The Tantra of Travel

Central France, January 2016

Traveling is an adventure—a process of working with transition, change, and potential transformation, if we have an intention to be transformed by the transitory. Places, people, language, food, water, circumstances are suddenly different, new impressions come flooding in, and one never knows exactly what those will be.  It’s not always pleasant, as you know, especially if you have spent many hours, as I have, sitting in a large jet airplane on long, transatlantic flights, in which we travel 36,000 miles above the earth at five hundred miles per hour, jammed together with a few hundred other people who are in various states of being, healthy or not, full of stress, tension or who knows what. Or if you’ve done some time sleeping in roach-infested beds on cold nights in Rishikesh, when the wind is blowing strong off the Ganges.
    Then there is the release of arrival at a new destination. Ah, to be off the airplane and back on the earth again! When traveling, it takes some time for the various subtle bodies of a human being to come back together after landing. It’s good to drink lots of water, eat wholesome food or not at all. Keep it simple. Be ordinary. And especially, continue with practice. Wherever you are, practice is there. Observe what we see in ourselves or in our environment without being attracted or repelled (not easy!). Relax. Stay open. In fact, just learning to stay can be powerful and tremendously important in sadhana. It is one of the ordinary ways that we cultivate essential presence of being, inner stability, context, mindfulness, a capacity to pay attention and remember what is true.
    To travel through the changes or in-between states from here to there in the transitory play of phenomena with an inner thread of continuity intact is one definition of tantra. I have discovered (and continue to learn) that transitions of all kinds offer the opportunity to develop continuity wherever I am, no matter how challenging circumstances many be. No matter what is going on, the Path is there for me, and I am walking on it. I can pay attention, I can remember, I can wait, I can breathe, and I can stay. Stay open, stay present, stay in place.
    Traveling naturally breaks routines and expands boundaries, opens the doors of perception for fresh perspectives. It offers the opportunity to recreate myself, to be made anew in a very organic way within the flow of ordinary life. It is a chance to relax into the place of origination, to be pleasantly surprised by myself as well as others, to glimpse possibilities—and yet, to avail myself of those potentials depends upon having continuity, a stability of awareness in the midst of change. I can cultivate inner stability and quietude even if all hell is breaking loose around me. And even if all hell is breaking loose in my own mind and emotions, I can sense that a deeper awareness stays in place, down under where it’s quiet, just there.
    A little more than a week ago I arrived in the lush countryside of central France. It was Christmas Day. The next morning I went to the early meditation on the rustic ashram where I live while in Europe. The sun is slow to dawn in that northern climate. It was pitch dark at 6:45 when meditation began, and it was still twilight an hour later, when I walked out into the grassy courtyard.
    A full moon hung low in the western sky, a radiant golden orb suspended in deep blue dusk. Beneath the moon were two persimmon trees, bare of leaves like the tangle of trees all around but adorned with a few hundred ripe persimmons that glowed orange, heavy with juicy nectar. The grass was emerald green, even in the low light of the wintry dawn, and the bare limbs of the trees dripped with rain from the night before. Below my hilltop view, the valley, cradled in rolling hills, was a mysterious vale swathed in mists, with the lacy relief of bare treetops showing through. Coming from the dry lands of Arizona, I was stunned by the beauty of the scene, and all my senses drank in the rasa of the Sacred made manifest in Nature, all the more potent in those transitory moments between night and day.
    Two days later I was in another transition, wrestling with a virus and physical discomforts on many fronts and in the midst of a three-day cleanse on lemon juice, water, and maple syrup, previously planned to happen before New Year’s Day. Of course, in France, there is no Whole Foods Market with a plethora of options for natural care when one comes down with a cold or virus. I was thrown back on myself in another small wave of groundlessness. When we are forced to rest and stay still with a physical illness, we come into contact with a level of mind blather and emotional regurgitation that we are often shielded from in the busy tasks of the day or even in formal sitting meditation. Is there something useful in the confrontation that occurs during illness? Is there anything essential or worth taking seriously in what comes up?
    Most of it is detritus—the organism throwing off dietary excesses, impressions, and stored chemicals produced by weeks, months, years of emotional reactivity (see the science of psychoneuroimmunology) to various ensnarements and karmic patterns, which are then lodged in the cells and tissues of the body. I soon realized I was in a process of purification or cleansing on many levels. Purification was necessary, but it becomes truly useful if I cease habitual clinging to deep-rooted identifications and attachments—the strategies my mind has artfully arranged around life dramas and interpersonal snafus, which were now thrown in my face for a full viewing and re-assessment. It was valuable if I took high road of seeing what actually is and letting it all go.
