|Floating down the stream,|
reaching for the roots...
This is an attempt to syndicate the gist of the journey into one place, for all of us to get a better idea of what's going on, and where all these idiosyncratic and cross-universal concepts emerge from. I have cross-linked this text to a number of older writings for more context for those with the time to spare. Good thing I didn't dump my camera and old laptop into the river along the way!
School Finished: Monastic Studies on Higher Education
|Started about this age?|
|Age 15 and no idea what's ahead!|
The first practicable and theoretically sound holistic system of thought I came across was the one taught in the Bhagavad-gita, then represented by the Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON) in Finland. I then opted to become a celibate monk, living in their Helsinki temple/ashram community, and doing more than my fair share of preaching and other missionary work over the five years that followed — "We are waging a war against materialism" was an ongoing motto, with a fierce allergy for the slightest deviation from "unadulterated truth".
During these years, I spent a great amount of time practicing mantra-chanting and meditation. Since the very beginning, I had grown very fond of the Sanskrit language, and the rhytmic incantations and mantra chants used in abundance in the ancient and medieval traditions of India. That's when mantras, or formulaic phrases to unravel the conditioned mind (man-tra = mind-liberating), became a part of my extended daily routine.
|"If you love me, then please |
distribute my books."
My greatest interest however was in studying the ancient and medieval Indian texts on religion and philosophy, such as the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad Bhagavata, with the elaborate commentaries of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the movement's founder. I must have read his entire literary production at least five times cover to cover. While his commentaries were heavily monotheistic — with heavy emphasis on personal devotion to Krishna, the Cause Of All Causes — they also covered a broad range of philosophy, theology, psychology and aesthetics, giving me a great deal of exposure to classical Indian thought and the deepest questions of life.
|First Guru: Suhotra Swami|
Coupled with heavy duty missionary work with countless daily encounters, dialogues and debates, it definitely wired my mind well in preparation for the actual journey for unraveling my deepest questions. It doesn't really matter what the answers you're given are, as long as they provoke you to ask the right questions. As an added bonus, his answers were logical and systematic — a trait I wish more teachers had mastered.
|B.V. Narayana Maharaja|
Looking for a continuation for the "basic" (but very systematic and elaborate) philosophy of the Hare Krishnas, I found the tutelage of Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja, a reputed and learned elderly holy man from Indian with some connections to Prabhupada, who was now doing his world tours. We met in Moscow, and I received initiation under the name Atul Krishna Das — "Servant of Unparalleled God". Over the next two odd years, I co-founded and organized his Finnish congregation, translated and distributed literature, studied the tradition at more esoteric depth, and routinely gave lectures, wrote essays, orchestrated events for preaching and congregation, provided consultation to others my level best, and so on.
|Prof. Jagat / B.V. Aranya / Me|
Regrettably Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti featured a fair degree of upper echelon corruption and ego-tripping, no doubt drawing more strength from the group's rather messianic perspective of its leader, and the leader's escalating endorsement of the same. Same old candy I'd grown so weary of in ISKCON, just a brand new wrapper. As I also came to discover that the leader himself was a bit of a copy-cat with his higher teachings, it was time to move on — followed by a 80-page examination of the doctrinal and logical fallacies in what I came to realize as essentially black-paint propaganda and warped doctrines to obfuscate the sources of the mission's cutting edge esoteric knowledge. He was undoubtedly a holy man of a very high order, but our perspectives and worlds just wouldn't blend at the end.
Pure Devotion and Esoteric Dimensions
|Ananta Das Babaji Maharaja|
While in Finland, I practiced Kung Fu, Taiji and Qigong for some years to get the body-mind flow better synchronized, studying with Hamed Shafae, a martial arts master and human rights activist from Afghanistan. However, the whole China chapter with Taoism and the rest was to unfold at a future date in more detail. (And quite the chapter it's becoming — stay tuned for Wuji Causality Labs and more!)
|Sanatana Das Babaji|
|Radhakund 2005 – Neat and clean!|
The actual practice and cultivation focused intently on Radha (feminine divinity or the power of Ananda in the sat-cit-ananda or truth-knowledge-bliss absolute whole), conceived of as an intrinsic energy of Krishna's (masculine divinity and base of existence), and visualized and served in a number of ways, both in meditation and by diverse rituals. In this line of practice and mental cultivation, I had recurring experiences of a substantial "universal" connection, and gleaned some visions and blessings from these two archetypal divinities. Soon after the construction of our house (or hut), I had some unfortunately scuffles and disagreements with the guru, becoming the guilty party for my sin of observation. This also led to our divorce; and the story rolls on.
|Beggar Baba 2007,|
bowl and bag on the side.
