Kashmir 2012 by Swami Veda Bharati
I started writing this at the time of the event but was not able to complete it. Here is an edited and updated version. Please enjoy.
Swami Veda Bharati
The Yogi-Sufi-Buddhist dialogue in Kashmir was organised by Dena Miriam, founder of Global Peace Initiative of Women that holds such dialogues in all parts of the world.
The flight from Delhi to Shrinagar, the capital of Kashmir, is short one hour. During this flight on 18th October 2012 we flew over some snow-clad mountains also.
As soon as I stepped out of the aeroplane in Shrinagar, I was hit by the cold and my heart muscle felt immediate shock from the cold and the altitude. I was breathing fast… etc. etc.
Checked into Lalit Hotel that used to be a palace of the Maharajas (kings) of Kashmir, this one built by Maharaja Gulab Singh right on the famous Dal Lake. We were welcomed in the lobby with hot cups of kahwa, the Kashmiri hot drink that is made of almonds, saffron, a special (not Chinese or Japanese but) Kashmiri green tea and spices. It helped. I was still shivering and the heart muscle was in pain.
As a result of the shock from cold and altitude, I spent two full days in bed trying to get some energy back and did a lot of inner practices lying down to gather strength for the forthcoming conference.
21st and 22nd Oct. was the Yogi-Sufi-Buddhist dialogue on the theme of self versus non-self.
Since Buddhists do not believe in self and the Sufis look for fana’ (self-annihilation in the sense of transcendental egoless consciousness, not as destruction) and the Indian yogis are firmly rooted in the doctrine of atman, the spiritual self, this was a worthy and difficult topic to address.
On both days I was given the privilege to be the inaugural speaker. The first day the Dialogue was at the hotel, just a few steps away from my room, so my wheelchair did not need to be pushed far. The 2nd day it was just across the lake, 2 minutes drive, at Sher-e-Kashmir Conference Centre, a sumptuous place.
My presentation was that: these questions cannot be answered with certainty as matters of doctrine but are to be based on inner realization and experience. At such realization the different points of view merge as the Buddhists say and yogis agree that the four-cornered truth is no truth (chaush-koti satya). Four corners are:
S (subject) is P (predicate)
S is not P
S is both P and not P
S is neither P nor non-P.
The experiential transcendental reality is none of the four. There are, for this reason, firm statements about self-realization in Yoga and Hindu texts but there are also songs like Ashtavakra-Gita denying both self and non-self.
There is much to be elaborated on the topic.
I hope the transcripts and CDs of the recordings of these statements can be made available. I asked Shivanand (Filip Rucinski, my Sanskrit speaking Polish disciple who was also one of my research assistants at the Ashram) to do the CDs and the transcripts. He did a wonderful and thorough job of it and the recordings etc. are now in our archives.
Present were several Lamas, one from Ladakh, one from Nepal, one lady Lama from England who lives in Himachal Pradesh State of India and had spent 12 years practicing in a cave. And a delightful Theravadin Buddhist monk from Uganda, perhaps the only African Buddhist monk who had studied in India and in Shri Lanka. I had met him several years ago in Denmark, but this time we came closer and I will introduce him to Idriss, my spiritual son from Burkina Faso and to Swami Ghanananda of Ghana (perhaps the only African Hindu Swami) of Ghana. Bhikkhu Buddharakkhita has such a knack for cogent, open communication. Repeat, just delightful.
I was so gratified to have the presence of my dharma-sister Prof. Bettina Baeumer, born in Austria and now a citizen of India; highly acclaimed for her knowledge by ay of scholarship of Kashmir Shaivism but also her spiritual realizations, with voluminous scholarly books to her credit and a luminous face. She teaches at her own academy in Varanasi and spends many months of solitude and silence at her forest cottage in the mountains not far from our Ashram in Rishikesh.
My heart smiled to see the Kashmiri Muslim participants, some from Shrinagar University, so open, so well informed about other religions and philosophies, familiar with Sanskrit background of Kashmiri language.
