Helen Tomei recently had the opportunity to interview the author and spiritual teacher Andrew Harvey about his upcoming journey to South India: Shiva Dancing: Sacred South India with Andrew Harvey, In Search of Original Wisdom, February 16 – March 1, 2018. Their fascinating conversation that delves into Christian mysticism, revelations, and the best South Indian food is transcribed below. Enjoy!
Helen Tomei: You were born in South India. What are you most looking forward to on this journey returning there?
Andrew Harvey: I wasn’t only born in South India I was also formed mystically in South India over many, many years so I’ve come to think of South India as a kind of perpetual birthing ground, and I return to it as to a bath of fire to be renewed in and refreshed by. It’s my home, it’s my soul’s home. It’s the place where I met the sublime evolutionary philosophy of Aurobindo, where I first met my Hindu guru Meera, where I also went through many deep mystical experiences, where I met my great mystical teacher Bede Griffiths, the great Catholic mystic. South India has really been at the core of my whole journey, my whole life, and returning there is to be refreshed at the centre of my own journey, my own destiny.
Helen: You’ll be visiting some inspiring sacred sites on this itinerary. Are there any sites that you’re particularly looking forward to visiting?
Andrew Harvey: The whole journey is constructed as a sacred initiation into the central vision of South India, the vision of the sacred marriage as the sacred dance of the universe, the dance of opposites that makes the one. And this vision is at the core of everything that explodes and erupts from South India, so we begin our entry into this radioactive force field by visiting a place that is very sacred to me, Mahabalipuram, where great golden temples are carved out of golden stone and where you can read as if in a book the new world that is created out of the sacred marriage, a world of revelation and blessing and sexual and emotional health and profound harmony with the glory of nature. This is a revelation and it’s a revelation of the sensual divine and it keys you up for the whole of the rest of the journey because we’re going to plunge into Shaivite India, into the heart of the heart of the dance, which is the temple of Chidambaram. In the central, golden small, tiny temple at the core of the temple complex Shiva the eternal is worshipped by ancient lineage of priest called the Dikshitars and we go to them to experience with them the staggeringly intense pujas of the divine dancer. So we go to the core of the flame of initiation in the heart of that temple.
Then, on this pilgrimage, because this is what it is, it’s a pilgrimage into the self, we go to a place where this vision lived in stone and lived in culture and in custom and lived in beauty and in handicrafts and silks, a place which incarnated this divine vision, Tanjore, the great capital of the Chola empire. We experience what this divine dancer vision is like when it builds the supreme temples as the temple of Tanjore and also when it creates the great Chola bronzes that are the most holy examples of the divine human ever given humanity, the ultimate revelation, the marriage between humanity and divinity in perfect bronze of such exquisite strength and delicacy and passion that it blinds you with its beauty.
On the way to Tanjore we go to Pondicherry to experience Aurobindo’s magical world, and on the way back from Tanjore we go to the holiest place in South India, the most potent and mysterious, the ultimate pilgrimage place, Arunachala in Tiruvannamalai where Sri Ramana Maharshi lived his glorious life in the twentieth century and Arunachala is alive with the presence of Shiva and the entire place is a mandala of blessing and at its centre is the presence, the process of Ramana that is still there, it will always be there, it’s extremely potent in its blessing, in its peace. And we consummate the whole pilgrimage by doing the circling of the great holy hill to Shiva and we do it at night and offer up our whole being for transformation.
So that’s the pilgrimage that we’re on and during the pilgrimage what I would love to do is to share aspects of my relationship with the amazing power that is South India. Don’t let’s forget on this journey that we’ll also be visiting the Ashram of Bede Griffiths before we go to Tiruvannamalai, the Ashram of the man who changed my life completely and who also began a tremendous new understanding of Christian mysticism because he was living the central process, the central mystery of Christian mysticism, the transfiguration process, and living therefore the evolutionary impulse that had inspired Aurobindo, that also inspired him in his own unique way, the impulse of the dance, the dance of human evolution that lives in the golden soil of South India.
