There is still space available on the Spiritual Journey to India with Uma Reed and Kriyananda Devi, from March 18th to April 3rd, 2011. We will travel to the ancient holy cities of Rishikesh and Haridwar, located on the sacred Ganga River in the foothills of the Himalayas. The deadline for reserving your space with a deposit is October 15th—however, if you are seriously interested in joining us, we can extend that deadline if you contact us.
If you would like to sponsor someone to take this journey with us, in whole or in part, that would be a beautiful gift! Please get in touch!
Here is a basic description of the journey. Some more detailed notes about the trip, and some websites you can check out, follow at the end of this e-mail.
After arriving in Delhi and traveling to Rishikesh, our first three days will be spent resting and decompressing at an Ayurveda Spa, where we will receive personal health evaluations and massages, share daily yoga classes and kirtan, and introductory talks on Vedanta (the spiritual teachings contained in the Upanishads).
Next, we move down river to the ashram of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, where we will attend a course on the Kena Upanishad with this very highly respected and revered swami. We can partake as much as we like, and during the ample free time, we will make day trips to holy sites, ashrams, and other places described below. A more detailed description of Vedanta also follows.
On our return to Delhi, we will have some time to shop and see the sights and share a last night together before returning to the U.S.
If you are interested in making this journey with us, please contact Uma by e-mail at email@example.com, or by phone at (415) 925-0756. Or contact Kriyananda Devi at firstname.lastname@example.org or (916) 392-9092.
With gratitude and pranams,
Uma Reed and Kriyananda Devi
ARRIVAL ON A HOLY DAY!
As it turns out, our arrival in India coincides with Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors. There are numerous legends associated with this day, among them the delight that Lord Krishna took in applying color to Radha and the other gopis. It is generally associated with the triumph of good over evil. On the second day of Holi (when we will be traveling from Delhi to Rishikesh), people all over the country toss colored powder on each other and their surroundings. Hopefully we will see the festivities (from a protected distance in our cushy luxury mini-bus)!
The Ayurveda spa we’ll stay at: www.ayurveda-bhavan.com
Check out the photo gallery. We will have several days there to rest and relax, receive ayurvedic consultations and massages, and acclimate to the culture and landscape of India. There is a view of the sacred Ganga River, and it is just a short distance down the hill to the famous Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula walking bridges across the river, and to temples and shopping.
VISITS TO HOLY SITES
This trip will be done at a leisurely pace, even though we will visit a number of sacred sites. Here are some of the places we plan to go in Rishikesh and Haridwar:
- Vashishta Cave — This is an ancient meditation cave used by the sage Vashishta, who was one of the seers of the Rig Veda, and guru to Ram and Lakshman in the story of the Ramayana.
- Mustram Baba ashram — Walking along the old sadhu path (now paved and flowing with modern travelers) on the far side of the Ganga, we will visit the beach ashram of Mustram Baba. This revered baba lived in a cave on the beach, which we will see. During his wandering years, Shivaya spent time with him, and lived on a rock overhang at this ashram!
- Sivananda Ashram — This ashram is a short distance down the hill from Ayurveda Bhavan, where we will spend our first three days in Rishikesh. We will visit for the evening program of bhajans and arati.
- Parmarth Ashram — The Hanuman Chalisa, Ganga arati and kirtan offered at this ashram every evening are spectacular, and can be heard all up and down the river as the sun sets behind the foothills of the Himalayas. See a video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbXxFB-143I&feature=related
and more photos at http://www.parmarth.com/gallery-aarti-yagna.html
- Neem Karoli Baba Ashram — A 40-foot high Hanuman murti protects this beautiful ashram, which is dedicate to one of the greatest saints in India. You can see a photo at http://maharajji.com/Rishikesh/rishikesh-ashram.html
- Anandamayi Ma Ashram — We will visit the beautiful ashram in Kankhal, Haridwar, where Ma’s ashes are buried. This is a very serene, but very powerful meditation spot. Some awesome clips of her singing, teachings, and photos from throughout her life can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpQ6NKiby-o&feature=related
- Shanti Mandir — This is the ashram of Swami Nityananda, brother of Gurumai, and the successor to Swami Muktananda. See the website at http://shantimandir.com/assets/files/Walden%20Brochure.pdf
- Triveni Ghat — This is a prominent ghat on the Ganga in Rishikesh proper, downriver from the more well-known tourist areas. See photos at http://wikimapia.org/929130/TRIVENI-GHAT-HOLY-GANGA-RIVER-PICTURES-by-B-S-RAWAT
- Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula — These famous walking bridges across the Ganga are the main hubs of activity and interest, including great shopping!
