myself in the holy city of Kashi or Varanasi and there I came to know there was a big ashram of Ma in the holy city and that Ma was actually present there in the Ashram. This was in the month of February in the year 1948.

I was staying with an old monk in Varanasi and I requested him to take me to the ashram of Ma. At that time Ma was having performed a very very great spiritual yagna or certain sacrament for the welfare of the world and peace. She had initiated the repetition of a very important mantra several millions of times. It was in the form of repetition of the famous sacred Gayatri mantra, Om bhur bhuvar svah tat savitur varenyam; Bhargo devasya dheemahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayaat.

The mantra was being repeated by one hundred Brahmin pandits. Day after day, day after day this repetition was going on. It actually took more than 2 and a half years to complete and it was in progress when I first met Ma.

It was an interesting revelation to me at that time. I thought Ma would give darshan as a high personality perhaps sitting on a special seat. But I found her sitting upon the floor giving instructions regarding yagna .

I bowed down to her and an old monk said “He comes from Rishikesh and he is a disciple of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh”.

The moment she heard the name of Sivananda she immediately put up her hands and asked me

“How is Pitaji? How is Father?”

To Sri Sri Ma everyone was father and everyone was mother. Because her consciousness was that of a little girl. She never felt that she was a grown-up lady or woman. The Pure Consciousness of that of a child.

Blessed are they who are innocent and pure of heart for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Suffer the little children to come unto me.

I did not understand who she was referring to and the monk with me said she is referring to your guru Swami Sivananda.

My darshan of Ma in her own ashram in Varanasi was the first event in a long series of a cherished dream I had ever since I first heard of her several years back.

Ma is a curious mixture of Absolute lost in the Cosmic Being. Everything is happening by the Divine Will but at the same time accompanying it paradoxically by intense pragmatism and practicality in the field of activity

Her advent was to bring about a wide awakening in the inner spirit of present day man. It was to bring about a great spiritual wave that would lift mankind’s life to a higher level. Her one admonishment is God is the One Great Reality and to know him and to experience him is the sole purpose of human existence, and a life that does not strive to attain this experience is no life at all, is useless. Therefore do not throw away this precious human life but be up and doing in order to know and attain that. This was her constant message. “ (

Spiritual Masters: Swami Chidananda

by Bergen Vermette | March 12, 2011 at 7:41am | 0 commentsOne of the most esteemed spiritual masters featured in the upcoming “Awakening to Your Highest Self” virtual celebration is the great Indian saint, Swami Chidananda. Fondly known as the Saint Francis of the Himalayas, Chidananda was one of the top disciples of the great Swami Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society. Born in 1916 as the eldest son in a South Indian Brahmin family, by age nine he was already reading classic yogic texts. During his college years the young Chidananda immersed himself in the teachings of the modern Indian saints such as Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Ramana Maharshi. Then after encountering Swami Sivananda’s Teachings in 1943, he joined the ashram and dedicated the rest of his life to supporting his work.
To tell us more about Swami Chidananda, his student and long-time resident of the Sivananda Ashram, Bill Eilers (Swami Atmaswarupananda), will join Andrew Cohen for the upcoming virtual celebration, “Awakening to Your Highest Self: Tales of Transformation from 25 Spiritual Luminaries”.

In the December 2008 issue of EnlightenNext Magazine, editor in chief, Andrew Cohen, had this to say about his first meeting with Swami Chidananda:

I was fresh on the path and full of energy for spiritual practice, and I’ll never forget the effect that the swami’s words had on my understanding of the place that meditation should take in one’s life.

In the talk that day he made it absolutley clear that when one engages in spiritual practice in earnest, one’s entire day revolves not around outer duties and concerns but around the commitment to interior development – one’s daily effort to become more conscious.

First he quoted Tennyson: “Men may come and men may go, but I’ll go on forever.” He paused. “Step by step. Step by step.” Then to my surprise, he boldly declared, “When someone asks you what you do, you should say,” and he raised his voice, “I MEDITATE!” Then lowering his voice to a whisper, he continued, “And… I also Live.”

I’ll always remember that moment, because it felt as if he was giving me permission to wholeheartedly give myself to my own growing passion for spiritual enlightenment in a culture that doesn’t admit that such a thing really exists. Even though he was never my guru, as a seeker I made the effort to spend time in his company whenever I could. It always had the effect of humbling me deeply and inspiring me to have courage and be willing to take risks in order to make real progress.”

In the next blog, I will tell you about my meeting with this saint.



My little indoor, window garden. This one brings me such joy!  March 28th, 2012

“The heavens were not made in God’s image, now was the sun, nor the stars.
You alone are a copy of the Being
who is above all thought,
a similitude of the incorruptible Beauty,
and a reflection of the true Light”  (St Gregory of Nyssa)

“As you gaze at the Light, you are transformed into It, for its brightness shines in you.”

