A rishi is a sage, a seer, a shaman. Rishikesh, situated along the Ganga River at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, is a holy city where all of its inhabitants seem to be united in devotion and spiritual aspirations. Alcohol and non-vegetarian food are strictly prohibited here. Devotional music is blasting out of speakers all day and all of the night. Swamis, monks, and sadhus comprise of a large percentage of the population. The powerful Ganga River flows a severe turquoise green and clean through the city.
Rosanna and I arrived here a little over a week ago and were instantly spellbound. We loved it. I knew right away that I’d be here for longer than just a few days. The fact is that traveling can be really tiring and sometimes you go destination to destination and just keep bouncing around checking out stuff. But then it dawns on you that tourism for the sake of seeing more stuff is unnecessary. The most important life experiences lie in exploring your mind. And Rishikesh is the place to do it.
In 1968, John Lennon, George Harrison and the gang came here to study Transcendental Meditation at Maharishi Mahesh’s ashram. This area has been a powerful holy city for thousands of years, but the Beatles’ arrival put it on the map for spiritually-minded travelers and yogis. Today there are dozens of ashrams and hundreds of schools dedicated to teaching yoga and meditation. The mountains are beautiful here, as are the beaches along the Ganga, but most come here to take some time for themselves and learn about the mind.
At the ashram where I am staying there is morning meditation with Swami Dharmananda. At 6am, I rise before the sun and head on down to the meditation cave where swami sits in darkness surrounded by dim-candlelight, a shrine of important gurus and saints, and about 20 or so western students. We gather before him and practice breathing exercises (pranayana), chant mantras, and explore the mind in silent meditation. Meditation lasts an hour and half, and while at first it was difficult for me to sit this long, I am growing to absolutely love these sessions. With sustained effort and a deep yearning to progress, doors are opening.
Swami Dharmananda also teaches an afternoon class. Brilliant lectures! They last about 2 hours and during this time he expounds on a subject with lucidity and authority. Subjects range from meditation to yoga to Vedic philosophy. And what I love about this guy is that his teachings are so devoid of the “new-age” speek that seems to be inherent in so many western lecturers of the subject. Swami is straight up Indian, a no-frills monk, and when he speaks- he is conveying the wisdom of his guru, an unbroken lineage of knowledge that goes back thousands of years.
Rosanna and I visited a few different yoga schools here and each one of them offered valuable experiences. But in my heart I knew it wasn’t enough just to do yoga. I needed understanding. I was seeking a teacher but was somewhat daunted by the infinite variety of teachers and schools here in Rishikesh. In a wonderful flash of serendipity, I encountered a great guy I’d met on the Annapurna circuit a few months ago. I spoke of my search, and he and his brother instantly began singing praises of the Trika school.
He said all the things I wanted to hear. A school that takes you from the beginning, that explains the philosophy of yoga and the precise mechanics of the postures, while also detailing the spiritual application of the asanas. With a great enthusiasm I listened to him talk about this month-long intensive course. The next course would begin tomorrow morning, he said.
So, with the rising sun I marched up to the Trika school and enrolled. That was four days ago. Each day since then has been incredible. These long days of meditation, yoga, and lectures, feel like spiritual boot camp, but I love every minute. Our teachers are knowledgeable and impressive. One teacher, in particular, is like a laser beam of knowledge and zaps me with complete understanding and great excitement each day. Everything that I am learning resonates on many different levels, uniting the disparate spiritual teachings I’ve studied through the years. All religions are saying the same thing, using different words and approaches. My education at Trika is clearly illuminating the missing puzzle piece- the science of why all these holy paths work, and why all devout spiritualists arrive at the same place.
So now I’m committed to a month here in Rishikesh. Not sure what comes next. A few weeks ago I attempted to buy a flight to Thailand that was supposed to depart March 1. I failed, and while I was frustrated at the time, I now realize why—I’m supposed to stay in Rishikesh. It feels right.