Tiruvannamalai -part 1

For years Tiruvannamalai sounded to me like everything I dislike; dirty, crowded, traditional, full of temples, rituals, beggars, no fun, bad food… No one had ever been able to give me an answer that would turn me on enough to come here.

I had heard that not visiting Tiruvannamalai had been my Master Osho’s only regret in life, and when one day I was offered a house here I came for a month to check it out!

Since then I keep coming back, I keep missing the place unlike any other when I am away, and every time the same magic reveals itself, and the same mystery enters my every breath.     

Arunachala is the mountain responsible for everything that happens here. The huge Shiva temple in the city of Tiruvannamalai at the feet of the mountain, Ramana Maharshi and countless others spending their life and attaining Samadhi here, the millions of seekers who come here for a day or a lifetime… Nothing of this would exist without this mountain.

I have a long and rich history on the spiritual path and in self inquiry. I spent over 20 years meditating every day, from Osho’s active meditation techniques to 21 days Vipassana retreats to simply sitting for weeks in complete silence and isolation.

When I first arrived here, I went to the Ramana Ashram and found the meditation room adjacent to the main temple.

I just came from what was then Osho’s Commune in Pune and I was used to perfectly maintained, beautiful and spotless spaces. The Osho Auditorium where we were meditating was always perfectly air conditioned, smell free, without a fallen hair on the marble floor. The silence was always to be respected and even when hundreds of people would sit there together, the slightest cough would be enough to see you escorted out.

As I entered the meditation room, I spotted an empty cushion and sat on it in front of a picture of Ramana. In the middle of the room a dog was sitting; people were coming and going; some were sitting with eyes closed, others were moving around and someone was reading a book; the window to the temple was open and singing was happening on the other side; the fans were on, a clock on the wall was ticking, and the door was constantly opening and closing.

I closed my eyes. I opened them. I looked around. I looked inside. I felt the wind and the activity around. I could hear all those noises outside.

In spite of me, in spite of the sounds, in spite of the movements, I was drawn inward. I was being engulfed by something far greater than anything or anyone around, and my eyes were widening inside; a feeling of melting and letting go was taking me; there was a clear sense of Oneness, a clear vanishing of the Ego, a vast sense of Emptiness.

As I walked out an hour later I knew that my life was never to be the same again.

I made my way to the nearest chai shop by the side of a busy street, and grabbed the last half broken plastic chair. It was just before sunset and traffic was intense, exhaust fumes filled the air, rubbish was all around, and some beggars looked rather scary. I ordered my chai with half the normal amount of sugar.

I still recall that first day in Tiru a few years ago, sipping my tea in complete amazement. What the fuck was that!? How could I feel here closer to myself than I had ever felt before? How could my meditation be deeper here drinking a cup of tea on a dirty crowded side-walk than in the most modern meditation hall?

As I sat there, watching Indian life go by and slowly drinking my tea, I noticed how my mind had become so much quieter; my jaw was dropping, the sense of time was dissipating, concerns about past or future were appearing as rather vague memories; the present moment was shining and taking all the space.

The sun was slowly setting and I had just spent my first few hours in Tiruvannamalai…

Many more days and months would follow… and part 2 is coming soon…

The rising of the Full Moon over Arunachala

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As the Full Moon is about to rise, half a million people are arriving in Tiruvannamalai; they will walk around Arunachala all night, stopping at every temple. Most of them will be barefoot, in silence, and in deep communion with the Mountain and the Moon.

It is a unique gathering that takes place every single month; an auspicious time when the energy of Arunachala gets multiplied.

I usually like my space and avoid crowds and noise, but this is something that always blows my mind. I love to see all those people walking together, yet alone. I love the incessant movement that spreads thick over 14 km, while Arunachala stands still and majestic under the Full Moon. I love the energy of devotion that is just unescapable in the midst of hundreds of thousands of devotees. I love feeling home and at ease, high and connected, in touch with the stillness of my heart and the mystery of life. I love to smell the divine and sense the depth of the unknowable in so many eyes. I love all those contrasts. I love watching those old men in orange, some of them with only one leg, struggling to make it around, but obviously more contented and at peace than most human Beings. I love seeing those women dressed in a festival of colours, walking with such grace and dignity. I love looking into the crowd and see individuals, everyone so unique, everyone such an indescribable miracle, everyone such a different story. And YET consciousness is so obviously all there is, shining through all and everyone and everything.

Sometimes I walk alone, sometimes with friends, and mostly it is in silence. The walk can take just 3 hours, but it often takes double that, especially when I stop at every chai shop to gaze at the full moon and at the incredible happening all around.

We all share what we are made of.

Arunachala standing still and majestic under the rising Full Moon is an expression of that.

Pradakshina is the meditative act of walking around Arunachala. It is an act of worship. It is a meeting with God.

Tomorrow I will walk around the mountain in the midst of thousands and thousands of people.

Where else do so many Human Beings gather together in peace and meditation, walking in silence around a sacred hill, in search for Oneness, ready to give up their little “me” at the feet of something far greater and far more real?

I feel blessed. Have a beautiful day.