The various schools and public ashrams, from the uppermost parts of the Himalaya to the southernmost parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, will invariably offer a daily curriculum based on the Raja Yoga Sutras given to us by Patanjali, or otherwise a selection of activities from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, lessons steeped in tradition but culled for the modern attitude without religious bias or overt indoctrination onto a particular devotional bend. The Gita, Upanishads, even the Ayurvedic Samhitas depending on where you have taken up your schooling, will be offered to supplement. These are programs which easily cater to large groups, are easy to establish within a set of rules for communal living and offer an attractive goal to strive for as well as verifiable markers of achievement along the way. But when we speak of the right and left-hand paths, the paths of Tantra, well, one on one training and discipline may vary quite a bit depending on the particular path of mastery you have embarked upon.
Let me share with you a little of what you won’t generally find in public school, but will certainly practice if you happen to find yourself living in the hermitage of an Aghori Baba in the Himalayas. At least this is my experience.
We worship. Both Shiva & Shakti. This means many things, but in our house it meant that when we awoke into the morning twilight at roughly 4am and the air was full of the magic of life becoming, we honored that awareness with beauty and love and happy feelings in the normalcy of the morning routine. Light a bit of dhoop at the hearth; greet the life. Make a fire. Make some tea. The first bit being served to the fire before taking our own share. Turn on the music; listen to the bards tell the stories of the pantheon and just let the deeper meaning permeate your soul as the harmonies and cadence of the mantras weave their special ways in your mind. You don’t even have to concentrate. Even better is to just be with the morning, silently, attention on the first birds chirping, the talk of the fire, the chill of the air as you go to take your toilet in the jungle, the peace of co-existence with nature as a pack of dogs follows nearby to protect you.
We worship. Both Shiva & Shakti. That means many things, but in our house that meant worshiping the life. We consider ourselves to be as but guests in this great guesthouse called Earth. We are for justice and equality knowing no man to be above another, so we look deeply into the affairs of the world, daily. Diligently. As if we know that by our very awareness and observation might events play out this way or that. The Tantrik Imagination. So when the sun has risen, we are quickly into the town for breakfast, to grab a paper and have a look around. Locally, across the planet, and far, far beyond and within.
We consider ourselves as little children playing here under the benevolent gaze of our Father and by the Grace of our Mother. And we hold a high regard for the children around us. Not just the children, all of our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and uncles – everyone. But the children have a special place in our heart. So just as giving is a big part of the morning, giving to the babas who are passing through, a shawl or a couple of coins for breakfast or tea. Giving to whomever comes before us in need. Giving whatever we might have, whatever’s required in that moment – perhaps just a kind word or a salient piece of guidance. Always giving, serving, whatever we have, whatever we are. But there is a special happiness when the kids come home from school so we make sure that we are back at the hermitage just after lunch, to throw candies from the veranda into the dancing mass of merriment now collected in our garden. Oh what a time!
The yogin of the Himalayas are not all dreadlocked and naked, ice-bathing and performing tapas under waterfalls. Stoics exist, and sadhu who live for nothing more than giving up the body and exiting the great wheel can be found, standing on one leg in the forest, or sitting comfortably in the ice on Mt. Kailas. But our afternoons, for the most part, were spent in more simple affairs. Just being. Sharing tea, biscuits and bidis and a little illuminating talk. Well, I didn’t talk really. I was really happy to just listen to what the old guys talked about. There was something very special about the normalcy of it all. Something empowering. To know that a man could be a God as well as just a man is a very empowering idea. Empowering and humbling.
And yes, sure, there are other practices as well. The pillars which support the foundation upon which we walk. Daksinacara (right-hand path) is there, with its ascetic practices and meditation. Vamacara (left-hand path) is also there, with the pancha-tattva. These sets of sadhana and ritualized awareness require quite the deep-dive to explore properly, particularly as they are all seamlessly interwoven throughout the day and life. A yogi’s kriya is often very personal and will be determined not only by his own disposition, but by the Guru’s wisdom and guidance. Mine was an overarching path of Gyana Yoga, but once upon a time, the Guru needed to instruct me in the ways of Karma Yoga as well, and this is not done with discourse or book knowledge, but through meticulous and impeccable drama. A precise play that will at once instruct, but leave intact my freedom of will and choice to determine my own path and thereby learn the needed lesson to evolve on my path. One such drama involved my exile from the hermitage.
I kid you not; there was nothing pleasant about this lesson, until I surrendered to it. It was at the crossover of the millennium. 1999 was to become 2000 and I’d just arrived in the village for the winter season. I liked winter more than summer. Winter means fire. I really love fire. But this time, when I alighted from the bus, the Master was in a foul mood, sneering at the sight of me. I could always read His eyes and knew He was nothing but a big ball of love. And He knew I knew, and that I could read Him almost as well as He could read me. Imagine the acting job He’d had to do to convince me that I was literally being thrown to the wolves. He cursed me roundly for my shortcomings, telling me He’d have nothing further to do with me for reasons that were true enough, but I’d never suspected to earn me any wrath. Well, the next thing I know I was sent on my way, to make my way in the Valley through this winter the best I could. What a let down. I had just turned thirty and had been expecting a glorious stay in Heaven through Christmas and the new year and into the following Spring.
As it turns out, however, I’d had some karma to burn. So like Jesus before me, in my thirtieth year I went into the desert of my exile, full of guilt and doubt and wonder. Questions burned me and I called upon my Father to answer them when my Guru would not any longer. And really, there was more silence than anything. Silence and the word-play of an active ego bubbling to the brim with so much this and that it’s not even worth a mention. But over the coming months, I did find my bearings. I took up with a band of brothers on the Way and began to carve out a path for myself. That’s us up there: Orange hat, pink hat, me in the black hat, white hat, yellow hat and no hat – the rainbow tribe! Together we gave to the community. We would sit in that park in New Manali Square on the boulevard, doing what babas do; just watching. Soaking up the moment. People would come around. Someone for some answers to something pressing their mind. Someone in need of a little more. The children and the poor would be fed. Even the stray animals would be well looked after when we were around. I spent a lot of time stringing rudraksha, infusing them with mantra and passing them around. There was a tangible scent of happy in this place, and at the point that I’d forgotten anything at all about an exile, Guruji came into town to share a simple smile, give me a hug and tell me to drop by the hermitage in the Autumn.
But perhaps one of the more common practices of the Himalayan yogin is walking! We walk a lot! Almost more than we just sit around doing nothing at all. And I tell you, there’s really no place on earth more splendid for a good walk. Well, sure there is. There are plenty. This earth is awesome for walking. But truly, the Himalayas are something you probably want to walk once if you can get there.
…is a Saiva Tantrika, Gyana Yogi and founder of Uma Maheshwara Yoga & Ayurveda. David has an MA in Semiotics, lives in Japan with his family and works as a coach in L & D, devoting his time to developing science-based tools and programs that help people reach the fullest potential of the human condition.