VEDANTA — THE TEACHINGS OF THE UPANISHADS
The Vedas are the most ancient scriptures in India, possibly in the world. There are four main Vedas, each containing guidance in specific ways on how to live a reasonably healthy, happy, harmonious, dharmic life. At the end of each Veda is attached one or more Upanishad. Anta in Sanskrit means “end.” Because they come at the end of the Vedas, the Upanishads are known as “Veda-anta,” or Vedanta.
The Upanishads take the teachings given in the Vedas to a deeper level, addressing questions such as:
“What happens to me when I die?”
“If I am not this body, mind, and sense organs, who/what am I?”
“Who/what is God, and what is my relation to God?”
“If I am not this body, mind, and sense organs, then what is my relation to the world?”
The Upanishads deal with these types of questions, each from a particular perspective, and offer the vision of the underlying reality of the entire manifest world—which is finally understood to be one’s own true nature, and the Self of all. Considered a pramana, or means of knowledge, listening to and understanding the teachings contained within the Upanishads is said to lead to Self-Knowledge, or moksha (liberation).
In ancient tradition, a sincere seeker would go to the ashram/home, or gurukula, of the guru and live there while receiving the teachings. We are extremely blessed to be able to receive these teachings on our trip to Rishikesh in a modern version of this tradition. We will stay at the ashram of the teacher and live there while receiving the teachings. During the time we are there, Swamiji will be teaching the first two verses from the Kena Upanishad. In a traditional sequence of Vedanta study, this is the first Upanishad taught, so we are very fortunate to be coming at this time. You can check out the website for Swami Dayananda’s Rishikesh ashram at: www.dayananda.org
In fact, Kriyananda Devi and I have recently spent time at Swami Dayananda’s ashram in Pennsylvania. We had a private meeting with Swamiji to talk about this trip, and he gave his approval and blessings on our journey. We, in turn, send those blessings along to you, and we hope you will be able to join us!
Dear Friends and Family,
It is a cool, overcast morning here in the hill country of Tamil Nadu, in southern India. There is a soft, lovely breeze blowing as the twittering and twilling of many tropical birds announces the start of day. It is 7:30 am, and over the last hour I have received five knocks at my door here at AVP, a classical ayurvedic hospital and training academy, nestled in the forest at Mangurai.
The first knock at 6:30 was from a man delivering a small thermos of chai. A few minutes later, a sari-clad young woman appeared at my door holding a bathroom scale, and recorded my weight. Next came another young woman who handed me two tiny pills wrapped in a piece of paper marked, “Rm #9 / Mrs. Uma / before food.” Moments later another delivery: “Rm #9 / Mrs. Uma / after food.” And finally, at 7:30 came the food, before and after which the pills were to be taken.
Throughout the day there will be many knocks at my door; more deliveries of pills and other concoctions prepared especially for my body. At 11:30 am a young woman will call to escort me to my “treatment,” or abhyanga. Although it is commonly referred to as ayurvedic massage, the doctor has explained that it is not in fact a massage. Abhyanga actually means an application of medicated oil to the body. It is liberally applied in long, brisk strokes by two practitioners, one on each side of the body. One of the objectives is to gently stimulate the lymph nodes and help move lymphatic fluid throughout the body.
When the oil application is complete, which takes about 45 minutes, a thick paste made of dried and powdered mung beans is spread all over the body to absorb the excess oil, and then rinsed off with warm water. I return to my room feeling utterly relaxed, nurtured, and nourished.
At 3 pm a young woman will arrive with a bowl of brown paste, which she applies to my forehead, after which I will rest for an hour and then rinse it off. It has been effective in relieving the constant headaches I was experiencing my first few days here.
I am here with five other women, enjoying the final week of our spiritual and healing journey to India, led by my friend Kriyananda Devi and myself. We began our journey almost a month ago in Delhi, the nation’s capitol city, where we embarked on a luxury mini-bus that maneuvered us safely and somewhat miraculously through the chaotic congestion of Indian highways, and delivered us to Ayurveda Bhavan in Rishikesh. There we luxuriated in spa-like surroundings with a view of the sacred river Ganga, received massages, and ate delicious, healthy food for four days. This was the perfect entry into this surprising and paradoxical country — a chance to recover from the jetlag and time change, and acclimate to the culture slowly.
On our second evening in Rishikesh we walked down the hill for our first communion with the river. We arrived at dusk, as the priests of the temples and ashrams were beginning their evening prayers and pujas at the river’s edge. Children were selling small bowls made of pressed leaves, filled with flowers and incense, which we purchased and placed in the river as offerings along with our prayers.
Kriyananda Devi led us in Swaroopa Yoga poses before breakfast. I led our group in an evening kirtan and an introduction to Vedanta, in preparation for the ten-day Vedanta camp we were about to attend.
