Visit to Arunachala 1993


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Visit to Arunachala  1993

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Day One

In a mud village at the foot of Arunachala, the setting sun is glistening pink sky in a silver tank.  Boys are fishing.  Sound of music – the strident shrill horns of buses and lorries.  “Hal-lo!” – the radiant smile of children in Tamil Nadu, bowling hoops in red earth alleys.

When I arrived in Ramanasramam last night, it was bundled up like a wounded buffalo in the back of a taxi.  I had fallen ill early that morning in the train approaching Madras, with sickness, cramps and dehydration.   My body was an alien disaster – my teenage daughter was embarrassed and concerned:  Mum going to pieces when abroad.  My first night here was an agony of weakness in an inhospitable room of stone, far away from everything.   I had looked forward to it so much.   It was a nightmare.

Very slow and cautious recovery during the day.

In the mid afternoon, I ventured out and into the Ashram, and up the path towards Skandashram a little way.  The warm stones to my bare feet, and the lithe smiles of twig-like dark children began to heal and open my cells again like a plant.  I began to recognize and understand where I was.  With wonderful relief the pain went away.

My first time in India.   India!

During a visit to the Temple’s flowering stillness, and sitting in the Old Hall in Ramana’s presence, and doing pradakshina around the chanting of the Vedas, I understood that my bodymind had been thoroughly squeezed, wrung of all its juices like a pressed mango, in obligatory fast, and could now like an empty sponge, open to take in this experience fresh and clean.  There is now, after barely a day here, and after the grim gallows grimace of yesterday, a quiet happiness.   Arunachala stone is of roses and fire.  The sun is steadily hot with a fresh breeze.  There is everywhere a tender growth of green.  Young trees are planted on the dry slopes in protective cairns of stones.  In the spaces of Ashram – the word means, I think, ‘shelter’ or ‘spiritual refuge’ – sphurana is vibrant, ringing within my thoughts.    It is good to feel Bhagavan’s smile, wisdom and tenderness percolate softly, powerfully, through the matter.  It says to me, “Have no worries.  Hand them all over.”  Living and washing and eating off the ground gets to feel very good as it becomes accustomed.  Leaf plate stitched concentrically, rice and yellow food, fingers, hot milk, banana.

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The only thing I can say about today, is the pressure of peace, an inner intensity that slowly infiltrates, and is kindled in the Maharshi’s presence like a river of fire, deep and strong in the stem.  It is often imperceptible;  but the reminded awareness may tap this Source.  Sitting in the Old Hall is best.  The path of light up the Hill.  The russet granite rocks illumined.  The thin, dark limber legs descending;  they bear white-toothed smiles and eyes that gaze slowly, openly into mine, straight and fearless as Bhagavan’s from the same earth.  During the Vedic chanting, I did pradakshina of his mahasamadhi shrine, with the members of our Satsang at home in mind, their faces.  This helped me to concentrate.  The chanting of the Vedas is cosmic, like the sound and deep of the sea.

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Day Four

India is something to embrace very gently, all the time.  Climbing Arunachala mountain – rose-fire stone, garlanded with lemon-grass;  repeating Arunachala Siva whenever my mind quietened, my bare feet were not separate from the ground.  The stones of the path, the rocky foot-holds and spills of sharp grass coming to meet them, flow into the soles as the whole surface of Arunachala is their friend, the friend of my body to receive.   There are moments of non-doership, watching those feet.   This thought is Siva climbing, dancing upon the steep path of pilgrims.  The climb to a holy place, is up the benevolent body of the Great Lord.   All of the racket of the town Tiruvannamalai below, floats up to meet and merge with the Divine in His silence.

On the summit, in the smell of burnt ghee over the blackened rock, there is a tremendous wind, and a veil of cloud.  The whiteness parts to reveal spurs of the Mountain in breathtaking beauty, which fall away into space, into His sun-shot hazy dance-floor, sheer below.   Parvati peak is very near, and shining.  A community of monkeys up here maintains a pecking order for Prasad.

