Seeing yourself in the river

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Jenn and I

“Buddha is the most selfish man in humanity. All the sages were selfish,” said Roshan, our sage-like philosophy of yoga master a couple days ago. “Everybody is selfish. The issue is we need to know the self first. We need to expand our  idea of  the self. They (Buddha, other sages) can see themselves in others…. They didn’t do it for other people’s happiness. They saw themselves in others… If your self includes the world around you – the plants, the animals – is it bad to be selfish?”

It is our day off but the devoted aspiring yogis that we are, we woke up before dawn and went to a yoga class at the famous ashram of Parmath Niketan. It was still early so the gate to the hotel was still locked and 11 of us jumped the gate. It is kind of funny to break out of our hotel to go to a yoga class.

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The rebels who jumped the fence

We thought the yoga class was at 6am but when we got there, there was no sign of anyone and a sign said that class was at 6:30am.  We went up to the roof and did some sun salutations to the rising sun while monkeys scampered around the edge of the roof around us. It was a very beautiful memorable moment.

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Saying hello to the rising sun

As we were wandering back to the yoga school after yoga class and meditation for breakfast, we noticed that there was a very large uniformed presence. We wondered if there was an event going on or something…then we realized they were taking pictures and buying souveniers.

We are currently staying in Swarg Ashram, a spiritual community made up of temples, ashrams, a busy bazaar, bathing gaats where people dip their feet or whole bodies into the holy Ganges river and streets are filled with both Indian and foreign tourists. Sacred cows and holy men dress in orange robes, called sadhus, wander the streets.

Jenn and I went for a long walk all around Rishikesh today, shopping, exploring temples and dodging cows. We walked across the Ram Jhula bridge to the busy market and auto-rickshaw terminal on the other side and walked along the busy road past High Bank to the other bridge, Lakshman Jhula.

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Lakshman jhula – jhula means bridge

Lakshman Jhula bridge itself rocks a lot and the area itself is an interesting place filled with temples, German bakeries, yoga schools and jewelry and clothing shops. From one temple, we walked down a “shortcut to Lakshman Jhula” – a covered staircase passage that was crammed with people and jewelry shops – that led to another temple.

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Jennifer shopping in the busy baazar

At home in Vancouver, you can say that there are Starbucks on every corner, some kitty-corner with each other. Here, it is like that with temples. Temples, each to certain gods and goddesses with amazing histories, are everywhere. What does this say about our society? We walked back on the Swarg Asharm side of the river from Lakshman Jhula back to the yoga school.

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Temples galore

That evening, we went to the sunset Ganga Aarti ritual at Parmath Niketan. We were especially honoured to see Pujya Swamiji, the guru of Parmath Niketan, and Anna Hazare, a prominent Indian social activist whom one of the Indian student in our course called “the next Gandhi.” Ashram disciples and Pujya Swamiji led us in an hour of singing and chanting accompanied with traditional Indian musical instruments. Though we didn’t understand the words, the energy was infectious and soon we were singing along to the words we had picked up, clapping and swaying to the beat along with the crowd.  They both gave speeches about how protection of Mother Ganga is important and chemical run off into the river needs to be stopped. Pujya Swamiji spoke about how we needed to see ourselves in the river. The river is not a part from us but rather a part of is. It is, along with the rest of the earth, our mother. He also led a pledge for people  to plant trees to celebrate special occasions, which I did raise my hands in cheer so expect lots of trees in the future I guess.

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Beginning of ganga aarti sunset ritual

After, the singing and speeches, the sunset ritual started. When the sun was setting, and the sky was slowly starting to get dark, the orange robed ashram disciples lit candles. Small candles in dishes were passed through the audience while the guru and disciples had large candelabras. We all sang in prayer and those with fire made circular motions to the music. The sky darkened and the candles kept the light alive like lots of brilliant stars forged in human relationships and human action. At the end, some people set their dishes with candles on them into the river flowing off into the horizon.

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Ganga aarti

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