The image of God in the depths of the human heart- in India-is called Saccidananda (Henri le Saux)

“Is there anything greater than thought?
Meditation is greater than thought
The earth seems to rest in meditation
Atmosphere and sky, waters and mountains
all seem to be in meditation like God and men”   (Chandogya Upanishads)

Not knowing a language and not feeling welcome in a strange place makes the pilgrim be even more withdrawn inside seeking what is the real reason for being here in the first place. But aren’t we all pilgrims on this earth? and even in our own cities with familiar settings around us and all the usual physical comforts, don’t we feel at times enveloped in moments of solitude. or nostalgia? Moments of grace as the sages say, to ask ourselves, what brought us here and to ask the question who am I?

The city of Kankal had that quality, as I could see from the ‘foreigners’ who I met. It was so easy to make friends there because we felt a certain bond as being ‘outcasts” or as they often called us “foreigners”.  It was this that brought us together.

There were quite a few Americans and Europeans in KankalI and mainly all there because of Ma. In time I think we all slowly got to know one another because we also had similar problems. we could not stay in the ashram (I was told) simply because we were ‘foreigners” so we were all in other places and some moving around as soon as a better room was available.

One guy was from Vancouver. He was a disciple of Ma and invited me for lunch one day. Then there was George who was leaving for Italy very sick with a kidney illness and he said “I can hardly wait to eat some good spaghetti”.
There was another called Droove who was ill with hepatitis and getting his plane ticket back to Europe.
Another was from Iran, called Abdullah. He was, at the time, in love with a Canadian girl
He came to India to study agriculture but left the class, he said, because he already knew what was being taught and so instead of staying in a boring situation, he came out and decided to travel and learn more about the spiritual side of India. He also lived in a room very close to the River.
I went one evening to a restaurant with him and the food was so spicy it kept me awake all night. He was from a country far different than mines and under the dictatorship of Khomeiny and from things he told me, I was thankful to be living in a free world.
With these seekers we shared our feelings and our solitudes and although we felt as strangers and yet so lucky just to be able to be close to Ma and see her in these  moments especially as her doctor said that her health was failing and she told him that her time was coming soon. Her birthday was approaching and we all decided that we wanted to stay for the event

I noted in my diary that there were only two reasons why I stayed in this city and one reason was because of this mysterious river that when I was not in her waters, I could only think of when next I will go in, and secondly the darshan of Ma, which was mysteriously somewhat the same, in that, when I was not in her physical presence, I could only think of when next I would see her. I had spoken to the swami who carried messages and questions about my receiving diksha from her and he gave me a form with questions to fill out.

It was on the evening of the 4th May 1982 after darshan that Swami Bascarananda, one of the senior swamis, called me aside and said that Ma had asked him to give me a message. It was mainly concerning the questions I had answered.
He said to me, “Ma has asked me to convey this message to you,”  and it was mainly an encouragement to continue on my spiritual path and to continue meditation but here she gave me an instruction. It was like a koan that I kept to myself trying to absorb its deeper meaning.Up to this day, I still feel the need to grasp it fully. but then I have only been meditating now some thirty years and am still a baby on the path.
After darshan, I also had a treat as Sr. Sarahananda and Claudette, a Canadian came to me with letters.  They came through a priest living near Risikesh, of whom I had an address and had visited once. He lived in a small house incognito. It was great having news from Canada and also one from my sister Marie, in Trinidad. I wrote in my diary “Mother is still alive”. Actually she lived for another five years.
On the 6th May there were celebrations to honor Ma’s Birthday. Her illness was taking the upper hand and so she was brought out on a sort of easy chair and she was propped up but it was after 7 in the evening and the lighting was very dim but there is always an atmosphere, filled with “Shakti” as they say.  It is something special when one is in the presence of a saint and also of so many devotees who love her.
That night I had dreams again of death, of skulls mainly and in my morning meditation I was in a very comfortable zone and like eating something very sweet when suddenly I was brought out of it by a loud scratching noise. I listened and realised it was the squirrel trying to get in my room.

Now I had friends to visit. Abdullah invited me to come and meditate at his place in a building facing the Ganges. from there we could hear some kids diving and sounds of birds. He asked me to teach him and I suggested he used the name of God from his own tradition. I also told him about thoughts and what to do. He was quite pleased with the results.

at Kankal

It is a very beautiful part of the Ganges in Rishikesh and we can see the Lukmanjula bridge which is used to cross from one side to another. It is around this area where the Ganges is very clean and in certain areas very good for swimming, (Photo taken by Phil Mondo on his spiritual journey).

We can also see the other long boat which is used very often for crossing.
It was in 1982, but nowadays I am told that this whole area is much developed. At the time there were busy moments especially during the special holy days. This was a fairly quiet day and so we walked over the bridge but am not good at heights and it sways and I was anxious to get across. On the other side there are quite a few ashrams and to the far end was the Maharishi’s Academy where the whole T M movement started and I was hoping maybe it was open for visitors so we could go in and visit but a guard at the entrance said that this place was reserved only for Indians.