On the first evening we had a Sufi music concert for short one hour. It was not the usual Punjabi-gusto type Sufi music; it was contemplative, almost Vedic. It was a rare new discovery. I wish I had a better recorder to do justice to it. I was so delighted that the concert both began and ended with the vakhs (compositions, verse compositions) of Lalla Ded, if you know who she is/was; hers is a long story to narrate.
Second day afternoon was mainly the Sufi speakers. Especially Prof. Zaffar, whom I had met in yogi-sufi dialogue in Delhi that was held several years back at the ziarat (holy burial site) of the illustrious father of Late Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan several years ago. He has translated the Shivasutras into Kashmiri and presented me a copy. He wants me to come to Delhi next month and do the book release for him.
I keep using the word ‘delight’ in this writing because I do not know what else to say. The presentations of the Sufi speakers were based on the Kashmiri Sufi history starting with Lalla Ded and Nund Rishi (Nooruddin Wali), the patron saint of post-Sanskrit Kashmir from 14th century. They all gave quotations from Sanskrit-mixed early Kashmiri including the compositions of Lalla and Nund Rishi. This also is a long story of Muslim-Sufi Rishi lineage of Kashmir. I have so much wanted to do a pilgrimage to Nund Rishi’s dargah (Muslim holy burial place) that is still mystically magical, but could not fulfill the wish.
One of the speakers told a story :
I was driving to Jammu 300 miles away. During the drive I saw a man standing right in the middle of the road. I had to stop. He had a long beard, an unkempt look and was wearing a dirty long robe (chogha).
I had no option. Without asking, he just got into the car and I started driving. In the middle of the drive, here is the dialogue that ensued. I asked him:
Where are you from?
Where were you born?
Where are you going?
May I ask what is your name?
Who is your father?
Who is your son?
End of conversation.
After a while he asked to stop the car. Got out of the car and disappeared.
Kashmir is still a land of mystics, mysteries and masters; being destroyed by fundamentalist politicians, militants and the necessary military action. But after several decades of strife, it was now quite peaceful at the time of my visit. I was amazed at the cooperation that exists between the Hindu and Muslim communities. But. Maybe I am only meeting that kind of citizens and not the militant kind?
I was further delighted when the last speaker actually recited Lalla’s verses which I have read many times in many translations and in the original but had never heard them sung or recited. To add to my delight, Shahnawaz, who is the local organizer, amiable, humble, so efficient, fulfilled my long time wish by presenting me a copy of the 2-volume Noor-nameh with urdu translation. Noornameh is the Nund Rishi’s masterpiece in 443 sharoks (shlokas, verses).
Well, I must say that both I and Medha (watching over me day and night) were amazed that I could stay through whole 2 days of conference active and alert.
But once I got to the room, no energy to look at the e-mails. I had dinner, slept by 9.15 p.m. and woke not till 7.15 a.m. I told Medha I was not going to go anywhere tomorrow (23rd) I will just rest.
I had wanted to go do puja, preferably the usual nava-kanya-puja (worship of Divine Mother in the form of nine underage maidens that I do on durgashtami (a day sacred to Divine Mother) at the Ashram; I had to miss it. I had hoped to do it at the Kheer Bhavani Temple. When I called, they said that durgashtami was yesterday! Those who went to Shankaracharya Temple, they said the place was full because durgashtami was today!! Never mind. Ma will hear me any way.
I was still tired, but my mind decided to go. I called and made arrangements and informed the temple authorities that this ‘mahamandaleshwara’ was coming. They had no idea of what this ‘maha…something was’ but they still made the necessary arrangements so that the manager Gulam Mohammad (yes, manager of the sacred Hindu Kheer Bhavani temple) would receive me outside the gate.
Around these temples, the Indian army security is tight and alert. They have a barracks inside the temple complex.
No cars are allowed inside the main gate but they made a special arrangement and my car went all the way to the shrine so Medha and Shivananda did not have to push my wheelchair for half a mile.