I integrated the circumambulation into my daily practice — walking to nowhere in particular is a good way to segment and liberate the mind and keep the body fit. When the roads became too hot and the feet began to burn and crack, we'd collect old socks rejected by pilgrims from the sides of the roads, wearing them to protect our soles — and sharing any extras with others, if their old pair looked too worn-out by the roads for their own good. (Shoes are an absolute no-go for this line of practice.) Lonely moonlit walks in solitude, alone with the holy mountain, were no doubt the highlight of this undertaking.
With the increasing levels of ascesis, I also took up the practice of madhukari ("occupation of honeybee"), or begging alms-food from locals in the surrounding villages. They were extremely fond of the new foreign holy man, and each insisted on dropping a bit of stew or soup and some flat wheat breads into my bowl. I would sit by the roadside and have my meal, often in the courteous company of stray dogs who also received their share of the alms. The basic unstated idea was for us to do our austerity whilst generating massive amounts of good karma, giving the busy householders a pious trade avenue for sharing in it without undergoing such hardships themselves. Aware of this, we would consciously commit segments of our accumulating pious merit to everyone of them. A piece of bread for a chunk of good karma is obviously a very fair bargain there!
|Fire of Meditation|
In practice, the latter also necessitated a level of superimposition and reconciliation to connect the two parallel realities I sought to simultaneously live in — further, in bipolar identities, a male here and a cosmic female being there. (Along with a third lesser male identity in a parallel heaven-world rotating synchronously with the other one.)
While I no longer hold an interest in the theological and religious context I learned from these two methods, they are undeniably useful and virtuous assets. In reference to above — 1) Intense purging of diluted motivation and analysis of imperatives before action, and 2) Mental projection and operation in environments limited by imagination alone. My departure from Gaudiya Vaishnavism became formal and public in March 2008: Dharma Reloaded was the theme of the day. For more on this segment and the the GV tradition in general, see GeeVees: Roots.
Between Paths and Conflicting Dimensions
|Too much noise!!|
Having hosted two groups for a tour of pilgrimage across the surrounding areas, I made arrangements for a departure on foot towards the Himalayan foothils with a cloth bag of essentials (extra cloth, begging bowl and something more) — and my precious quilt (not guilt however). The departure coincided with the start of the holy month of Kartika, for which I had already announced myself as being off the grid for 40 days, fasting in silence at an unknown location on the outskirts of the Vraja area.
|Regular oil access wars next door.|
|Bhakticharan Das Babaji|
In the course of these extended ventures, along with the transits from one track to the next, I had the privilege of being the object of a fair amount of harsh critique from the more fundamentalist among the many zealous devotees. The concept of aparadha or offence is something this tradition particularly abhors, but the practical application of "not offending anyone" is regrettably selective, and a liberal expression of "holy indignation" is in reality more of a rule than an exception.
|I tried to solicit a response.|
I naturally opted for becoming a conscientious objector, with the basic options of either returning and doing my time, or staying underground in India for two more years to wait for the charge for my "crime" to expire. I ended up never even receiving as much as a subpoena to show up for a trial, I gather they understood I'm a lost cause to their systems.
Freedom: Enter Nondual Reality
|A blank slate is always good.|
|Ruminations in the room,|
all 5 squares 300 Rs/month.
|Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi|
- so simple and beautiful.
As I began to burrrow further into Advaita Vedanta, an exquisite tradition of existential knowledge, and further embracing the nondual orientation, I remember a period lasting several weeks, where I both saw and experienced the entire manifest world as a subjective reality contained as a projection within my nondual sphere of being. During this period of study and absorption, I wrote some poems on nonduality under the anonymous pen-name Cinmuttirai (Tamil for cinmudram, "silent gesture of ultimate wisdom").
|Hacking in some chakras |
leads to a direct experience.
As I had already seen quite enough of the obstacles brought about by fixating oneself on a single frame of reference, the idea of dhammam ehipassikam or "the truth that is directly perceived" — in favor of faith and future hopes was an appealing one. Incidentally the Bhagavad-gita also notes: raja-vidyam pratyaksavagamam dharmyam, or "The king of knowledge on dharma is understood by direct experience" — so we're all covered in our search for a direct encounter with reality. As a cherry on the top, the greater part of the Buddhist model had a good deal of parallels with the cosmos I had already come to know.
Journey into the Multiverse
|Standard gear on the road.|
|Floating down the other stream...|
|A crew of three colorful pilgrims |
at the ancient Sarnath stupa.
I and Dhammasaro left for a pilgrimage to South India, visiting Tiruvannamalai and Puttaparthi, two centres of pilgrimage. Puttaparthi was the headquarters of Sathya Sai Baba, a famous Hindu teacher, miracle man and reputed avatar. The prime miracle of the Baba I witnessed was an extremely well-organized hub of pilgrimage, hardly seen elsewhere in India. The mountains were magic, as they always are — so I wandered up and down the hills around Puttaparthi, enjoying the serenity and pristinity amidst the root forces of nature. I love mountains, and I love the energetic presence at the peaks.
|With Dhammasaro at Arunachala|
|Sacred Arunachalam, the mountain|
Ramana considered his guru.
