Since I was a little kid, I dreamed about going to India and the Himalayas, and when I first heard about Rishikesh, it just caught my attention. That was more than 25 years ago.
I heard people talk about this quiet and little town, painted with Mother Nature's colors, surrounded by mountains and trees, filled with fresh air and prana, blessed with the Ganges' white waters that come down from the Himalayan peaks to purify us with its sacred spiritual current.
This place was chosen long ago by the great perspicacious sages from Vedic times to be their place of retreat, fit for its silence and quiet environment to practice the mystic science of yoga.
This little town sheltered Swami Sivananda, Yogi Gupta, Brahmacharya Ram, Swami Chidananda, Swami Rama and so many other sages, yogis and sadhus that lived and practiced sadhana in this particular place.
However, the first time I went to Rishikesh I found myself in a touristic town, with hundreds of little stores along the path of Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula, that sold every oriental and "New Age" item we can imagine.
Rishikesh still has a lot of Ashrams to learn and practice yoga, but actually, there are only a few, in my opinion, that keep an authentic yoga legacy; where spiritual development truly matters, above fame and money.
I can't deny its colorfulness. Even with the commerce and traffic, it is a magical place, and the Masters' blessings are still present. Sadly, the negative side of social development is that a lot of things disappear, like the silence or retreat places, and it's hard to find a genuine quiet and spiritual place.
Luckily, we can still find those special places, Ashrams of authentic Masters, deep interior knowledge centers. One of those places is the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama Ashrama of Swami Veda Bharati of the Himalayas.
Before talking about the ashram, I am going to talk about its spiritual director. Swami Veda is a true master; he depicts every aspect of the meaning of this vast Word. He is a real man, a man of flesh and bone, who has followed a sincere and hard discipline since he was a kid. He is a man who has showed during his life of service that spirituality is not a fantasy, but a practical truth.
When you listen to Swamiji's life story, the only things you can do are smile and think about the special things God does for us, that He in His infinite goodness gives us the opportunity to share with sons that really experience Him intimately.
My own spiritual master, Father César Dávila, founder of Asociación Escuela de Auto-realización y Meditación (and one of the most respected priests in the study groups of Oriental and Christian Mystic and Philosophy) always referred himself about Swami Veda as a saint.
Swami Veda Bharati is a renowned meditation master, who at the same time lives a deep state of contemplative practice and also is one of the best scholars I've known, one of those luminaries that are lacking in this world, where spiritual knowledge and intuitive wisdom fuse in perfect balance.
Calm, gentle, full of light and goodness, that's how this Himalayan yogi is, whose life reflects the shimmer of illumination: a clear mind and a tender heart.
He is a close and accessible master, so different from those massive gurus that are similar to frustrated politicians looking for personal achievements.
Swami Veda doesn't look anything like those so-called-gurus that are only looking for recognition; he has always been clear about being only God's instrument, and that no one should mistake spiritual practice with personal cult.
Since my first visit to the SRSG Ashram, I thought it was a wonderful place to deepen the spiritual practice, and for this reason I have proposed myself to travel to this Ashram once a year as a support for my sadhana.
They have excellent installations, a wide natural land surrounded by bushes, trees and colored with the vibrant colors of the wild flowers and green grass.
To the west you can appreciate the tall mountains where the Himalayan chain begins, and in the mornings it's quite a natural show to watch the sun come out behind these hills.
There's a very adequate reception with computers for the visitors, private cottages (kutir) for the guests and residents set with kitchenettes, living rooms and bathrooms (with Occidental facilities) ; a wide eating room where there's daily served a delicious vegetarian menu, a big meditation room, and different areas specially for the study and propagation of the Great Himalayan Tradition Masters' teachings.
The students and teachers of the ashram are well versed in every subject related to the spiritual studies, but the most important thing is that their knowledge is supported by their deep meditative experience. Swami Veda has always been taking care of his students, so they learn step by step and in an accurate way the most subtle methods of the science of meditation.