    On the other hand, there were deeper threads or primal elements and encounters with myself that needed further investigation. Perhaps, when we are “down” with a cold or flu or other illness, a message is being delivered by our true nature. Dreams may come in lurid swarms of communication from the depths. The primordial wisdom of sahaja is talking to us. I have heard many people say that their illness or diagnosis was “the best thing that ever happened" to them. On the most basic level, a health crisis, major or minor, forces us to stop running around doing things in a distracted, unconscious state of mind. Forces us out of denial about what is, especially the reality of the body. To stay in bed and allow a healing process to occur is no so easy for many of us. Sometimes the deep self has to force the issue. That leads to the main point of this essay, which is learning how to stay. Just stay.
    It is interesting to observe how little habits eat away at inner stability. Stability can be developed in all kinds of small ways throughout our day. How hard is it to take a seat and just stay in it? Are we compelled to get up and run around, do one more thing, jump up and attend to something that is completely unnecessary in the moment? Really, it’s just one more distraction from being here and now. Just stay in your “seat,” whatever that is in the moment. Resist that urge to get up and run around! Being active and exercising is a good thing; constant distraction, fascination, and unconscious restlessness is another. What is it that drives us so?
    What drives us is the complex of mind and emotion and the deep unease that plagues our inner lives. But that is not what I want to delve into today; rather, I’m interested in the small ways we can begin to build stamina and staying power in ordinary life. Here’s an idea! At random times during the day, stop what you are doing and just stay where you are. Take five minutes to just sit and feel into the space around you. Listen to the sounds you hear. Is the wind blowing? Are there traffic noises? Sounds of happy children playing? Music? Tune into the quiet whoosh of your own breath coming and going. Just breathe. To breathe is to live.
    And what do you see? The room, the furniture, the window, what is outside the window? Is it green out there? Can you see the sky, the clouds, from where you are sitting? What is the weather like? What are the smells around you? Is food cooking somewhere, incense burning, a plant blossoming, or do you sense the musky, sweet, rank, or bitter smell of humanity? What time of day is it? Each time of day has its own quality—afternoon, morning, evening. Each has its own rasa as the Earth turns around the Sun and the light changes. Taste the rasa of this moment in your day. Just five minutes, and then you can keep going.
    Staying power. Continuity. Making the most of transitions, finding the changeless within change, the thread of sameness that runs through everything, the legendary quiet, still place within. Tantrikas like Dr. Robert Svoboda talk about samarasa (same taste)—the Vajrayana Buddhists call it “one taste.” How do we get to know the simplicity of one taste? Cultivate staying power, stability, the strength to be simple, to wait and be quiet within. This cultivation deepens our spiritual way and can be done most obviously in meditation practice but also in potent and small ways, in the heat and pressure and speed of every day life. We can attend to details and demands with a pared-down, “no frills and no embellishments” approach, with a one-pointed focus of attention, to discover that there is freedom in simplicity.
    For many years I was both attracted and disturbed by the idea of “one taste” as an aim in spiritual life. I associated this possibility with a deadening or denial of the senses, of relationship, and even of life itself. It hinted of a stultifying boredom—who wants to know only one thing forever? One might as well be in prison, or completely cease to exist! Over many years of time, I have changed my view. The aim of one taste is looking more attractive as time goes on and the reality of the Path—and the Buddha’s great teaching, “All life is suffering”—comes into sharper focus. I’ve been blessed to be in the company of great saints and teachers who have given me many glimpses of the true potential of the Path, both in their embodiment and in myself. Direct experience has shown me that simplicity, staying, cultivating one taste in fact opens out into a vivid enjoyment of life’s many tastes, but without grasping to hold on and possess, without cloying attachment and the suffocating affects of being immediately hooked by identification.  When I possess my experience, I am obsessing neurotically about it; it soon grows dead and lifeless, losing its taste altogether.
    When I am not obsessing and possessing experience, the openness of the infinite field of sahaja gives rise to all kinds of creativity and wise knowing. It’s very simple. It’s a process of letting go, but I’ve found that it’s hard to let go when I don’t have a foundation of strength, the power to stay with whatever is arising, including emptiness. Emptiness may be the most challenging experience of all, in which we need to develop a capacity to simply stay.
    In his fourth talk in the Oak Grove in Ojai, California, J. Krishnamurti spoke about the difference between loving what we do and being “occupied” with what we do. To be occupied prevents the open space of infinite primordial sahaja, because there is a clamping down in order to grasp experience. When we truly love what we do—without owning, possessing, seeking, obsessing—we may fully savor the many tastes of life. Krishnamurti says that it is only when the mind is totally unoccupied, completely empty, that it can receive something new. Only then can a new thing come into being. On the other hand, to love what we do is a free feeling that occurs when there is a “cessation” of all ambition and drive for achievement, for recognition, for success. Krishnamurti said:

… When you love a thing, there is no occupation with it. The mind isn’t conniving to achieve something, trying to be better than somebody else; all comparison, competition, all desire for success, for fulfillment, totally ceases. It is only the ambitious mind that is occupied.

Similarly, a mind that is occupied with God, with truth, can never find it because that which the mind is occupied with, it already knows. If you already know the immeasurable, what you know is the outcome of the past; therefore, it is not the immeasurable. Reality cannot be measured, therefore there is no occupation with it. There is only a stillness of the mind, and emptiness in which there is no movement—and it is only then that the unknown can come into being. (August 14, 1955)

(pgs. 68-69, As One Is, J. Krishnamurti, Hohm Press)

Well, there’s not much left to say after Krishnamurti has leveled everything to one taste. And yet, he speaks of love and of loving what we do…
    So, those are my thoughts today on the tantra of travel—an adventure that brings many different experiences, from unexpected adversity to the surprise of joy. The tantra of travel is about stability in the midst of change, about purification and transformation, about discovering one taste as much as it is about rasa and tasting many flavors. Tantra is about reality and about love. Tantra is about surrender. Travel offers a unique opportunity to interact with all these essentials of the transformational process.
    We’ve ended in a fine, lovely mess, but now it’s time to go to the kitchen, where a mound of ripe persimmons wait to be prepared for human consumption, cleaned and blended into the lovely raw persimmon pudding that we eat here in Douce France in mid-winter, sprinkled with garam masala and doused with cream. The persimmons only come once a year, ripening after the frost. They are as sweet and pure a rasa as anything I’ve ever tasted—a transitory treat.

“Persimmon Heaven”

“Persimmon Heaven”

©2016 Mary Angelon Young, All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce without permission.

For more about Khepa Lee, Yogi Ramsuratkumar, or Sahaja…

To enjoy reading more about the lineage of Khepa Lee Lozowick, Yogi Ramsuratkumar, and Swami Ramdas or the Bauls and Sahaja in the East and West, see my articles published in Namarupa Magazine:

Issue 14, Volumes 5-6 — “Remembering Lee Lozowick” (2011)

Issue 8 — “Yogi Ramsuratkumar”  (2001)

Issue 9 — “Heart on Fire: The Bauls of Bengal”  (2008)

Namarupa Magazine has been a source of inspiration for me for many years. Their commitment and integrity to the Indian traditions, sadhana and the spiritual path stands out as a beacon of light in the world today. I’m pleased that my work is represented in their publication. Back issues are available through Namarupa.


Remembering a few stories from the first time I met Yogi Ramsuratkumar

It’s hard to believe the following account of my first meeting with Yogi Ramsuratkumar was written almost twenty-five years ago. A few months after I returned from India in 1993, I submitted a piece of reportage to Om Sri Ram—the newsletter of Swami Ramdas devotees in the West. It was finally published by that journal in the fall of 1998. The lila that occurred between Yogi Ramsuratkumar and myself over this particular article in Om Sri Ram is chronicled in detail in the pages of As It Is, and in his biography, Yogi Ramsuratkumar, Under the Punnai Tree, but the article itself has never appeared in one of my books. It seems like an auspicious time to finally take this out of my archives and make it available.

