|Sacred Space: Yogis, Siddhas, Gurus
Mahatma Parmanandaji, Bindu Khatta ashram
On the way back from a Panch Badri-Panch Kedar Yatra in 2007, we stopped at Bindu Khatta where I met Mahatma Parmananda-ji, for the first time. Sri Gorakh Babaji introduced me saying that he had told me that if we were invited and if I liked the place, we could camp there for the night. Mahatma-ji spoke to me of other things for about half an hour, while we were given refreshments. Between sentences, he asked me, "so have you decided to take your night halt here?" I accepted his gracious invitation, saying, I was very happy to be there. Immediately practical, he said, "before it gets dark, look around the place, and refresh yourself". I was shown my room and the makeshift bath far away. I was also given a full tour of the place.
Adjacent to the mandir dedicated to Mahatma Parmananda-ji's guru, Sri Hansji Maharaj and Sri Mataji, secluded from the main buildings, are the temples of Lord Shiva, Devi and Sri Radha-Krishna. After a bath, I joined Sri Gorakh Babaji in offering worship here. The bol of Babaji's damru, heard in sacred siddha sthans, now resounded here. Later, I joined those staying at the ashram for the evening arati in the hall. After his evening dhyan, Babaji joined us and sang a few bhajans.
Masters & Sages|
In the early morning as we got ready to depart for Vrindavan, Mahatma-ji insisted that we have paratha-sabji which was being prepared, before we set off on our journey. In the meantime, we sat talking. Among other things, Mahatma-ji said that the next time I would have to come for a minimum of 3 days, the room would have an attached bath by then and I would be very comfortable. He specified that I would find it conducive to writing. He also invited me for Mahashivatri, saying he would expect me at that time.
As destiny had pre-determined, I returned to Bindu Khatta at Mahashivaratri of 2008 to stay for 3 days in a newly renovated room with everything to make my stay comfortable, including a chair and table at which I spent time writing.
At our first meeting, Mahatma-ji had asked me, "when you meet someone sometimes don't you feel a sense of something lost, something found?" I agreed that there was a sense of immediate familiarity one felt with certain people and places. He said, "we feel it because it is true". He said, "What is the compelling attraction people sometimes feel towards a particular person - it is of Shakti. If we associate ourselves with this body-mind, we can never know ourselves, and without knowing ourselves, we cannot know another. What is the difference between an ordinary person and a mahatma? A mahatma continually identifies with that Shakti. He recognizes this is just a vessel, and it will change form, it has no meaning."
I knew there was something he had to convey. Each time I met him thereafter also, I noted the urgency with which he tried to transmit what there are neither words nor expression for. I spoke to him on the phone several times in the ensuing months. The conversation was always brief. It was as though we merely touched base and acknowledged the presence of the other. Mahatma-ji reminded me to return and I assured him that I would.
On 27th Feb, my husband Rajiv and I headed towards the Kumaon Himalayas. There were others who were meeting us there. It was a tight schedule. Everyone was returning to Delhi and onto Mumbai on 3rd March. 6th was Mahashivaratri. I had to be at Kolkata on 7th. We decided to pay our respects to Mahatma-ji and convey that I would come to Bindu Khatta at a more convenient time. We had barely sat down when platefuls of prasad and refresing cups of tea were placed before us. Mahatma-ji was delighted to see us.
The saffron clothes he wears are a part of his very skin. Younger sanyasins tend to wear a bolder colour. When you meet them you are immediately aware, by their outward appearance itself that you are with a practicing renunciate. With aged sanyasins, the cloth they wear is incidental, like the colour of the earth itself. His countenance and manner belonged to an age past - an age of simple living and high thinking, which he espoused. He was a part of everything around, or perhaps everything around was an extension of him. He sat huddled, his worn body crumpled like his clothes. He walked with the aid of two sticks. His short cropped receding white hair and the naturally expressionless face of a yogi said little.
The warmth of his smile lit his face. The spreading radiance of his face charged the air with that indefinable quality which is a reflection of the Shakti he speaks of, again and again. He said, "if I think it is me, I will be lost. It is Shakti. It is continual. If you want tea, it will come in a vessel. The vessel is not the tea. The tea is totally separate, totally different. But without the vessel how will you enjoy the tea?"
He said, "At Vaikuntha Dham this is how you are welcomed, your refreshments await your unannounced arrival." He reminded me that he was expecting me on the 3rd. I tried to ascertain whether my current visit, mere days before Mahashivaratri, would free me of my earlier promise. He said, "I have already done your prachar, you are expected here, if you do not come you will make me a liar." I had very little option. When I spoke to Sri Gorakh Babaji, he gently pointed towards my being present at the appointed time. He himself had also promised Mahatma-ji, whom he knew from 1958, that he would be there. There were confounding reasons not to be there. It was not an unusual situation. I have witnessed it again and again, at sacred conjunctions. As Mahatma-ji expressed in a conversation with some devotees who were visiting him, "There are always obstacles in the path of completing good work. The path is not smooth or easy. It is the test of dhiraj, dhairya aur vivek - patience, perseverance and discrimination. In the presence of Shakti, the negative forces are also very powerful."
After visiting Jageshwar Dham and Airawat Gufa, we stayed the night at Deenapani beyond Kasar Devi, Almora. On 3rd morning, with the rising sun, several of us headed back towards the plains. At Bhowali, paths separated. Visiting several people en route, we reached Bindu Khatta in the late afternoon.