On that side, the river runs quietly and close to the shores there are many small rocks and the water makes a lovely sound as it goes by. It is very peaceful and one can sit and meditate. It was nice to discover all around this area where there were several ashrams and the possibilty of getting a fairly reasonable room later on. After a while we crossed back over and went for a swim. The water was lovely.

I had an address of a Sacred Heart Sister who lived in a convent in the area, and I had the map with instructions. We had to walk somewhat going uphill but finally found the place. There was a sign at the gate which indicated that the morning was in silence and interviews were for after 3:30 in the evening. I did not stay.
Sr. Vandana was the sister I knew as some prior years she came to visit our Franciscan House of Prayer in Canada. She did a retreat with me with reflections on the Bhagavad Gita. Their community was a contemplative one and I would have loved to say hello but because of the sign,we moved on.

We came back down the hill and found a beautiful spot where we had a good swim. After the swim, I placed my swim suit on a rock and got dressed and in a short while it was dry. It was around noon and time for lunch. There were some very good  and reasonably priced restaurants in the area and luckily no smoke! After lunch we found a rickshaw to take us back over to Ma’s ashram. We were fully packed as the driver took five of us.
In another page, further on, I will explain more about this part of the Ganges where I spent some of the most
important days of my whole trip in India.

As I read these notes from my diary, I realize that when I was writing about my stay at Kankal and my visits to Ananda Moyi Ma, I had no clue of what the future was going to bring

Back to Kankal where I met an Italian guy who became friends and asked if I could teach him meditation. I gave him some instructions to practice on his own before teaching him. We were due to meet again in a few days. After the evening darshan and seeing Ma, I felt waves of devotion and really desired to receive diksha from her.  That night, (I wrote in my diary) I had dreams of many dead bodies and she was also present in my dreams. Ma was also in my meditations this morning.

The new house that we were seeing her in, was built not too long ago and this morning early there was an inauguration and I went. I got a very good place near a window where I could see her clearly. It lasted over an hour with lots of prayers and chanting. I watched her closely and thought “surely she is a woman of God.” I desired to meet with her.

The next morning I went down near the Ganges to meet The Italian guy, he was coming for his first meditation and I was doing it as I was taught traditionally with puja and everything. It was not far from here that Maharishi had his early academy and it was there in the early years that my own meditation teacher had learnt and today I was teaching someone.
I never dreamt it would be so, We hoped to find a quiet spot near the river but there was already too many people and it started to drizzle. It would just draw a crowd.

I saw two elderly people taking bath. The water was cold and there were some clouds creating like mist on the distant hills. It was the 29th april 1982.
Soon my student appeared wearing a white cotton courta with rain coat and umbrella and we headed back to my place. He was smiling and he brought fruit and flowers and even camphor for the puja.  On arriving at my place there was a note at my door with a blanket from one of Ma’s disciples to let me know that if the rain held up at noon we could take a rickshaw to go to the railway station to see Sr. Vandana.

We were able to sit comfortably and I did the puja and initiated the guy and we meditated for 30 mins. it was very peaceful. I was happy to have done so as he had some tetanus poisoning from a wound on his feet and his doctor said that his bathing in the Ganges did not help. He flew back to Italy and I have never heard from him since.

It rained too much and I could not go to visit Sr. Vandana but one day I met her on a train in the area and we chatted quite a while. their monastery now has grown.

That evening I went to Ma’s house for darshan and was lucky to be standing next to a window which opened and there she was. She asked for her glasses and putting them on, she looked directly into my eyes. I placed my hands together and bowed Jai Ma!

After darshan I was down near the Ganges again cupping my hands drinking its waters. It seems as though i could never get enough. I went back to my place and slept.!

I wrote a special page about the birds and animals around the Ganges in this area.
There are many swallows that make their nests in houses and temples and places where people gather.
As in most places in India there are also many crows.

On the banks of the Ganges near the ghats and where bodies are burnt, I noticed some huge white birds like ibis. I have seen beautiful king fishers, woodpeckers, doves and pigeons and some green parrots that make their nests in holes in the walls and many birds of varieties I do not know.
There are batches of monkeys that pass through some three times a day, early morning, lunch time and again in the evening. I notice that kids and some grown ups are always throwing stones and chasing them.
Then there are the pigs, garbage collectors as they eat all those things that we wont to put our bare-feet on. There are many dogs, mainly sickly one with skin diseases. They usually hang around the cremation ghats looking for some human left-over meat.

I have never seen such a collection of sick cows, some with broken bones or legs. I noticed one huge black cow on the banks of the river behind the Shiva temple where there was some grass. She moved about on that patch of grass very painfully.