This past year (2011) I arrived to Rishikesh with a group of friends and students of the Yoga Center of Guayaquil of Asociación Escuela de Auto-realización, Ecuador.
With the same love of the past times, our friends welcomed us (Silvia, Giancarlo, Adhikari, Sukru, Vishnu). We were all so happy to share with them again.
At first, we were sad because Swami Veda wasn't going to be there until the next month and our stay was going to be barely of a few weeks. But the spiritual energy of this place is so special that you can feel the live presence of the Tradition's Masters and of Swami Veda all the time.
Every morning we started very early with the tradition's prayers and mantrams, and then we continued with classic hatha-yoga, where you don't practice a competitive yoga, but a yoga that leads you to the deepest of your Self, to the core of your Spirit, with the techniques of this yoga path.
Then, the process of deep relaxation that takes you to the limits of deep consciousness, just to end with a practice of pranayama and meditation in a blissful silence that reveals us the presence of God in ourselves.
There are daily lessons about every deep aspect of yoga, tantra, Vedanta and Oriental philosophy, and of course, the study of every mystic tradition. They also have workshops of the refinement of the methods of asana, pranayama and meditation.
Every year they offer Teacher Trainings to deepen the study of yoga.
And I can also say that this place is one of the most adequate places to organize silence retreats of one, two or even thirty days.
Here everything is taught in a precise way and with splendid didacticism.
One of the experiences I'd love to relate is the visit we made to Chandra Swami, a yogi that has lived in complete silence more than 25 years.
Swami Veda had written me in an e-mail that it would be interesting to visit his ashram. And without our knowledge,
Swamiji had arranged our visit. Vivek and Ramprakash were our guides.
We arrived at Chandra Swami's ashram on a cool October morning, when the mountains of the Himalayas in Dehradun still give the visitors nice weather during the day (the nights are always colder).
His Ashram, the Sadhana Kedar, is a cozy place, surrounded by nature, trees and mountains, with a view to the beautiful Jamuna River, which brings its pureness and freshness right from the sublime Himalayas to the hot plains of India. It is located in the suburbs of Dehradun, in Uttarakhand.
Chandra Swami is a very special man, with a wide smile, a delicate look in his eyes and noble bearing. His natural aura is peaceful, and tender love and silence always surround him.
His silence is only interrupted by a sound similar to a soft whistle, which he uses to call his helpers, and interrupted also by the laughter that he shares with us with an extraordinary sense of humor.
We had arrived very early, and we had the chance to share the contemplation practice of the morning in the meditation room. A very special silence, filled with lots of peace, is what we all experienced.
Very accessible thanks to the introduction letter that Swami Veda wrote for us, he welcomed our committee to have breakfast in his private room.
Really charming, his language is love's universal language that only requires silence to express.
We shared some questions at breakfast, the ones he answered writing on a paper block and which his secretary read to us.
We spent all day by his side, we went to his satsanga, and that is an experience we cherish with respect and gratefulness.
Another nice experience was to visit the Meditation Research Institute, which Swami Veda founded inside the SRSG Ashram.
Following the steps of Swami Rama, his master, Swamiji Veda has wanted to continue with the scientific studies of the methods of self-realization of his tradition.
In this laboratory they constantly do the most detailed and fragile studies that can be measured by modern instruments, like the effects of yoga over every one of the psychosomatic aspects of the human being.
Of course, we always have to have some recreation time; you can't be in Rishikesh and not walk through the town's streets, not go through Lakshman Jhula, buy souvenirs and novelties. You just have to enjoy Mother Ganga's arathi and confirm the deep religious life that the Indian man professes.
I love Rishikesh and I would love to spend more time there. I want to meditate under its starry blanket and the light of its majestic moon, I want to meditate with the cold of the mornings, watching the dawn from Swami Veda's Ashram, and open my eyes just to see how from the Himalayan mountains keep coming these messages of peace, love and brotherhood.
by Gustavo Plaza (Arjuna)
Translation by Claudia Musello (Cintamani)