From the Hollywood Mindset to the Himalayan Mindset
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The director of the International Yoga Festival shares her story of discovering oneness with the Divine.
Most people go to India seeking enlightenment, or advanced yoga studies. I went because I liked the food. Nearly thirty years ago, a Stanford grad in the midst of my PhD, I agreed to go to India only because I was a staunch vegetarian. In India I wouldn't have to grill waiters about whether there was chicken broth in their vegetable soup!
I was not religious. I was not even one of those people who say, “Well, I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” I was an academic, a scientist, and simply managing my schoolwork, relationships, emotions, and addictions took all my time and energy. The idea of spirituality never occurred to me.
“I'm going to put my feet in the river,” I had said, after we dropped our bags at the hotel upon arriving in Rishikesh.
And on the banks of the Ganges River, it happened—an experience that nearly 30 years later, I still struggle to articulate. Woven out of the light and colors and shapes of the world I had been watching came a presence of the Divine that blended into and yet stayed distinct from the background. The next thing I knew, I was sobbing, breathless. They were not tears of happiness or sadness. Rather, they were tears of truth, tears of coming home.
A veil was lifted, not only from my eyes but from every aspect of my being. It was an experience of the Divine permeating everything around me and within me. For the first time, I understood that I was one with the Universe, one with the Divine.
That was what you could call the beginning. I've spent the last 27 years in Rishikesh, engaged in sadhana (spiritual practice) and seva (selfless service) under the guidance of my Guru, H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji.
India has taught me so much. First, stay open and trust the Universe. There is an intelligence that pervades all of creation, including us. But, we have to trust it, and we have to be quiet and still enough to hear it
Look at the caterpillar who spends most of its life crawling on the ground, and then one day it gets a signal that says, “Climb the tree.” Then: “Go out on the branch, weave yourself into a cocoon, and then burst forth and fly away.” It has no idea how to fly! But when that signal says “jump,” it does. You never see a butterfly backing down a tree trunk because it doesn’t believe it can fly!
Secondly, real abundance is about recognizing the fullness of your Self rather than filling your shelf. Most of us spend a lot of time and energy filling our shelves with possessions, degrees, awards, and more. But the Self is already full and it’s in realizing that fullness that real happiness lies.
In India, I have found even the poorest of the poor are so eager to share what little they have. Abundance is not about collecting more and more. Abundance is connecting deeply with the fullness of our Self and eagerly sharing with others.
Lastly, in service to others, we discover the fullness of ourselves. We serve, not as benefactors to those in need, but as an act of Self serving Self.
Spirituality does not take us further from the world; it brings us closer. Spirituality is awakening from the illusion that who we are is based on what we earn or achieve into the reality that we already embody the Divine. It is awakening out of an illusion of separateness into the reality of oneness, a reality in which there is no place that I end and you begin.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati
International Director, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh
Director, International Yoga Festival, Parmarth Niketan
P.S.: Please join us for your spiritual awakening or deepening at the International Yoga Festival 2024 at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, India, March 8-14 2024!