At Skandashram on the way down, the stream is full, because there has been rain.  Like hot buffaloes, my daughter and I thrust our salt-doll heads and sweat into the water in bliss.  Then in cool wet clothes I went into the dark holy shrine to sit.  A fire lit up in my heart, here in Bhagavan’s mountain home among the falling water, whose sound is everywhere.   I felt moved to tears, coming out, with the stature and abundance of this day – really beyond speech.

Some of the high contours of the Mountain form a strange echo chamber or ear.  It takes all the noise of life and turns it into a song whose note rings a hymn of sages, somewhere in the upper slopes.

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Day Five

In the Old Hall, I begin to make a discovery;  to bathe in the inner Current.  Light from the window by Bhagavan’s sofa falls on the floor, on polished flags of stone, dark grey and white.   A silvery stream beginningless of the Self, is generated here, like a mountain spring.   There is a brightness, there is repose, there is no thing, there is the deep.  My I-thought is a worry-fly.  It buzzes around and over the surface of the current of awareness.

I walked around the Song of the Gods – the Vedas – a few times, too.  The ground walks these feet.  Here in this land, all is softness.  All is interwoven, even hardnesses lose their nature.  The actual life of the Ashram is this silver stream.  It plays among the silent beings that come and go, that sit or stand, that bring their burdens.  Within all conversations and encounters, is the truth of silence, slow waves of earth, of water – no solidity is here.   In this place … just listen – to the sounds of water, the monkeys, the wailing peacocks and priests.   Immerse;  receive the blessing.

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Now it is afternoon, and am resting from the heat, with my feet in a waterfall upstream from the Sadhus’ colony.  This is a sylvan valley under the Hill and to the west.  There is only the abundant sound of the water, gold shadows of ripples that cross the sand.  Sivaic beetles are dancing.  A spindly flock of tiny black baby goats, fleshless, come to drink.  Hot clear sun, fresh breeze, a mountain stream in a rocky meadow, green grasses bright – this is any place in the world.

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Ganapati Muni as Manu, the Hierophant

The Sacred India Tarot copyright (c) Yogi Impressions Books 2011

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In the evening, the Path of Peace – the climb to Skandashram and seeing the sunset – is a causeway.  If I let the ground flow into my bare feet and hear Arunachala Siva within, He might do the walking for me.   Hand over the feet to Him.   How loose and supple the body glides with them.  The rose-subtle radiance of the evening sky illumines the path of broad stones with a secret fire which glows and is immanent in everything.   It is not flame, but the essence of life, Divinity’s spark.   Far above, the mountain sings as one Song all the discordant notes offered up to Him from the town.  He receives them in His throat, and transforms them to a musical vibration, an echoing sphurana, an OM.

The secret fire which makes the stones glow rose-orange in the twilight after the sun has set, is Siva.

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Day Six

The I-thought is a banana being fed to monkeys and beggars.  Follow this bright banana to its stalk on the stem, and stay there for as long as possible …

Frantically floundering about in the Old Hall, trying to be quiet with Bhagavan, and stop worrying about small and colourful transactions in the market place in town, and about whether my new clothes will fit or shrink.  A new world of acquaintance takes shape simultaneously where the sacred Mountain interfaces the profane, the dusty, tumultuous and exuberant world of the street, the grass-roots education.  We immerse, we SWIM downtown with the crowd, the exuberant tide of life, like ducks.

When we arrived here, it was totally foreign, I couldn’t understand any of the shops, hadn’t any proper clothes, felt naked, laughed at, and sore.

The art of not being the doer must be the key to … everything?  Be not the doer, but the door.

Today was our first pradakshina around the mountain.   The beauty of it all sang inside me, especially to see Parvati peak enthroned in grace with her Lord, around the North faces.   Exuberant and light hearted are the namastes, with all the enchanting children, naughty old crones, cows, boys demanding school-pens, and raucously squawking little auto-rickshaws along the path.  Their bulb horns are the ego, danced upon by Siva.  Aaoh Ow! they cry out … for miles around the mountain.   Meeting and receiving  all this, eye to eye, look and be seen, isn’t Bhagavan’s grace the indifferentiation which – in the highest sense – is love?   The laughter is deeply moved along the joyful road.   We strayed off it, into stretches of quiet country inland to the Mountain, and picked up many stones, red, white and black for the Three Gunas.  Around the rocky flanks of Parvati, water-courses glisten in the sun, like milk.

