Sunday, February 16, 2014

Coming To Rest

It is my last night at the foot of the Sacred Mountain Arunachala.

The road is entirely closed to traffic and the pilgrims continue to make their barefoot circuit while the moon is full.

A man paints the face of Lord Shiva on the road.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Giri Pradaikshina

We are drawn sometimes to things that at first seem to make no sense.  Yet when we actually fulfill this act, the importance of doing so is only then revealed.

Walking the sacred pilgrimage trail around the Arunachala mountain was something I had wanted to do the moment I first read about it many years ago. The spiritual path of Ramana Marshi I knew was not mine but still something drew me too him and his advice that walking around the mountain was an important task to perform.   It is certainly not an easy thing, and it cannot be taken lightly.

The circumambulation of Arunachala is known as Giri Pradakshina in Sanskrit and Giri Valam in Tamil. Performing pradakshina of Arunachala is considered to be beneficial in all ways. Typically, pradakshina is done in bare feet, with the Hill on the right. Sri Ramana Maharshi once explained the meaning of the word pradakshina and how it should be done by a devotee: "The letter "Pra" stands for removal of all kinds of sins; "da" stands for fulfilling the desires; "kshi" stands for freedom from future births; "na" stands for giving deliverance through jnana. If by way of Pradakshina you walk one step it gives happiness in this world, two steps, it gives happiness in heaven, three steps, it gives bliss of Satyaloka which can be attained. One should go round either in mouna (silence) or dhyana (meditation) or japa (repetition of Lord's name) or sankeertana (bhajan) and thereby think of God all the time.  Wikipedia

It is a 14 km trek and I knew that it would take me most certainly at least 2 hours or more, and when the sun came up it would get hot.  When I left my little hotel it was pitch dark and cool.  The time was just before 6.  As soon as I stepped out the door I was greeted by a quiet dog, who came towards me with his tail wagging.  

When I spoke to him he turned and then trotted ahead of me up the road leading out of the compound.  A neighbor lady had just stepped out from her house and was using fine chalk powder to draw a simple mandala on her doorstep.  It all seemed auspicious.

As I neared the main junction I became aware of a continuous parade of people moving up the main road that circles the mountain.  Mostly silent and barefoot they moved at a gentle pace.  I could not help but think that I too could do this.  I just had to release my doubts and continue.

From time to time chants filled the air, coming from speakers beside the road.  Sadhus in great number sat beside it.  Some begging, some in trance, all adding to the exquisite atmosphere that permeated the air, the night, and the road in front of me. 

What I learned only after completing the pilgrimage was that because of the full moon today was particularly auspicious.  Until much later this evening the flow of humanity would not stop.  It would at times fill the road and when you think simply there could no be more travelers, still more would come.

After 2 and a half hours I made my way back down the road to my hotel.  The sun now up the atmosphere was more agitated but I was so incredibly grateful and peaceful within.  The importance of completing this task now clear to me.

Later in the day my friends and I made the trek up to one of Sri Ramana Maharshi's early meditation caves.  The path starts just behind the ashram.

There are little shrines along the way.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


It is this mountain that has brought us to the bustling little city of Tiruvannamalai

Of course that isn't entirely correct because it is more precisely the Indian Spiritual Master Sri Ramana Maharshi who created an Ashram at its base.

At the age of sixteen, Venkataraman lost his sense of individual selfhood, an awakening which he later recognised as enlightenment.A few weeks thereafter he travelled to the holy mountain Arunachala, at Tiruvannamalai, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Another Day

There are a tiny number of these rare photographs.  Ones that show Sri Chinmoy back visiting in this world from whence he came.  A place he lived for more than 20 years at least.

My challenge today was to try and retrace his steps back to the places where I knew the pictures were taken..January 1995

Magic mountain is in one corner of the little park.  The railing is long gone but when you walk your way to the top you can see just how much simple fun it is to do.

Matching the tree photo proves more difficult to place than I imagined.

There Are Places

There are places here in Pondicherry that carry a special meaning.

Time and weather may not have treated them well but they still remind us of when our teacher walked here many years ago.  This lady used to pour water into the pond but a storm took away her right arm. Yet she still smiles.

Perhaps remembering an encounter here so many years ago....January 1995

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In Chennai India Begins

In Chennai our adventure in India begins.  I travel with 2 English friends and we move through the city at a gentle pace.

Our first stop is the Government Museum but this no ordinary museum

In the displays are sacred sculptures thousands of years old.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Are You Alone?

I didn’t pay much attention at first when the slender girl in blue stepped up close beside me and asked.   I was wearing my noise cancelling headphones and was temporarily adrift on the lightly rolling tide of spiritual music playing on my ipod.

For about 20 minutes I had been slowly moving through the long digestive track of airport check in Phuket.  Arriving with what I thought was plenty of time to kill, this ordeal had not bothered me much. 