From 1993

Traveling in India by bus from lush Anandashram in Kanhangad, Kerala to the more desert-like, dusty Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, we disembarked on the side of the busy road beside Ramanashram, where we stayed for the next few days while visiting Sri Yogi Ramsuratkumar. Ramanashram is the spiritual home of Ramana Maharshi, where he lived for many years until his death. Today it is a flourishing center of spiritual presence and the influence of this great saint. Arriving in mid-morning, we saw monkeys scamper and chatter around the grounds under huge, sprawling trees, while in the samadhi hall seekers from all over the world walked quietly or sat in deep meditation or inner reflection in the abiding presence of Ramana Maharshi’s relics and statue.
            After settling into our rooms at Ramanashram, we went to the Sudama House where Yogi Ramsuratkumar was then living. It was November 1993, and at the time the property for Yogi Ramsuratkumar’s ashram had just been purchased; plans were being made for its construction. We were with our American teacher, Lee, who travels thousands of miles each year from the US to see his spiritual Father, Sri Yogi Ramsuratkumar.
            Yogi Ramsuratkumar had been expecting Lee’s arrival, and as we were ushered through the gate of the high walls that surrounded the house and garden, he came moving quickly down the steps calling out Lee’s name. “Lee, Lee!” he cried joyously, “My Father is everywhere—all one, all unity, indivisible, everything, everywhere, all one!” This proclamation of the oneness of all life, or as Ramdas would have said, “Everything is Ram,” was the first thing I heard Yogi Ramsuratkumar say. Indeed, for most of us on the trip, this was our first sight of Yogi Ramsuratkumar in person.
            Stopped in my tracks by the sheer auspicious power of the moment, I watched as Lee fell to the ground in a full-body pranam. Right away  Yogi Ramsuratkumar reached out a hand and pulled his Western devotee to his feet, chuckling and clapping Lee loudly on the back and shoulders. As they walked up the steps to the porch, Yogiji's arm twined around Lee, the nine of us travelers from America followed, knowing we were entering an extraordinary world of wonder, awe, and melting hearts.
            In that first sight of him, it was clear that Yogi Ramsuratkumar lived up to his name—“The Godchild of Tiruvannamalai.” He was divinely childlike and yet elegant and regal in his beggar’s rags—old dhotis wrapped around his body and shawls stained from time on the streets. His beard was snow white underneath a green turban, which he wore wrapped around his head over blue-black hair. His eyes sparkled with light and sometimes shimmered with tears as blessings poured from his raised hands or simply from the radiance of his being. After seeing the sublime sweetness and unimaginable compassion that radiated from the face and eyes of Papa Ramdas in photographs and videos, Yogi Ramsuratkumar seemed to me a true spiritual son, molded in the image of the father and yet also a uniquely different expression of the Divine.
            This quality of divine nectar, which was so radiantly alive in Yogi Ramsuraktumar and apparent in photographs of Papa Ramdas, came to life in a different way when I was fortunate to see a video of Swami Ramdas filmed by the imminent French filmmaker and spiritual teacher Arnaud Desjardins. Traveling in Europe with Lee in 1992, we were guests at Font d’Isiere, the ashram of Arnaud in France at that time. There he granted us the privilege of seeing rare footage of Papa Ramdas and Mother Krishnabai, which he had filmed at Anandashram in the early 1960s. Arnaud had a great love for Papa Ramdas, which he expressed by showing us a carefully folded dhoti, which he took from a locked glass case in the meditation hall, and held it out in his hands with reverence. The dhoti had been given to him by Ramdas many years ago, during Arnaud's stay at Anandashram. I remember well watching the film with a full heart, touched to the core by the sweetness in the saint's eyes. Because of Arnaud, I received an unforgettable darshan of Papa Ramdas.
            One evening during our visit in Tiruvannamalai, Yogi Ramsuratkumar told the story of his relationship with Ramdas, his guru. He said that when he was at Anandashram in 1952, Papa Ramdas initiated him into the mantra, Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram, and told him to repeat it twenty-four hours a day.  Listening and watching the Godchild, I was astonished to see Bhagwan become contrite and tearful as he said, “This beggar tried for one week to chant, and then Papa was with him all the time and everywhere. Papa was everything—nothing else, nobody else but my Father. This beggar didn’t do what Papa Ramdas told him to do.”  The depth of his devotion moved my heart; I was powerfully touched by his wish that he could have done his Father’s bidding, to chant the mantra as Ramdas instructed, even though he ceased chanting because he had become one with Ramdas and his Father in Heaven.
            At another time Yogi Ramsuratkumar said, “In 1952 Ramdas killed this beggar,” referring to the death of his personal identity and surrender at the feet of Swami Ramdas. I had heard these stories before, but hearing them from Yogi Ramsuratkumar himself made a deeper impact in mind and heart.
            Throughout our visit with the Godchild of Tiruvannamalai, poetry written by Lee for Yogi Ramsuratkumar, was read aloud. A small book of these poems, titled Poems of a Broken Heart, had recently been published by an Indian devotee in Madras, at the request of Yogi Ramsuratkumar. Every day Yogi Ramsuratkumar asked Devaki Ma to read Lee's poems over and over again. Often she read poems that spoke of Yogi Ramsuratkumar’s love for Papa Ramdas and Mataji Krishnabai; then Yogiji would sit silently for a moment. “Read that one again," he would say. Then, after another reading, he would repeat the request: “Please read that one again for this beggar.” The following poem is one that Yogi Ramsuratkumar asked Devaki Ma to read many times in a row:

