Tales of Ganga #1: Ma Ganga’s Children

Three hilltops huddled together a long time ago. To pay their respects like a devotee, to watch her beauty like a lover, to care for her like a parent. Looking up at these first adorers of Ma Ganga from this particular spot on her Rishikesh banks, it appeared as if this passage between the mountains led up to another world in the skies hidden by those surreal, swirling clouds… 

Joining Nature’s Conversation

What if you could hear nature speak? If you are sufficiently silent, you just may be able to tune-in to nature’s radio. But how often do we attempt to experience such a communion?

Here are some gorgeous photos shared by LWP writer and blogger Rahul Sharma showcasing nature’s art gallery. Captions added by Shruti Bakshi are a light-hearted guess at what nature may be trying to say in these photos.

Feel free to share your own captions in the comments section, referencing the photo number!

When You Get Pushed Down From the Top of the World

“The earth beneath my feet moved. I was going down and could not see any soil beneath my feet. It was white ice all around. I pressed my trekking shoes against the ice as hard as I could and managed to regain my balance. I took a moment to catch my breath and then went to the edge of the cliff to see what was going on…”
Read more of the final part of the Everest Series in which Rohit Kumar finds that the awesome beauty of Mother Nature is enough to energise and lift one’s spirits in the toughest moments.

A Journey to the Top of the World (Well Almost…)

In this series, Rohit Kumar describes his experiences of scaling the treacherous terrain to Everest Base Camp. A good foothold on the rocks requires a good foothold in one’s inner being that provides the resilience and humility to journey on. And as with life, it is not about the destination but the journey on which one often meets people that inspire us.

When Everest Called

In this exclusive series for LWP, Rohit Kumar describes his experiences of scaling not only the treacherous external terrain, but also the inner, slippery one. A good foothold on the rocks requires a good foothold in one’s inner being that provides the resilience and humility to journey on. And as with life, it is not about the destination but the journey on which one often meets people that inspire and humble us.

Visiting the Isha Yoga Centre – a spiritual travelogue

Disclaimer: I am writing this article just as a seeker, as someone who eventually developed that strong urge  to explore beyond the physical world. I am not a follower of any particular spiritual ideology or Guru ji as such, though I respect them all.

I will share my experience of visiting Sadhguru’s Isha Yoga Centre and will try answering questions that seem to generally bother people – Is there really something Divine there? Will you automatically start meditating there for hours? Is there any undesired commercialization? etc.

The background

Rajeev Sharma  and KK  Sharma, two of the people dearest to me, knowingly or unknowingly triggered that first restlessness in me about spirituality about a year ago. Though their approaches towards meditation were relatively different, yet both seemed to eventually converge at the same point.

Spirituality, for most beginners, commences with the excitement of wanting to know the unknown. However, this mystic infatuation with meditation /spirituality lasts for a few days until one switches attention to something new and more exciting when the meditation just doesn’t seem to work despite one’s best efforts. Hence one very conveniently concludes,  “Life is anyway short,  just go with the flow and enjoy your pizza, mate!”  I, and the people around me also probably thought that I would go down the same lane.

But I was wrong!

Here I was at Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s ashram, after a year of lengthy discussions, some deep digging into books/media and watching lots of videos related to this quest of  ‘going beyond the physical world’.

Why Sadhguru?

As stated at the outset, I am not associated with any particular spiritual group/institution as such and I will probably be happy to keep it that way. But of all the people that I heard, read and saw on various platforms, I was drawn towards Sadhguru for what he spoke – every single word just made so much sense. And after going through a few books of Sadhguru, I decided to take a leap of faith, straight to Sadhguru’s ‘energy centre’.

Blessings at 36000 ft

About an hour or so on my flight to Coimbatore from New Delhi, just as I started to feel a little uncomfortable, I was shifted from standard seats to the ones adjacent to the emergency exit door (with relatively better leg room ) as all those seats were unoccupied and probably because I was the only one on the flight travelling alone. Then, I was the first to be served the wonderful corporate meal. Very small incidents, but since I was on a spiritual travel, I concluded, as I enjoyed my paneer wrap, that Sadhguru’s magic had begun.

The first few hours

“Namaskaram Anna!” These polite words welcomed me as I entered the beautiful premises of the Isha Yoga Centre, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s meditation centre at Coimbatore.

