Indian Ashram: Athithi Memories 2020

Memories of a trip I made to the holy South Indian pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu where I stayed at the Athithi Ashram which is run by devotees of the great twentieth century spiritual master Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. The resident teacher of Athithi Ashram is Swami Hamsananda, with whom it is possible to sit and meditate with each morning as well as engage in conversation about the life of Bhagavan, the practice of meditation, and the spiritual paths of bhakti (devotion) and Jnana (self-enquiry) in the form of asking the question – Who Am I?

Entrance gate to Athithi Ashram

When I arrived at the Athithi Ashram after my taxi ride from Chennai I opened the gates, took off my shoes and put them on the shoe stand as no footwear was allowed to be worn in the ashram grounds. Then I went to the small ashram office on the left hand side within the ashram compound and which had a couple of desks and computers in it as well as some chairs for people to sit on. A gentle mannered man dressed in white cotton clothes checked me in after I’d filled out all the necessary forms, given him my passport details and taken a photograph of myself with my mobile phone which I then emailed to him on the spot. The room I was given was in the block above the office and I guess that block must have had nine or ten rooms which were spread over three floors. Mine was on the top floor where there were three other rooms, all of which seemed to be occupied. Stepping inside my room for the first time I saw it had a single bed with a very firm mattress and a pillow with a thin sheet on top of it, so I guess it was just as well the weather was hot and that I would not be needing a blanket. There was a table and chair in the corner of the room next to the window and some shelves built into the wall upon which I could put my clothes once I’d unpacked my case and stashed it under my bed. On the wall opposite to the side of the room my bed was on there was a framed and mounted colour portrait of Ramana Maharshi and also one of the holy hill Mount Arunachala. There was a door at the end of my bed which opened up into a bathroom where there was a toilet and shower along with a small basin and mirror. The window in my room had shutters rather than glass with a wire mesh tightly strung across it so as to keep the mosquitoes out, although with my room being on the top floor hopefully their presence would be minimal. I opened the shutters for some airflow and soon realised the street outside was quite noisy with plenty of sounds rising up from it, primarily sounds of auto rickshaws and honking motorbikes. Later on I was to discover the block my room was in overlooked the entrance to a much larger ashram close by, the ashram of Yogi Ramsuratkumar, which attracted large numbers of people each day from early morning onwards.

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Eye of Meditation

The header image for this article is a photograph taken by Johannes Plenio as found on Pexels.

Today the sitting was better, more focused than the last couple of mornings when I have struggled to stay on the button, struggled to keep concentration tight enough so as not be continually losing sight of the meditation object, struggling to place it in the mind’s eye. What is this eye? To keep concentration tight enough so as not be continually losing sight of the view, struggling to place it, can be difficult and requires practice. Again, what is this eye? Well, for me, as I have written before in other places here and there, the mind’s eye is located more or less in the centre of the forehead, between the eyebrows, or at least just above the point which is between the eyebrows.

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Skandashramam

This piece was written during a trip made to Ramanasramam in the holy temple town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. It is specifically about a couple of walks made up to Skandasramam, the cave behind on the holy hill of Arunachala and where Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi stayed for 7 years from 1915 – 1922. Towards the end of the piece reference is made to the red flame vision described in my previous blog entry, Honey Valley.

First Walk

My early morning meditation began later than usual due to my late night struggles to get back on track, but I was in the meditation hall by 6 am where I had a solid hour of sitting whilst feeling in a good state of recovery. Concentration good, body pacified and back to the breath! Skipped breakfast as I wanted a couple more hours for my stomach to feel fully settled, instead I went and had a large glass of coffee from the tea bar across the road from the ashram entrance. Cost me 20 rupees which was a bit of a rip off price, but it was good to sit there for a while and watch the early morning street life pass on by outside the ashram. I realised the sound of the lorries had not bothered me half as much the night before, maybe that was because I had other things on my mind such as my guts. Probably would be the case that if I stayed round the ashram long enough I would not even notice those lorries were there as everything would eventually blend into one.

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Face of the Guru

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It wasn’t for a couple of years before I retrieved my Ramana Maharshi book from John, not until after he had died in fact. This was in 2011 which meant I would have lent him my copy of Talks With Ramana Maharshi in 2008 or something like that. I was in his bungalow in Clayhall, East London, clearing out his bedroom with Leigh, his son and my work colleague in the small company we ran together, first in Walthamstow and then in Ilford, going all the way back to 1989. By 2011 the company was entering its last phase of existence which on a business level meant five years of pain before we finally pulled the plug in 2016. We did this by way of going into voluntary liquidation, after which things changed overnight, seemingly rendering the previous 27 years’ work if not completely redundant then something pretty close. Anyway, all that lay in the future, so back to 2011. Continue reading “Face of the Guru”

Countin’ Out Time

Meditation is the countin’, countin’ out time. By this I mean observing the breath, counting the breath – so that an inhalation and an exhalation is one, an inhalation and an exhalation is two, an inhalation and an exhalation is three and so on.

A full round of inhalations and exhalations would be a count of 108 for me when meditating. Under normal circumstances this takes around 30 – 35 minutes, depending on how fast or how slow I might be breathing; as a ball park figure that is usually the time it takes to do a round of 108. In Buddhism 108 is a scared number, corresponding to the number of beads found on a Buddhist mala or rosary, similarly there are 108 beads on Hindu rudraksha  malas as well. So 108 in breaths and 108 out breaths seems appropriate. Continue reading “Countin’ Out Time”

Shrine

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The shrine of the master Ramana Maharshi was to the back of the ashram main temple whose doors opened to the faithful each and every day at six in the morning. My favourite time to go there was in the evening at around 8 pm when it was still warm, very warm more often than not. I would walk around the shrine as one of the crowd, barefoot, in silence, as an act of meditation. Sounds mainly came in the form of the rows of fans rotating high above, suspended from the temple ceiling. There were odd coughs from those dusty pilgrims who appeared each evening, seemingly out of nowhere from other parts of the ashram and further beyond and there were also the slowly encroaching sounds of the oncoming Indian night, sounds of heat, sounds of mystery. Continue reading “Shrine”

Words on Meditation

So today, after the usual amount of time lying around in the warmth of my bed, half awake, half asleep, I went downstairs to do a light clean of the coffee table in the lounge, the glass top table where we sit to drink our morning coffee. Did a light clean of that with a spray and paper kitchen towel then also brushed the kitchen floor, yes, gave it a quick going over with the dustpan and brush. When that was done it was back upstairs for meditation, no actually, come to think of it, there was no cleaning this morning, there was just the straight walk from bedroom to shrine room in order to sit down and meditate. Shrine room is the little room we have at the end of the landing which would be a small bedroom except that for us it is not, it is our shrine room instead, the place where we go to meditate, contemplate, sitting before the shrine we have with Buddha and other religious objects placed upon it. Continue reading “Words on Meditation”