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Day Seven

The Maharshi’s current of peace is strong in the morning, a ringing in my heart where he plays the instrument, a river, an intimation of an in-looking sweetness, mysterious and awesome.  Being near the well, I can dwell a little more in the silent, simple music.   I don’t need to greet everyone or maintain conversational grimaces, among the rich green trees, the birds, brilliant peacocks and limber monkeys … the quiet white stone, where Tamil peasants squat and drink their breakfast out of cans.  There are not many flies in the fresh air by the Hall.  I am a peasant with a load of cattle seeking oasis.

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Day Eight

Utter paradox:  the unholy racket, discord and commerce jostles up to the utterly pure flame of the Hill and shatters its peace with cinema music, like piglets to the sow;   the rapture with the Hill remains unchanged under all that desecration.   Thought for the day:  Remember everything which occurs is truly His grace.  Then love is the door, which opens.

The Munchkin Man (he’s from the States) tells me the soil in these parts is exhausted of minerals and trace elements.  After a few days, I feel my body weight disappearing, even with my enormous appetite for the delicious vegetarian sambars.   My substance collapses into the inner vestal flame of Bhagavan’s grace – the vichara or Self enquiry. The Indian climate, allied to the discreet power of his presence here, is a tropical blossom which folds around, embraces and drains me of inessentials.   It is enough to be not doing, but sitting about.  You can lie on the hard ground.  The warmth coming into body and bones, cushions it.   There are no edges, no surfaces other than this friend.  You can make a palace wherever you are.  For the last few days I have a bad, tickly cough.  Last night I got up, went out and did a few surya namaskayas and stretches under the clear stars, with slow breaths.   The consciousness reached beyond the scratchiness.  The cough settled, and let me sleep.

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Day Ten

On pradakshina before dawn:   Ramana who sports in the Self, used to roam wild on the hill like a goat.   They took him and shut him up in an Ashram.

Siva Arunachala Majesty abides in peace under siege of urban cacophony and some local entrepreneurial piranha.  You can’t get away from the noise of thought, of the plains.  You can at moments praise, pray and wonder at His silhouette of power and grace before dawn, with His Queen, Parvati.   The divinities are bathed each instant with milky offerings of the NOW, destroying clouds and vapours – oh Great Ones of Grace, denuded, manifesting dignity and perfection – they unchangingly are changed.  The profane and tinsel tide of superstition and commerce inundates but touches them not.   Oh, silver grey unformed Self at dawn unborn – Arunachaleswara preserves in mouna – silently – His purity.

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This afternoon, Sri Annamalai Swami, who lives in a white house at Palakottu, the Sadhus’ colony by the water, gave darshan to a group of people.   He is a realized being.  To sit in his presence, realizes this.  The mind, turning inward and hearing the song of birds outdoors, becomes one pointed, intense and quiet.   He is good, gentle and peaceful.   Later he answered some questions, pickled in vintage Advaita.  The mind is to be absorbed into the heart – he points to his sternum just to the right of centre – the body comes and goes (the wheel of births) – the Self alone is constant.   And he spoke a great deal about the Snake and the Rope.

His eyes are soft and filmy, downward turned.  It seemed to me, they met mine for an instant, a burning light went into my inner sight through the sockets, and I rejoiced in the smile of this beautiful being who sports in the Self.   I felt, for much of the time, “thank you” in fullness to him and Bhagavan, and happy.  Bhagavan hugged him when he was young, and he ‘never recovered’ from it.    Beautiful, childlike, grave, stick-like old man, brown-golden, with a kind twinkle, a soft husky voice and abrupt, precise gestures.   The space where he sits leaves a current of delicious repose, and no need to belong to any sort of club of followers.

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Day Eleven

The darshan of Swamiji Annamalai feels very satvic the morning after.  On waking, the busy cacophony of India is an all embracing marvel.  In my heart, a tender caress opens to it all, on the extraordinary comfort of my hard bed.  Walking up through Ashram at dawn, I greet Lord Arunachala, mighty with some silvery potency;  it is all my friend.  Something turns my I-thought to water, sinking inward to clearly reflect, like the wide well in the courtyard, the soft veined centres of leaves.  There is a transparency unmoving.  A watery veil that is fathomless, shimmers in here.

