Our bus finally came to a grinding halt at its destination - a small village that stood at the base of the holy shrine for Lord Shiva, Tunganath - one whose abode is high. It had been a torturous journey through the treacherous terrain in the Garhwal section of the Himalayas. Despite the driver's precaution of "resting" the aging bus periodically, it broke down in a deserted patch. My fellow passengers, who obviously had firmer belief than me, prayed incessantly to Lord Shiva, asking forgiveness for their sins. They pleaded for all obstacles to be removed. I distinctly remember the joyous cries of jubilation and religious fervor among the pilgrims when the bus finally started again. With their belief strengthened by this "miraculous" bus repair, the rest of journey became a frenzy of devotional singing and chanting.
Having reached this village which served as a base camp for the pilgrimage trek, I felt fatigued and exhausted. I did not share the enthusiasm of my companions who seemed rejuvenated and anxious to take a quick night's rest and start their 5km trek the next morning. Clothed in my "English Dress" among these inspired pilgrims, I felt tired, sick, depressed and skeptical of this fanatic fervor.
It was not that I did not believe in the existence of God - my higher self. On the contrary, my few but powerful meditative experiences had clearly demonstrated to me the validity of a universal spiritual reality. It was these very experiences that had prompted me to undertake this arduous pilgrimage to the holy trinity of shrines, Badrinath, Kedarnath and Tunganath. But standing here at the foothill of the last leg of this pilgrimage, severe doubts seemed to be clouding my thoughts and I seriously questioned my wisdom in spending this time and money on this wasteful journey.
Lost in thoughts of dismay and confusion I stumbled with my backpack to find myself a spot to spread my sleeping bag and rest. All the desirable sleeping spots were already taken while I was exploring my feelings, and I had to settle for a space next to the cows in the shed. Throughout the night I was woken up by sounds of the animals and relentless mosquito tirades. When dawn broke, I was in very low spirits and felt miserable. The red marks all over my body were a testimony to the success mosquitoes had during the night in wetting their appetite. Feeling queasy and dispirited
I barely found the energy to get myself ready. When the entire entourage started on the trek, I was at the tail end of the pack wondering when this ordeal would be over. The continuous chanting and singing was irritating me but I dare not object as I was the odd one in the group and would surely be treated with disgust. Already some people were looking at me with the looks of "What the hell is this guy doing? He's spoiling the whole atmosphere".
Within an hour I realized that this trek was no joke. The climb was steep and we had to climb to a height of 14,000 feet. The older people were already panting and taking frequent breaks. I realized that I was in very poor physical shape - whether it was the lack of rest or absence of enthusiasm, but I seemed to be one of the oldies. I was clearly gasping for breath and the lack of oxygen in my blood was beginning to manifest as a nagging headache. It was not a good sign and we were not even half way through. The sun was playing tricks with the clouds and whenever it would disappear I would feel a shiver all over the body aggravated by the evaporating sweat. My condition seemed to be getting worse with every step - everything seemed hazy and I was literally stumbling along. Soon I was the last person in the pack and the person ahead of me - a man in his sixties was almost out of sight. I felt lonely, weak, dejected and fed-up of all this. I was surely the unhappiest person in the whole world. My legs were faltering and I just could not go on. I decided to call it quits and head back. But I could not muster enough energy even to go downhill back to the village. What to do? I just sat down in the middle of the trekking trail burying my head between my arms and knees, lost in self-pity.
After a few minutes I lifted my head. A huge tree standing right in front of me caught my attention. Its branches reached out over the trail. I could not see the base of the trunk; it was obviously originating somewhere in the slopes of the mountains. It looked an ordinary tree at first glance. Its branches were swaying in the breeze and it reminded me so much of the elephant's trunk. These trunk-looking branches were bending so flexibly, almost reaching the top of my head. As if reading my mind and affirming my impression of an elephant trunk, the branches suddenly released a huge spray of water showering my face completely. I wondered if this water was a remnant of the rain from the previous day. Wherever it came from, the water was refreshing. As I looked carefully, I became aware of thousands of strange, fine, beautiful fiber-like strands coming out of the branches, glistening in the sunshine. It almost seemed like that these thin hairy structures were roots hanging from the tree nourishing the tree with air instead of water. Everything seemed topsy-turvy not unlike my life at this point. I leaned over the edge but could not see the base of the trunk of this tree due to the heavy undergrowth all around. Overcome by curiosity, I decided to go down the slope to investigate this mystical structure. As I trudged down the slope I realized that the tree was much taller than I had anticipated and even after going down for a few minutes its end was nowhere in sight. However, I was committed to reaching its "origin" and finally after several minutes of negotiating through the shrubs and weeds I reached the base. I was disappointed at what I saw. It was a very ordinary looking trunk. I was probably expecting to see something miraculous, like flowers coming out of the trunk, but that was obviously not the case. I sat down and gently rested my body and head against the trunk of the tree.