The people at the Help Desk at the main entrance were really very helpful and they quickly completed all the formalities and handed over an ID card which read ‘Nadhi’ (Cottage) beside my name.

On my way to my room at Nadhi cottage, I could feel the extremely soothing vibes as everyone there was so calm and smiling. After checking into my room, I immediately rushed through the map and the instruction leaflet which had information about the various activities that happen throughout the day at the centre.

Testing my luck

Soon after checking in, I was informed that it was Poornima (full moon night) that day and hence a special pooja was scheduled in the evening at the Linga Bhairavi temple in the premises.

I was really happy at the thought of participating in a special pooja that I had not even been aware of! “Sadhguru’s magic, Rahul, Sadhguru’s magic”,  I whispered to myself.

And since everything seemed to be going so well that day, with utmost excitement I decided to ask the obvious question, “Will I meet Sadhguru? Will he be there?”

“No Anna,” said the guy at the help desk very politely, “Though Sadhguru is in the ashram today,  yesterday only he met everyone at Satsang and since his diary is full of meetings/work assignments planned months ago, your meeting looks unlikely”.

I felt a bit sad. But since there were still three more days to go, I was still hopeful.

Amidst these thoughts, I headed straight to the Linga Bhairavi temple. Actually, when you reach Isha Yoga Centre, your eyes immediately begin searching for the two popular mystic energy spots – the Linga Bhairavi temple and of course, the energy powerhouse, the Dhyanalinga, located besides the latest attraction, the 112 ft Adiyogi statue (unveiled by the honorable Prime Minister in March 2017). One wishes to be in these spots as quickly as possible and preferably at all the three at the same time which, at least for now, is definitely beyond my capabilities (though with continued meditation, who knows)! Such was my excitement, having read so much about the mystic meditative energy around these spots.

Linga Bhairavi temple

Around 7 pm, on my way to the Linga Bhairavi temple for the special pooja , I passed by the Dhyanalinga. As so much was happening in my first hours at the centre, my thoughts almost froze and I was just witnessing everything, including the Dhyanlinga without any judgement or feeling, just kind of numbly, you can say.

As I reached the Linga Bhairavi temple, hundreds of shining ghee (clarified butter) lamps greeted me. It all looked so spectacular that I literally didn’t bat an eyelid for a few seconds. As everyone calmly sat down and took their positions, pooja and mantra chants began and I actually felt a rush of energy just sitting there.

Source: lingabhairavi.org

Linga Bhairavi, in the words of Sadhguru, is an extremely powerful feminine energy form which is very responsive for people seeking prosperity and well-being. But there is a spiritual side to Linga Bhairavi Devi as well. As I learnt from various people at the ashram, those who find it difficult to meditate when sitting in front of the Dhyanalinga, are advised to first spend some time at the Linga Bhairavi temple as the energy there helps one to focus, and is especially beneficial during the very initial days of meditation.

Dhyanalinga

The Dhyanalinga, in the words of Sadhguru, is the largest mercury based living linga (a form or symbol) in the world which is the centre of infinite energy. In spiritual terms, in the Dhyanalinga, all aspects of life have been woven in the form of seven chakras energized to their peak and locked by Sadhguru after three years of the intense process of prana prathistha.

The Dhyanalinga is enshrined in a dome shaped structure of earth colour and natural stone and is in fact considered to be the best spot to meditate by the ashram-ites, because the energy of the Dhyanlinga is said to naturally aid you in your dhyan (meditation).

So much has been said and written about the unbound energy around the Dhyanalinga that for many, including myself, the Dhyanalinga is the primary reason to visit Isha Yoga Centre, at least for the first visit.

Adiyogi

Shiva is, as we know, among the most popular and widely worshiped Indian Gods. However, after digging into the origins of yoga and meditation, including some of Sadhguru’s writings, I learnt that in yogic culture, Shiva is not considered to be a God but the first yogi – the originator of yoga and the first guru (teacher) who experienced what we call ‘Enlightenment’ and Samadhi for the first time.

Hence, as a mark of respect and as a reminder to the world to move towards liberation through exploring the inner instead of the outer world, Sadhguru consecrated the 112 ft tall face of Adiyogi.

While I didn’t find anyone meditating in front of or around Adiyogi’s huge bust, there was hardly anyone visiting Isha Yoga Centre that did not spend 5-10 minutes in Adiyogi’s  vicinity.