At times when I went in the water, I could perceive some fish which came and pecked at my feet. I noticed donkeys too as they were used to transport the wood for the funeral pyres at times.   Of all these creatures I loved the parrots the most.

Yesterday as I stood in the drizzle on the banks of the Ganges, I saw two green parrots perched on a branch and kissing one another. In my room there is a squirrel, several lizards and a rat which comes visiting regularly not the mention the occasional scorpion and mosquitoes at nights. Also Kankal is a city of flies!
I took a bus to Rishikesh to see if I had any mail and the bus broke down and so we had to wait for over an hour for another. When I got off, the ticket collector short changed me as usual. I got back to my place exhausted and went down to the Ganges and washed my white pants and while they dried in the sun, I went in for a swim. when I came out and walking back to my room I felt so relaxed. The Ganges to me, was so refreshing I loved it more and more each day.

Teachings of Anandamayi Ma

Your sorrow, your pain, your agony is indeed my sorrow. This body understands everything. You may want to leave this body. But this body won’t leave you for a single day – it does not and never will leave you. One, who has once been attracted to this body, even though he may make a thousand attempts, will not be able to efface or blot out the memory of this body. It will remain and persist in his memory for all time.

“You should kindle fire by any means, either with clarified butter or sandalwood or even straw. Once alight, the fire burns on; all worries, darkness and gloom gradually disappear. The fire will burn to ash all obstacles.”

“Always bear this in mind: Everything is in God’s hands, and you are His tool to be used by Him as He pleases. Try to grasp the significance of ‘all is His’. and you will immediately feel free from all burdens. What will be the result of your surrender to Him? None will seem alien, all will be your very own Self.”

“Just as fire burns away all dross and rubbish, so the three fold suffering purges man’s heart from all impurity and results in a growing single mindedness in his search after Truth. When he becomes deeply conscious of his weakness and tormented by the thoughts of his undesirable impulses and distressing characteristics, when afflictions like poverty, bereavement or humiliation make him feel his life is futile, then and then only does he develop real faith and religious fervor, and becomes anxious to surrender himself at the feet of the Supreme Being. Suffering should therefore be welcomed. Never does the soft moonlight appear more soothing than after the scorching heat of a summer day.”

“To believe in Him under any particular form is not enough. Accept Him in His numberless forms, shapes and modes of being, in everything that exists. Aim at the whole and all your actions will be whole.”

Enquire: ‘Who am I?’ and you will find the answer. Look at a tree: from one seed arises a huge tree; from it comes numerous seeds, each one of which in its turn grows into a tree. No two fruits are alike. Yet it is one life that throbs in every particle of the tree. So, it is the same Atman everywhere.

All creation is that: There is beauty in the birds and in the animals. They too eat and drink like us, mate and multiply; but there is this difference: we can realize our true nature, the Atman. Having been born as human beings, we must not waste this opportunity. At least for a few seconds every day, we must enquire as to who we are. It is no use taking a return ticket over and over again. From birth to death, and death to birth is samsara. But really we have no birth and death. We must realize that.”

“Suffering is sent to remind you to turn your thoughts towards That which is real – to God who will give you solace.”

“Joys and sorrows are time-born and cannot last. Therefore, do not be perturbed by these. The greater the difficulties and obstructions, the more intense will be your endeavor to cling to His feet and the more will your prayer increase from within. And when the time is ripe, you will gain mastery over this power.”

“Whenever you possibly can, sustain the flow of a sacred Name. To repeat His name is to be in His presence. If you associate with the Supreme Friend, He will reveal His true being to you.”

“As you love your own body, so regard everyone as equal to your own body. When the Supreme Experience supervenes, everyone’s service is revealed as one’s own service. Call it a bird, an insect, an animal or a man, call it by any name you please, one serve’s one’s own Self in every one of them.”

God is within everyone, but man goes out in search of Him. This is what constitutes God’s Play and God’s

All Rivers flow… the Sea

Here is Mooji

The Darshan of another great teacher of our times who makes the teachings so easily accessible without our even having to leave our homes or travel to India or anywhere.

How lucky we are! He is perpetuating, in our times, the teachings of the greatest. It is as if the great Ramana Maharshi sat in our living room, through a tiny computer and said :
“Ask yourself the question, who am I?”

The bodies of the saints come and go… ever since the beginning of time, their teaching is always present…always alive……Love makes it available

Prayer by Mooji


Let our minds be entirely empty of the noise of the world. Let us remain ever-centered inside the pure heart of Being.

For there is nothing other than What Is.

Therefore, today let us chant the Holy Name.

Let us sing with joyful hearts in gratitude and praise to the Supreme Lord of the Universe. For our joy is abundant, and our heartlight is brightened only by that which is our own Source.

Om Namah Shivaya, Om.

Everything is Passing

When a raindrop is falling towards the ocean

There may be fear of dissolution

But when it touches the ocean

Can it tell?