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We hired big pushbikes, and rode to visit Sri Ramanananda Saraswathi, who lives near Adi-Annamalai on the other side of the mountain.  His house is terracotta, the colour of the earth.  His garden is a busy green forest of lively shrubs and trees from the mahasamadhis of sages and saints.   Ramanananda is a warm welcome of delight, rather stout with a monkish fringe and horn-rimmed spectacles, a lover of Bhagavan deep in the Mountain, a voluble repository of  Sivaic legend and the secret life of plants.   To his house arrive Sadhus like sailors, men and women in ochre, who smile and make jokes;  they discuss the science and psychology of awakening – I sit among the angels.   The house is like a ship.  The trees outside sway past it, in the breeze.  In Ramanananda’s fireplace shrine are many stones from the Mountain and a portrait of Bhagavan’s feet on a tiger skin;  on the wall are Ramanananda’s watercolours of Arunachala.  The Higher Power gave him the job of raising money to restore Adi-Annamalai Temple, so his hermitage is now an office.   He said “it is good to take in the Mountain so intimately, through your open feet.   Did you see the way He glows at night? …”  and he recounted many legends and medicines.   “Realising the Self,” he said, wagging his head “ is an egg being hatched.  A hen sits on it to warm it, a tortoise thinks of it, and a fish eyes it.  These are initiations by touch, by silence and by look.   Arunachala is immaculate.  He is indifferent to the flies and bits of time and the world …”   And he smiles.

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We rode our bikes away from the road, along earth paths into spaces of deepest rural India … towards strange hazy mountain ranges, and lumpy rock projections that encircle Siva’s mountain.  Red glowing earth, crystal stones, soft green grass and coconut palms.  There is no where to go, beause it is every where … the Self-landscape, timelessly.  So entranced, we wander deeper into it.   Over it, the Mountain Natarajan danced with such awesome grace and beauty that the silence, vibrant with the colours of this land, made my heart roar, and my knees feel weak.    In the changeless, uncitied, terracotta dance-floor of the god, the smile with peasants, children, goats and cows, is huge.   In a special prayer to Lord Arunachaleswara in His glory, my question crystallizing is – “what is your will?   How do you want me to be?”

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Day Thirteen – Winter Solstice

I told them I wanted to go round the Hill by the ‘Inner Path’ that Swami Ramanananda told me about.  Today a guide was provided to take me along it.  We set out, about 7.30am.  The air after rain was clear, pearly bright and green, with a soft wind and views of the jagged mountains in the distance, all cleansed.   I followed my guide over a sylvan silent landscape of thorns, conifers, goat paths, and small streams.   He spoke no English, and we understood one another very well.  We smiled joyfully at the beauty of the Mountain in the morning.  Siva was veiled in His white headcloth.  The air was sheer song.  We climbed a col or spur by a rocky, steep path, following telegraph poles;  the feeling of the young Bhagavan and his friends scrambling about all over the Hill and having fun, was very strong and fiery indeed.    Over the other side, in a fragrant silence far from the road, we hugged the Hill through moorland and glades of feathery trees.  Parvati appeared overhead.  For a while, she became a great linga herself, concealing her Lord with her prakriti or magic veil, while she merged with Him.   Then, around her as we walked, Siva Himself unveiled, resplendently.  We visited and worshipped at many secret shrines of sacred ground along the way, and rubbed our faces in dust, vermilion and white ash.

Towards the far side of this sacred ampitheatre, we visited a yellow temple, which sprawled on the slopes like a lion.  It was filled with blazing aspects of Brahman as Kali, ancient and crumbling.   Into its innermost dark shrine we slowly entered.   We shared again puja, the power and potency of the inner cavern.   In the chamber of cool rock, of flame and black ghee and vermillion, lived stone sculptures of Siva and of Parvati – their marriage – which stunned me with their power – the silent furnace of their blessing.

