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The Guru

Rishikesh, India


"He who binds to himself a Joy,
Does the winged life destroy.
He who kisses the Joy as it flies,
Lives in Eternity's sunrise." - William Blake

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On the morning of the Fourth of July, Ravi and I set off from Ram Jhoola toward the dwelling place of Ravi's spiritual master. After journeying for perhaps half an hour on a footpath into the jungle, we reached our destination. The guru looked about like you'd expect an Indian ascetic to look: He wore tattered traditional orange garmets, had an impressive white beard, dreaded hair, dark skin, thin frame, very tough feet, and a radiating smile. His gestures were perfectly humble, and he began speaking with his eyes closed, at least until he hit his stride with the message, at which time he could become wonderfully animated. He explained about the number of potential dangers of living in this jungle, including: scorpions, pythons, leopards, tigers, and elephants. Ravi translated that all of the animals and plants in the area were in communication with the guru, and this entire place received benefit from the guru's chanting and meditation.

His dwelling is in a tree. There is a dead tree very near, where the master lived previously until the tree told him that it wanted liberation. He then moved to his current tree a couple of decades ago. There is a thin bamboo ladder at the base that leads to a small platform about fifteen feet off the ground. This is where the guru does his meditation. Fifteen feet higher lies another small platform that is covered with a meagre tarp, where he reads and sleeps. On the opposite side of the base of the tree from the ladder, there is a very simple kitchen consisting of a few pots and pans and three bricks forming a stove.

The entire time we were there, a cooling breeze I haven't felt anywhere else in Rishikesh was always present, making the climate quite pleasant. I asked the master whether he prayed to/worshiped an external God, or if he was cultivating the Divine within himself. He replied that both are very important. Meditation is a time to sit and go completely inward, eventually discovering the higher consciousness within each and every one of us, a Truth that is beyond the mind, beyond the body, and cannot be explained, but only experienced through purifying your lifestyle and putting noble effort and concentration into your meditation practice. He also worships outwardly through mantras which he recites, in an effort to bow humbly before the supreme Creator. He very calmly explained that all faith traditions ultimately point in the same direction, with different ways of trying to get there.

We then spoke about my life, and my conviction to work toward restoring a harmonious connection between humans and our Earth. Ravi translated the guru's response: "Reduce your demand, take only what you need. Why are people so concerned with making money to preserve for their grandchildren, when so many humans are starving and suffering today? Once the rich man's grandchildren are born, they have bad karma on their head from all of those who suffered for two generations at the lack of resources available to them because they were saved for two generations. Do not live constantly looking to the future. The only place to really, truly BE is in the here and now."

Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me from this amazing experience was to realize that each of us already has a guru traveling around with us all the time. It is that source, deep within, that allows us to see beauty in a sunset, a painting, a song, or a child. It is that intangible voice that tells us right from wrong. You could call it your "conscience". You could just as easily call it your "guru" or "master". Whatever it is called, we all know what it is. We need to start listening to it's every utterance.

The other overwhelming lesson for me was to observe, first hand, how this master lived. He very well may be the most accomplished, smart, highest achieving person that I've had the pleasure of meeting. He has mastered himself, and thus, life. From all options available to him, he has decided to live a life of complete simplicity with overflowing service to his community. This is my hero, not Michael Jackson.

Before departing, I touched his feet and received a blessing. I was reminded of the Biblical story of the woman who washed and put oil on the feet of Jesus after he had made a long journey through the desert. That would be my greatest honor.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that the guru pulled out an antique radio at one point, which we listened to for a little while. I'll never forget the circumstances of when and where I learned that it will be Federer versus Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final!

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Stay in the flow, let yourself go. Leave yourself, to become. Where do you go without the ego? Straight into reality, through the door of compassion. It is the only place to be, just be. I've heard some people call this place, "oblivion". They have never been here. Solidify the ego, only to dissolve it into pure consciousness. Allow the ego to grow to that of a King. Then you can enter into a humility that is beyond. Discovering that even the wealthiest and most powerful King is not the highest being, we move beyond materialism, beyond the self, and into pure altruistic service to the Most High. It is possible to expect nothing in return only when you realize that you already have absolutely everything, without a single fear or desire. In this state, there is true altruism, and Ayn Rand was wrong. To pursue this path, your own best interests will be served. But, to complete this journey, to realize the endgame, one must forfeit the self completely, entering into the abyss. Only the empty can be filled up. Only those who know what they're missing can ever hope to find it. So, whenever the flute plays, sway, like the trees in the breeze.

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Is man indispensible for the completion of creation? Or at least for the preservation of his own kind? C.G. Jung says: "Human consciousness created objective existence and meaning, and man found his indispensible place in the great chain of being." In his fantastic final book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung also recounts his relationship with Sigmund Freud, whom he says was filled with "bitterness". Like Freud, many giant intellectuals allow the exclusive use of the rational mind to lead them to a very dark place in their lives (Neitzche and Rand also come to mind). Perhaps we really do need some "myth" to legitimize our lives, like the Pueblo Indians' ceremony to the sun. There is myth and mysticism in every world religion and spiritual tradition. Instead of mocking the Pueblo for their "primitive superstition", perhaps we should admire their sense of purpose as well as their daily act of reverence for the source of all life. I'd much rather be a mystic than an intellectual. It is in this spirit that I intend to move forward and thrive.

I've grown very fond of the Hindu mythology that my yoga instructor has been sharing with me during our classes. You might say that some Hindus take a literal translation of these myths, while others take a more symbolic interpretation. The same could surely be said of the ancient Greeks or modern day Christians. The myth I'm choosing to believe in our time is a great story of how human beings are causing the climate to change and must discover a more harmonious way of life to ensure our survival as a species. At least some of us need to take a literal translation of that modern day myth!

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Tomorrow I set off for the final leg of the trip, traveling to Delhi to catch an airplane to the little-known country of Bhutan. I'll try to update the blog again in a week or so...

permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on July 4, 2009 from Rishikesh, India
from the travel blog: India and Nepal
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MArk- Just reading your latest late this evening. Great thoughts and quotes. The best thing about your blog is that you will be able to read these thoughts again when you're back here and test them against life back in the US of A. I have read the Jung book you mentioned (a couple of years ago) and found it very interesting- especially in his sense of mysticism, which is more and more a compelling part of your thoughts. Travel safely and it will be interesting visiting with you upon your return. Russ

permalink written by  russ haskell on July 7, 2009

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Katy and Mark Lewis Katy and Mark Lewis
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We are two siblings from Colorado (aged 24 and 26) who find ourselves simultaneously between a job and a graduate school program. We both came down with a case of itchy feet, so we're going searching for the cure while we've got the chance!

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