Can it tell the story, the story, the story of this meeting

Om Namah Shivaya

When a river is flowing toward the sea

There may be some hesitation

It will lose its individual name

Where will we find the Ganga, the Amazon in this Great Ocean?

Om Namah Shivaya

Can we fall in love with a cloud?

And if we do, how long will it last?

Everything is passing

Om Namah Shivaya  (Composed by Shankara Karunkara) Inspired by Mooji’s teachings

“Open your arms to all of
this… Don’t calculate, don’t
try to be an architect in your
own life and you will see how …more


“My consciousness has never associated itself with this temporary body. Before I came on this earth ‘I was the same’. As a little girl ‘I was the same’. ………. Ever afterward, though the dance of creation change around me, in the hall of eternity ‘I shall be the same’. ——Sri Ma
Sri Anandamayi Ma
This is how I knew her just some days before she left. The picture of compassion and serenity and all goodness combined.
I will allways be greatful to Jean, who I met one day in Shantivanam. He had just come back from a retreat where he received initiation from Anandamayi. I noticed something different about him. There was a smile on his face and his eyes sparkled and there was a definite change that had come over him and so after breakfast I enquired and he said, “Come let me show you some pictures” and he took me to his hut and explained his trip to the little village where Ma’s ashram was and how he was able at last to get initiation from her after waiting a full year. this was his second trip. Then he showed me her picture and I felt I had to see her. He explained a bit of what was happening and that an auspicious time to go there will be a few weeks prior to her birthday and to be there for that and so I made plans. Jean went ahead and it was agreed that we would meet there. I was told that she was India’s greatest saint and I really wanted to see her.
I had travelling for quite a while now since visiting Arunachala. I viisted quite a few catholic monasteries and communities and then I was in Delhi, of these I will write later.
It was from Delhi that I travelled some eight hours by bus to Haridwar. The bus had not yet stopped when someone threw a lighted cigarette through the window and somehow the fire caught on the silk Indian shirt of a man seated in the row behind. it created quite an argument and nearly broke into a fight.
I was exhausted and left quickly and got a room in the nearest hotel for the night. The next morning I went for a walk on the banks of the Ganges and of all the thousands of people there, I ran into Jean. It was great as he had found a room in a place and was able to get me one. It was only three rupees a night but what a place! Like a stable for animals but it had a door and a lock and a roof over my head and scorpions running around on the floor at nights. Good thing I had a flash light so I could avoid them!

My clothes were terribly dirty from travelling and so in the afternoon I went down to the river to wash them. It is amazing how, with some soap and sunshine and a few beatings, the cotton pyjama or yoga pants became so white and dried so fast on the rocks.

I saw a young Hindu priest in the water saying his prayers and with cupped hands he drank. I was staring at him and after his prayers he looked at me and smiled. “Can one drink this water?” I asked, he said “Of course, Ganga is God!”  I was thirsty and cupping my hands I drank from the Ganges. It was cooling and pleasant and I drank again and again. When my clothes were dry and I was heading back, I saw a family there with a dead body and they were dipping it in, the last bath before cremation !

In the evening I went for darshan at Anandamayi Ma’s ashram. It was in a house which her disciples had built for her at the time and on the banks of the Ganges. Recently it has been made into a Center (An International centre has been recently built in Kankhal ( 4 km south of Hardwar, on the Ganga), which is also 200 km north of DELHI in Uttar Pradesh.)
Kankal was the little city where I saw her and I will never forget that place for more reasons than one. In the evening at 6 pm was the usual time for darshan. (Darśana (Darshan, Sanskrit: दर्शन) is a Sanskrit term meaning “sight” (in the sense of an instance of seeing or beholding; from a root dṛś “to see”), vision, apparition, or glimpse. It is most commonly used for “visions of the divine,” e.g., of a god or a very holy person or artifact. One could “receive darshana” of the deity in the temple, or from a great saintly person, such as a great guru)

The way it went was that I would arrive there and there would be other people waiting outside until at six precisely, a swami would open the little gate and we would come into the yard. All the windows were closed and we never knew which will open. It was like playing a game as we walked around and suddenly a window would open and everyone would rush to it and we would see her in the room either sitting or even at times in bed as her health was diminishing.

At some point the swami would tell us that it was time to go and they closed the window and we left.
Sometimes it would last for longer periods and sometimes there was some talking and at other times it was all in silence. People came from far away and they came just to have her darshan. Just to have a glimpse of her or to have her see them and go away feeling blessed. One day as I was walking very slowly, I heard the latches in the window next to me being undone and I froze. The window opened and there she was standing a few inches away and I said “Jai Ma!”.
She took out her glasses and looked at me with a smile.

She looked very much as she does in the picture at the top of the page. After leaving I would always go down to the Ganges and drink from it. There was a strange thing that always happened after I saw her, as I walked away, so many prayers arose in me. I would suddenly find myself saying the rosary or the Our Father but it was always Christian prayers.