I felt relaxed and started to slip into a sleepy state. I felt as if the entire world around me was melting. It was similar to an oozing melting of an ice-cube when it is brought out of the deep freeze. I felt light and weightless, as if the whole burden of my worries and thoughts had just been lifted off. I could hear the loud sound of the insects and it seemed to be pleasantly drowning every other sound. Everything seemed so serene and peaceful. Then all of sudden I heard a cracking explosion - as if the entire tree had cracked and was going to fall. Turning back to see, I was relieved to see that the tree was intact. From the corner of my eye, I saw a figure and when I turned around, I saw this white-bearded person standing next to me. He was smiling at me and did not speak a single word. He had a timeless look in his eyes that were looking through me. His twinkling eyes were literally smiling and exuding love that was so beautifully different. I was transfixed by the beauty of this eternal moment. The sun suddenly seemed on fire, generating scorching heat that seemed insatiable. I became aware of tears flowing from my eyes spontaneously for no reason whatsoever. Each tear from my eyes fell on the ground and took on the form of a pearl or a diamond. In the glorious sunshine, I seemed to be surrounded in a golden hue of jewels. The white-bearded man then pointed in the direction of the tree and as I turned around to look at the tree, I was awestruck by the spectacle I saw. The trunk of the tree had taken on a pinkish hue and circumscribing the trunk were rings of flowers. It was as if this man had read my mind and manifested these flowers to come out of the tree trunk. I approached a flower and discovered a little bud within it. As soon as I looked, the tiny bud opened instantaneously. Inside the bud was sitting the white-bearded man smiling at me lovingly as before. I felt a ray of light coming straight out of his eyes, touching softly at my tummy. On looking further, I found a similar bud within each flower. When I shifted my attention to a bud in a different flower, the previous one would close and the next one opened immediately. I checked each one of the buds and all of them behaved similarly - opening when I looked at them and closing when I looked away. I played with these buds at will and was delighted to see them responding so spontaneously to my sight. Then a thought crossed my mind - what would it be like if all these flowers open together all at once? No sooner had this thought crossed my mind, all the flowers responded instantaneously. All of them opened synchronously almost as if on a cue from a symphony maestro. Brilliant rays of light came out of each one of them and gently caressed me at different places on my body. I was in a state of total bliss - every part of my body was experiencing a frenzy of happiness - bursting and gushing out of me with wildness and gay abandon. This happiness seemed endless and my body could not handle it anymore - I felt as if I was going to burst into pieces.
This scared me and suddenly I woke from my sleep. I was by the side of the tree resting against its trunk. The tree was its old original self. Was this just a dream? No! - My feelings and perceptions seemed to have changed. Everything around me seemed vibrant and alive. The tree was no longer any ordinary tree. A wave of emotion enveloped me and I hugged the tree with feelings I never before had for anybody. I immediately felt reciprocation from the tree as a thrill passed through my entire body. I could now distinctly hear temple bells in the distance and I knew that this was my calling. I was being beckoned by my love to join him.
I picked up my backpack and started my upward climb towards the shrine. I felt as if I was literally flying and I could hardly feel the ground beneath my feet. I just followed the sound of the temple bells that were guiding me to my destination; I did not care to follow the customary trail any longer. I was following a path that was my own but it seemed to be working just fine as I could sense that I was getting closer from the increased intensity of the temple bells. I was soon traveling among clouds and the shrine literally seemed beyond the clouds and the sky. I now started hearing the sound of an entire orchestra of instruments and the sound of the flute was simply enrapturing my attention completely. The shrine was now clearly visible and I was in ecstatic bliss. The din of the drums, bells and flute was signaling Lord Tunganath's welcome reception for me.
I finally reached the summit. Suddenly all the sounds stopped and I was amidst total silence. I looked to see around but there was nobody. Just me; all by myself. I looked down and saw that I had left the clouds below and even the sun was nowhere to be seen. I felt propelled towards the shrine as if a force was calling me there. In a state of peaceful ecstasy I entered the cave entrance to the shrine and found myself enveloped in utter darkness. There was no fear however. I felt quite at peace in this timeless black hole which seemed to be a pathway between two different realities. There was no turning back now. I could now clearly see the shinning bright light coming from the innermost sanctum. This was the chamber where my love was waiting for me. The bridal chamber was ready and my Lord was waiting for me with open arms. The Lord himself had chosen and groomed his bride for this wedding. The wedding had no witnesses, no commitments - just one of us. I was going to be one with my love. Now and forever.
Don't Wait for God, Fly to Him
Don't Sleep With God, Make Love With Him
Don't Play With God, Play God
Don't Pray to God, Be One With Him
Don't Settle for Anything Less
Don't Just Be With God, Be God!