The Teerthakunds – Suryakund and Chandrakund

 

There are two Teerthakunds or sacred water pools for purifying oneself within the Dhyanalinga complex – Suryakund for men and Chandrakund for women.

I can obviously speak of the Suryakund only that I visited, which itself looks like a divine water pool with three Shivalingas immersed in water. Ideally, men are supposed to take a dip at the Suryakund  before going for meditation at the Dhyanalinga or the Linga Bhairavi temple. On the first day, I went there just for the sake of adventure but because of the powerful energy that I felt there, I could not help but take the holy bath again and again, even just before check-out.

The strong presence of the king cobra

Image credit: author

No matter where you are at Isha Yoga Centre or whatever direction you are facing, you can very strongly feel the presence of snakes (namely, king cobra) in various forms – be it representations on lamps, walls, pillars, at the Suryakund, or at the Dhyanalinga. On inquiring, I learnt that Sadhguru considers snakes, especially the king cobra to be the most sensitive animal/reptile when it comes to meditative energy. Sadhguru has also mentioned about this in his book Mystic’s Musings.

Besides, since the Velliangiri Hills, where the Isha Yoga Centre is situated, are reportedly home to king cobras, the original inhabitants, in a way, Sadhguru has paid tribute to them.

Luckily, I too spotted a beautiful water snake, swimming his way through the lotuses in the pond between the Nandi statue and the Suryakund.

Image credit: livingwiseproject.com

 

My experience

First things first, of all the locations/energy spots at the Isha Yoga Centre mentioned above, for me the Linga Bhairavi temple definitely needs another mention as I spent the maximum amount of time there and not exactly by choice. I mean there is something really very magnetic there, something very soothing and very, very positive, that keeps pulling you and you just can’t resist going there.

Sitting right in front of Linga Bhairavi Devi, I could actually meditate for the longest time. More than the duration, it’s the feeling that engulfed me while meditating there. On the one hand, I was kind of blank, absolutely calm while at the very same time I could feel extreme joy and an unfamiliar sort of power within. Until my last day there, I could not get enough of meditation at the Linga Bhairavi temple. That mystic feeling is still with me.

As for the Dhyanalinga, I had read so much about it before going to Coimbatore that I had almost made up my mind in advance that as soon as I would sit near the Dhyanalinga, I would feel something out of the world, something really Divine. But honestly and unfortunately, I didn’t feel anything of that sort. Yes, the whole ambiance around the Dhyanalinga is very peaceful and calm with everyone sitting in sadhana completely in peace and I too went to sit there again and again, at least 8-9 times in three days, to have that out-of-the-world feeling that some people have written about online, but I was probably not fortunate enough. In fact, as I have mentioned above, I could feel strange energy goosebumps (giving a feeling of extreme joy) at the Linga Bhairavi temple and even while chanting mantras at the Suryakund, but not at the Dhyanalinga.

FAQs

Finally to answer some common questions as promised at the start of the article:

  • Is there really something Divine there?  Divine I don’t know but yes, I felt an extreme rush of positive energy at some spots, especially at the Linga Bhairavi temple.
  • Will you  see something beyond the physical there? I myself didn’t see or feel anything of that sort.
  • Will you automatically start meditating there for hours? The whole atmosphere at the Isha Yoga Centre is such that meditation is all that you think of while there.
  • What exactly is taught at the Isha Yoga Centre? There are a number of yoga programmes of varied durations happening there. Primarily, introductory programmes include Inner Engineering and Hatha Yoga while advanced programmes include Shoonya Intensive, Bhava Spandana and Samyama. Details about these programmes are available here. I didn’t attend any programme as such but one can still participate in a number of activities even without attending any programme. Among the various things that I saw and learnt there, Aumkar meditation  (the correct way of uttering the sounds “Aa” , “Uu” and “Mm” ) and the knowledge about the  various scientific facts hidden in the Mahabharta are really worth mentioning. Besides, I am now addicted to the Nirvana Shatkam mantra and the Brahmanand Swaroopa Isha chant. They are mesmerising, really.
  • Is there any undesired commercialization?  No, not at all. This was one concern that a few people have written about online and in fact it was also bothering me. But I am happy to write here that there is no culture of commercialisation at Isha Yoga centre. No one asks you for donation anywhere, except for a mere Rs.20 at the Suryakund which I think is legitimate for the maintenance required there.
  • Is it fine to travel with family? What about food? There are absolutely no issues here. It’s just that you go to such a place for a specific purpose, to spend maximum time meditating and hence kids can be a distraction, otherwise the stay is extremely safe and comfortable. You can book your stay at Nalanda or Nadhi cottages based on your requirement. As for the food, two meals a day are covered in your stay where you will be served simple and healthy South Indian food. For the compulsive foodies like myself, there is Peppervine Eatery within the premises which offers various delicious dishes / deserts / fresh fruit juices at a  nominal price.  
Image credit: author

On a lighter note…

My three days were very well spent at the Isha Yoga Centre, although it would probably have been an altogether different experience had I met Sadhguru.