There was an Austrian swami who spoke English and I had a good talk with him. I asked him if Ananadamayi was initiating anyone and he asked why and I said I would like to know if I could receive from her and he said he will ask her. He said that it was normal for Westerners to wait for one year.
I met Sister Sarah (Sara Grant, RSCJ (December 19, 1922–2002) was an British Indologist, christian missionary, and one of the pioneers of interreligious dialogue in the twentieth century.[1] She came to India in 1956, as a missionary and member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, became actively engaged in interreligious dialogue in India, and was a leading figure in the inculturation (imbibing local cultures) movement that she started in India following Roman Catholic priest Richard De Smet in the early 1970s. [2]
She taught in Mumbai and Pune for several years, and remained spent many years as co-acharya of the Christa Prema Seva Ashram in Pune, which combines the Hinduashram and sannyasa model and Christian monasticism.[3]
She was with a Canadian girl and they were at the darshan one evening and we met afterwards and went one day for lunch. It was quite a painful experience as most of the restaurants had these wooden fire stoves and the smoke filled the place. Very hard on the eyes.
One never knew who would show up at the evening darshan. One evening one of the brothers from Shantivanam came. it was so good to see him again.

There was a little enclosed yard around the place where I was staying and Jean and I decided to try cooking our own food. We were able to buy the necessary items..a pot and spoon etc. The first meal was easy as it was rice and yellow chick peas. The big job was getting the fire started but once it was going, it was just a matter of up keeping it. we both had cooking abilities and so we were able to share.

In the evenings the mosquitoes were voracious and there was no mosquito net in my room and so I used to make a fire in the corner with leaves and when the room was filled with smoke, i would cover my head and go to sleep. Somewhere after mid-night the smoke had died down and the mosquitoes were back. All I could do was to get dressed and go down to the Ganges.

Re-reading all this in my diary really makes me realize how we can do things when we are young. At my age now, I could never dream of enduring all that I did then.

The Ganges had a spell on me. I found it hard to leave. Every day I went in to bathe in it and in the evening after darshan I would go back to drink. I could spend hours roaming the banks of this holy River. There were lots of swallows flying around and children playing by the river. There were the funeral people and cows straying around. But this was not Kashi (Benares) Here the river was much cleaner.

One day I went for my usual swim in the afternoon and when I went back to my place, I could not get in because it was surround by a pack of red howling monkeys. I made a sign to chase them away but a big one, exposing its teeth and howling rushed me and I had to run.

Ma was not too well and word got around that maybe there would be no darshan today. I decided to go to Haridwar and cross over to the other side of the river to visit that part of the Ganges. I thought that it was the most beautiful river in the world and i wanted to see as much as i possibly could.
We were within walking distance to Haridwar and only a few minutes by rickshaw to Rishikesh and a few minutes over the bridge and we were on the other side. See how beautiful the river is in these areas,


Tapovanam ashram

Sri Gnananda Giri of Tapovanam (Fr. Henri Le Saux’s Guru)

It was in 1955 that Fr. Henri Le Saux (Swami Abshaiktananda) met his Guru for the first time, in the person of a sage called Sri Gnananda Giri and he later wrote a book called “Guru and Disciple” An Encounter with Sri Gnananda, a Contemporary Spiritual Master, Delhi. 1990.
And the main teaching of his Guru, was as he described, meditation, (Dhyana)
“Return within,
To the place where there is nothing.
And take care that nothing comes in.
Penetrate to the depth of yourself,
To the place where thought no longer exists
And take care that no thought raises its head!

There where nothing exists
Is Fullness!
There where nothing is seen
Is the Vision of Being!
There where nothing appears any longer
Is the sudden appearing of the Self!
Dhyana, it is this.”        “Swami Abhishiktananda, Guru and Disciple, op.cit., p.65.”

It was this teaching and my thirst to know more about his experience as a Christian monk like myself at the time, that led me, encouraged by Fr. Bede, to take the trip by bus from Tiruvanamalai and travel to the ashram where the sage Sri Gnananda lived.
I had written a letter to the swami in charge, Swami Nityananda Giri and he advised me to arrive at that time.
I followed the instructions and took a bus from Tirokylur to the ashram named Tapovanam

I arrived during the day and at the reception I asked for Swami Nityananda and was asked to be seated and I wanted for some ten minutes before he appeared. He was of small height and stocky and walked very fast and with a very warm smile and after all I had been told by Fr. Bede, I was happy to see him and I did what was customary, pranamed and touched his feet.

Immediately he began to say praises to St Francis of Assisi and he indicated me to follow him upstairs to the room that was assigned to me. It was a very plain room with a cot and small table and chair and in one corner was the bath area where one stood and poured water from a bucket over head. There was no curtain and so one had to be careful otherwise water will be all over the floor, luckily cemented.