We returned along the back streets of Tiruvannamalai, where they lap the Hill, and up the steep stairway to Skandashram, via the flambent dark oasis of Virupaksha Cave.  Here again I knelt in gratitude, cleansed.  Stone blocks are removed from my being, to let in light, all that ash and earth and strength, face to the ground, the sweetness.

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Day Fourteen

Very tired today.  Rain and mud the day before, make a maelstrom of dust and exhaust fumes today.  Swimming into town isn’t any fun now, in that thick dirty gritty air.  Lord Siva’s mountain is shrouded in weather, wreathed in inky veils.  Is He swallowing the poison of the world, holding it all in His throat?

Out in the great open spaces on our bikes the other day, my splendid girl announced that Lord Siva is quite a guy – perhaps it’s time for a change – adjust the life style, change her colour code and untangle her hair.   When she washed it, it blew around her into a soft reddish cloud, to her dismay.   “May I come here again next year?”  – she loves to watch the animal life.   Tales and myths of Lord Siva, bedtime stories on the road …

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Day Sixteen

Yesterday, she came with me to see Annamalai Swami, who gave another darshan.  Annamalai has soft, intense, enquiring eyes which gaze upon no thing.  If they meet yours, you are cleansed.  He has an endearing way of rocking or shaking his head or hands, in an impish Tamil cadence, as the Being looks out – “No no – no questions yet!” with a droll half-smile, a kind and tender nod.   We bow down one by one to the Self all seeing, unseeing, seated in the temperance of a form, skeletal brown legs folded like winter leaves, puckered dark workmans’ hands, the nobility of that frail investigating head, the adorable Child inward.

At dawn today, we went on the Hill, climbed to a good flat rock and settled down in the morning hush to wait for sunrise, and discuss Self realization.   I am delighted with her quick understanding of the philosophy, but it is too early;  she hasn’t yet lived and suffered the idea, or made it her own.  The eastern sky was ablush through a milk-white haze of promise over the silver land.   Looking up, you receive the blazing, colourless jewel of the morning sky.   We talked of the teachings and the play of the 3 Gunas and the sage we visited yesterday.  She said he seemed to look at her a few times, but it was very uncomfortable sitting in that hot room with so many people.  We looked down onto Ramana Ashram, the cupolas of the Mother Temple in a cradle of lush forest.  Suddenly a delicate rose pink arc of the sun appeared from absolutely nowhere, subtly, out of the white haze;  it hung over the tank of the town, seemingly in mid-distance.   It is the way the Lord speaks.  It grew in intensity to a little sphere, brilliant pink, sadhu orange, glowing and utterly still – almost close enough to touch.  All the world moved around and beneath it like a mirage in the Absolute Reality.   We saw what we had just discussed – the bindhu Point of Self with world in paradox, strange anomaly juxtaposed.   The morning sun hung in mid-air outside, yet deep inside time and space, and gave us darshan of His being.   We stood-under Maya, the shimmering screen of the world around Him – the watery book of changes.  After a little while He fired too bright for us to see.   We went down the hill to breakfast.

I began to glimpse, when we were with Annamalai yesterday, that there is nothing in this room but the Self – no independent states, individuals, objects or thoughts.  And so the judging habit is persuaded to get lost.

Far out in the timeless, placeless land again, on a bike ride, there is the radiant slow smile of children ‘without a head’ among emerald paddy fields, nutty palms and ragged warts of igneous rock.   Lord Arunachala in the distance, a stupendous silver being, dances pradakshina around Himself.  His ridges, his contours of power and grace, flow ever to the right.   With titanic beauty, He swirls:   Lord of the Dance.

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Tomorrow, Christmas Day, is the birthday of another being who realized the Self in Bhagavan’s presence – Sri Lakshmana Swami.  This morning, he gave a public darshan in the open porch of his house.  Balloons and glittering birthday greetings fluttered in the wind.   Before he appeared, there was darshan of the entire peak of Arunachala bathed in bright sunlight from top to bottom, framed in his porch.

