Sitting in an oven-like internet cafe. Halina is at the computer terminal on my right. She has droplets drip drip dripping down the side of her face. Her hair looks like it has just been washed, not from the rain but from the heat. The rain has stopped for the moment and the humidity has risen. I have big hair and have tied it all back to cool my neck. Now it looks plastered to my head! To my left is a very lean yogi at the computer in his saffron robe, walking pilgrim staff (danda) and long gray beard. It cracks me up to see him doing email!
I had a Kerala style Thai-like massage today after yoga. We stayed longer than expected at the yoga ashram with Yogi Gopal so I had to skip breakfast (damn!) and go straight to the massage. Probably just as well because the pressure was so intense that I don’t think the breakfast would have settled very well in my stomach. It was a very intense massage but that is what I wanted. Just before the massage, the therapist introduced himself. “My name is Ranjeth and I am from Kerala.” He is south Indian with an accent that gives his speech the rhythm of a machine gun. As I settle on to the mat, I ask him if his name has a special meaning as most names do. “Oh, yes! RAN means “blood”.” He points to his wrist veins just to make it clear that I have understood correctly. “And JETH means “victory”.” Blood Victory. Christ, I am in for it now.
He is wire thin, but don’t be FOOLED. I have seen these wiry men carry 300 lb loads on their backs up in the Himalayas at high altitudes in Nepal. The massage is every bit as intense, but excellent, as I suspected!
Afterwards, Ranjeth handed me a comment form for me to fill out. I could barely hold the pen, let alone think!
I somehow made my way to the hotel’s restaurant because I was on empty, having eaten nothing since last night’s dinner. Fuel. I stupidly asked for EGGS and toast. Rule number 1: Eggs are not eaten in Rishikesh as it is a holy city, a major Hindu pilgrimage destination, and therefore a vegetarian city. Meat and eggs are forbidden (but milk, yogurt and cheese are ok). Fruit plate and toast is what I got instead and I was happy. The papaya, pineapple, mango, banana platter would be enough to make a goddess smile!
The afternoon lecture with Yogi Gopal back at the ashram was really hard to follow. Between Gopal’s accent, soft voice, overhead fans, lots of Sankrit words that require a lengthy translation to convey complex concepts, and the circuitous way of discourse in the east as opposed to linear western thinking, I had to really concentrate to understand what Gopal was trying to say.
Mostly he talked about Vedanta as a philosophy. Vedanta is about knowing yourself. When you know yourself, then all is revealed to you because you will have knowledge of all the truth of the universe. Knowing oneself is achieved by Karma Yoga (the yoga of ACTION) and Jyana Yoga (the yoga of wisdom, knowledge about self).
Arvind was there for the lecture and disagreed strongly on many points that Gopal made. They had a debate going on and this made the lecture even harder to follow.
Gopal: “Ishvara” refers to the Whole Universe
Arvind: “Ne, ne! Ishvara refers to God and specifically VISHNU.”
Then I had to go and ask Gopal, “How many people actually know themselves?” And Gopal replied with a little head bobbing , “One in a million.” This seems to have added to another debate between Arvind and Gopal.
At some point, Arvind grabbed his backpack and went for a walk. He left on friendly terms as debate is simply what two learned men do! Gopal continued his lecture in a more relaxed way.
Gopal also explained that an ASHRAM is a place of study. An Ashram provides an environment for people who are seeking to know themselves more deeply, seeking to experience yoga philosophy. An Ashram allows an environment where one can learn the truth about oneself via asana practice, lectures, interactions.
We ended the long afternoon lecture with a guided mediation in shavasana. This was the BEST part of the day for most of us! Gopal brought us to a very deep place in meditation and his visualization had us floating over the swift flowing Ganges River-the great Mother Ganga, over the RamJula Suspended Pedestrian bridge, over the shops and cows and auto rickshaws and piles of dung and garbage, over the forests and hillsides, and up into the rain clouds above. For about 15 minutes, we had grown wings. Yogi Gopal had us all flying!!