Swami Nityananda spent some time explaining to me about Advaita and about the meeting of Fr. Henri Le Saux and Sri Gnananda, the Guru. He explained that the Guru had since passed and that there was there in the ashram a very holy man of whom the Western world was not aware but whom he said “He is realisation itself” and that he will have a word with him and see if he will accept to have a meeting with me. He spent quite a while explaining how the ashram was founded and all about how it functioned, the hours of prayers etc and he also took me down to the kitchen where I could have something to eat. He lent me the book “Guru and disciple” to read and had to leave as he had lots of duties to perform.

One of the swamis showed me where I could sleep on the roof as the door of my room opened out to a terrace on the roof and he gave me a mat to sleep on. He explained that it was much cooler than my room and less chance of mosquitoes.

I remember falling asleep that night as the monkeys were jumping from one branch of a tree to another as they also prepared to sleep. The skies were covered in stars and there was a very soothing breeze. There was only one problem as I awoke in the early morning to find that there were thousands of ants and insects crawling all around. Luckily none were of the biting families!

There was a fresh bucket of water in my room and I was able to shower and get dressed as I was asked to be down in the meditation hall sometime before 4 am.  I found a comfortable spot and about 30 mins. later, someone came and took me to the morning arti, welcoming the light and the pujas.

The morning prayers in most ashrams begin just before the light breaks and it is a very special moment as the bells are rung and incense is waved and the light is taken to all the statues and different parts of the ashram.

The birds are awakening and beginning to chirp and fly away and we can hear, at times, the sounds of the parrots. It is like all of nature is awakening and offering their morning chants as the sun begins to rise.
After the prayers someone came and took me to the kitchen where I was given a spot to wait and well-worth the wait as I still remember drinking a cup of the best coffee I have ever tasted in a long while. Apparently the Guru loved his morning cup of coffee and even after his departure, it still remained a custom in the ashram.

I can remember reading some of the book, visiting different parts of the ashram but after lunch came what I recalled the most, as Swami Nityananda came and told me that I should come as he was going to introduce me to Sri Vidyananda Giri, and he said “I want you to meet my master. It was he who gave me “diksha”. (Initiation)
We went to the room and the Swami was sitting on his bed with a fan and Swami Nityananda pranamed and introduced me. The Swami invited me to sit on a chair on the side and he looked at me and smiled. I wondered what was in his mind and I was lost for words. He had an assistant who explained that soon they will be going for bath in the river and I was invited to go with them. At some point they arose and they made a sign to follow.

The River was called Penna River I think and I was told it was the same River in which Ramana Maharshi loved to visit. we left the ashram yard and followed a side street and across a field and came to the River.  The Holy man walked in front with his assistant at his side and I just a few steps behind.  It was explained that when we were down to the River, he would say his prayers and I would wait till he chose where he would go into the water and then I could go but below in the way that the water was not flowing from me to him, but contrary.
It was not a deep river and actually one could just sit on a rock or wade in softly and allow the river to flow and bathe me. It was cool and clear and rather pleasant.
After the swami was finished he came out, said some prayers and called to ask me if I enjoyed the bath, it was time to go.
He spoke on the way back relating a parable in relation to a question I asked him as to how does the person who comes to the state of realisation feel inside and he spoke very good English and said “I am travelling on the train to Coimbatore to meet you. Surprisingly you get on at Tanjore. I am very happy to see you and I keep on travelling.  I am allright. there is no problem.”
I took this note and it is still legible in my journal.
The days went by rather fast and the time was coming for me to leave. I could not see the Swami every day nor go down to the river with him until the day before I left.
This day it started out as a somewhat lonely adventure. I was itching to speak and ask some questions but somehow I felt he wanted to be silent and so I kept silent.
The water was so clean and clear and after my bath, I sat on the side of the river and thought that if there was no one to talk to, I may as well enjoy the beauty of the countryside. On one side I could see the rising, almost full moon and on the other side, the setting sun. The other gentleman who accompanied us called out that it was time to be ‘starting’ back home.
As Swami Vidyananda came closer he looked at me and smiled and asked if I enjoyed the bath.
We started and because he opened conversation I asked him if we can ever reach a stage of no return, a permanent stage of higher consciousness. He said something to the effect that we westerners were too eager and sometimes we asked too many questions.
We were now entering the field and I was walking just behind him and in my mind I was saying “If this man is “realization itself” as Swami Nityananda said, why could he not give me that grace.
All of a sudden he stopped and turning around and placing his hand on my shoulder he said, “What is the problem, realization?.  The Self is already realized. There is nothing to gain. Just keep on doing your spiritual practices and be at peace!”   And we walked all the way back and it was rather peaceful and it was the last time I ever saw him.
(below is a photo of one of the places where I attended morning puja)

an extra page

“While describing the formation of the hill,scientific studies reveal that it has originated out of a volcanic eruption and is formed of igneous rocks and the spiritual explanation from the various scriptures (like the skanda puranam- Arunachala Mahatmyam) speak of this hill as the very form of Lord Siva. From time immemorial, Arunachala has constantly been attracting saints, teachers, gurus and seekers to itself. As far as the records go, Adi Shankaracharya is said to have visited Arunachala. In one of his ashtakas he refers to Arunachala as ‘Meru’ and says that Siddha purushas are found here. Shaktas (followers of the shakti worship) consider this hill as Sri Chakra, a diagram of forty three triangles, the two dimensional representation of the cosmic energy.”

