My blog site has been shifted to a new platform. The url for the new site is mum.edu/reflective-writing.

I hope you’ll join me there. My old posts are archived there and I am adding new posts weekly.

Dara

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Leaving India

Doesn’t seem possible that we have been in India almost five weeks and we’re leaving tonight. While at the clinic, it has been an honor to see and be treated by Dr. Raju, the renowned Ayurvedic physician. Linda describes his presence as feeling like father is at home. We honor him. Our thanks to all the staff here who have made us feel so welcome and well cared for during our stay.

One highlight of our last week here was the opportunity to hear the lovely Lucas sisters sing ragas one afternoon. Ragas are a traditional form of Indian songs that are lyrical and often have complex musical runs. The pure, clear voices of Kamala and Jahnavi Lucas brought bliss and joy to hearts. I look forward to hearing tapes of their performances. If I had had no other experience in India, that performance would have made the trip worthwhile.

Lastly, I want to say good-bye to all the wonderful people we met while at the clinic. When we left, I rushed off to straighten some things out at the front desk, forgetting I wouldn’t have another chance to say farewell to everyone. So now I take the opportunity to say good-bye. I hope our paths cross again. In the meantime, befriend me on Facebook, if you are so inclined, and we can stay connected.

Then it’s time for the airport and a last goodbye to the welcoming elephants.

 

 

 

 

And a day later, I am home with my buddies, Dudley and Sebastian. They are getting used to my being back, and I am getting used to being in my own laws of nature. Meanwhile, my laptop, my garbage disposal, and my land-line phone are not working–a  little chaos spilling out of the transition to home, but it feels good, and so do I.

India, I wish you the full sunshine of the Age of Enlightenment. Namaste.

 

 

Images: All photos except last two courtesy of Richard Furlough.

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Maharishi Vedic Pandits…the Sounds of Heaven on Earth

Guest post by Richard Furlough.

What a gift Maharishi Ayurvedic Hospital in Delhi now provides by sponsoring five Vedic pandits to come daily and chant the Vedas in the more refined and correct way as recommended and taught by Maharishi. They live at the Maharishi ashram in Noida, and generally arrive around 10:30 each morning (except Sundays) to begin a 2-3 hour ceremony of honoring various aspects of creation through symbolic offerings and Sanskrit recitation of the Vedic scriptures.

These five young Brahmin men range in age from 23 to 32 and all began training under Maharishi’s guidance as young boys. (One must be born into the Brahmin caste of India in order to become a pandit and recite the Vedas.) Two of them have spent three years with the group of 600 up to 900 pandits in Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa.

 

The largest group of Maharishi Vedic pandits numbers in the thousands at the brahmasthan (geographic center) of India south of Jabalpur in the state of Madhya Pradesh where they live and perform daily rudrabhishek in large groups for the welfare of the entire world.

As soon as my morning panchakarma treatment is over at about 10:00, I go back to my room and shower, then I’m off to a nearby park to pick a tray of flowers. Of course, the pandits always bring plenty of flowers for the day’s ceremony, but it makes me feel good to play a small part, and the pandits are always delighted.

 

During the ceremony, one of the pandits serves as the leader, making the offerings and controlling the tempo of the recitation, while the other four assist in any way they can…it might be arranging trays of flowers and fruit, handing offerings to the leader, or whatever else is needed. The cooperation and respect between all members of the group is readily apparent.

During my first few visits, I was torn between keeping my eyes open to watch what the pandits were doing or closing them and letting the Sanskrit sounds wash over me. Now I prefer to close my eyes most of the time and experience what I call “lively transcendence”. The harmonies and volume rise and fall, ranging from ripples gently lapping the shore to waves crashing against the shore, and I experience bliss. There also seem to be some discordant parts during the recitation that I think are intentional and serve some purpose. When I open my eyes, the world around me is crystalline clear and glowing. Needless to say, I spend as much time as I am able listening to the pandits while they are here each day.

The pandits also perform special ceremonies for auspicious days in the Vedic calendar. We were able to participate in such ceremonies for Guru Purnima on July 22, and also for Shivaratri the first Monday in August (considered the month of Shiva).

 

 

They also perform yagyas, one of which I was privileged to take part in. This one was also on the first Monday in August.

How fortunate are these men in fulfilling their true dharma (righteous duty) in life. And how fortunate are we to have the opportunity to experience this fulfillment. Jai Guru Dev.

