As I journey from one world to another, one aspect of myself to another and one life to another, there is an awareness of deep changes that have occurred. A homecoming of sorts, an acceptance of my inner nature that for some time I have been resisting, fighting or running from due to the cost, sacrifice, implications and fear about the letting go, the how too’s and the correct way to do this new way of being ME.
While I would love to share some of the things that I experienced in the Ashram during my recent 2 month stay, I feel that this is actually a sacred place where what happens there is a very deep, intimately personal and a softly subtle experience that it defies language and defiles it somehow to even attempt to put into words or summarise such a sacred, vast and profound gift.
What I can say, is that I am at home in myself and with my beloved Guru now more than ever and long only to be of genuine and total service in this life. There is a story of Radhe and Krishna (an Indian Goddesses and God) in which Radhe gets jealous of Krishna’s preoccupation and devotion to his flute / murali. When she asks him why he loves his flute more than her, he says that the flute is empty and therefore can channel God. When we are full or have content (desires, opinions, etc.) , then we obstruct the flow of divine grace that is our essential nature…and so I now desperately long only to be that empty vessel which can be played by the creator of creators who makes music from madness and beauty from bumbling fools!
The foundations of Sacrifice
While I no longer wish to share the profound love experienced within the Ashram I would like to share what I learnt as I ventured out to the nearby temple of my Ishta Devata – Tara Ma known as Tarapith or Tarapeeth (depending on where you are from in India). I undertook a very strong sadhana last time I left India (chanting her Bija Mantra – OM HRIM STRIM HUM PHAT – I Million times in 108 days…not recommended kids if you want to stay sane!) in the hope that she would awaken within my life and she did, in quite a powerful way. So I wanted to go and say thanks! To spend time in her home – her Shakti Peeth – which legend says is where her Third Eye (a powerful intuitive/wisdom centre) fell to earth.
I was there over two days but in some ways it felt like a lifetime in an ancient powerful parallel universe. While I was there and totally present – I was somehow kind of in a suspended haze of protective observation…it was most peculiar and didn’t really recognise myself, my thoughts or my actions/ reactions. I was suspended and thankfully so as it turned out.
I arrive on Ekadashi which is known to be a particularly challenging astrological period each month and so felt it fortuitous that I was spending the day in her seat. I left bereft from the ashram – absolutely devastated to be leaving literally the love of my life and felt the comfort of Mother Nature as she mourned my loss with her bleak, wet and dense mood.
The ride was beautiful but treacherous as the sky and near vision was cloaked with Shivas foggy lila. Each revelation was a scene of expression from his imagination that would magnetize misty particles into matter and form for a moment before splitting like atoms into that eternal space of dissolution.
I arrive at this village and as cautioned before leaving the ashram by a fellow yogi, this is an Indian town – not a place where foreigners often go and this is glaringly obvious. For the whole two days I was the only unicorn in the village –
- and this was not just because of my skin colour,
- nor me being a female and travelling alone,
- nor the fact of not having hair
- nor that I am a baby sannyasi floating around in bright yellow,
- or even that I was comfortable in my skin even though I clearly didn’t belong there,
but there was something else….a subtle vibration that arrested people’s attention and held me in suspense within the fabric of their imagination or awareness. As I walk the streets without an aim to see the temple straight away (just wanted to get a feel for the place), I navigate the attention and puddles with equal deliberation and caution. The only time I engage is with the children as I skip, dance and slide over the puddles, who support my lightness with their amusement – a welcome spaciousness in the otherwise dense atmosphere.
Eventually I get to the temple where I find many sub-sthals where the Puja of Ma is taking place – there is chanting, havan, abhishek, along with many pandits offering blessings to families, wedding parties, babies and the whole social stratum. Additionally there is a small temple for Shiva with a Lingham being worshiped and a strange area that has what looks to be a variation of Shiva’s Trishul (trident) buried into the ground. This has only two prongs and is covered in sindor with a pit either side…I have no idea what this is and there is currently nothing happening here so I move on.
The main Temple that houses Ma is closed for lunch and will reopen again later and so I take in the different sights, sounds, and practises going on. I am lost in my own practice, as I watch a havan, of chanting the Bija Mantra with each swaha offering a squeeze of the crystal lingam nestled within my yoni, at which point the Devi I am sitting next to (and by now have been for some time…I have noticed that people eventually lose interest if I just sit still for a while and get on with my practice) asks me for money to eat (obviously through body language given we are neither fluent in each other’s tongue). I give her some money and think nothing of it – her energy was lovely and she was as lost in her practice as I was in mine. A few moments later another Mataji (older lady/mother type) comes along begging for money and I realize my mistake – I stop it there. When all of a sudden this Devi who was the recipient of my dakshina reappears with her darshan! She holds a pot of sindur (the red colour used to paint the bindi on foreheads and the hairline/feet of married women) and kneels down to paint my feet. I am now a married woman with a single bindu/chakra at the centre of my feet – just like Ma x
She then barks fiercely at everyone to leave me alone and so I get to continue with my practice and be within the temple walls in peace.
