India Trip Notes
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5-18-11 - Varkala Narayana Gurukala
At the Narayana Gurukula in Varkala, Kerala. This is the home ashram of Narayana Guru mentioned 3-16-11 - At the Narayana Gurukula in Ooty. Arrived in Varkala night before last on the train, riding almost six hours at a window seat in second class because no conductor came to find I had a general ticket which was for something closer to a cattle car. Stayed in a little hotel across from the station where I watched Discovery on scavengers and 2012 with it's arcs. Varkala is a small town by Indian standards. Yesterday morning went to the beach in swim trunks by bus with small colorful cloth bag for notebook, pen, glasses, a few rupee notes. Not a big beach, some cottages on a cliff, low key, a few restaurants by the sand, some vendors - one with herbs, incense, cans of can't see, who attracted Indians sitting around him mixing stuff and what was he doing? Put my sandals and bag in tee shirt beyond the wet sand. A dog peed on the toe of one sandal, then sat to guard. Rows of waves coming in, didn't try to get to the biggest, swam against a side current, good for my bum shoulder. A German surfer said the bigger waves were the wrong type. He'd surfed at Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco.
Narayana Guru's face is all over here, like Ramana in Tiru - on the backs of busses, on billboards, at businesses. On a bus back up closer to Thrissur I saw a full color life size statue of him meditating in a glass case perched on a ledge off the second floor of a building.
Came to Ashram by cab after getting driver down from 150 to 80. He took my 100 bill and said "twenty no problem" and I couldn't get beyond that so I let him drive off. People at office inside gate told me to go see Guru. Had a nice talk with Guru Prasad and told him Gita sent me and dropped other Gurukula friend names and he asked me to stay as he would have if I'd said nothing . He said 100 rupees was standard cab fare. He asked if I wanted tea and I said okay and he pulled on a string that rang a bell and a guy came and went and returned with tea. Guru also gave me water with herbs. At some point I realized I hadn't turned my cell phone off. I have this experience here regularly - being somewhere where I want to shut off my cell phone but it plays a tune when it goes off and then I start squirming. So I just told him and shut it off and we listened to the parting tune. He gave me two books he'd written, one on Narayana (his family name too) and one on his take on things.
Narayana Guru Complete Works, Translated and Introduced by Muni Narayana Prasad.
Basic Lessons on India's Wisdom (ibid.)
I have a room with customary ceiling fan, no screens which I think should be mandatory, and a bathroom - bucket for bathing. Western toilet. I don't mind squat toilets but I hardly see them. For years, in my late twenties at Tassajara, I squatted on regular toilets. I also remember a phases where to pee I'd put the seat up and stand on the sides. As my Aunt Eleanor used to say, "What a nut."
Not much English here which is fine with me. A number of people have wanted to talk though. Met a family that was staying here - son, wife, mom. Son came to my door a while ago and I couldn't understand anything he was saying. Their English is so hard to understand that sometimes I don't know if they're speaking English or Malayalam (Kerala-speak). He wrote some info down - like his address and phone number and got mine and he kept smiling and I kept saying, "Very good," and finally he wrote down 100 rupees and showed me he only had fifty. So I took his fifty - then gave him a hundred. Then his sweet short mom came and talked to me a while and I didn't understand anything. When they left he touched my feet with his right hand.
This is a lovely place, spacious, clean. This guest building is sturdy, cement, tile, stainless steel banisters, polished stone steps, three floors with a dining hall below. I can understand why they shy from organic materials in building. It's so lush and green out there and it rains a lot - it rained yesterday. This building won't rot soon.
At dinner last night a former civil servant who spent forty years in the Mid East with an engineering company showed me the procedure. Like him I took a stainless plate with one inch lip and a stainless cup and went to the adjoining wash room and washed them and our hands and got rice, a choice of soupy rice made for dinner or leftover lunch rice and beans. I love Kerala rice - they steam it I think. It's puffy. I had sliced off a bit of my thumb reaching into my toiletries bag and grazing my safety razor so I took a spoon which I prefer anyway, hoping it didn't gross 'em out. There was a chant and we ate - fifteen of us sitting at long narrow tables with benches at one side and again washed our plate etc and put them back and washed hands again. I notice the workers are eating on the other side of the room sitting on mats on the floor, one woman at a table by herself. Meals are approximately at 8:30, 12:30, and 8:15.
As far as I can tell, the all-optional schedule here consists of the meals and a chant and reading at nine in the morning and another with the Guru at seven in the evening. That takes place in a round tiled open-air room supported by columns which backs onto the guru's living area with three forths of the sides being short walls. Mats are spread out on the floor - like Japanese goza mats and I guess this is where the Japanese got them from or maybe but I don't think so vice versa. Some mats are plain with black edges like in Japan but the ones for the meeting area here are colorful, no two being alike. Some make me think of Navaho rugs and one with antlered deer like something from a gift shop. People sit on the mats and others on benches or chairs spread out in a semi circle. I enjoyed sitting there in the Malayalam chanting after months of sitting in Tamil chanting. Guru Prasad spoke to me mainly and others some in English and then to Malayalam and they read and he commented and a man wrote on a blackboard and the electricity would go out then flashlights and candles would come on and the lights would come back on the flashlights and candles would go off back and forth. Guru was informal, laughing. A cell phone tune came on and a sadhu ran off and Guru laughed. He was gentle, unassuming. Someone woke me because Guru had asked me a question and oh yes I knew what the Upanishads are and I sat there nodding a bit hoping there were no other questions being asked as he spoke more to me because I couldn't quite make out all of what he was saying. Back to Malayalam which I'd told him I was happy with, this being satsang to me, good vibes, I'll read something later.
Swami Tyagi, one of the orange robed ones here, said hello. He called Peter Moras in Sonoma County on his cell so we could say hello. Peter's aged father hung up. Called back and I spoke. Peter's in San Rafael. Called Katrinka got Peter's cell phone number but she thinks he's in Italy. The number didn't answer maybe so. Peter's a friend of our friend Mary Cunov. Met him in Tiru and we were in Ooty together. He's an old hand here, was, like Gita and others I've met, a student of Guru Nitya who died fifteen years ago or so.
Swami Tyagi says he came here to meet me. We talked a while. What's the difference between here and a Japanese monastery? Well, here it's like visiting your kind aunt and uncle in the country and there it's more like an army that doesn't fight but loves to drill together - but they've been very good to me too. He gave me some short writings to read while he's off. Here's one:
Empty Space and Silence are Equal
You are a dot in your subtle form; enlarged, you become the three
worlds, and beyond.
One can go upward on and on, or go down uninterruptedly, and still,
Stillness is You, and when You have the need, You become this dynamic state of unlimited forms, prakritti.
In the form of water, You are the river searching for the ocean. In order to shower as rain, You become rain clouds beforehand.
Water drop and ocean are forms of water; sunlight and moonlight are forms of your effulgence.
If you are a mother, you will become the child, too. Likewise, when You take the form of a Guru, You become the disciple to fulfill that relationship.
It is certain that even though You are one entity, to know and experience your Self, You seem to become things other than You.
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