“The whole physical universe is the expression of Vedic sounds—Total Natural Law reverberates in these sounds. We want to establish and properly maintain in India several groups of 8,000 Vedic Pandits reciting these Vedic sounds to enliven the evolutionary power of Total Natural Law in every grain of creation to soothe our stress-ridden world and bring order to the disorderly state of world consciousness.” —Maharishi, January 22, 2003

Images: Photos courtesy of Richard Furlough.

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The Evolving Dinner Table

Our dinner table companions are an evolving international group. Homelands represented include Singapore, an island off Mauritius, Bali, England, Germany, France (Brittany), Iran, Argentina (by way of Skelmersdale and Dubai), and—claiming the largest percentage—Australia and New Zealand.

 

Some people have been coming to the Ayurvedic clinic in Delhi for years; others, like I, are here for the first time. Some are long-time meditators; others know little about TM; while still others practice other forms of meditation.  Some have simply heard about it from a friend. All come with interesting stories and backgrounds to share.

One interesting family includes David and Eva Lucas and their two lovely daughters. The family has lived in India for four years, using the time to tour all around India while their daughters finish their schooling via the Internet. The knowledge they share about India is fascinating and helpful.

 

Another companion, Cora from Argentina via Skelmersdale and Dubai, has been coming here for years. She knows all the “ins” and “outs” of the clinic and kindly shares that knowledge.

 

 

Cora has an “in” with the cook Bijender and talked him into making delicious noodles one night for everyone (the food is always wonderful). When Cora left, her lovely sister Ana joined us, and we continue to enjoy this family.

 

 

One dinner companion, a charming young Frenchman named Denis from Brittany, plays the sitar and entertains everyone who sits next to him at dinner. A slim, quicksilver individual, Denis devours five chapattis at each  meal and questions why I don’t  eat more!

 

Another charming man from New Zealand, named Mark, one minute tells us about his pregnant wife and the next explains the rules of cricket to us. You may remember Mark from a previous post when he served as our face-pack model.

 

 

Our dinner population shifts as people arrive and depart, but meals always provide a pleasant, social conviviality that everyone looks forward to during the day. Good food. Charming companions. The good life far from home.

Images: Photos courtesy of Richard Furlough.

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Panchakarma is Not for Sissies

My first forays into panchakarma were two-day treatments over weekends that mainly consisted of abhyangas (think hot oil massages) and bastis (think enemas). My friend Linda describes full-course panchakarma as more like boot camp. You need to be geared up and ready to go, and then the treatments just keep coming.

 

My treatment day begins at 8:30 with a hot oil massage followed by an herbalized steam treatment, and then a buttermilk head bath streamed in a curving pattern on the forehead. Today, however, this routine was broken by a patra potli massage (I always hear paltry poultry), which consists of being ironed or massaged with big bags of herbs soaked in hot oil.

 

The next treatment, after lunch, is called the “doughnut” treatment. Initially, I was hopeful because of the name, but the technicians simply create two circular cradles of dough, one over the heart and one over the stomach, and each is filled with hot oil. Another part of this treatment is the face pack that smells like fermented apples, after which, one rests for about 20 minutes, and then has the messy task of cleaning the face pack off with a spoon. On some days, a third treatment consisting of a milk basti with herbs completes the afternoon.

After dinner, the last treatment consists of another basti, plus oil in the ears, herbal pads on the eyes, and herbalized ghee on the head (tied on with a blue bow), hands, and feet. The treatment day is now finished.

 

 

So far, we are about halfway through the course and I am becoming more used to the treatments. The ladies who are my technicians, Sunita, Shashi, and Indira, are wonderful–kind, caring, and very professional. I feel in good hands even if the course is rigorous.

Ever onward!

Images: Face-pack model is Kiwi, Mark De Goldi, who was kind enough to pose. Photos and night treatment model courtesy of Richard Furlough.

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The Ganges, an Earlier Highlight

One highlight of this trip for me has been the River Ganges itself. The Ganges is a wide, brown river, much like the Mississippi and about the same size. The first night in Varanasi, we stayed at the Alka Hotel, which sits right on the river, literally. The hotel has multiple terraces and balconies that give one an unobstructed view of the Ganges, both immediately below and up and down river.

A ghat (stone steps) runs down beside the hotel on the right to the water itself. All morning I watched people travel down the steps to bathe and wash clothes.