I heard stories of Your great love
            For Papa and Mataji
Yes, You Rascal,
            You were Mad even then.
This arrogant Fool Lee
            Cannot love You like this on his own
But if You give him the Blessings
            Of Your Father in Heaven
Then Lee will love You
            Even as You loved Them.
Oh Father, Yogi Ramsuratkumar,
            Your son begs You for this gift.

At the end of the reading Yogi Ramsuratkumar turned to Lee and, in a melodic and tender voice full of love and wonder, asked, “Lee, how did you know? How did you know this beggar felt that way about Ramdas and Krishnabai?”

Ma Devaki, Yogi Ramsuratkumar and Lee Lozowick, Tiruvannamalai, India 1993

Ma Devaki, Yogi Ramsuratkumar and Lee Lozowick, Tiruvannamalai, India 1993

            While we were in Tiruvannamalai, we spent some time at Ramanashram and walked up Mount Arunachala, the abode of Lord Shiva. Considered one of the great holy mountains of Mother India, we were eager to visit Skandashram, a small enclave of buildings on the mountain's flanks where Ramana Maharshi lived in solitude before Ramanashram was built. There he had meditated in a small dark room hewn out of stone on the side of the mountain. We refreshed ourselves in the cool water of the rushing spring that feeds tall shady trees surrounding the old stone buildings of Skandashram, creating a very green backdrop for a place so profoundly imbued with spiritual power. Hiking back down, we went inside the small cave where Papa Ramdas lived and meditated and experienced his spiritual awakening.
            The next day, our pilgrimage to the immense, impressive Arunachaleswara Shiva temple in the town of Tiruvannamalai was unforgettable. With its traditional, ornate gopurams, bluegreen pool and labyrinthine depths, the dark corridors and shrines of the inner temple were filled with holy relics and artifacts; it is the kind of spiritual treasure that India so lavishly offers to the world. But even the splendor of the temple could not keep us away from the living saint; we couldn’t wait to return to Sudama House to sit in the company of Yogi Ramsuratkumar. We spent many hours sitting with him for hours while we chanted the mantra of his name and Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram. During that time he often served prasad or milky, sweet coffee to us, with his own hands. Once Devaki Ma brought a tray of fresh roses, and Yogi Ramsuratkumar walked around our group, dropping a lush, perfect rose into each of our waiting hands.
            On our last night in Tiruvannamalai we were invited to a delicious dinner with Yogi Ramsuratkumar, Devaki Ma, the Sudama sisters and a few of Yogiji’s Indian devotees at Sudama House. This was to be our last darshan with the holy beggar—we were soon to fly back to Arizona. That night Yogiji brought our visit to a close by giving us packages of prasad—sweet, hard rock candy. Each of us went up to bow and pranam at his feet and receive the gift of prasad from his hands, along with his words, “My Father blesses you.”
            Knowing we would leave in two days to return to the States, this parting was bittersweet for me; sweet because of the joy and happiness I felt to be in the company of such a rare being and receive his infinite blessings, and bitter because I knew I was leaving Mother India and Yogi Ramsuratkumar. I had no idea when or if I would see the Beggar Saint of Tiruvannamalai again. I thought of Swami Ramdas and Mother Krishnabai, and the many other beloved saints of India, and of Anandashram and my experience there, and I wished with all my heart that I might return to bask in the blessings of the Divine so richly present in the incredible spiritual culture and heritage of this amazing land. (Based on the original essay published in Om Sri Ram, 36 Collected Issues, Volume I)           

Little did I know at the time that I would travel to India many times and would be blessed with precious opportunities to spend hours and days in the company of beloved Bhagwan, Yogi Ramsuratkumar. Numerous lilas with Yogi Ramsuratkumar transpired in 1993, as well as in 1998 and 2000, many of which are recounted in depth in two of my books, As It Is—A Year on the Road with a Tantric Teacher and Yogi Ramsuratkumar—Under the Punnai Tree (Hohm Press).

©2016 Mary Angelon Young, All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce without permission.