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A couple of poems written by Judy Siqueira after a 45 day Vispassana

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Pilgrim in India (novel)

extracts from a novel by Savitri I. Mayer 

Extract from the prologue


          I was in India during 1983… and part of my experiences during that trip are in this novel.

          All the information and teachings are faithful to the sources; the texts looked up and quoted appear in the bibliography: Sri Aurobindo, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Swami Vivekananda, Father Bede Griffiths, some Buddhist schools…, and a few more.

          Father Mark is a character inspired by Father Bede Griffiths, in whose ashram I stayed some time and from whom I received diksha, beside the ashram cross and a new name.

          I doubted a lot about either putting Father Bede as a character and portray him faithfully in the novel, or create a fictional character. Finally I chose the second option because it gave me more freedom and I could create a character that, even if very similar to Father Griffiths, is nontheless a fictional character, mainly in some anecdotes and dialogues exclusive to the fiction and to the character, Father Mark. But Father Mark’s teachings are Father Bede’s teachings and are taken from his books (which I mention in the bibliography) and also a little from my memories. Father Mark’s ashram (Satyavanam) is also inspired by Father Bede’s ashram: I describe the spaces, the rhythm and the activities of the fictional ashram as they were and as I experienced them in Shantivanam during the time I spent there.


Extract from chapter 5


The trip to Satyavanam


          After the second visit to …., I thought the moment to meet Father Mark had arrived. Earlier it would have not been right, because it was a Christian ashram and it was during Easter. But now I assumed there would be place, so I sent a brief letter announcing my arrival (as I had been advised to do) and one night I took a bus directly to Tiruchirapalli, the nearest town to the ashram.




          I took a taxi and after a pretty long journey arrived at the ashram. The entrance was an arcade painted in pink, with some sculptures on it. These were sitting figures, with the style and the colours of the Hindu murtis, but it seemed to me that they represented Christian saints.


          I went inside and walked on a path lined with palm trees till I arrived at the reception office, where the manager, an Indian man of middle age, received me with great consideration. They had received my letter and so I was expected and a room was prepared for me. This room was small and simple but comfortable. A bed, a wooden plank hanging from the wall as a table and a chair, besides a pair of shelves for the clothes. That room and a few others were part of a modest building with roof in straw, and all the rooms opened to a corridor which was by a garden. It was possible to see many trees and plants, and just in front of my room there was a thick shrub with orange flowers that gave a mild scent.

          The manager gave me a piece of paper with the timetable of activities and said he would come later to take me to Father Mark´s hut.

          I hurried up… I put my things on the shelves and had a shower in the bathroom, which was at the end of the corridor and was a tiny wooden space as modest as all the rest. I had taken a shower in the morning, in the hotel, but because of the heat I had perspired and wanted to be impeccable for the meeting with the father. I dressed modestly: a pair of trousers and a kurta.

          I was restless, intrigued… My friend had spoken about the father with such great admiration: Would I feel the same?


First meeting with Father Mark


          I was nearly dressed when I heard a soft knock on the door. I opened it and saw the manager:

—I can now take you to meet the father —he said, with such a firmness that to postpone this was impossible.

          I asked him to wait some seconds… My hair was wet, which may not have been appropriate and so I took my white shawl and covered my head with it.

          We had to walk on a long path…, till the manager stopped near a humble little hut with roof in straw, saying:

 —This is the father´s hut.

          It was a very simple dwelling, with a door, a window, a little garden in the front and very high trees —palms, coconuts and banana trees— that gave shadow to the garden.

          Behind the opened window I saw the figure of an aged man. He was dressed in a saffron gown, his arms and one shoulder naked, and he seemed to be writing, sitting at a table by the window.

          We waited silently… and some minutes went by, till the father raised his head and saw us, greeting us with a smile and a gesture.

          The manager, going ahead and with a slight head inclination, told the father that I came from Argentina and after some exchange of words he left.

          And the father, with a gesture and a namaste, invited me to go near him…

          While I was walking towards him, his face was becoming more distinct.