Nevertheless, many old questions were answered, some new ones started sprouting but a phone call at the time of check-out brought me back to square one. It was my lovely wife Nishtha. “Coimbatore’s silk sarees are world famous,” she said. I was supposed to understand the rest and act accordingly. Which I obviously did, to make sure that inner peace is maintained back home!

 

Read this and other articles in the LivingWise Project Digest – available as an ebook and a glossy coffee table magazine

 

 

See also: Winding through the Streets of Sanskardhani, Jabalpur
See also: 7 Amazing Shiva Chants/Songs
See also: Life is Inclusiveness – Sadhguru

 

Meatless in Korea: Vegan Survival Guide

Koreans love their rice, a necessary staple at every meal, but they also love their BBQ. It’s no secret that meat, dairy, and seafood are widely consumed in Korea. In fact, many Koreans are unfortunately under the illusion that meat, dairy, and seafood are integral parts of a healthy diet.

From my observations, a contributing factor to this disillusion is collectivism vs. individualism. An integral part of Korean culture is living community-oriented lives where sameness is encouraged and differences are concealed, for fear of being shamed. Given their collective approach, it doesn’t come as a surprise that many are ignorant when it comes to meatless diets and the reasons why people choose to go meatless. However I must note that they do understand those who abstain for religious reasons.

Prior to moving here, I researched online and became educated on the challenges I’d face if I pursued a vegan lifestyle.  It seemed likely that it would require extreme effort to be vegan while sustaining my health. As a result, I made a conscious decision to eat a mostly vegetarian diet with a little seafood on occasion, so in other words, pescatarian. Although I’m in rural Korea, I have found a way to make it work and it’s not as difficult as you may think. Don’t get me wrong, there are many instances when I’m frustrated with the situation, but if you adopt a diet similar to mine, then it’s feasible. And even a vegan diet is doable.

Here are some pearls of wisdom that will help you along the way and things you should remain aware of:

1. They really don’t get it.

Many Koreans truly don’t understand the concept. And I’m really not trying to be rude or crass, it’s just the reality. Eating meatless isn’t a diet their culture entirely supports. Not to mention, children aren’t typically exposed to empathy or compassion towards livestock. In their eyes, raising animals for food consumption is just the way of life. You will come across some who understand what a “vegetarian” is, but even so, it’s not widely accepted because of collectivism. They will be polite, but don’t be surprised if your reasons are questioned. On a rare occasion, you may even feel judgmental vibes emanating from an individual who asks. Generally speaking though, Koreans are more so interested in your reasons.

One thing that is particularly alarming is their lack of acknowledgement when it comes to the connection between the meat industry and climate change. Koreans are extremely passionate about the environment and take drastic measures to participate in the global awareness surrounding global warming, hence the hypocrisy is a bit ironic.

2. School lunches are vegetarian friendly.

This is purely based on my experiences working at two schools. Lunches contain meat on most days, but it is generally easy to eat around. Luckily for us herbivores, Korea has this amazing thing called 반찬 (banchan) or, in other words, side dishes. Most of the side dishes are vegetable based, so on days where meat is the focal dish, you can load up on extra banchan. Sometimes they’ll even make a vegetarian version of meat dishes.

Related: are veggies living-wiser?

3. Beware of any hidden ingredients.

Korea is infamous for including ingredients in dishes that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in there. For example, I bought a vegetable croquette one time and when I opened it up at home, can you guess what I discovered? Meat. It may not be characteristic of you to ask a lot of questions, but don’t be afraid to inquire when you’re purchasing something that you’re going to be ingesting. There’s no harm in asking, especially if it’s due to dietary restrictions.

4. Examine everything (even after questioning).

There have been a number of instances when I’ve ordered something, questioned the cashier, and somehow still ended up with meat in my dish.