Mahatma-ji had spent the past days working at a pace that would have left a much younger man totally exhausted. He said, "The work is completed. As long as the work continues, Shakti allows one to do it uninterrupted, with no body awareness. When the work is completed, the body will function again according to the laws of nature. So right now I am tired. Two years ago, in Jan 2006, I was giving up my body when I felt a prerna that there was work to be done and it would have to be done through the medium of this body. I had to maintain this body to complete it."
Over the next few days, I would meet Mahatma-ji in the midst of hectic activity, surrounded by many different people at different points of time, as well as alone. He pointed out his own personal body-mind samskaras while distancing himself from them. He referred to himself as a mad man. His temper was legendary, but without it, it would have been virtually impossible to accomplish the task at hand. He was alone erecting the stage for the grand performance, directing the many players who were living the play. Those who had done seva, served him well for decades, with devotion and cheerfulness, worked hard to ready the ashram. Rooms had been built, the road paved, the buildings and temple complex painted. Saffron, yellow and red flags fluttered gaily in the wind, banners at the outer and inner gates welcomed guests, a mammoth pandal was being erected for the occasion. Excellent satwic food was being cooked daily for the gathering guests and devotees. The ashram with a handful of people usually staying here, was expected to burgeon to several thousands at it's zenith on Mahashivaratri - the countdown had already begun. And yet, even in the midst of all the activity, there was a silence, stillness and solemnity.
From his perch on his khatia or cot, Mahatma-ji was aware of every detail. He would sometimes sit in the lawn while directing the final touches. As the pandals were erected, plantain leaves strung together, buntings glimmered in the late winter light, the atmosphere of festivity reached a crescendo. Mahatma-ji was at once part of it, but always distinct and distant from it. He wielded his stick and his booming voice to great effect. Disparaging of any show of devotion as 'nautanki', he valued the merit of action. Rarely have I met anyone who carried a virtual searchlight, which at once revealed everything around while it was focused inwards. He remained constantly alert and vigilant about his own thoughts and actions. There was a charming absence of subterfuge, image, role-playing, as he bared his own actions and thoughts at the same speed as he did that of others.
That this was the tapasya-sthal of Mahatma-ji was evident. Tapaswi yogis choose siddha-peeths for their sadhana and tapasya, and through their yog-bal manifest the Shakti or energy that remains gupt or hidden from view at other times. Mahatma-ji had lived a secluded life, surrounded by his simple devotees. The energy of seva was apparent in everyone here. The continual flow of warmth, hospitality and cheerfulness was a lakshan or indication of the Shakti or palpable energy here.
Mahatma-ji said, "A diamond is a diamond no matter where it is, whether hidden or viewed by thousands. It's quality does not change." He said that his preference was for seclusion and he had determined that nothing should be written about him, or the Shakti of the sthan, until he had departed the body. "This place is for manav-kalyan or the welfare of humanity". Recognising that the time had come, he had reluctantly agreed to make a more public appearance for the sake of the few people who were yet destined to meet him.
He reminded me of our initial conversation when he had asked me if I did not feel a sense of familiarity. He said, "Is it possible that we have not known each other in lifetimes before? Distil the essence of what I have to say."
We both acknowledged that this was a special yoga. He was overflowing with the energy of a perfect state of darshan. His words were like amrit. He said, "In this state, those around can feel it as an abhash or glimpse. Those who have experience of it, will realize it as anubhuti. To remain centered in this state, without moving away from the Kendra, to remain perfectly established in it, is the crux. Even if you have perfect marksmanship, when you shoot, if your concentration is disturbed, your hand moves, the aim is missed. It is not about sitting in meditation. It is about maintaining that state of equanimity in the midst of everything. The darshan of the Bhagwad Gita was in the midst of the Mahabharat war - it was not in the luxury of solitude."
"Great yogis and gyanis also know this state, but many move away from their center. The sun does not move around the Earth, even if it appears to do so. The planets revolve around the Sun. The Sun is firmly established in itself. Its rays fall equally on all, it does not discriminate between good and bad, worthy and unworthy. He who recognizes the sun's energy can utilize it.
"When Shakti manifests, she is everywhere, in everything. At that time, the gods, the siddhas and all beings are present. They come in many different forms, as a madman, as a beggar, as an imbecile, impossible to recognize, except by the discriminating mind focused only on the Truth, the Real.
"Gati, disha and dasha are the key elements of that perfect yoga. There is a speed - Nature is in a continual state of flux. Without that change, there is atrophy, there is a return to nothingness. There is a disha or space and direction associated with it. There is a dasha or combination of various factors that occurs as a conjunction of planets at a particular time. When all of them are perfect, without any disbalance, Shakti manifests. To be present at that time and place is anubhuti or experience for those who are yogis. For others, it is ashirvad or blessing."
Unspoken, we were keenly aware that we were all assembling for Mahashivaratri - the great night of Lord Shiva. In the early dawn preceding the day, the silver sliver of the moon as it set was a reminder of the auspicious yoga. The preparation for Mahashivaratri was at all levels. There is always a karana or cause which is the pivot for the manifestation of Shakti. The khel or play of Shakti is such that when she manifests, her energy dances in rhythm in all beings, without exception, according to their own inherent nature. The guests here, as at all such sacred yogas, are not merely the mortals present who are witness, whether consciously or unconsciously. There are other guests, known and unknown, who traverse the many realms of existence. Each according to his own receptivity, his samskaras, karma, bhakti, gyan, will discern what they are able to do. He who stands still, devoid of ahankar or ego, mind reined in control in all circumstances, eye trained towards the goal alone, will witness the lila in its fullness.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.
Header design & Photo Credit: Alok Johri