Here the shiva-linga (image) in a shrine in the middle of the pool is just for people’s sentiment for seeing something solid but the offering is only to Mother’s Water Form and all the offerings are dropped into the water.
I did a brief puja; the Pandit was less than inspiring. Streams of people kept coming to offer worship, to place their heads on the floor. From what I can remember, there is a lot more construction here than there was when we (I and Mrs. Arya) first went and spent a day there and had met a sadhu sitting in the temple precincts.
I had gone and greeted this sadhu, among several others, because of his special light. I introduced myself as a disciple of Swami Rama of the Himalayas. The sadhu was in permanent silence for God knows how many years. He wrote on a scrap of paper “initiated by Swami Rama in 1964”. That explained his light. There was nothing more to say. When I later mentioned it to Baba, he said “oh, so he is there now?”.
Now I cannot remember the sadhu’s name.
I had hoped I would have the darshan of some such personage here but no such thing happened (wellll… that is said tongue in cheek; I can’t reveal everything). I sat for less than two hours of meditation. Got the message from the manager that the weather is changing and we better now start our long drive back. I did the parikrama, (circumambulation of the water shrine) and then we went our way.
Now we could see the snow-peaked mountains; the snow had fallen only today. One month early. The peaks of Sonmarg were totally white.
The long drive would have incapacitated me but such sacred places energise me. I arrived back at 5 p.m.; it is now 1.30 a.m. and I have been working.
Some information about Kheer Bhavani Temple.
Because kheer (Indian rice pudding) is the main daily offering, the deity is nicknamed kheer bhavani.
It is just a small pond of water fed with a small spring. The colour of the water changes from time to time: white, red, green, black. Black denotes impending calamity and those living here tell us that it had turned black, for example in 1989 when the recent disturbances began. It had turned black again just before the Kargil war. Today it was green.
Sometimes natural yantras form on the surface of the water. Gulam Muhammad said that he has seen these.
Some time in history a great flood had engulfed large areas of the land here and the devi shrine had disappeared. Slowly the water receded. Some time during the Mughal period, a Kashmiri Pandit dreamt that the goddess ordered him to rediscover the location of her shrine. She said that he and others should prepare their boats and start rowing. A Naga (large sacred snake) will guide them.
Few friends got together. Started rowing and the Naga appeared. They followed. At some point the Naga reared itself up and stood still. The people stopped their boats and stuck a long pole at the site in the lake. The Naga then went around forming a shape. The people stuck poles and established the boundary in the water.
Then they started bringing dirt and stones and started filling up the spot. Thus the temple site was established. Later the Maharajas of Kashmir built up the larger temples and so on.
Tomorrow, Medha is going to the National Park which also contains the Shankr-pal. Shivopala in Sanskrit texts, Shiva’s rock. Many Muslims deny its existence but some still know its location. My scholarly sister, erudite and saintly, Prof. Bettina Baeumer tells me that it is still a place of magic for meditation.
In 8th century the founder of Kashmir Shaivism, Vasugupta, was given a vision to go to such and such spot and there on a rock he would find the Shiva-sutras (part of which I taught recently at the Ashram). He went there. Sat and meditated. No Shiva-sutras. He prayed and prayed. The Great One gave him the strength that he could turn the rock over, and there were the Shivasutras. He inscribed these and taught them to disciples and that is how Kashmir Shaivism began. I believe if you sat there and meditated the meaning of Shiva-sutras will dawn on you.
I had so much hoped to go there but I do not have the strength now and cannot climb. Shivananda will accompany Medha tomorrow.
The other place I wanted to see is Charar Sharif, the ziarat (dargaah = sacred grave of a Muslim holy man) of Nund Rishi (Nooruddin Wali). In 14th century Lalla Ded abandoned the use of Sanskrit texts of Kashmir Shaivism and composed her vakhs (vaakyas= sayings) in the language of the people, the Sanskrit-mixed Kashmiri. She is equally venerated by Hindus and Muslims. Hindus regard her as Durga incarnated. She was maha-yogini who wandered naked. When someone asked her why she stayed naked, she replied:
I should hide myself from a man. I have not seen a man anywhere.
