From a volunteer at Humanitarian Organization in Nepal
This is written by Damian Woods of the UK who has been serving the children of Nepal at a great spiritual center in Nepal. We are so fortunate to have C.M. Yogi, the head of the school, as a subscriber to Heavenletters. C.M. Yogi shares Heavenletters with the children that he educates and feeds. God bless C.M. Yogi, the children, Damian, and all the volunteers who serve to truly make the world a better place. You will see that Damian is quite a writer.
The only reason I post this for Damian and C.M. Yogi is that they are unable to access our website. Please post your responses here. And, if you would be so kind, also send your response to Damian at this email address:
Vans, Views and Vedanta
Headsir (CM Yogi ji) put together a whirlwind, impromptu trip and we were off, Nakul ji leading us safely ahead in the school van. There is nothing quite like driving in Nepal, especially on the winding, steep, bumpy, cliff-lined roads out of the Kathmandu valley. It is the mad, ungoverned paradox of ''Crazy Control'' that defines driving here, contrasted with some of the most stunning scenery you can imagine.
Anthony ji, Erin ji and Dadhiram sir were also joining the jostle and joy of our journey. First stop was Dhading district head-quarter, then on to Devaghat Dham. Yogi ji had been requested to be chief speaker at a religious gathering in Dhading, celebrating the scripture of Bhagavadam. Of course, upon arrival, it was clear that the festival was operating on Nepali time- ie it hadn't even started, and was running 2-3 hours late. Undismayed, we walked into Dhading, and at the site of an interesting school, Yogi ji pronounced with playfulness: "lets go hang out…"
The next thing we know we are drinking chia in the school office, and learning that, like headsir's brother Bhola ji, Mr Binod Man Shrestha was a headmaster, and a chairman of a hospital. Impressed with his simplicity, we accepted a tour of his school and hospital. Already Yogi ji was seeing potential in the fortuitious meeting: ''Om ji is looking to widen his Live-Nepal volunteering scheme to include Health Care- perhaps volunteers could come here!" Partly affected by headsirs endless enthusiasm, I had the feeling that I would find myself volunteering as a health assistant if we stayed any longer!
It was time, however, to return to the open area set up for the festival speeches. Yogi ji insisted, in breach of Nepali tradition, that his speech be given first (usually chief speaker goes last). The next moment, simply for being the companions of the guest speaker, we are up on the stage, with huge frilly badges pinned to our jackets as if we are contest winners in the annual prized cow awards! In particular, Anthony ji must have looked a spectacle for the locals in his rainbow hued fleece…ah, these westerners!!!
Headsir delivered his speech in his confident, crowd winning manner, trumpeting the need for spirituality and changing oneself first. It is tradition that the Bhagavadam scripture is recited for 7 days, but headsir suggested to the crowd that if they are not able to perform all the readings, or follow all the teachings, they could simply choose 7 values to implement more fully in their lives: truth, love, peace, selfless service, nonviolence, forgiveness and charity. In doing this they would be following the essence of the Bhagavadam. Once he had finished, we all left the stage to carry on its ceremony without us, taking our frilly badges as souvenirs. Back in the van with Nakul at the helm, we retraced our steps along the meandering road out of Dhading, and on to our next destination: Devaghat Dham, just north of Narayanghart. We were running later than planned, and arrived with little daylight left.
We walked and swayed across a huge suspension bridge to the vast complex of houses, old people's homes, ashrams, schools and hospitals that make up the Dham. According to Hindu religion, the latter part of ones life should be less involved with activities and family affairs, and people in old age should be given a suitable environment and time to meditate and prepare spiritually for death. Indeed, Yogi ji's mother has been living at the ashram for the best part of a month, very simply, studying the scriptures and praying. We were all so much surprised to see how basic and hard and shiveringly cold her living conditions were, but she seemed very happy and content, and shunned all headsir's attempts to persuade her to return to more comfortable living. Certainly I can see the roots of the Yogi families' abounding spirituality in this strong, sturdy, happy woman.
Devaghat is famous as a holy place where one can feel the presence of the Gods by the river and receive their upliftment and blessings. Every morning, people from the Dham bathe there as a spiritual rite. It reminded me of the immersions given by John the Baptist at Jordan. Elderly people had no problem fully submerging themselves in the river- I however settled for a tame hands and face wash.
On the evening we arrived, the dusk light and mist of the rivers gave a very special, medieval feel to the Dham It seems to me that the soul hearkens after some half-remembered love through such scenes- I at any rate always feel an inward pull and sense of awe and longing for something I can never quite put my finger on- something evoked by the ancient, solitary workings of nature; the deep foundations laid long before human beings entered existence.