It is just part of trying to move through hot crowded Asian airports.  The warm mass of sweating bodies, excited jumping kids, mountains of plastic wrapped luggage, and the orchestra of foreign languages.  You get accustomed to such scenes and try and prepare as best you can.  My antidote to the cacophony was the recent addition of noise canceling headphones securely clamped around my ears about the instant I was jettisoned from my taxi.

I looked more closely at the woman as she once more repeated her simple request.  “Are you alone.”


One learns quickly to ignore requests from slender ladies in Thailand but this young woman was not of that sort.  She was wearing a professional Bangkok airways uniform.  The name ‘Ming’ clearly printed on her badge, so I showed her my papers.   My index finger jabbing at the triangle of flights scheduled ahead of me on my travel papers.  Which I calculated, I was about two hours from stepping into the full frontal abyss of miserly travel connections.  The first being the 12:15 to Bangkok.

The great snake of people then lunged forward carrying me along with them and she disappeared.  Perhaps just a mirage, her with her official looking clip board, professional black glasses, and the obvious air of someone who could work a little airport magic.

I tried to keep my eye on her but she got lost somewhere behind the mob.  About 10 minutes lapsed before she once more caught up with me again and asked, to the point, if I would like to take the early flight to Bangkok.   One, that was leaving almost 2 hours before my own.  

This seemed like a really good idea, particularly after the white knuckle connection I had endured trying to get here.  I knew that my transit time in Bangkok was just 80 minutes.  It was clearly a nothing to lose situation. 

Following in her brisk wake we slalomed around the slowly writhing snake of humanity.   Ropes lowered comfortably before my hiking boots, together we confidently maneuvered in front of the sweating, much too blonde couple at the head of the queue.  Their mouths in unison puckered at the obvious challenge to their hard earned supreme position. 

 Then I found myself before another efficient young Bangkok airway employee who with a few strokes of a keyboard gave me a fresh boarding pass for Bangkok.  One, that was to leave at 10:20.  In Just 10 minutes.

With slivers of time remaining I dashed across the airport, slipped through security (well not exactly but it was quick)  Stomped to the gate and down the ramp to join the meager number of folk making the final entrance into the aircraft.

I was the last person to get on.  Made my way to the final seat, and also, which is another kind of miracle found a overhead luggage bin that was not full.

Once I had settled back in 25D a soothing sense of calm swept over me.  A sensation that I unequivocally identified as pure sweet grace.  Occasionally we can call such occurrences good luck or even magic.  But I saw and felt something more profound.

With this came the realization at the awful futility we go through when we fret and worry about things that we cannot change or an outcome we have no capacity to influence.  How really easy and difficult it is to accept the moment for all it has to offer.  Whether it be rewards or whether it be some form of suffering. 

Regardless of how we view long lines and short connections in the great scheme of things everything just works out.  The best we can do is button up our shirts and tie our shoes and observe our chaos and our joy correctly we will be o’kay.  For I know most certainly that I am not alone.

Made it to Bangkok

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Night Day Dawn

Putting labels on people is a task that rarely works.  To say someone is a night owl or another is an early bird for example is often convenient but not always correct. Sometimes we simply have to change our internal clocks or an opportunity arises that compels us to be different.

Patong beach at night, or for that matter many other places in Asia fulfills a certain stereotype of these places.  Phuket as well as at any beach town one can expect to see a certain kind of way of life. One which is dedicated almost completely to an endless stream of tourists from places much colder than this. 

Here in Patong beach the streets seem to be always crowded but the chaos is accentuated by the night itself, and the cocoon of darkness.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Day Out

My favorite thing to do on these kind of trips, has always been the early morning hours.  The precious time before the sun comes up and awakens the world that I am temporarily inhabiting.

Here I can go out on the smooth wet sands of the beach and have it all to myself, or nearly so.  Usually just a handful of late night partiers or a man digging in the sand for some kind of seafood.

Yesterday 2 of my Slovakian friends invited me out for a road trip, and since a full rich day is composed of more than a few solitary hours of the predawn, I joined them in their rental car.

Our first stop was the big Buddha, which probably has a more divine name but to the locals it is most often referred to  as such.  And it is big, spectacular, and still under construction.  Admission is surprisingly free but donations are requested and kindly suggested at almost every turn.

Of course the great Buddha is all curves and smoothness from a distance, but this is deceptive for it's surface is almost entirely composed of flat square pieces of marble.

There is a large hall at the base of the statue in which the monks bless tourists and also trinkets can be purchased.

You approach the monk across a series of foam mats.  Once you are before him you place your donation in a bucket at this side.  What this young Russian boy is about to soon learn is that besides removing your rubles you must also remove your hat.

85 Minutes

There are a lot of things that you can do in 85 minutes.  There was a time, not too terribly long ago when I could easily run13 miles with that amount of time.  Now I am not quite so ambitious in the sporting world but for sure you can play quite a few holes of golf.