          I saw the light of his clear eyes. And his smile. He had a thick white beard, long white hair, and blue eyes very bright. He seemed the image of purity.

          Immediately, I perceived something immensely loving coming from him, something ineffable.

          Then… all my thoughts ceased.

          I felt warm in my chest…, in my cheeks. And was invaded by a feeling of love so strong and sudden and incomprehensible. A feeling of love very pure…, different to other kinds of love I had experienced till then.

          I stayed motionless in front of his window, while he looked at me smiling and asking questions…

          I answered as I could, because that inexplicable love was paralysing me.

—My name is Moira…, I am from Buenos Aires…, I knew about Satyavanam

through a Spanish friend.

And babbling I said the name of my friend, whom the father immediately remembered.

          Afterwards, I stayed looking at him with delight… And he went on talking, in a concise and formal way, while I expressed myself in a monosyllabic way. He asked me if my room was comfortable and how long I wished to stay. He said that there were group meetings in the mornings and the afternoons, to share a coffee with milk (milk from the ashram´s cows). And said that if I needed to talk with him privately, I only had to go near his hut and wait till he called me.

          I was then conscious of two realities at the same time.

          On one side that old humble monk, who was concerned with my comfort and who was speaking in a very British English about such ordinary things as my room and the ashram routine.

          On the other side, that loving and amazing energy, that seemed to come from him and surrounded me, halting my thoughts and making me nearly weep.

What I was feeling was bewildering…

          Finally, the father dismissed me doing a namaste, which I gave back in the same way, and overflowing with love I went back to my room.

In a while, the father would give a discourse.  That time waiting seemed to me endless: I wanted to listen to the father, to meet the people staying there, to share the activities…


His first discourse


          The discourse was given in a circular space, without walls, with a wooden ceiling supported by trunks. In the center there was a curious sculpture: four identical figures of Jesus Christ facing the four cardinal points. They were sitting in meditation posture, with their hands on the knees doing a mudra, and the marble of the four Christs was black.

          When I arrived some people were there already, sitting on the floor on cushions or rugs. After a while the father came. His body was like a reed, tall and thin, slightly bent forward, and the saffron robe, the kavi, reached to his feet, which were discalced. He was carrying some books and handwritten papers and placed himself on the floor, facing us, on a little straw carpet.

—Today we shall begin a new subject —he said, putting on his reading glasses.

“I arrived at the right moment” I thought.

—We will read some of the Upanishads and from that reading, we will compare

Hinduism with Christianity… This is very important!

          The father began to read…, and from time to time he stopped to comment, explaining what the Vedas and the Upanishads are. The Vedas are the oldest texts of Hinduism, transmitted initially by word of mouth, and were created by thinkers and poets from their inner experience. The Upanishads, the last Vedas´ texts, are the most philosophical, and convey a deep spiritual understanding.

When the father made comments, he took out his glasses and stared at us, attentive to our responses.


          After a while he said:


The Hindu vision “It is this vision of a cosmic unity, in which man and nature are sustained by an all-pervading spirit, which the West needs to learn from the East.


And he stressed that one of the more important messages from the Upanishads is that the Spirit can only be known through union with Him. And that this is possible because the Spirit, Brahman, is present in each one of us, it is Atman, our own being.


The Self which dwells in the heart of every creature… It is smaller than the small, greater than the great, —he read.


          I listened to him with great interest as did the other people: all quiet, sitting in front of him. Even if the father was explaining very intangible themes, he managed to capture our attention completely.

          But from time to time, I looked around me with joy…

          I felt so well!

          Everything seemed to me beautiful and perfect. The evening sun radiating behind the father; the father, who also radiated; the four black Christs in their eternal meditation.

Everything was perfect!


Ruth, a soul friend


          From that afternoon I began to share the activities in the ashram and my days slided through meditations, Masses and teachings, but also social life. There were two circumstances of intense communication that repeated every day, in the middle of the mornings and in the afternoons, when we met to have a coffee with milk. We did it in a round open space, which was surrounded by palm trees that gave shadow and by plants that gave scent.