All this made the reception by austere, friendly and simple Hindu monks feel very special. Immediately we were ushered in for simple, nourishing, homegrown Daal Bhaat (the vegetables are cultivated in the Dham itself). Afterwards, an audience with Dr Swami Ramananda giri (or more simply; Swami ji) and his class of eager, young students whose smiling faces gave intimations of a simple joy, rounded off the evening with spiritual discourse and a few Bhajans. The students here are members of Guru Kul: 'schools for studying Sanskrit and spiritual texts'.
Head sir also was cajoled by his long standing friend Swami ji into teaching Vedanta to his students in Nepali, and then emphatically directed to teach it again to us in English! Swami ji delighted in our specifically western style of questioning: when discussing the Vedanta doctrine that this world is temporal and will pass away, and has not got therefore an eternal worth, Erin and Anthony ji raised the question: ''but coke is tasty!" to which everyone fell about laughing.
The highlight of the trip for me however, was a personal interview with Swami ji. Upon seeing me sitting alone and pensively poised on a bench, he beckoned me over to him with a wave of the hand, and invited me to sit cross-legged at the foot of his seat. Then ensued a dialogue lasting the best part of an hour. His enigmatic, lively, spiritually charged presence was palpable. I would have happily sat there for the hour even if he hadn't spoken at all. But he did speak, and in good English too. We were discussing Vedanta philosophy about realizing the True Self who is Sat Chit Ananda: Absolute Existence, Supreme Consciousness, Ever-New Bliss. I told him that I saw many Vedanta truths in Christianity; that in the Old Testament God speaks his name as: "I AM". And that Jesus many times referred to himself by this timeless, ever existing statement of being, for example: "Before Abraham was, I am". Also, like the Vedantic truth that the innermost Self is one with God, I mentioned that Jesus spoke: "I and my Father are One" and that "the Kingdom of Heaven is within you".
I also asked Swami ji what I could do to improve my realization of this Eternal Self, and his answer was comprehensive: 1) Find time to meditate in lonely places, to contemplate the nature of the Self. 2) Develop great devotion for the Lord and his holy incarnations 3) be straight-forward and totally honest; develop sincerity. 4) be non-violent (he gave a beautiful illustration of a tree, saying that the tree does not withhold its shade even from the one who is hacking it down. I was reminded again of Jesus, this time whilst being nailed to a cross: ''Father, Forgive them for they know not what they do") 5) Study very deeply the holy texts, and think often and strive to realize the truths and values related. By these means Swami ji said, we could please The Self [The Lord], and he would thereby grant us a deepening realization. I was bowled over by it, realizing the beauty in the spiritual process; that if we were earnest and truly strived by these means we could indeed learn of God.
Swami ji was requested for a group photo, and I assumed our meeting was over. However, after the picture and after saying goodbye to various people, he called me over again: "I've not finished!". I was delighted that I would receive more Living Vedanta from this holy man, and proceeded to ask him if it is necessary to forego a wife and children if one is to progress in realization. He said a clear no; one can have a family, but one must not be attached to the family. And though difficult, it is I feel a manifest spiritual truth: detachment to results, surrender of all things to God entails spiritual detachment, though not the absence of affection and compassion. How hard it was for the biblical prophet Job to learn this! And yet- who can deny- that is the message.
The Hindus have a word for such meetings with spiritual people: Satsang which means, "being in the company of truth". It emphasizes the living nature of truth and spirituality that nurtures our inward being, flowing directly from soul to soul. I felt blessed, and Swami ji ended by thanking me for being such an attentive and receptive listener. I rejoined headsir and Dhadiram sir who had been giving numerous speeches and yoga classes. Two Swamis had complained to headsir that he only ever gave talks at Dr Ramananda's ashram and missed out their's. Headsir promised that next time he came he would give a one day youth camp to students from all three ashrams!
It was time to leave Devaghat, and after Anthony and Erin ji were set on their road to western Dang, we picked up three new passengers who were also traveling to Kathmandu. The spiritual mood continued as our new friends led us in many bhajans-Hindu spiritual songs- sung in classic, cyclical, repetitive style. One of the travelers was particularly good at singing, and his subtle inflections and variations of tone were beautiful. Somehow, Hindu Bhajans really do inspire Bhakti- ''devotion''- in a unique way. I am always moved by it. Headsir, Dadhiram sir, all joined in with touching bhajans- I even hollered a line or two to the familiar ones. Thus passed our time soulfully back to Kathmandu.
I never thought when I agreed to go on this trip that it would be so fulfilling. But then again, as the tourism board announces near the international airport: "Welcome to Magical Mystical Nepal".
By Damian Woods, UK volunteer at HVP-Nepal