After four days of relaxing and rejuvenating at Ayurveda Bhavan, we headed downriver to the ashram of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, a revered and renowned teacher of Advaita Vedanta. Vedanta constitutes the teachings given in the Upanishads, some of the sacred scriptures of India. In this camp, Swamiji “unfolded” the Mandukya Upanishad, which explains in intricate detail the meaning of “OM.”
Although Swamiji’s health was fragile, as soon as he would begin to teach, he was filled with vigor, and his teachings were spectacular. We felt incredibly blessed to be in his presence and to receive such profound and meaningful teachings.
During long breaks in the afternoon, we took some day trips to holy sites. We visited the Vashishta Cave, where an ancient sage who was the guru to Ram and Lakshman is said to have meditated for years. We sat silently in the cave a while, then hiked down to the river where we bathed and swam in the swift, cold water before heading back for afternoon classes at the ashram.
We also visited the ashrams of two great Indian saints: Sri Anandamayi Ma’s ashram in Hardwar and the Rishikesh ashram of Neem Karoli Baba, my heart guru and the loving and guiding presence of my life. While in Hardwar, we made a brief stop at Hari ki Pauri, a famous bathing spot on the Ganga, visited by millions of pilgrims from all over the globe each year.
On another day we took a boat across the river and hiked from there upriver to Lakshman Jhula, one of two famous walking suspension bridges across the Ganga, nowadays flanked by hundreds of shops, temples, restaurants, and hotels. Along the way we stopped in at the humble beach ashram of Mustram Baba. This beautiful baba lived in a cave on the banks of the Ganga, and though he was possibly lesser known than some gurus, he was no less revered by his numerous devotees. Shivaya tells many stories of his time spent living with Mustram Baba, and the deep wisdom he shared in very simple ways.
We are women, and so of course we did our share of shopping! In addition to being an ancient and sacred place, Rishikesh is now also a thriving tourist town.
During our time in Rishikesh, I was honored to introduce our group to several friends of mine. Ganga and Yamuna, aka Marlene and Joanne, are American super women (in my opinion) who spend at least half of each year in India. I have known them for many years, going back to the days when they were assistants to Ram Dass, and ran the Ram Dass Tape Library. We were on retreat together numerous times when I would lead kirtan and they would tirelessly handle all the administrative and logistical matters, and deal with pretty much every situation or need that arose.
We also visited with Subash, a guru-brother who has been friends with Shivaya for many, many years. I am always very deeply moved by his utter devotion to Neem Karoli Baba and to Siddhi Ma. Each time we meet, Subash immediately engages us by sharing stories of how he has been affected by the nectar of their love. Our hearts open to such a degree that when we leave, we are swimming in Love.
When the Vedanta camp ended, we headed to the railway station at Hardwar, and piled (and that’s a pretty literal description!) onto the Shatabdi Express bound for Delhi. We were helped through the confusion of negotiating with porters who handled our many bags by our friends Sanjay and his wife Rakhi, whom we met at Vedanta camp.
Arriving in Delhi at 11 pm, we were met by our mini-bus again, and shuttled to our hotel. After spending the next day shopping in Delhi, we took an overnight trip to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. We spent the night in Agra and visited the Taj next morning at 6:30 a.m., in order to appreciate it in the early morning light — as well as avoid the 100+ degree temperatures that would come later in the day!
We were accompanied through the Taj by a guide who told us the story behind the awe-inspiring structure, and showed us details of the intricate inlay work that we might not have noticed otherwise. Afterward we visited the showroom of some of the present day artisans in the area who are descended from the craftsmen who actually worked on the Taj Mahal.
Returning to Delhi for one more day, we had the very great pleasure of visiting the home of Dr. Promila Malik. “Pami,” as she is known, is the mother of one of my dear Vedanta classmates in the U.S. I have met Pami several times when she came to the Bay Area to visit her daughter. She has always invited Shivaya and me to visit her when we come to India, and this time I was determined to bring my friends to meet her.
We arrived at Pami’s home to find her waiting outside, beaming, and literally with open arms. She ushered us inside, where she gave us chai followed by a huge spread of fabulous food and snacks, culminating in her homemade “kheer” — a dessert of creamy rice which she makes with saffron and rosewater.
While we feasted on the food, we were fed on so many other levels with the love and kindness that Pami exudes, as well as the incredible sweetness of her elderly sister-in-law, with whom she shares a flat. One floor below is the flat that Pami’s two sisters share. Our visit there turned into a love-fest of hugs and smiles and picture-taking. We were all deeply moved, and as we climbed back onto our bus to leave, there wasn’t a dry eye among us.
The next day we boarded a plane to Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, and came to this lovely ayurvedic healing center.