It was the place where Fr.Henri Le Saux first saw Ramana Maharshi who made a very profound impression in his life.  This mountain was the center of Ramana Maharshi’s devotion.
“Both the mountain and the life and doctrine of Sri Ramana had an intense influence on Abhishiktananda. For him, both were signs of the unique Mystery, the unique Presence. His awareness of the dangers involved made him even more alert to avoid aberrations, and he remained true to Christ throughout all. Both the mountain and the man were voices summoning him within to that place of encounter which was from then on at the center of his life. Like Ramana, he found the secret at the heart. Living within the heart of the mountain led him within to his own heart.
“Man’s primary task is to penetrate within and there discover himself. Whoever has not found himself within himself has not yet found God; and whoever has not found God within himself has not yet found himself. God is he who is at the heart of all, at the origin even of the utterance of that ‘Thou’ with which I address him. So long as anyone has not penetrated to that inner source from which diversity itself originates, he is merely cherishing the external idols which he has created on his own petty scale.” (Secret of Arunachala. Fr. James Conner)

As mentioned before, we lost our apartment for the small fraternity where I was living, in 1990. When the fire-men’s hoses hit the book library, some of the books were already gone and of the others, only one Bible in French and one in English remain untouched. One little book with the rule and writings of St Francis, is damaged only on the cover and then there is the journal of the visit to India which has its cover intact but some water got in and some of the pages are not possible to read and among them are some of the writings about Arunachala. I will try and see how much I may recuperate.

The first few lines of this part of the diary indicate that I was in the area of Arunachala and planning to do the ‘pradakshina’, the walk around the mountain. There was a young nun who had on the previous day, met me and asked me to walk with her as she was afraid to go alone. we agreed to walk in silence.

On Saturday 6th March 1982 ‘was one of those extraordinary hot days and after a nap in the afternoon, I went over to see her and we agreed to start walking.
We felt it was better after the mid day sun was past. It was 3:45 in the afternoon when we set out and her name was sister Christian but they called her “Christie”.
She insisted that we leave our sandals at the place where we were staying and we do the walk barefoot. Th asphalt was blistering hot and I was happy to find some earth and grass near the sides of the road.

If you go online and look up “walk around Arunachala” you will be surprised to see how many have written about it and how many beautiful pictures were taken over the years. Unfortunately there were no digital cameras and facilities like we have now, and so, the picture at the top of the blog has been borrowed.

Although we agreed not to speak, Christie at times stopped to show some of the most important things and shrines and I was very happy that she did. I remember a small temple that had a very low door and in order to go in we had to creep down and glide in. Coming out on the other side was the same. It would not have done well for anyone with claustrophobia.
Outside, we sat to meditate. It was very peaceful and after a while I could hear a shepherd calling his sheep. The sun going down, I wrote, ‘cast golden bronze colors on the rocks at the top and soon we may be able to see the face of Shiva’.

 There is a legend that we can see ‘five faces of Shiva’ as we walk around. I very innocently searched to see if I could see anything.

We left the silent part as we came closer to a village and soon we were aware of a procession in the street. as they got closer we could see. It was a funeral.

After the funeral had passed we were now into a village and in the distance we could hear drums and see men with their head tied, drumming and dancing.  As we approached I realised it was festive and some were apparently stoned on ganja or something as their eyes were wide open and dilated and they were singing and twirling.
The road now led into the heart of the city and the bazaar and all the shops and people. It was after the days work and it looked like people were getting ready to celebrate. After the quiet of the countryside, this seems like a carnival.
We had come all the way around walking some 14 kilometers and the ‘pradakshima’  this holy walk was at its end. Back to the place where we left our sandals and I said good bye to Christie. I never saw or heard from her again.
Back in my place I was happy to take a shower and feel the cool water on my weary feet. They served well. I thought of this legend of the five faces of Shiva and it came to me that it is not really in what appears on the rock but really about the different aspects of life and to recognize the presence of God not only in the interior experience in silent meditation but in the uncomfortable heat of the asphalt  and in the ordinary life of the shepherd, the presence of death as well as in the joys of marriage and worldly festivities.
If there is something I never forget from Arunachala and India itself, is that, being conscious of the Eternal Presence and in which there is no place where It does not exist. I am reminded to see Him at all times and in all places.