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Kavitha Dispatch

The Road to Enlightenment is Filled with Many Questions
May 31, 2000

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My sister and I in the Holy Ganga…
To many foreigners, India is a land of spirituality and mysticism. They think that it is a country full of monkey-headed gods, religious teachers, sacred cows, blue goddesses, and a place that holds the answers to the universe. Ever since the Beatles first set foot on India's soils back in the sixties to follow their guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Westerners have flocked to India in search of...
"In search of what?" you may ask? Well, I'm not even sure many of them would know how to answer you. Maybe they would say they are in search of God, or the self, or eternal bliss, or liberation from the cycles of life.

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Inspired by the philosophies of such eastern religions as Hinduism and Buddhism or the practices of yoga and meditation, people from all over the world come to India in search of a guru or teacher who will show them the way towards the ultimate enlightenment. Answers to the universe? Maharishis and gurus? Ultimate enlightenment? Are you as confused as I am? If you are then journey with me to Rishikesh, which some call the yoga capital of the world, to find out what the craze is all about. Set in the foothills of the Himalayas where the holy river Ganga emerges from the mountains, Rishikesh has long been a Hindu pilgrimage sight and home to numerous ashrams. Different yogis and gurus throughout the years have established their own ashrams along the river to teach about the road to enlightenment.

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…and falling about!
What exactly does enlightenment mean? Well, that's a hard question to answer. But I'll try to sum it up as simply as I can, and as best as I understand it. Hindus and Buddhists both believe in reincarnation. They believe that the soul is reborn over and over again in to different life forms until it can finally achieve perfection or a state of enlightenment. When the soul reaches enlightenment it is finally free of the cycle of reincarnation. At this point Buddhists believe you reach the state of Nirvana. Hindu's believe you finally reach, Moksha, or liberation, where the soul is liberated from the cycles of birth and death and can at last join in the universal energy or great soul. Yogis also believe in enlightenment, which some of them would describe as self-realization, since after all it is merely realizing your true self to see that God, or the great soul of the universe, has resided within you all along. So how does one attain enlightenment? Well that's the million-dollar question. And I'm not exaggerating when I say million dollar.

What is yoga? Yoga in its truest sense is much more than the stretching that most people associate with it.

Unlike major religions, yoga is a spiritual practice that is not based on faith. Instead it is more like science, and relies on experience and experimentation for each individual to determine what works for them. There are forms of yoga that involve twisting and stretching your body, but there are also forms of yoga that involve deep breathing or meditating, or even just doing work! These different forms of yoga are all supposed to open your mind and body to the greater energies of the universe. They can be useful for health, clarity, or even enlightenment. In fact there is a hospital near Mumbai in central India that uses only yoga to cure patients and is reputed for having an 85 percent success rate in curing cancer! There are eye doctors who have cured blindness with yoga and normal people who have cured themselves of things like asthma and liver disorders from doing yoga. My new friend Amanda from Australia started doing yoga because she has scoliosis (her spine is not straight). Doctors in Australia had told her that she would have to get surgery by the time she was 25, but since she's started doing yoga, she feels great!

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A man dressed as Hanuman, the Monkey God, is one of the many odd attractions in Rishikesh.
There are so many different gurus and different ashrams, each one proclaiming it has the ultimate path to enlightenment. Naturally, this makes it hard to choose one. To make things even harder, ever since foreigners have been flocking to India in search of spiritual guidance, new ashrams and gurus began popping up. People started to try to cash in on the new trend. Don't get me wrong, they are not all in it simply to make money. There are many reputable ashrams and gurus who have awakened dedicated pupils, it's just a matter of investigating which teacher or practice works for you.

