Connecting the dots ... with Shiva
Connecting the dots ... with Shiva
It was an early morning boat ride on Yamuna at Prayagraj during the 2019 Kumbh and the view was simply breath taking. Yamuna was wide like an ocean with hundreds of Siberian gulls flying over it making a very pristine setting. As the boat sailed on this drop of nectar from samudra manthan, the meeting and conversations with the Naga and other sadhus the previous day were still playing on Rishi’s mind. Nothing happens by chance, one of the young recruits of the Naga akhara from Kashi informed with a characteristic Shiva Shambhu ending his reply to the question on why did he leave his well-placed material life to join the akhara.
This thought stuck deep with Rishi for rest of his stay at Kumbh where he met several unassumingly wise men who had a distinct authority and attitude in their voice. Someone mentioned that the last day of the Kumbh shall be on Mahashivaratri day that year. It reminded Rishi of the Mahashivratri the previous year in 2018 when he was in Coimbatore and witnessed some unforgettable experiences. In fact, It was just 10 days back, before coming to Prayag, that he was in Coimbatore again celebrating his daughter’s 1st birthday on 11th February.
In the afternoon, while watching a Ram Leela performance with a very involved audience he again remembered his experience during the much-electrified atmosphere during the night of Mahashivratri the previous year at the Isha ashram, Coimbatore. At the midnight, Sadhguru, conducts a meditation session. Rishi’s mind is usually not the meditative type but the past couple of days on this trip to Coimbatore were different. Looks like you slept and dreamt, rationalised his mind about his experience. If you have never seen a moon before and one day the cloud splits to give you to glimpse but moments later hide it again, you wonder if you really saw the moon or was it a figment of your imagination.
During the meditation session as he happened to see himself standing at the edge of a fort, probably tied in ropes. It was night time and he was surrounded by soldiers armed with spears, like it would be in the ancient times. He was about to be executed by being thrown down the cliff as it appeared from the setting. There were three soldiers standing right next to him, perhaps in charge of the execution. The execution did happen but that’s not the reason that he woke up abruptly from that dream.
“shivaaaaaaa” this loud scream abruptly brought him back to the gathering and opened his eyes. It was his wife, sitting next to him, who appeared to be in deep trance during the meditation as she screamed the name again. The next day they both shared their experiences during this midnight session. She shared that she had no control over her faculties when she screamed Shiva’s name and hence did not do it consciously. They both had observed other people do it in earlier instances and wondered how and why they scream like that but, this was the maiden self-experience. Rishi shared about his execution dream and disclosed that he found it strange because he recognised the faces of those three soldiers very well having spent last two days with them after landing in Coimbatore. One was a doctor, other was a vice president in a software company and the third one who had pulled a final string of his execution was a young engineering student. However, what was also very strange was that he could no longer remember anyone’s name and had not seen them either since last morning. He felt that mind was playing some tricks with him in this particular trip.
During a conversation with someone about Shiva, on the banks of Ganga later in the day at Kumbh, Rishi was sharing about the program he attendid last year with Isha foundation called Shivanga Sadhna. Shivanga literally means a limb of shiva and as Sadhguru claims, this tough 42 day sadhna makes one. Not particularly a staunch follower of Sadhguru Rishi wondered why he had got attracted to the email informing about the program as he had kept it unread for many days. Finally, he decided to go for the information day on 1st of January to find out more about it and to explore whether he would want to do it. He attended the session on the stipulated day and time but realised that he was wrong about the agenda of the evening. It wasn’t just the information but the initiation day. He came out of the meeting with a few items and a lot of information in terms of instructions. The next scene saw him in a grocery store looking for peanuts and honey, as small doses of that was going to be his breakfast along with neem leaves and black pepper for next 42 days.
The Shivanga Sadhana is about bringing into your awareness that you are a limb of Shiva, the very source of creation and the Ultimate Possibility. – Sadhguru
The first 15 days were spent in getting used to the discipline. Just 2 meals a day with the first one being after 12pm and absolutely nothing in between was tough for a person who couldn’t imagine the mornings without the newspaper, cup of tea and biscuits. Added to this was a rigorous routine of Shiva namaskar practice twice a day, no snacking or even tea coffee between the two meals and permanent black band on the arm. At times it was awkward for him to explain about the things like refusing to have tea or the purpose of black arm band to others and specially during the business travel. He had no answer to the question about why he was doing this even if he attempted to share about the participation in this sadhna. Is it like some kind of vow that you have wished for? … No was a quick and consistent answer from him every time. However, the truth was that he couldn’t even answer this question well for himself.
