Meditations on The Journey Home – Lesson from Chapter 2
Inspirations from ‘The Journey Home ‐ Autobiography of an American Swami’
Richard, now dressed as a sadhu, resolved to sit in silent prayer and meditation from sunrise to sunset, for one month. A rock in the Ganges, about twenty-five feet from the bank was to be his seat of prayer. And an old man’s generosity of a carrot a day and the Ganges water was his food for the next thirty days. He learnt invaluable lessons during this intense month of long prayer sessions:
“Spread out around me on all sides was Mother Ganges in her winter dress of sparkling, undulating aqua. Her waves rippled and swirled as if intoxicated by her own beauty.No human artist could capture even a moment of this unending display. And, just as her art was created, it simultaneously disappeared. I took from this a lesson. All beautiful forms of this world are in the process of transformation. Nothing is stable. With every moment, our reality is changing. Mother Ganges, like nature, is constant, but no manifestation of hers remains. Likewise, all that we hold dear in this world is imperceptibly vanishing. We cannot cling to anything. But if we can appreciate the beauty of the underlying current of truth, we can enjoy a reality deeper than the fickle waves of joy and sorrow. I sat, a submissive student, trying to learn from my teacher. She begins her course from high in the Himalayas and flows without cease to the sea. Innumerable obstacles—huge rocks, fallen trees, or even mountains—block her way, but nothing will stop her journey to the sea. Gracefully she flows over, under, or around all obstructions. Mother Ganges teaches us that if we want to attain the sea of our aspiration, we must persevere in our goal and never be discouraged by the inevitable obstacles that come on our path. All impediments are like rocks in the river of life. We should flow around them and never give up. With the Lord’s help, there is always a way. “
Richard observed that although being in the swift current of the river, one is greatly affected but sitting on the bank, we can observe the flow with detachment. Similarly if we detach ourselves from the mind and the world, we too can observe life soberly and thus gain wisdom. One day he meditated on the millions of years of history that had been enacted on the banks of Ganges. From the age of Aryans to the medieval age of Mughals and to the Gandhi and Independence movement, and to the present times, Ganges had seen it all. She was patiently flowing towards the sea, unchanged by the vicissitudes caused by time. Truth too, Richard observed was unchanging, and flowed irrespective of what happens to this world.
On another morning, he learnt yet another lesson:
“Early one morning, just before sunrise, as I looked downstream into the current that never slept, I considered her thousand-mile journey. The sea was calling and each drop of water patiently flowed in the current to her ultimate destination, so far away. Mother Ganges is teaching me that patience and steadfastness are required to follow my calling.
I never really stopped to think why I had left behind the promises of the world to sit alone on a rock in the Ganges and endure a rigorous, self-imposed fast. Why did I act in such extreme ways, like a person obsessed? At the time, I did not feel that these were my choices. I felt the mysterious hand of destiny leading me forward.”
While Richard learnt spiritual lessons, I studied ‘Science frontiers’ in college and was amazed to discover the glory of Mother Ganges in ways the non-seekers could also relate to. The Ganges is 2525 kilometers long. Along its course, 27 major towns dump 902 million liters of sewage into it each day. Added to this are all those human bodies consigned to this holy river. Despite this heavy burden of pollutants, the Ganges has for millennia been regarded as incorruptible. How can this be?
Several scientists have recorded the effects of this river’s “magical” cleansing properties:
Ganges water does not putrefy, even after long periods of storage. River water begins to putrefy when lack of oxygen promotes the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which produce the tell-tale smell of stale water. British physician, C.E. Nelson, observed that Ganga water taken from the Hooghly — one of its dirtiest mouths — by ships returning to England- remained fresh throughout the voyage.
A British physician E. Hanbury Hankin reported in the French journal Annales de l’Institut Pasteur that cholera microbes died within three hours in Ganga water, but continued to thrive in distilled water even after 48 hours. A French scientist, Monsieur Herelle, was amazed to find “that only a few feet below the bodies of persons floating in the Ganga who had died of dysentery and cholera, where one would expect millions of germs, there were no germs at all.”
More recently, D.S. Bhargava, an Indian environmental engineer measured the Ganges’ remarkable self-cleansing properties: “Bhargava’s calculations, taken from an exhaustive three-year study of the Ganga, show that it is able to reduce BOD [biochemical oxygen demand] levels much faster than in other rivers.” Quantitatively, the Ganges seems to clean up suspended wastes 15 to 20 times faster than other rivers.
If the material properties of this unbelievable river are mind boggling, I now wonder what precious spiritual gifts are waiting for a seeker of divinity? Richard had just begun to explore and was on the verge of a life changing discovery…