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This saddhu was going from house to house asking for donations to his ashram.
So I arrived in Rishikesh, ready to find my own guru, who I hoped would give me clarity and insight. Instead I encountered confusion and chaos. There were Hindu Indians on vacation dipping into the holy (but cold) river, while tourists twisted their bodies into a number of Yogic poses. Saddhus, or ascetic men, sat under trees discussing why they gave up all their worldly possessions with scruffy travelers who appeared to have been in India for years and had no intention of leaving any time soon. Old women poured water from the river on the heads of the cows that crowded the narrow streets. Monkeys lingered in the trees beside the temples, stealing the food that worshipers had left as blessings. Young Indian men passed by wearing the traditional orange robes of the yogis as loud religious songs blasted from the speakers of numerous vendors in town.

Your Turn!!!

Do you think that people can really fly? Even though physics says it is impossible to do so, so you think there are things that we can not understand which do happen anyway?

Share your thoughts
and see what others wrote!

What I expected to be a peaceful place for spiritual practice was actually a bustling town. Thank goodness my sister met me there to help sort through it all. After a couple days of observing different lectures and yoga classes and visiting some temples and ashrams, we finally found a guru we liked. Swami Vivekananda Saraswati from Romania. Romania!!! I know you are probably as surprised as we were, but this Romanian yogi who has been studying yoga for over 20 years, combines many different teachings from the great yogis with a rational, scientific approach that is appealing to Westerners like us. He combined lectures and discussion with yoga and meditation practice. He explained everything from the very beginning. Some feel that his approach is too basic, whereas others have a hard time just doing poses without understanding exactly why they are being done.

Do you want to walk on water or pass through walls? Many people are attracted to yoga because of they have seen yogis doing unbelievable feats. There are yogis who can levitate, yogis who can appear in two places at once, yogis who can produce scents or objects out of thin air, and yogis who can predict the future. They explain such phenomena by claiming that they are so tune with the universe that they can alter energies and vibrations to produce such feats. But many skilled yogis look down on such practice, asking, "Okay so you can do such tricks, but what has it brought you? Has it made you a happier person?"

There is an old tale of a wandering wise man who came to Buddha one day meditating under a tree by a river. He said,

"I have heard incredible stories of your enlightenment, so do something to prove your powers to me." Buddha just smiled serenely and continued to meditate. Finally the man became impatient and asked, "Can you do this?" He proceeded to levitate and fly over to the other side of the river, touch the ground, and then fly back to Buddha. Buddha then got up, went over to a fisherman, got in the boat, rowed across the river, touched the ground, and then rowed back. He then sat in front of the man and asked him, "Why do you waste your time on such tricks that you can just as easily achieve with a few cents? Go spend your time concentrating on your enlightenment. You will fly much higher, and go much farther."

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Avi, Amanda and Liz have come from far away to learn more about yoga and meditation here in Rishikesh

My sister and I needed the basic approach with all the explanations. My days were filled, from early in the morning to late at night, with breathing exercises, yoga poses, meditation, lectures about our bodies and minds, relaxation, and questions and answers. By the second day, I was swept away. My energy, concentration, and will power began to increase. I felt great! By the 4th day, I was ready to cancel all my plans and move to Rishikesh to follow the Swami's teachings and learn more about the hidden potential in each one of us and in the universe. Wouldn't that be great? Well, it might have been, but then how could I continue to write for all of you?


guru - In Hinduism, one's personal or spiritual advisor
enlightenment - The state of attaining spiritual knowledge
ashram - A secluded place for a community of Hindus leading a life of religious meditation
reincarnation - A Hindu belief that the soul is reborn in another body
ascetic - devoted to leading a life of contemplation and religious belief

One day when I returned to my room and saw the computer sitting on the bed, I realized that this was not my time for enlightenment. I have more Odyssey world trekking to do now! So I packed up my laptop and digital camera, said goodbye to my sister, and left her to continue attending the Swami's classes. She stayed to join the thousands of others in India pursuing their path to enlightenment and self-realization.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Andrew - No Ordinary Teenager - An Interview With The Karmapa
Jasmine - Aravinda Eye Hospital - Helping India See The Light!
Monica - Cross Cultural Solutions
Monica - Independence in India: A Play in Three Acts

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