In India, spiritual seekers come across the Sanskrit term sacchidānanda, that is, consciousness, existence, and bliss as experienced when encountering Ultimate Reality, or Brahman.
In our journey overview video for our February 2021 journey: Shiva Dancing: Sacred South India With Andrew Harvey, Andrew states: “We are children of divine joy. If we build that joy and nourish that joy, it will grow and grow and finally, it will open into total liberation.”
Andrew is the founder of Sacred Activism, a merging of the passion for God and the passion for activism. His statement on being “children of divine joy” is important to think about when considering a journey through India, a foolproof way to water this divine joy so might it blossom into “total liberation.”
Here’s how to best connect with the soul of India. This is critical for connecting with the soul of who we ought to become if we are to cast light through the perilous shadows currently pervading the world.
Embrace the Soul With Monastic Life In an Ashram
It is no secret that during our journey through India we will be spending a couple of monastic days at Shantivanam to connect with the soul. Our tranquil days at the monastery will consist of meditation, prayer, mindful eating, and receiving wisdom from Brother Martin and Brother Dorathick concerning the commonalities of Hinduism and Christianity. Monastic life is a timeless opportunity for profound spiritual reflection and transformation.
Interestingly, Shantivanam is a Benedictine monastery. It was founded in 1938 by a French priest named Jules Monchanin. The goal of Monchanin was to model Benedictine monastic life after a Hindu ashram. In doing so, he helped establish an important dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism, one that is being expanded on even to this day. Bede Griffiths (also known as Dayananda) became an integral part of this Christian Ashram Movement and led the Shantivanam Ashram beginning in 1968.
In 1985, Bede gave a talk at Perth in Western Australia. There, he said this: “What people today are seeking above everything else is a practical method of prayer and meditation. That’s why thousands and thousands of people come to India every year in search of meditation, a way to God you could say.” Discovering a deeper meditation practice is definitely a good reason to explore monastic life.
Studying the work of holy men such as Father Bede ultimately brings us to our next point.
Walk In the Footsteps of India’s Great Mystics
If you wish to really connect with the soul of India, focus your intent on studying and walking in the footsteps of India’s great mystics. Staying in an ashram is part of this, yes, and we’re blessed to have the opportunity to stay at Shantivanam and study the work of Bede for a couple of days.
After our stay at the Shantivanam Ashram, we’ll be embarking to Tiruvannamalai, where Sri Ramana Maharshi lived and meditated for 54 years. We will stay in Tiruvannamalai for 3 nights and will have a few chances to visit and spend time at Ramana Maharshi’s ashram. Ramana Maharshi is widely acknowledged as the outstanding Hindu guru of the modern age. He was born in Tamil Nadu in 1879 and made his way to Arunachala at the age of sixteen, not leaving the sacred mountain until his spirit united with it in 1950. Many people witnessed his light entering Arunachala as the life in his body expired.
Maharshi came to identify with the Hindu deity Shiva (a main theme of our journey) early in life after experiencing sacchidānanda which unified him with the essence of the diety. From there, many began to identify Maharshi as an avatar and traveled to him for darshan, the sight of a holy person that can plant the seeds of God in its viewers. Later, Maharshi resided in an ashram where spiritual seekers sought counsel and spiritual refuge.
Finally, we should discuss Sri Aurobindo since we’ll be visiting Pondicherry, home of the renowned yogi and his ashram. Sri Aurobindo was born in Kolkata in the North East of India in 1872; he was a poet, philosopher, yogi, and guru as well as an advocate for Indian independence from British rule. He established “Integral Yoga,” a philosophy and practice that treats yoga as a rapid and concentrated evolution of being that can take place in a single lifetime. Unassisted without yoga, according to Aurobindo, such an evolution in humanity would take centuries.
Connect With the Soul of India’s Timeless Cultural Delicacies
This is so essential for the pilgrim who wishes to connect with the soul of India. They must slow down the seeking and indulge themselves in studying the Indian cultures and traditions by which they’re immersed in. By this, we mean the little things: the stops for tea, stories of local life, traditional Indian food, and site-seeing.
On our pilgrimage in southern India, we’ll be experiencing the culture first-hand with walking tours of Chennai, where we’ll receive stories of local life, gods and goddesses, and ancient customs that will help pilgrims understand that sites around them. We’ll also experience days full of learning about local culture and tradition, such as a day in Chidambaram where we’ll enjoy a beautiful village walk. During the walk, we’ll interact with the local people, get to know more about their daily activities, and visit the local village’s Shiva temple for ceremony and blessings. Further, we’ll experience a traditional India welcome in Mahabalipuram and at most of our hotel stays. In Mahabalipuram, we’ll also receive a welcome dinner that will teach us about the connection between food and spirituality.
Connecting with India’s culture is a soul-searching endeavor in-and-of-itself.