Helen: That’s wonderful as that leads into my next question about Bede Griffiths… What was it about the teachings of Bede Griffiths that most resonated with you and how did meeting with him in the early 90s transform your own world vision?
Andrew Harvey: I think grace brings people together at exactly the right moment and he was in his late 80s and I was in my early 40s. I’d just been through a vast awakening experience which was deeply shattering my life and he was at the end of this glorious life needing someone to communicate some of its secrets to and I was at the moment of my own evolution when I could truly sense the great radiance and humility of his presence and also knew enough to be able to receive the miracles of his evolution so it was a very holy and transforming meeting for me and what moved me most in his knowledge and understanding of the Christ was two things.
First that he truly understood that all the mystical traditions met in the mystery of the one that irrigated all of them. He really had achieved the universal mystical depth because he had seen the divine light and he’d understood and realized the nondual awakening. That was really wonderful because it released for me any shadow of Christianity as the magical and really baptized me in the vision of the Christ as the universal love force creating a new humanity and embodied divine humanity.
And the second thing that really moved me tremendously about him was not only was he a great scholar and a great writer, a great explainer of magical and profound mystical truths, far more importantly he was living that with a tremendous intensity and obvious holiness and further simplicity and that was what was most astounding about him, his sanctity, his great sanctity and that was what penetrated my soul. The quality of that sanctity was so intense that it awoke me to the reality of the true Christ, that barely what was happening in the true transmission of the Christian tradition was not just the change of consciousness nor even the transformation of the heart but also a transformation of the body and a resurrection of the whole being in the one. He was living this subtle resurrection and communicating as far as he could what he could of its mystery to me and that changed everything that I had ever experienced because it enabled me to find a way to come back to my birthing tradition, Christianity, while being fed by all the other revelations that I had been instructed in, Hindu revelation, Sufi revelation, the revelation of the indigenous traditions, the Buddhist revelation.
He showed me the way to do it by doing it, by showing it, by manifesting the extreme beauty and grace of such a transfiguration so I cannot describe deeply or intensely enough what it meant to me to meet him and what it has meant since I met him because although he has left his body he is not dead, there’s a continual pouring out of grace from him to me and to all who knew him and all who turned to him, all who truly understand through his grace the centrepiece of Christ’s transformation that he was on. He is one of the great pioneers of the new human that is trying to be born and that is why this trip is so sacred because in a way it is truly a pilgrimage into the vision of the new human as it was written in the great golden book of the temples of Mahabalipuram, it’s a plunging into the vision of Aurobindo that illuminates this new marriage of heaven and earth, and male and female, and body and soul that’s trying to take place. It dives into the core of the Shaivite understanding of the whole universe as a dance, an evolutionary dance which is the fundamental understanding that underlies all the evolutionary philosophies and it plunges into the beauty that is created, the beauty of Tanjore and it plunges into the revelation of the evolutionary passion of the Christ through Bede Griffiths and it ends in Tiruvannamalai and the absolute boundless, vicious awareness, that’s what this is really about.
Helen: It’s a beautiful pilgrimage. You’ve touched on this a little but maybe more specifically, on the journey you’re going to be sharing teachings and practices for people’s own internal transformation. How do you see that translating once they get back home and they’re into their daily lives in terms of sacred activism and the revolution of the divine human? How do you see this for each participant? How would you like to see that translating for them and for their lives back home?
Andrew Harvey: I’d love people to really practice the four main practices that I’ll be sharing. I’ll be sharing the great Shaivite mantra, Om Namah Shivaya, and truly helping people to say it with ecstatic humility in the heart so as to unite with the absolute. I’ll be sharing the great I AM practice that comes from the core of the Upanishads, the great practice that enables you to slowly sift out the difference between the false self, the ego, and the essential, always present, always calm, always peaceful and radiant, eternal self. I will be teaching the Sacred Heart practice from the core of the Christian mystical tradition but in a very simple way that will make it universal so as to enable people to experience the sacred ecstasy and heartbreak and rapture at the core of divine love, and I’ll be teaching a transfiguration exercise which is taken both from the Hindu tantric and from the Christian mystical tradition that will enable people to experience in their bodies the birthing power of the descending divine light, the light of the divine mother, the mother light that is birthing a new humanity, that Aurobindo knew and that Bede also experienced in his own unique theological framework.