As part of the Sadhana, one day you are required to beg for alms at a temple, from at least 21 people. You must do this with your shirt off your body and without looking at the donor or the amount. Seeing beggars outside temples is a very common sight in India but the thought of imagining oneself among them is mostly not a common thought. Rishi had a similar feeling and this certainly made his stomach rumble a bit to start with. He chose Sankranti day in mid-January for this task at an air force managed temple close to home, he frequented regularly.
On reaching the temple with some anxiety and some nervousness he took off his shirt and chose a place just outside the main entrance of the temple. He closed the eyes and sat with a box covered with a black cloth and a small hole on top like a piggy bank. Being inside the air force complex, this temple did not have beggars at all and hence he was the only one of a kind that day and instantly attracted attention of the visitors. While he was scouting for a place and preparing for this act, he noticed a sadhu in saffron clothes sitting on a bench and observing him keenly. Rishi wondered what would happen next? Will he be thrown out by the air force staff or will he hear a familiar neighbour’s voice asking him “what happened? Is everything alright?”
However, what he experienced in next 35 minutes moved him immensely. He got his first donation after about 10 minutes of wait but the box started to fill in quickly after that. Since he had closed his eyes and sat at one place for the entire duration, he neither explicitly asked anyone to donate nor did he see any one or the amount that they were putting in the box. Every time he felt someone donating, he would bow down to them in a thanking gesture. At one point he heard someone asking the sadhu, if it is ok to donate and to which the saffron man nodded in affirmative. However, the strangest feeling he got was when he felt someone touch his feet after donating the amount in the box.
What is it about our culture that makes people understand the significance of such acts so easily? Why is it that they want to donate not because the person needs money but because they want to be associated with the act in some way? They understanding the meaning of the term bhiksha as very different from begging for survival. This experience was certainly new to Rishi. He wondered how he would have reacted had he seen someone else do this during one of his temple visits. He certainly would have been confused and inquisitive. However, people who donated to him apparently were not confused and seemed to be making use of the opportunity. It wasn’t difficult for him to soon realise that that the shirt was just a metaphor for the ego in this act. Even the footwear caretaker at the temple with whom he used to interact regularly during his visits, gave him a longer than usual bow with folded hands that day. As he left the temple with his booty of donations, he gave a last glance to the sadhu who was still sitting on the same spot and had a same keen look not trying to avoid the eye contact upon being spotted again.
Later in the evening at Kumbh, Rishi witnessed the ganga arti that reminded him about the similar spectacle at Kashi that he attended about 2 months back. It also brought back the memories of the unexplained emotional outburst he experienced during the arti there. Usually not an emotional person he wondered why he had two such strange experiences in last one year, as he had a similar experience after the last task of the Shivang sadhna.
The sadhana was to end on the eve of the Mahashivratri which was on 13th February that year. He landed in Coimbatore in the afternoon of 10th February for the final task and the culmination of the sadhana at the Isha ashram. This final task was the much-dreaded bare foot climb of the 7 hills of the Vellangiri mountain range leading to a shiva temple at about 6000ft summit.
At Coimbatore airport, a group of men approached him to check if he was going to Isha ashram as some visible signs on him made them guess correctly. They suggested to pool in for a cab and they set off for the ashram. Incidentally they all had come to the ashram for the culmination of Shivanga sadhna and exchanged notes on their experience of the program over last 40 days during the ride. On the introductions it was revealed that one was VP in a software company in Bangalore, other was a practicing Doctor at a small town in Andhra and the third person was a final year engineering student in Bangalore. For the rest of the day in the ashram, as they performed some of the other required tasks and prepared for the climb, their sticking together as a group was reminiscent of school days friends. Much to his surprise, the doctor even had an extra saffron dhoti for Rishi, which he could not find at the local shop at the ashram as he had hoped for.
The climb was to begin at 4am the next day from a temple near the Isha ashram for all the people who had participated in Shivang sadhna. The first 3 hills of the range have stone steps for the most part as each hill has an ancient temple. It was pitch dark in the morning as they started the ascend bare foot with loads of enthusiasm and a stick in hand. However, by the 3rd hill the energy levels had significantly dwindled off as the climb was steep even with the steps. Also, by then the day light was bright and throats thirsty. They were in for a rude shock after the 3rd hill as the steps disappeared and the next 4 hills were literally a mountain climb. No proper path way and full of pebbles and rocks poking delicate city bred toes. It was quite difficult to walk on that terrain and people pounced on any stretch of grass that they could spot. In many places, they had to climb and descend down the rocks. This was by no means just a simple hike in the mountains but in some tricky situations they realised that the bare feet offered better grip than the shoes.