Then Lakshmana came out and sat down, in front of the Presence.  He focuses and amplifies it.  His dark face has the nobility of great paintings, poetry or music.   His white whiskers frame an impish pleasure, and his eyes are everywhere mobile, snagging no identity.   Again, the flow of gratitude for this being who allows us to see Him and share His seeing;  who helps me to glimpse what it may have been like to live with Ramana every day.   The Being is beauty;   and all we crave and love is beauty.   I am trying to receive this insight not as an individual, but as the vibrance of the same Tree.   The darshan lasted half an hour.  At the end, cooked beans were distributed as Prasad;  he stood up suddenly and went in.    My daughter liked him best;   something in her moved, with him.

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On Christmas day in the morning – at 8am – here we are standing on the top of Arunachala again in a gale, and blackening our bare feet with greasy burnt ghee, with sun and sky space all around.   The current is very strong.   There is nothing to do about it.

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On Arunachala rocks today at sunrise – the orange welcome of the sun shimmers up through a sky of silver and aquarelle, to the profane, happy uproar of the town;  seed of life swims in the ocean, fireseed in the Motherwater kindling.   Gleaming jewel-bright – too bright now to see.

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Day Twenty

Because Arunachala in winter has young growth of lemon grass – a tangy citrus fragrance, perhaps like Ramana’s own – it is at dawn ahush with baby green among the silver grey note of the Self.  The Indian landscape before dawn is an open, sleeping creature, intense as it lightens and silvers.  An old man totters raggedly up the road with a saucer of glowing embers to incense the Ashram.  Long before light, a woman, graceful and spare in her movement, draws today’s Mandala on her earthen doorstep with white chalk powdered through her fingers.   At Palakottu, the Sadhus’ colony, Mandalas are already born on the ground like stars at night;  sadhus lie sleeping in the porch, in bundles of ochre cloth, some of them already stirring, squatting, talk-talk.

Among the trees gleams the dark still water of the tank or square pond by Sri Annamalai Swami’s white house, with moonlight rising full over the silvered peak.  Behind Annamalai’s window there glows a little light, a motionless spark in his room.   Walking the path by his house, by the water, by the chirping song of frogs and crickets, I am in the vicinity of a Self realized sage, in whom all is the Self, all is Love.  I sit as still as I can, to share the boundless dew.   What an extraordinary boon, to stand so near, to be lit up and burnt in that invisible flame.   Does He know a questing I-thought hovers near, in the cool coal of the night?    Is he other than the river of Ramana who sports in my Self?   Somewhere in that house with the little lamp, the Divine rests, never asleep.    The night is a glowing coal in motionless water, the moon almost full.  Earth and cool sharp stones and soft dust to the tentative soles of my feet;   before dawn, the vibrant stars are drawn on the dark ground.

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I was shown the rocks where Bhagavan used sometimes to sit – my favorite photo of him, with kettle and walking stick – and here the questing root in my stem sinks deep and plants itself.   In the golden light after sunrise, the warmth of the rock, the red earth and tender green grasses, the inner entity – sphurana – silently roars, consuming my heart in a substance-solvent transparency.   It melts to unsounded clear water, the morning, the view, the landscape He contemplated often – the unbounded substratum from which things appear.   I turn inwardly into a lake, perceiving the surfaces of the world and their vivid beauty.   Depth, unformed without end, gives birth to fields, trees, rocks, people, troubles and sound, with immaculate purity.

My I-thought buzzes with various ideas over this watery knowledge.   Losing substance, losing that which thinks, it sinks into brief moments of unfeatured clarity, and is less willing to fabricate Time.  The Lord Mountain swirls enrapt in His Divine Being, Natarajan.   Fortunate they, who are born in Him.

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My adventure invites fellow travellers.  I am a poet, an artist and a seer.  I welcome conversation among the PHILO SOFIA, the lovers of wisdom.

This blog is  a vehicle to promote my published work – The Sacred India Tarot (with Rohit Arya, Yogi Impressions Books) and The Dreamer in the Dream – a collection of short stories (0 Books) – along with many other creations in house.  

I write, illustrate, design and print my books.   Watch this space.


8 thoughts on “Visit to Arunachala 1993

  1. “Ocean of Nectar, full of grace! Engulfing the universe in thy splendor! Oh Arunachala the
    Supreme! Be thou the sun and open our hearts in bliss (Ananda).

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