Monkeys, Sadhus and Friends on the banks of the Ganges River in Rishikesh
Rishikesh is situated on the banks of the Ganges River, with the forests and jungles leading to the Himalaya mountains in the hazy background.
Because the elevation is not high, it does not snow in Rishikesh and in October, the weather is very hot and humid.
In my mind, when I think about tall mountains with a wide holy river running in the valley, I envision something akin to the wide Colorado River, which snakes through the tall Rocky Mountains, with almost no people and lots of wildlife.
The Ganges river is a very holy river, and Rishikesh and nearby Haridwar are busy cities full of people, monkeys, priests, Sadhus, car, truck and tire repair places, fruit and vegetable sellers, shops, hotels, guesthouses, temples and ashrams.
From our hotel in Rishikesh, you can still see the nearby dense jungles on the slopes of the lower Himalayas, which are completely unpopulated and teaming with wildlife, including wild Asian elephants, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, bears and many species of birds.
Their numbers are low, since civilization has crept up on these magnificent beasts, and their natural habitats have been greatly reduced.
There is a jungle safari tour into the protected forest reserve that will allow you to see these wild animals, and it is a very popular activity with the tourists, but the park is closed between June and November.
The Ganges river waters (also known as the Ganga river), are fairly clean in this high location.
The water is cold, but it is believed that taking a dip in the holy river will wash away one’s sins.
I am not a big believer in the concept of sin.
We make mistakes, take wrong actions, say silly things, follow limited paths, but I believe that there is no sin.
In a world where everything is composed of pure and perfect Spirit, and where you cannot die but only change form in appearances and dreams, you can truly do no wrong.
In a dusty bookstore, I found an old mildewed book called “The Voice Of Babaji.”
On the first page it said:
“You will not die, you should not die, you CANNOT die!”
It refers to the fact that LIFE, which is the very core of you, is pure existence and everlasting.
You only imagine that you are a body, with a separate self that was born at a certain point in time, that has certain characteristics and preferences, likes and dislikes.
You are an eternal Spirit, perfect love, whole.
You are the very essence of power, joy, and peace.
Eternal harmony abides in you!
Babaji, the deathless master, goes on to suggest
that one must attempt to dissolve her personality, while continuing to develop her individuality.
So what is the difference between a personality and an individuality, you may ask?…
Your individuality is your unique soul-light, that only you can shine.
The world awaits the day when you step fully and consciously into your divine role, and shine your light unashamedly on all of creation.
It is your special and unique gift to give to all of creation.
A personality, on the other hand, is a temporarily acquired set of characteristics which changes with each of your incarnations.
You may be shy or outspoken, loving and expressive or aloof, warm and open or more reserved, funny or serious, generous, moody, contemplative, impatient, etc.
You can choose to change your behavior and alter your personality, although most of it is acquired unconsciously at a young age, somewhere between your early teens into your early twenties.
You acquired an ego-personality from your family, your culture, your race, your country and values.
I wish to share with you a TRUE story that happened to me once, one that is in alignment with Babaji’s statement.
One day when Jules and I were in Denver, I was thinking that I was not very happy with my personality, and that having ANY personality at all consumes so much energy to maintain it…
A thought came to my mind that instead of changing my personality to a “better one” but still wasting energy to maintain any personality, it would be possible for me to simply DISSOLVE my personality.
An inner guide explained to me that our personalities are what make us identifiable to our friends and family.
They are the way we “carry” our bodies, laugh, sneeze, speak, move, sit, or “occupy space,” that are familiar and recognizable to those who know us.
Suddenly, memories of a question that had puzzled me in the New Testament Bible, came to my mind.
Why didn’t the disciples and Mary Magdalen recognize Jesus after His resurrection?
After all, they had lived with Him daily and spent lots of time together, so how come they did not initially recognize Him after His resurrection?
My inner guide suggested an experiment.
It suggested that I could try to dissolve my personality momentarily, and see if Jules, my very own husband, would recognize me or not.
We were shopping for a Robot vacuum cleaner at “Bed Bath and Beyond” in Cherry Creek, Denver.
I suggested to Jules that he bring the car over, since we had left it parked away from the mall, while I pay for the purchase, and that we would meet outside in the parking lot.
We separated and I went to look for some extra replacement filters for the vacuum, to buy as well.
