Places and people have various vibrations. That is why places of pilgrimage are so wonderful, where people think of God and have left their spiritual vibrations.
There’s no need to tell you, my Self, of the blessings and benefits of pilgrimage for anyone seeking to return home (in no way paradoxical). The constant quest to find you, my Self, should be easier in such places. In moments of stillness, You revealed to me how to tune into the vibrations of place, how to lift up the heart to receive the blessings left by saints, how to remain inwardly absorbed. Yet how easily, how quickly, the pilgrim may become a tourist. Perhaps, after all, it’s not easier to find you in such places. Perhaps it requires more energy, more concentration, more stillness – as when meditating in noisy surroundings – to open to the blessings all around. Is this, then, the challenge of pilgrimage? You, my Self, simply gaze at me, with that same serene and compassionate smile, like a tiny Buddha.
Today, you and I bathed in the Ganges’ purifying (and pure) waters at Vashista Guha in the Himalayan foothills. You, my Self, told me Ma Ganga would wash away my sins like a mother washes her child to make him clean. And, silent and attentive, I listened to you. Though I’ve also heard some sages say that the sins wait for you with your clothes on the river bank, ready for you to don them again. Nevertheless, you assure me that the effort, the intention, the change of direction, the energy you put out count for much. I hope you’re right, my Self, as you invariably (and so irritatingly) are.
Why, my Self, were you so silent today? Or wasn’t I listening carefully enough? It was difficult, my ego was making a lot of noise. At her ashram in Haridwar, Anandamayi Ma spoke to me about you. Softly, but so clearly, she whispered deep inside me: “In order to find your Self, progress along your own path, in your own rhythm.” So please be patient my Self. I may be slow but I’m coming…
After Babaji has been in one locality for some time, he says to his followers: “Dera danda uthao” (Let us lift our camp and staff), as Yogananda tells us in his Autobiography of a Yogi. We, too, my Self, must lift our camp in Rishikesh today and move on. I’ve had to send our belongings ahead… our bags were so full of blessings.
All day today, in Varanasi, I indulged my senses: so many intoxicating sights, sounds, smells, tastes… It was a good thing that you, my Self, were keeping a close watch on me so I didn’t take a wrong turn and lose my way. I almost walked past the door to Lahiri Mahasaya’s house and the doorway to Kriya Yoga in the modern age. How many Masters have entered through that door? How many thousands of Lahiri’s devotees? Today the door is locked but the doorway is open. I know that if I enter, you, my Self, will be waiting there for me.
Pandemonium is a word that readily comes to mind in Varanasi. It’s a word coined by Milton in Paradise Lost to denote the place of all demons, from pan-(all) + daimōn (demon in Greek). But daimōn in Greek doesn’t necessarily have evil connotations. Socrates, for example, was always conversing with his inner demon, rather like I talk to you, my Self, and each place in ancient Greece had its own demon (guardian spirit) or deva as they’re called here. Today, we encountered many such “demons” or “spirits of place” in Varanasi: a veritable pandemonium.
This morning, at Tulsi Bose’s house in Kolkata, I listened attentively, together with my Self, to a story from Yogananda’s childhood. When, still a boy, Yogananda wanted to make a friend of Tulsi Bose, who was noted for his athletic prowess, he asked Tulsi Bose to run with him. The rest of the story and how they became bosom childhood friends was not what resonated with me. Rather it was the invitation of Yogananda to run with him; to be a spiritual athlete. I would smile (compassionately) at anyone who told me they wanted to run in an Olympic event but who didn’t train long hours every day or follow the advice of a qualified trainer, or adopt a suitable lifestyle and diet and be willing to sacrifice a great deal (everything?) to achieve their goal. Maybe that’s why you, my Self, smile (compassionately) at me when I tell you I want to run with Yogananda, to be completely victorious (sanjaya) and to win you as my prize.
Yesterday our pilgrimage took us to the Yogoda Satsang Society (SRF) centre in Kolkata and today to the corresponding centre in Dakshineswar. I wept silently with my Self before Param(a)hansa Yogananda and Buddha and Christ and so many other Masters at the follies of their disciples. Paraphrasing Einstein: “Two things are infinite: the universe and the follies of the human ego; and I’m not sure about the universe!” Om Master!
A temple now stands where Swami Sri Yukteswar’s ashram at Serampore once was. It was in this ashram that Yogananda spent some ten years of his early life under the training and discipline of his guru. You, my Self, promptly tell me to put aside any romantic thoughts of my living, too, beside Sri Yukteswar. Great Masters are mighty not meek, You say. Would I have survived those daily humbling blows to my vanity, to my ego, from the Lion of Bengal or would I have been one of the many disciples who departed, “preferring life’s countless humiliations before any humility”? At least I can offer a humble pronam to the Guru, while, in my right ear, a familiar voice whispers: “Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.”
Already this pilgrimage with you, my Self, is drawing to a close. Perhaps that’s why you had little to say to me today. And like this, in your ever subtle way, you reminded me of the words of Lahiri’s disciple, Bhupendranath Sanyal Mahasaya, whose ashram in Puri we visited today: “Practice observing silence or speak only a little. Where there are many words, mistakes are inevitable. Keep control over your tongue, to gain control over your life.” Amen to that!
Together, we paid a final visit to the ashram of Sri Yukteswar in Puri, which still vibrates with his wise words of counsel to every devoted pilgrim. You, my Self, echoed his words inside me, reminding me once again of the four corner-stones of every spiritual path: Sadhana (spiritual practices), Satsang (the company of other spiritual seekers), Seva (service) and Swadhyaya ([self-]study). And as our pilgrimage together comes to an end, you’ve taught me that one of the not so obvious blessings of a group pilgrimage is the power of Satsang. If, my Self, I’m a little closer to you, it’s partly because I’m also closer to a group of pilgrim souls previously unknown to me that are seeking, like me, the (one) Self. And why should I be surprised by this? “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).
And throughout these days, I’ve been asking you the same question, my Self, but still you haven’t answered me. Why is meditation so much easier in India? In spite of such clamor, such chaos, such stimuli for the senses! Could the energy be subtler here? Is that it? Or is it the vibration of a land steeped in devotion? Or maybe the powerful magnetism of so many Masters who passed this way? In his poem “My India”, Yogananda writes: “Her sages taught me to find my Self / Buried beneath the ash heaps / Of incarnations and ignorance…”. And during this short pilgrimage with you, my Self, in the footsteps of the Masters, we took a lot of steps together in holy places. We may even have taken a few steps closer to each other.
Beloved Masters, I humbly bow before you all…