I might have sought for a deeper experience of self, but came to instead meet with cosmic fields of nothingness where no concrete self was to be found. It was all integral. This left me with a rather lasting impression to digest, and a reference point for contrasting the world against whenever the weave and flux get too rapid and threaten to suck you in.
|Pilgrims at Kushinagar|
Vipassana a classic Buddhist method of wisdom meditation, where one seeks to observe the currents and patterns of one's mind, the rising and falling of all internal and external phenomena, to understand the temporary nature of all composite forms. It was nice to walk with no walker, and only the plain act of walking in motion. Until the conquest of all inner chaos and neurosis, reality can hardly be experienced au naturel.
Peak of the World and Beyond
|If you meet Buddha over|
the pond, say half-satori.
It had little to do with Buddhism, but rather featured an ancient shaman woman, who suddenly imploded all of existence including me into her being, like unto a black hole or the very ground of being. I navigated in the darkness, only to discover myself again in the world of matter, with clues for the next action hovering in the air, which I followed until the dream suddenly broke. A few years down the line, the role of the old shaman woman is quite precisely how I picture myself in the grand scheme of things, in Taoist terms as Wuji or the paradoxical void singularity underlying Yin and Yang, the basic polarities of the above and below of the universe.
|Boudhanath at Kathmandu|
While there, I encountered Mitra, a very sober Mexican gentleman who had lived in both Theravadan and Zen monasteries at quite some length, following extremely colorful decades of journey across the world, as well as Sushil Mahatma, a tantric Hatha-yogi who lived in a cave nearby and worked his kundalini upward. Some of the time up there I lived in a mountain cave, and the rest of it in an abandoned Buddhist shrine next to Todke Baba's hut. He was kind enough to also let me share of his cooking.
|White Tara painted on|
the monastery wall.
I experimented at some length with a number of Buddhist mantras and studied Atisha's manual on the sadhana of White Tara — with generous help and pointers from Cristiyana the cosmic nun, who knew her way around. The Tibetan sadhana, or "Deity Yoga" as they call it, coupled well with my past visualization practice, and I grew quite fond of White Tara and the role/function she had in the tantric pantheon. Overall, my exposure to Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism helped me tie a number of loose ends together. A major thank-you to late Chögyam Trungpa for his excellent and most perceptive writings — another major influence down the road.
The Bodhisattva Mode: Buddhas in Process
|Todke Baba of Shivapuri &|
Universal Peace Foundation
The whole bodhisattva idea of holding back with the ultimate emptiness in favor of helping all sentient beings had always struck a strong chord in me, all the way from the Hare Krishna days and the mission to spread universal divine love to every town and village. God knows I learned the culture of abundant sharing far far ahead of actually having something of real substance to share, but I suppose it's all for the best at the end of the day. Best wishes to everyone affected by edgy sermons!
|Amrit and the old village Shaman|
While visiting Amrit's village at Dhading valley, I also had the privilege of meeting an old and wonderful shaman from the Tamang tribe. (Not Bön / Buddhist, a good old shaman.) He offered to teach me the essentials of his shamanic knowledge within six months; unfortunately I didn't get a practical opportunity to take up his offer.
|Future Buddhas doing maintenance.|
My time with the Universal Peace Foundation people opened up a world I had shelved since I was 15; with a stimulating environment, wonderful people and the Shiva magic of the mountains, my original creative side began to unravel again. Thanks for Kiran and Santosh for 24h open access for their office and a PC to use — doodle-coloring in internet cafes is a bit of a pricey hobby if you're used to a 10 euro monthly budget...
|Who's that girl?|
Our time in Varanasi and at the Andamans was wonderful to say the least — plenty of thoughts exchanged and adventures shared. Andamans are "India light", a lot less noise and garbage for one! The ongoing journey led me back to Scandinavia with her — by far the most appealing of the options, especially in light of the fact that my passport was expiring, and they wouldn't give me a new one before I put them army boots on....
|The Andaman Stream|
I haven't gotten into the exact details of my diverse philosophical and existential ventures here — please browse this site if you're interested. You can start with Infrequentia Commedia and Celebration of Life for a doodled general picture of how the world looks on the way down the rabbit hole and back again.
|Just mix it all together!|
A big thank you to everyone who met me along the way and chipped into my pool of experiences and insights. Apologies for keeping in touch at random, all of this has been a mouthful to digest, and I am only now arriving at a more synthesized and integral picture of the whole long journey. Unveil your wisdom and be at peace, or otherwise not.