A few moments later, I saw Jules waiting for the elevator and decided to “dissolve” my personality and see if he would recognize me or not.
And so it happened….
I dissolved my personality.
I withdrew my energy back inside myself, and consciously made a decision to dissolve into nothingness.
I did not attempt to be “gentler,” or to carry myself or walk differently, I just chose to be nobody, without any preferences, nothing that grasps or holds the atoms of my body together as myself….
It is hard to explain to anyone who has not engaged in a meditation practice of dissolving oneself into the Light, or who doesn’t know how to “unclench” thoughts and vibrations that cross your mind, but it is really not that hard.
I walked and stood by Jules without calling any attention to my presence.
We entered the elevator together and he pressed the ground floor button.
We rode the elevator all the way to the ground floor together without his recognizing me.
When the door opened, I made myself “familiar” to him again.
I was Tali all over again, with my own distinctive way of being “me.”
In a second, he recognized me and acted as if he were ashamed that he had not recognized me all along.
I explained to him my experiment, and he felt a little better.
The thing is, I was still me, but without my “identifiable personality.”
I was still my own unique essence, just not acting out an ego personality.
The New Testament Bible does not explain WHY the disciples and Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus after His resurrection, but I am convinced that He must’ve dissolved all remaining parts of His ego, and thus carried no remnants of His past personality. Only His light, and unique Spirit and individuality remained.
In Rishikesh I saw lots of monkeys and homeless Sadhus along the banks of the Ganga.
There were also lots of Europeans, Russians and mostly Israelis, smoking pot openly, riding scooters and munching good and cheap food.
In the Little Buddha Cafe, we overheard the conversation of a group of young people studying yoga, and staying at one of the Ashrams.
One of the girls said: “You know, I’m really dying for a cup of coffee right now!” When she was reminded by one of her friends that she was supposed to abstain from coffee and cigarettes while she is studying yoga, she said, “I have been doing yoga for a week already, so why am I still the same? I haven’t changed yet.”
In the Triveni Ghat, we attended an Aarti evening ceremony which included singing, chanting, fire rituals, and floating flowers on the Ganga river.
It was very beautiful to see all those souls praying.
One morning, at the Main Street market near the Triveni Ghat, I got both of my hands and both feet painted with black Henna.
The two young men who painted my limbs, showed me a thick book full of photographs of patterns to choose from.
I chose a beautiful and very intricate pattern, and we agreed on a price.
It was fairly expensive for India ($50, or 3200 rupees) for something that would only last a few days, and then wash off in the shower.
As it turned out, the boys did not know how to do the intricate patterns I chose from the book, and had only limited knowledge of how to paint certain patterns, but it was still fun.
I sat on a plastic stool with both my legs in the air, resting on the boy’s knees as if I were in the gynecologist’s office.
In the middle of the paint job, I had to move back from the street to the side, because the policemen were walking their daily beat, moving street vendors away from the streets, where they blocked traffic, and back onto the sidewalks.
I was placed under a rusty sign that was being removed at the same time, and pieces of rust and dust fell all over me.
It was pure chaos, as all of Rishikesh is, but also a fun experience.
My painted hands attracted lots of attention, and many people asked me where they could get it done also, and many people in the streets, in cafes and in the rickshaws we took, all said they loved it.
I have had many, many small realizations come to me while we were in Rishikesh.
Yes, it is a busy and noisy place which can be very overwhelming, but as I already mentioned before we arrived in India, you must see India with your “Second Attention.”
For example, a young boy came up to us just as we exited the Hanuman (Monkey God) temple, and asked us where we were from.
After a few moments of chatting, he said:
“PLEASE enjoy India!
It is my country.
It is a VERY GOOD country.” And then he was gone
The words that he emphasized were PLEASE, and VERY GOOD COUNTRY….
He said it as if he knew that we felt overwhelmed at times, seeing the minuses like the dirt, the pollution and the noise, and he reminded us to see the GOOD.
I felt grateful, as if the Spirit of Grace had sent this boy to remind us, because it is not something a young boy of seven or eight would normally say to tourists.
Our tendency is to think that living a certain lifestyle brings with it certain lessons and wisdom.
For example, you might think that a person living in a quiet, isolated place surrounded by nature, would be more in-tune with the rhythms of life, more patient and more peaceful and harmonious.
Yet it is not so at all.