There was a time when I ordered a curry dish, asked if it contained any meat, was told no, and it turns out there was ground beef in the sauce. Luckily I caught them in time and instead was served meatless sauce they had set aside. In the end, the dish contained bits of beef here and there, but I still ate it anyways – just took some extra time to meticulously pick around the meat.

Korea is notorious for these mishaps, so for those of you who are strict vegans, I highly recommend that you double, triple, and quadruple check everything before taking a bite.

5 . Tofu is readily available.

So don’t worry! You’ll find tofu in many soups and side dishes. Grocery stores are always fully stocked in that department. Although you may be sick of it towards the end of your stay, know that endless tofu scrambles are always an option. You’ve got to get your protein somehow!

6. Even at BBQ restaurants, you can order bibimbap (비빔밥).

Every single BBQ place I’ve been to has had bibimbap on their menu. It’s a really nice option because BBQ is an extremely popular group activity, so everyone can join in regardless of their lifestyle choices.

7 . If you’re exclusively vegan, living in rural Korea will be a challenge.

Kimchi

Firstly, kimchi is everywhere and as delicious as it is, it contains fish sauce. Secondly, seafood is commonly found in school lunches and if you’re already excluding meat, then your options are pretty scarce. Thirdly, eating out will pose several challenges because of everything I’ve discussed thus far. Even bibimbap includes kimchi in the mix (more often than not).

In order to make it work, you’d probably have to supplement school lunches with food from home or better yet, pack your own lunch altogether. And when eating out, you should identify a couple dishes you know you can eat, no problem, and stick to those.

8. The 5 survival words you should know.

  • i] Let’s start with the obvious. Vegetable = 야채 (yachae)
  • ii] The next obvious, is meat. Meat = 고기 (gogi)
  • iii] When asking if a dish has a certain ingredient, for example meat, you would use the word 있어요 (isseoyo). Bibimbap sometimes contains meat, so you would say “bibimbap, gogi isseoyo?” Which quite literally means, is there meat in the bibimbap? If the person’s response is “isseoyo,” that means there is meat in the bibimbap.
  • iv] However, if the response is 없어요 (upsseoyo), this means the bibimbap does not have meat. You’re safe to go, most likely.
  • v] Most importantly, without = 빼고 (bbaego). So if the response is isseoyo, then you would say “bibimbap, gogi bbaego juseyo” or in English words, I want the bibimbap without meat please.

9. Practice self-compassion, always.

You may be the strictest vegan in the world, but you’re going to have to make some sacrifices here and there and be okay with compromising at times. You may think you’re doing a fantastic job at avoiding certain things, but chances are you’ve accidentally and unknowingly inhaled some byproduct or trace of meat somewhere along the way. And it’s just something you have to swallow, literally and figuratively, and be okay with.

You can only do the best that you can do. If that means being okay with the lunch ladies using the meat ladle for your vegetable version of the dish or being gracious if you find a piece of meat in your meal or whatever it may be for you, then great. The more you can surrender and simultaneously love yourself despite the slip ups, the better off you’ll be.

Know that you’re already doing the world and animals a great service and enormous deed by dedicating your life to eliminating meat consumption, so if it becomes too difficult and you need to include seafood or some other food group or byproduct to maintain a balanced diet while you’re in Korea, then that’s okay. Be content with minimizing.

No matter what anyone says, you are healing the world and making a difference by choosing this lifestyle. Given your limited control over outside influences, work with what you can. Take pride in your choices and be good to yourself. Most of all, practice self-compassion every single day.

you might also like: A Sanctuary of Peace Atop a Bangkok Hill

A version of this article was originally published on EPIK e-Press.

A Sanctuary of Peace Atop a Bangkok Hill

Bangkok is truly a city that never sleeps. At all hours of the day and night, tuk tuks and bright pink taxis zip past street food stalls loaded with steaming pots of tom yum kung. Street sellers hawk their wares, ranging from illegal copies of blockbuster movies to counterfeit Nike sneakers. Wrinkly old women brew potions made of Chinese herbs in the city’s traditional pharmacies. Bangkok is modern and traditional, Asian and Western, all at the same time. There is a buzz and energy to the city that can be matched by few other metropolises. This has made the Thai capital into not only a favourite tourist destination, but also a hub for art and design that attracts creative minds from all over the world.

 

Read this article & more in the LivingWise Project Digest