The colour and play of this place is a pure theatre of everyday life. I witness an Aghori who picks through the ashes of the Havan to consume any morsels of Prasad of which he has found a roasted banana and devours it with gentle and delicate appreciation. My eyes then catch the temple sevak who is cloaked in the guise of a simpleton who shuffles and hovels around cleaning up after the rituals yet there is an air of clarity, purity, precision and grace in his service which parts the curtain of illusion and informs me that he is anything but ‘simple’… small but lasting impressions to behold and told.
There are many dogs in Tarapith – all over India actually, but I notice many more of them here. They nearly equal the number of people. I go outside the temple grounds and stand on the entrance stairs just to take a breather when I see a dog that is a replica for a very special one I befriended in Rikhia – I called him Satyam. I look at this dog and he looks at me through the same eyes as Satyam. I say his name and he comes and sits beside me…just as Satyam would. I look at him and his white markings now have an odd blue tinge and I comment that he looks like Shiva and should perhaps call him such in Tarapith to which he nudges me and so this same soul was now in the guise of Shiva! I know it sounds a little farfetched and fanciful but this stuff really does happen in this mystical magical place!
Now, I head back into the temple walls and I see there a dying female dog with her concerned beloved anxiously hovering in circles about his inability to ease his loves surging suffering. She is in a very bad way and she has made her way to one of the alters where moments earlier a havan was taking place. Her sensitivity is palpable – she can feel every itch, twitch, twist and pain that courses across her skin and within her frame and rawly expresses her sensory impressions. I begin to sing to Ma in the hope that she will soothe the suffering, bathe her in peace and help her cross the ocean of samsara quickly.
With this experience dawned my first lesson;
The experience of suffering is felt through the senses only – the sense organs and the mind at play is what we call suffering. I have heard, read and thought about this before but never really got it until that poor wretch so clearly reflected my raw yet damaged intense sensual nature. If only we could detach and settle into a much higher or greater experience of ourselves – our true Selves, then suffering or physical distress may occur but we could be at peace…a deep and infinate peace. It is our resistance to our experiences, our sensory input which preoccupies and provides a state of suffering for us. And just like that both teachers in DOG/GOD form, got up and left the temple.
Finally the main temple where Tara Ma’s Murti is housed opens and there is a rush…I watch and see how things are done. When all the lines have been established and gates closed, I find a place where I catch my first distant glimpse of her and am chilled by her presence. My skin comes alive, my blood quivers and a tear rolls down my cheek. She is beautifully still in her powerful reflective radiance. A sight to behold and imprinted within the layers of my being.
Finally I amble away from the temple in an exhausted but contented state, thinking I will return tomorrow in the hope to come closer to my Ishta, but trust her to provide me what I need when I am ready. I come across the smashan (graveyard – which is synonyms with Tara and Varma Marga (of left-hand tantra of which Aghoris are the followers/disciples) where the famous Mad Baba lived many years ago and is still worshiped today. There is lots of activity – pandits are perfoming havans, wild women are cursing and laughing hysterically, dogs are barking and fighting over food and the arrival of a fresh corpse carried by 4 friends. He will be burnt and often times, what remains the aghoris will consume.
As I see and think this, I am caught by the awareness that I don’t have a problem with death but rather gets me thinking about consciousness and where it does go after it leaves the body. What is this life and what is this death? How do our karmas trap us (like the suffering of that dog and my neurotic nature) and what is released and what stays when ‘death’ occurs?
As I walk back to the hotel, now oblivious to any attention I am attracting, and feeling blessed for this incredible life of mine, I feed two little puppies some butter biscuits who are very young and starving at which point I feel very proud of myself for giving them a chance to grow!
And just like that – Tara knocked me on my ass with the ferocious intensity she is so famous for in the form of a second lesson;
A little way up the road, I see a little puppy (just like the one I had just so proudly fed) in the middle of the road with what looks to be her mother standing over, grooming her. Yet as I draw closer, I realise that the puppy is dead – I now assume – that its mother is grieving and trying to lick it back to life. However like cogs in a wheel of consciousness, reality finally clicks into place and revealed the raw truth. The puppy is dead having been hit by a car, its brains and entrails are spewing out like a smorgasbord on the muddy earth beneath and the ‘mother’…which I am not sure was the relationship to this pup, was licking the blood and eating the fresh morsels on offer whilst savagely growling at other ravenous canine onlookers, obviously keen to keep this fresh piece of meat to itself.
I go up to them both and look – really look at the reality before me.
This is life and this is death.
This is Shiva and Ma at play
As I continue back to the hotel, I feel fine and strangely ok given the intensity of the day but then slowly the ripples of intensity start crashing against my sensibilities – and I feel raw, sensitive, exposed, afraid and crave comfort. As tough as I want to be, as fierce as I sometimes am, this little soul has far too much conditioning… I am no Aghori.
This was day one….which laid the strong foundations for the big lessons in sacrifice I was to encounter the following day.