On a more pedestrian level, when 85 minutes are lazily stretched out in front, most people can easily plow through great mounds of the NY times , even read a few op-ed pieces while having breakfast with a coffee. 

85 minutes is a remarkably generous amount of time in order to accomplish many things.  What I discovered today however is that those great big fat 85 minutes are though just not enough time to land in Bangkok, pick up your bags, clear immigration, and then check into a completely different airline.

I knew from the start thousands of miles earlier that this great crossroads of limited time and necessary motion were going to intersect in the crucial final stages of my journey.

Way back at JFK on Friday night I looked at my timetable and dark omens were already dancing with thudding steps somewhere in the back of my brain.  But back at the start in New York the journey was still young and I was clean shaven and had slept soundly the night before.

But then I headed out over the dark Atlantic. At some point my path intersected with day light, but since I was heading quickly east, the Spinning orbit of the earth quickly removed the sun out of view.  Then when I came back to earth, I found myself in a strange airline terminal in Doha in the Middle East.  It was night once again and I was puzzled at so what had happened to Saturday, for now it was nearly gone.

Knowing that the next stop was Bangkok I tried to put measures into motion that would at least give me some hope of chance of making the transition happen securely.  I talked to the airline, asked for guidance, said prayers, and generally began to see a scenario where I would be stuck in Bangkok with or without bags and trying to find a way to my final stop in Phuket.

Once more back in the air heading east.  Beneath me I crossed the gulf of Oman and saw the Himalayas just to the north.  The night was speeding past and the resolution or revealing of this dilemma was inevitably marching forward out of my imagination and into reality.

Because of strong tail winds we landed slightly earlier in Bangkok.  The door of the plane opened and thus I found myself bolting up the gateway towards the baggage area.  But what should I see at the top of the ramp was a small trim man with a bright red blazer and in his hand a large sign that said, “Mr. Marshall.”

Now it should be mentioned that I have a deep affection for Mr. Marshall signage wherever and whenever I come across it.  It has happened only a few times but it usually means that things are going to be okay or even better. 

The little Thai man holding this sign also had his own small name tag on his jacket.  It said ‘Sam.’  Now I didn’t ask him this, but I suspected as much that ‘Sam’ was short for a much longer Thai name that was nothing at all like Samuel.  But rather, one with lots of syllables and amusing combinations of vowels.

Once Sam had determined that I was Mr. Marshall he beckoned me to come with him immediately.  What I noticed straight away however what this his route  was in the complete opposite  direction of that of baggage claim. 

As I kept up to his pace of economic, but brisk skipping strides, he outlined all the dimensions of my dilemma.  Yes I could head over to the baggage area and retrieve my things but then I would be stuck in Bangkok, or, I could skip and puff the length of the vast terminal and get to the Thai airline counter and get my behind on my scheduled flight to Phuket.  He was much more polite and gracious in his description.

Since Sam had both, a large Mr. Marshall sign, and a Qatar name tag pinned to his chest I could see no other alternative than but to gamble along at his side.  Which, after some large chunk of those 85 minutes we cleared customs, was issued a new boarding pass,  and wiggled and stripped through another round of security clearance. 

His final words to me, as I drifted down another long que of exhausted travelers was, that eventually my bags and I would meet.  Though as I recall it now, the exact juncture of this meeting was still rather indefinite. 

So thus I found myself remarkably entering the Thai Airlines flight.  Which, quite frankly I really did not think I would make.  The successful flight to Phuket took something quite less than 85 minutes….in the air. 

However the stark reality, or perhaps the unenviable logistics of just how I and my bags would once again find ourselves in perfect harmony was brought to the fore the moment my behind landed.  I will not burden you with the details.  If you have read this far you have done well.

But I would note that the complicated chemistry of all this equation was thrown into even more disarray when I learned, that due to all my unpacking of documents and removing of shoes, and redistributing of personal paraphernalia that my luggage tags had gone missing. 

Now I am in a hot room in Phuket.  The air conditioner is valiantly attempting to knock some of the starch out of the humidity.  I have complete access to some key possessions.  Cash, keyboard, toiletries, and by just stupid good luck, a pair of shorts.

Some of the key required items of my holiday travel however are absent and are being missed greatly.  In particular my nike graphite 7 iron and all the little clubs that usually keep him company.

I have made, even now after a few hours on the ground, several trips to the front desk where excited phone calls have been made.  Promises though have been few and given reluctantly at that.  My feeling is that despite my own drama, and fretting, everything regarding my possessions will work themselves out in their own way. 

In addition I have now seen the limitations of just what can be accomplished in 85 minutes when trying to foray through the logistics and legalities of international travel.  But on the other hand, as I look up at my watch, I was able to tell this story, in all its rambling detail, in less than 85 minutes.