And these four exercises will be tremendously useful to anyone whatever path they are on at the core of their lives because as the world starts to go through what is a very dangerous crisis, a tremendous exploding crisis, linking to the divine at the core of your life through simple but very powerful practice is the source of all resilience and all authentic survival. What will also happen I hope to people as they really experience the different intensities of these revelations on this very sacred earth is that they will be so filled with tremendous joy at the possibilities of being a human and the new birth and also with the real strength that comes from divine initiation, to return to their lives and see the depths of the crisis that is exploding and commit themselves in simple, humble ways to Sacred Activism, to truly helping in their local communities to see that justice is done and see that harmony is established and see that the waters and the lands are protected, and to stand up for the poor and stand up for those who are in radical oppression like the young Dukha people, the ones who have been threatened now with immigration. So for me the pilgrimage is a way of reconnecting so fundamentally with your own sacred essence and the sacred essence of reality that you return from it with real tools, sharpened vision and deeper embodied passion to do something with your life, to help the great birth of a new humanity through Sacred Activism.
Helen: That’s exactly it, just that little spark, sometimes that’s all it takes to come back and to make even a small small step in that direction. It makes a huge difference. That would be my hope as well.
Andrew Harvey: Absolutely. And to do it from a place of inspiration and not guilt or shame, to do it because you suddenly realize how wonderful it is to serve this birth and how thrilling and how empowering.
Helen: Are there any prerequisites or knowledge that journey participants need to have already acquired?
Andrew Harvey: All that’s really required is sincerity and a commitment to the deepest receptivity. It would be wonderful if people could read say the Hindu Anthology, the teachings of the Hindu mystics that I did for Shambhala. It’s a very comprehensive short-ish anthology that’s got the greatest Hindu texts in it, and that will enable them to begin to expand their mind, soul and hearts as they come into the field of the dancer.
Helen: I’ve got that on the reading list so that’s perfect.
Andrew Harvey: I think that would be gist and also just before you come on the trip make sure that for the three weeks before you leave you deepen your meditation practice and ask the divine in whatever way is most convenient and simplest for you to expand your understanding of the universe and reveal to you your deeper spiritual destiny through this pilgrimage to Shiva and in Shiva’s dancing ground. So really prepare yourself by praying to the divine to tremendously expand your mind, heart and soul and understanding of the universe through this amazing pilgrimage that goes from revelation to revelation.
Helen: You’ll be staying at the Ashram for two days. Why did you want to include a stay here as part of the journey? You’ve already talked beautifully about Bede Griffiths and the whole vision there but is there anything else you can say about the Ashram and the stay there?
Andrew Harvey: Yes! I feel it’s essential that people stay in an Ashram, an authentic Ashram, which is austere but comfortable and in sacred woods by the great sacred Kavery river because the visions of South India, the great sacred visions of South India, were incubated in places of such radical purity and simplicity. This Ashram is especially sacred to me because in it I met Father Bede Griffiths, and his presence and his grace can be felt immensely strongly in this Ashram and it also has a wonderful teaching mystic in the Ashram, John Martin, who is truly one of the clearest and holiest spirits I know who has a universal mystical vision, trained by Bede, and who is a wonderful speaker so this will be a place to meet a holy man who carries on the tradition of Bede in his own unique way, the place to taste the ancient simplicity of the life that created and sustained these visions and a place where I will speak too of the revelation of Christ’s consciousness that Bede gave me and that you can feel vibrant and alive in the hearts and in the trees and in the sounds from the river.
Helen: Last question… a light question… do you have any favourite Indian food or a meal that you’d like to recommend?
Andrew: Oh yes! South India vegetarian food is amazing so try the Dosas and try the Idlis and wash them down with mango juice.
Helen: We have a couple of South Indian restaurants here in Vancouver…
Andrew: Ah yes, they’ll have that! You’re eating the golden light when you’re eating South Indian food when it’s at its best.
Read the full Itinerary for this amazing journey to South India with Andrew Harvey and book your spot today!