There is a long history of her. There are many books and translations. Do read.
She needed to pass on her spiritual mantle to someone and had found no one. This was a time when Islam was beginning to take root in Kashmir and Sufis had begun their wanderings.
It is then that Nooruddin Wali was born. Lalla was quite old now. She used to visit that family. She heard of the child being born. A day or two later she went to visit the family and inquired after the well being of mother and child. She was told of everyone’s consternation because the newborn was simply not taking milk from the mother’s breast. Lalla, an old woman, took the child and gave him her breast. Milk flowed and the child was nourished. That is how divine mother nourishes the would-be saints by giving them her breast milk.
There are similar stories of Tiru-jnana-sambandhar, the Tamil child poet-saint as well as Shankaracharya himself. I believe I have somewhere written about these but I do not remember where.
The story of Lalla may simply be also symbolic of her giving him diksha (initiation) and passing on her higher Consciousness to him.
He became known as Nund Rishi, founder of the Kashmir Sufi tradition and of the Kashmir Muslim Sufi Rishi lineage that lasted for many centuries and is still venerated by Hindus and Muslims alike.
The current craze of fundamentalists is to destroy the Sufi shrines. They have done so in Pakistan, and now in Northern Mali. In the course of recent unrest they also set fire to Charar Sharif to destroy the central shrine of Kashmir Sufi tradition. It has now been rebuilt. But who can set fire to a cave. The sacred meditation caves of the Sufi Rishis are still fully vibrant, one example is Aish Muqam cave that others visited.
I cannot go; it will take whole day to go and return. My body has not the strength. I must now find all the sacred shrines just within me with my second renunciation into silence.
Then there is Ladakh, known as Little Tibet. I cannot visit. It is part of Kashmir where the Tibetan culture is still freely alive and well under the protection of India. If Pakistan takes over, this last place of free Tibetan culture will be vanquished as China, Pakistan’s ally claims occupies parts of Ladakh now and claims many other parts. Between fundamentalist Islam and China, there will be no more free Tibetan culture in Ladakh. India must resist.
I must now find all the gompas (monasteries) just within me.
It is now 3 a.m. I do not think I can go anywhere tomorrow. Must rest. My heart will go to Shankarpal with Shivananda and Medha.
Maybe I will go somewhere tomorrow afternoon. Then back to Delhi on 25th.
Well, that ‘tomorrow’ came; it was today. Medha and Shivananda took me to the famous Shalimar Gardens. The beauty of the gardens and a half mile long row of fountains in an artificial flowing stream I need not describe here.
At every step, as people, even (all Kashmiri Muslim) labourers saw a wheelchair they helped open the accesses where there was no access. The throngs of tourists, all from India, were everywhere. No one was in any fear. A microcosm of India. Bengalis in a dhoti, South Indian women in their attires, saris of all shapes and forms, children of all ages frolicking in their freedom.
Suddenly I found my wheelchair surrounded by a small group of young men. Am I about to be kidnapped by a bunch of terrorists? Quite to the contrary. They are University students, seeing a rare swami in this part of India and wanted to know who I was. I introduced myself as a meditation master and they were fascinated. They had not heard of the conference for which I had come but knew of Prof. Zaffar.
Right there, I on my wheelchair and they standing, I gave them brief guided meditation. They were amazed and wanted to know more. We talked of Kashmiri Sufi mystical traditions. So sorry I am leaving tomorrow.
We exchanged addresses and I promised to send them teachers if they would organise something. They seemed quite amenable.
This was perhaps the first time there was a meditation class in Shalimar Gardens.
This capped my Kashmir visit and I became even more convinced, something widely recognized, that the answer to fundamentalism in Kashmir is indeed the revival of the Kashmiri Sufi tradition to which a large number of people continue to adhere.