History gives us many examples of people going insane in isolated places, with nothing but nature around them.
A person has his own inner demons and thoughts, regardless of his surroundings.
So it is with many of the Sadhus we have seen in Rishikesh.
One might think that renouncing jobs, careers, family, a home, society and all earthly pursuits, would lead to wisdom and empowerment, but these Sadhus live like homeless people, with all the cravings and unfulfilled needs that homeless people have.
Many hold no spiritual wisdom or depth.
The Sadhus we offered alms of money to, bargained with us asking for more and more, and often refused our offerings unless we gave them the amount they wanted.
They were obviously not hungry, because they are given free food and drink everywhere.
I have seen old ladies, children and Sadhus go into restaurants and ask for food, and ALWAYS without exception, they are given a plate of food or a bottle of a soft drink.
There are also many ashrams that offer free food daily.
In fact, Jules and I entered a beautiful Sikh Gudwara and had a delicious, and free lunch with them.
We had only entered the Sikh temple to look around, because we have been curious for a long time about the Sikh religion, but we were met by a young boy wearing an orange turban.
He told me to choose a piece of fabric and to cover my hair before entering the temple.
He asked us to take off our shoes and wash our feet.
He then took us to the main temple hall, where we followed his guidance and bowed our heads to the ground several times, and then again in a few smaller rooms which he opened for us.
A Sikh Gurdwara is a place of worship which is open to all visitors.
Sikhs have neither idols nor altars in their homes.
They have no sacraments and no priestly order.
When we exited the main hall, we were given a “Prasad” by a man sitting by the entrance.
A Prasad is a food offering that is normally made to the gods.
In this case, the prasad is offered to all visitors.
It is made from a mixture of legume flour cooked with a little sugar, ghee and water.
The man rolled some prasad in his hand and made it into a small doughy ball, and then he put it in our opened cupped hands.
Down from the main hall, we were taken to the free community kitchen.
The word Gurdwara literally means the Door (home) of the Guru, and people are invited to feel at home in a Gurdwara.
There are volunteers who wash the dishes, cook and serve vegetarian food to anyone who wishes to eat.
This Gurdwara does more than provide Sikhs with a place to worship, with a community centre and a school, it is also a guest house for pilgrims who stay here during their walking pilgrimage from Haridwar to a high peak in the Himalayas.
After choosing our stainless steel plates, cups and spoons, we sat on the floor of the dining hall and were served simple but very tasty food.
There was rice, chapatis (flat bread), mango pickles, cooked lentils and an eggplant dish.
The idea is that in the Gurdwara, everyone sits together on the floor to eat, regardless of their importance in the community.
High or low, rich or poor, male or female, all sit together to share and enjoy the simple food together, expressing the ideals of equality, sharing, and the oneness of humanity. The only rule we were asked to follow was to finish completely our portions of rice, chapattis, and prasad, as it was considered impolite to allow these basic foods to be thrown out.
One more highlight of our visit to Rishikesh was meeting a delightful Indian couple, Sitanshu and Aditi, who came all the way to Rishikesh via an overnight train, just to meet us.
It was truly awesome to spend time with them and enjoy their company, their insights, and their soulful spirits.
Despite the fact that there are loads of westerners around Rishikesh, Jules and I were asked to pose for photos with dozens of people; at times, groups of young men fought each other over who would pose with us first.
It was truly endearing.
When Rishikesh got to be too much for us, we lazied around in cafés, drinking iced coffees and fresh squeezed juices, ate yak cheese or peanut butter toasts, listened to many conversations and gave lots of ten rupee bills to maimed people, beggars, old widows, and greedy Sadhus.
The mountains surrounding this busy hub of humanity loom high above the mayhem.
The turbulent cravings and the despairs of humanity, blend here with hopes, greed and surface spirituality.
As I write this, sitting in one of the cafés, I look at the people passing by outside.
There is a Sadhu with a painted red face who is dressed like the monkey Hanuman, soliciting donations.
I see families, backpackers with huge packs, beggars, tourists, locals, children….
And I remember a few lines from the Course In Miracles, which talk about how all of us who walk this earth are unaware of our holiness, our godliness, our preciousness…
“The star shines still; the sky has never changed.
But you, the Holy Son of God Himself, are unaware of your reality….”
Namaste and Om Shanti, Om Shanti, Om Shanti