A gentleman in the group who had been to Kailash, mentioned that this was far tougher than the trek to Kailash. For Rishi. It was certainly one of the most difficult activity he had ever done.
The first couple of hours were marked with chit chats or the thoughts even when chats were absent, as is usually the case. However, after the 4th and 5th hill, not only the chit chat but also any kind of thoughts in the mind slowly switched off. Perhaps the body demanded full attention from oneself. The climb to the 7th hill was the steepest and hence the toughest. The summit has a small Shiva temple under the two rocks, and is also known as Dakshin Kailash or Kailash of the south. Legend has it that Shiva spent time here in despondence after having failed to meet and save the girl who left her body waiting for him and becoming immortal by the name of Kanyakumari.
While the trek was bone breaking, Rishi experienced a still mind for the first time in his life. A meditative experience when you really have no thoughts. You see lots of people and objects around but you are blank in your mind. Obviously, in this child like stage you are very receptive to the energy around. This perhaps explains why the pilgrimage centers often requires a tough route as it may be best way to prepare for being receptive to the energy of the place.
During the return leg, Rishi’s speed considerably slowed down as he struggled while landing on the small poky stones with bare foot and tired body. The young student kept him a very loyal company even though he could have run down much faster. They reached back at the temple base at about 7pm, a good 15hours after the start. Rishi kept his stick aside and sat down in one corner to rest. As he put his head down on the lap, he seemed to have lost control of himself and broke down. He could not attribute any reason for this emotional experience except that it seemed to him that he perhaps achieved something extraordinary versus his own capabilities. This was the end of an eventful 11th February and little did he know that in few months’ time an event would happen that shall make him celebrate this date every year for rest of his life.
Why do we become emotional? We do so and let tears roll down, either when we are very happy or sad. We may also get emotional when we meet or separate from someone dear giving rise to happy or sad emotions. We spend so much time talking to ourselves with all kinds of conversations. A learned man running a massive langar pandal at the Kumbh asked an attentive audience including Rishi – how would it be ever to meet our own self in person? Same person whom you share and confide in every moment of your life. Would you be happy or sad or would you possibly just get emotional? You can do so only when you loose connect with others in those moments. On one hand wondering if all this made any sense and on the other hand wondering if this is what he experienced at Vellangiri and Kashi. When you cling to your logical mind, you look for binary answers but life isn’t binary and perhaps lies somewhere in between.
In the same year upon returning from Coimbatore, Rishi’s wife proposed to go to Kailash yatra later in the year, in August. This had not figured in their travel goals earlier and so while he was still thinking about it, her urge kept becoming stronger by the day. Eventually she signed up and proceeded with the trip while he did not. Upon her return from an incredible and unforgettable experience, they both had completed solo treks to the two Kailash locations and life had changed for ever though they could not comprehend the sequence of events at that time.
Jab ata nahi hai to karna kyon hai? A middle-aged sadhu sitting next to him shouted at Rishi as he tried smoking a pipe but struggled. There was unmistakable anger in the tone of the sadhu but an innocent question mark in his smiling eyes. While Rishi felt a bit embarrassed upon this comment, a hand tapped on his right shoulder from the other side. It was another ash smeared sadhu from the group that couple of them randomly sat with under a tree during the night stroll at Kumbh. This Sadhu had a word of advice for Rishi – koi baat nahi, kabhie kabhie kuch kaam bina samjhe bhi karne padte hain. Baad mein samajh aa jata hai sab. There was always some kind of mysticism in every one’s words in this biggest gathering of humanity at Kumbh. Every time it made Rishi wonder if the message was just situational or a life lesson or an answer one may be seeking.
Looking back at the year, the trip to Kashi with a new family member seemed like a home coming to the master after the more testing and challenging meetings at his other abodes. And what was it about the sudden thought of attending the Kumbh that made Rishi come to this mystic place? Why was he remembering and making sense of the past 12 months through the most unusual people over here? Back home, while he pondered over the picture of Adiyogi, a lot had changed between the two Shivaratris except the calm know it all and yet innocent face of Shiva.
you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. – Steve jobs