 

 

 

I stood with Munna, the assistant manager of the hotel, watching the river. Munna is a Brahman in his mid-30s whose parents want him to marry. A devotee of Shiva, he is a bright, spiritual person.

 

 

Standing on the terrace above the river, he pointed out three large plants growing there in pots: one was a young banyon tree, the second was holy basil (tulsi), and the third, whose name I’ve forgotten, he said was always planted near courts, and if the tree shed on a man while he was being tried, he was presumed quilty.

 

When we left the hotel, Munna insisted that Linda and I go back to the terrace above the river and offer this prayer: “Mother Ganga, we pray that you will allow us to return once again and worship at your side.”

Since my wish to stick my feet in the Ganges has been unfulfilled, perhaps Munna’s prayer will offer me another chance.

Images: All photos except first courtesy of Richard Furlough.

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Early Mornings in Bharat Mata

Guest post by Richard Furlough. 

Of my varied experiences while traveling through India, some of the most surprising and memorable have been during the hours just before dawn when I’m out walking and exploring this beloved country. Whether participating in the elaborate mahamangala harati ceremony performed at 4:30 every morning at Sri Sailem Jyotir Ling Temple in southern India, taking a dip in the Ganges River from its rocky beach before it enters Rishikesh in northern India, or simply picking flowers in a Delhi park for 5:30 puja, something unexpected and special awaits.

It was no different my first morning in Varanasi. Upon arriving in this ancient and most holy of cities the previous afternoon, the Ganges was in flood stage from the monsoon rains. The red flags were flying up and down the waterfront which meant that no boats were allowed on the river. The ghats leading steeply from the city proper perched on a bluff down to the waters of the river itself were completely submerged.

By this particular morning, however, the Ganges had receded somewhat such that the upper portions of the ghats were revealed, and I was able to head north along the river by holding onto the iron railing separating the city from the river and jumping over mini-crevasses created by the floodwaters.

 

As the sun breached the horizon on the other side of the Ganges on this overcast morning, I came upon a pandit performing his morning puja to either Shiva or Ma Ganga, and stopped to watch and meditate.

 

 

There were also two Indian men performing their morning ablutions in the river. After about half an hour, I decided to act on a thought that I had during meditation, and retraced my steps back to the hotel to retrieve one of my traveling companions so that we could return to the same spot and perform our traditional puja to the Holy Tradition. A stiff breeze blowing from the river made it impossible to light our incense so the pandit offered some that he had formed by rolling it between his hands and that was already lit.

After puja and after meditating for awhile, another Brahmin man who had witnessed our puja asked several questions about the Holy Tradition picture, then offered to take us to his silk company’s shop located in the family’s home nearby.

We began to climb the ancient steps into Varanasi, passing the Nepali Temple before entering the narrow alleys that characterize much of this city. We passed by many open doors that revealed by sight and sound the city’s inhabitants beginning the new day.

 

 

Upon arriving at the family’s home, we were immediately ushered to a small window that looked down onto a below-ground shiva lingum that we were told was unearthed long ago and that was “in the history books.” After descending the steps leading to this most recognizable symbol of Shiva so that we could get closer, and coming back up, we were directed into the shop where stacks of colorful sarees and shawls filled the shelves to overflowing.

We were served chai before the assistants began to open their wares in front of us by flinging them into the air where they settled at our feet. After making our selections, then some good natured bargaining during which we laughed frequently, we were escorted to an ATM so that I could withdraw enough rupees to pay for my purchases. I decided that even if I had paid too much, that I had had a good time doing it!

My gifts this particular early morning were being a part of the ancient and daily ritual of recognition and adoration of some of the seemingly infinite aspects of creation…doesn’t matter that some call it Ganga or Shiva, it’s all the same…and being welcomed into a family’s home where I caught intimate glances into the daily lives of the inhabitants of this land that I have come to think of as my second home. Oh, and another gift of this day was finding my camera still atop the ATM where I realized I had left it after getting back to the hotel!

Bharat Mata, what future secrets will you see fit to reveal to me on future early morning perambulations? You are teaching me to be a more patient man and I am always grateful.

Images: First photo courtesy of Linda Castillon.

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My Traveling Companions

I have known my traveling companions, Linda Castillon and Richard Furlough, for many years. We have mainly lived in different parts of the country but connected in Texas, North Carolina, and Fairfield. We also connected because all three of us are cat people. I won’t say how many cats we have among us, but it’s quite a few.

