Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vedanta Retreat in Rishikesh: What did I learn?

It is very easy to answer Tara on 'what I learned!' In fact, it will be a sweet revenge! Normally it is Tara who attends such talks. On her return from the lecture, while I could guess her reply, I would ask: 'How was it?' She would go ecstatic on how good the speaker was, how fluent, relevant and so on and then would just give me this 'look', a look which implied that you missed an opportunity to become spiritual! I would then ask her, hoping to appease her 'Give me a gist!'. She would say 'It was very good, but I cannot explain it you! You have to be there in person and listen!' The tone would also imply 'you will never go!' I believe I surprised myself and her by coming to this retreat!

It really is not easy to talk about Vedanta and what it means to me. Neema always cautioned us that Vedanta gives us 'no capsule' which would make things clear in a flash! Surya would tell us that 'there is no checklist' you can tick off and assume 'you are now aware!'

As I listened to Neema I felt privileged to have been a part of this retreat and felt enriched by the company of my fellow participants. I also felt grateful and thankful for all the good things that has happened in our lives! Neema would remind us that we are all connected and that so many people have contributed to our lives. Even the fact that we congregated there at Rishikesh was the result of so many working towards it and that we were indeed dependent.

The last few years have been very significant and positive for us and we feel blessed! The arrival of grandchildren have kept us busy and fulfilled! We reconnected with Neema and Surya as Tara arranged a series of talks at our place! I still had a choice to take a walk on Sukhumvit, but Rikhi as direct as he can be, urged me to attend. 'Your Guru has come to you, better attend the lectures!’ It is also the time I was encouraged by Seema to learn swimming! And my young golfing friends made it a point to include me in their group. They even took me on a golfing retreat! All this made my post retirement days easier to deal with!

While I have many things to dwell upon and be thankful, being at the ashram I could appreciate the many seekers who devoted their lives to learn the mysteries and the meaning of creation and the creator while I have just made a beginning.

While I spoke of the many positive aspects of our life, we are also faced with challenges and in fact we all have faced grief in our lives. Neema had recently lost her father, very suddenly and unexpected. I even wondered whether she would postpone the retreat, but she did not! Her teachings began with how she missed her father, who had also planned to be present at the retreat and how much she owed to him. The expression of her deep grief touched our hearts and sharing her grief healed me of my own grief at the loss of our dear ones, some very recent.

I recall on the last morning of our retreat, I walked towards the river 'Gangajee' to bid my farewell. The sky was clear and I could see the stars and river and also hear her constant murmur which was such a comfort to us. Then suddenly the mist rose and soon the river was covered and I said to myself 'The Mystery continues!'

I think I will just reply Raghu who commented in my blog in jest 'Was there Vedanta?' by quoting his earlier comments: 'Dear Nidhi, Thanks for a good report. You seem to have had a good trip. I am sure Manduka Upanishad etc apart, the scene and environs would have invigorated you. Peace with the environment is the essence of the effort. Great. Raghu'

While you can actually hear Neema speak through a series of Videos, these pictures show how animated she gets as she speaks of Vedanta.

I imagine it will be quite a while before I qualify myself to be a hermit! Even this pseudo hut, made of concrete, was out of my reach as it was located right across the flowing river.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Vedanta Retreat in Rishikesh: About us mostly in pictures!

As she read my blogs on Rishikesh, Tara the teacher, would say 'Very Nice' and then ask when are you going to write about what you learnt? In the meanwhile Prakash wanted me to introduce the participants mentioned or seen in my blogs! In fact, we could have been there incognito or had taken different avatars, but in reality we were all there as seekers!

Prakash is right in a way and here are few pictures, many borrowed, which will help me in introducing them all to you! It will also give me some more time before I try to tell Tara and you about 'what I learnt'!

Morakot is a freelance journalist to 'The Nation', an English language newspaper in Bangkok. She is also an editor of movies, runs a bed and breakfast place in Chiangmai and owns an organic farm. She and Varsha used to attend 'Balvihar classes' years ago to learn chanting of Sanskrit slokas from Tara.

(I like this picture. The colors of her dress are the colors preferred by monks!)

Morakot was not a full participant as she did not attend the classes but came along with Toom to experience the atmosphere and try out some fancy Ayurveda massage!
Morakot in conversation with Dineshjee, a close family friend of Neema's, a Philanthropist and also a veteran with the ways of the Ashram!

Ashutosh, Neema's uncle, an Industrialist, also a good sportsman and a sport! Recently a proud grand parent!

Vanessa just made it to the retreat after a long flight to Delhi. I could not resist the temptation of adding this picture of her making up some lost sleep on the train!
I liked the way she spoke English and her reactions to the teachings on the last day of our retreat.

I met Arun a little over an year ago, but it is as if we have known him and his wife Geeta for a long time! He is a graduate (FTII, Pune) in Film making and is an independent producer of documentary films. His latest is a series of shorts posted on YouTube, featuring Neema!

Geeta is with the UN and I know she works very hard! A very sincere student!

David and Sharon are a surprise package. They heard about the retreat and took a chance. They are from the USA and Sharon is from Israel originally. They have taken a break from working to learn about India and experience it as well! They have a very positive approach and have learnt to cope!

Yours truly! While I took pictures, many posted are from the albums of Arun, Surya, David and Toom!

Toom our Yoga teacher!

Our very beloved young Gurus, Neema and Surya!
My favorite dish Upama but I did not take this picture!

Eating in a clean atmosphere was a special treat. None of us had an upset stomach! The food was very tasty, safe and vegetarian.

Our contribution in keeping the place clean and healthy.

Mr. Subramanyam and his admirers. He managed the kitchen with authority and elan!

We took a walk one evening, it became dark and the canal appeared magical.

Our destination was this special place, where we had to wait! But the wait was worth the while as the food was amazingly tasty. Especially the jalebis, we just hogged them.

It was also a treat by Neema and Surya for the participants and the administrators of the ashram.

We just did not only eat! We also heard bhajans after our dinner!
Below are a few pictures I chose to keep as a record. These are just a few of the many excellent pictures the group had taken during their stay at Rishikesh.

Surya claimed that they were one of the best tailors for Indian dresses and we agreed after seeing the results later on.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vedanta Retreat at Rishikesh: A trek up the hills!

The trek I was eagerly looking forward to finally happened! It was difficult to find time for this activity in our very busy schedule. Thanks to Bharadwaj it was finally organised and we set out after our Mundaka Upanishad classes on Sunday. We took a ride till Tapovan and then began our trek right in earnest!

You can see that I am full of determination as I walk with a bag on my shoulders ! Vanessa and Geeta look more relaxed!

We stopped often to admire the view and take pictures and I would take a welcome break from my climb!

Trying to catch them unawares!

What is David doing in this picture?

It was wonderfully cool and clear water! Later Geeta and Vanessa decided to halt here! They had a great time wading and bathing in the water for more than an hour while I trudged up the hill! I wish I could have done both!

Looking at the stream going down the hill. It was tempting to walk down along the stream, but it was too steep!

Geeta posing for Arun!

I realised that I was slowing down as we climbed higher and I felt that my neck was burning. I wondered why and then realised that the shoulder bag was too heavy for me to carry up the hill!
Bharadwaj came to my rescue to my great relief!
(I still have hopes of going on a trek in the Himalayas !)
Finally we were at the waterfall! Bhardwaj had earlier said it was an hours climb but it was much longer for me! I often would ask him 'How far from here?' as I strove to catch my breath and he would encourage me by saying 'We are almost there!'

We all took turns to get under the waterfall; it was an unforgettable experience to feel the water thumping down on us! My shoulder felt better after the pounding!

As we were wishing to stay there forever a buffalo strode in purposefully and we had to perforce make way for her and her calf. The calf moved out when we tried to drive them away, but the mother stood firm.
Even the ( Buffalo!) girl was unmoved and stood there calmly until she felt that the buffalo had its fill and only then moved away. The buffalo followed her quietly! I learnt a little more about the order under which we all live. The buffalo had a priority over us humans here and we sensibly yeilded!

Now you know why we had to move out of her way!
Surya making an attempt to be friends with the calf!

We were happy to go in again and Neema finally decided to join the fun!

A shrine where Neema, Surya and Bhardwaj performed a puja.

We all joined the prayer to thank Ishwara for his creation, especially for this beautiful spot which by his grace is still unspoilt and we could enjoy as well as truly appreciate his design!

The climb down was easy and fast! We were also hungry and looking forward to our lunch at a special place Bhardwaj had chosen for us. We had a really good lunch at this satvik vegetarian restaurant and Neema had the concluding session of The Bhagwadgita in its small cute garden. Great location except for the mosquitoes!