 

I met Linda in Houston in the early 80s while I was visiting my friend Jane. Years later, when I was back in Asheville, NC, I called up the TM Center and discovered that Linda was the chair there. Richard called me a short time later, having just moved to Andrews, NC. So we went to potlucks, discussed our cats, and renewed our friendships.

Linda is the soul of grace and loveliness. I’ve never seen her other than kind, caring, thoughtful, and hospitable. Even when she is discouraging the beggars and hucksters on the streets of India, she does it with grace and respect. Her closest feline friend, Lucille, passed during our trip. We were all caught in the sadness and yet had a feeling of rightness because Lucille was almost seventeen.

Richard, I’ve known since the mid-70s, first in Chapel Hill, when he moved into the TM Center where I was living, and later again in Asheville. Richard is the personification of strength, drive, and organizing ability. 

 

 

Richard is also the soul of generosity, gifting both Linda and me with this transforming trip. Richard has the trip planned down to the last detail, carries the luggage, and chats up every person we meet. He walks into a group of strangers and leaves with everyone smiling and laughing. In fact, he never met a stranger. 

 

Both Richard and Linda have ready and charming social skills. I am more shy and retiring and appreciate those who charm the world around me. I can rest and be included on their waves of energy and appreciation for everyone and everything around.

I am blessed.

 

Images: Photos courtesy of Linda Castillon.

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The Taj Mahal

Scintillating beauty. White marble with precious gem inlays, set amongst green, spreading lawns and leafy, shady walkways.

 

 

 

Brilliant white against verdant greens, the mausoleum known as the Taj Mahal stands, a monument to love, perhaps, the very least to architectural beauty.

 

 

 

We trace the walkways, thankful for the shade on this very hot day, steadily moving toward the white domed building rising just ahead. We pass what is now referred to as Diana’s bench where Princess Diana had her photograph taken. The lines of people wanting to have their pictures taken there stretches back many paces.

 

We bypass the bench to gain the terrace on which the Taj sits. Richard elects to enter the mausoleum to see the crypt. Linda and I go to sit in the shade.

 

 

 

My favorite part of the day’s adventure is seeing the structure on the left when you first come into the main enclosure. The building is topped by 22 domes. A guide explained that in lieu of calculators, etc., one dome was constructed after each year of construction, and the Taj Mahal took 22 years to complete.

 

I’m wilting as we head back to the hotel. Only the next day do we learn that it had been 110 degrees under the hazy Indian sun while we had been admiring the beauty of the Taj Mahal.

 

 

Images: First, third, and fifth photos courtesy of Richard Furlough.

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Day of Obstacles

Can’t imagine what this day would have been like if Rajeesh, our driver, hadn’t bought three malas to hang around his Ganesh on the dashboard. We really needed the “Remover of Obstacles” today.

 

 

The trip from Varanasi to Agra started well with an 8:30 a.m. departure, leaving the cobblestone streets and moving onto a highway, much like an interstate in the U.S. except for the herds of cows occasionally in the middle of the road.

 

 

Fascinated by the landscape, as always, I love seeing the green squares of the rice fields.

 

 

 

We pass mango trees and Richard had to stop and buy a bag full. He was soon entertaining everyone at the roadside stand and handing out bank pens. The mangoes were incredibly sweet and delicious.

 

 

I continued landscape gazing as we drove on. We passed at least a dozen brick kilns with loads of bricks stacked around in the fields. That certainly explained all the brick structures one sees in every village.

 

 

The day began to go wrong about midday when the air conditioning in the car went out. It was in the high 90s outside. It took more than an hour to find a mechanic who worked on air conditioning, a young Muslim man in a crocheted white skull cap.

 

 

We sat under a tree at the gate to the Radiance Public School while he fixed the car.

Restored to coolness, we resumed our travels until just about 30 minutes outside of Agra. There, traffic came to a complete halt in the pouring rain. We sat in the stifling heat for more than an hour, waiting, we eventually discovered, for an ambulance to arrive for a wreck up ahead. I won’t share the details of the wreck because it’s a sad story.

Eventually traffic began to move at about 10:00 p.m., and we spend a half hour trying to find the hotel. We reach the West Gate to the Taj Mahal where our hotel is located at about 11:00. Finally, we learn this hotel is also not accessible by car, so we walk down an alley, past an obnoxious man guarding the entrance, and wearily find our rooms.

Ganesh, were you there?

Images: Photos courtesy of Richard Furlough.

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