          There I began to meet people and to discover my affinity with them. And during one of the first mornings I met Ruth…

          I was sitting on a trunk, drinking my coffee and pleased, watching the people, when a girl slightly overweight, with a  kind face and nice smile, came near me. She was dressed with a white robe that reached her feet and her glance was frank and intelligent.

—Hi, your first time in Satyavanam? —she asked, with a very American English.

          Immediately I knew that she was from California (where she was studying in an important university, in something related to education) and that this was her third time in India and in father Mark´s ashram.

—India is like a magnet for me, I come every time I can —she confessed, and then she told me in detail of her experience in India and in Satyavanam.

          From the very first moment I liked Ruth very much. And this was reciprocal. We began to meet each other often and in few days we were intimates. As she used to say:

“We recognized each other as soul friends, as spiritual sisters”.

          Ruth was profound, sincere and wise, with a bright intelligence that balanced her not much physical beauty. She had hair in opaque chestnut colour combed without style and she dressed with robes in rustic fabric that looked like sacs. These were special clothes for her sojourn in India and she herself made them.

          Ruth practiced meditation for many years and the most important thing in life for her was the spiritual search.



Everyday life in the ashram: living in paradise


The love for the teacher


          The mystery of the energy, of the vibration that persons and places give off… In Satyavanam that mystery prevailed. It was like living in paradise…, or as we imagine paradise should be.

          During those first weeks, the anxiety and the mood swings disappeared from my feelings. I got stabilized in a state of serenity, joy and harmony.

          I was happy, and I was happy in a quiet way, without ups and downs.

And every time I came across the father, I felt that inexplicable love… It was so strange: a feeling of complete purity, full of respect and veneration.

—This is the love for the teacher —Ruth explained when I told her—. I feel the same for Father Mark. When I am here, what I long most is to see him or to listen to him, and besides that, to assist him.

          It was reassuring to know that she felt the same as me.

          There were two periods for meditation: one hour at dawn and one hour in the afternoon. During those times everyone would sit to meditate alone, in any place. But we were attuned with each other, as we were all doing the same. I liked, especially at dawn, to go to the river side, which was near the ashram. There I found room on a stone or against a trunk… The sun was just appearing, softly and tenderly, and my first thoughts were for God, to Whom I offered my meditation…


Om Sri Bhagavate

Satchitanandaya Namaha

(Let us greet the Lord, who is Being, Consciousness, Bliss)


          Everybody gave some help in the ashram, which in my case was usually to peel and cut vegetables in the mornings. And a couple of times it was my turn for serving the meals…

          The dining room was a big rectangular space, with the walls painted in smooth green.

          We sat forming two facing rows, on the floor, with the exception of aged people, who were provided with chairs.

          The father shared all the meals with us, sitting as everybody else on the floor, in the end of a row. And during the occasions I had to serve, was astonished at his frugality. I had just helped him with a serving of rice and vegetables, and already his hand made a gesture showing that it was enough.

          The meals were also a delight for the soul. While in silence as we consumed the food, we listened to fragments of sacred texts read by some disciple. Then, the act of eating, so linked to body and matter, seemed infused with a sacred quality. The usual pleasure of the senses disappeared. We gave to our body the food it needed, but our attention was focused on something more essential, on something that nourished us spiritually.

          There were three services every day and to attend them was glorious…

The chapel, painted in brick colour inside and outside, was as simple as all the other buildings in the ashram. In the style of many Hindu temples, it had the altar within a dark and half closed space, put on a level from which some stairs descended. The father seated himself in front of those stairs and the monks staying in the ashram and not only residents but also visitors sat on both sides.

Even being very simple, or maybe because of that, the chapel was very beautiful.

          The images were trimmed with flower threads, the incense was burning on the altar and the Mass integrated in the rituals of the religions of the East and the West.

          We all sat on the floor and once all were accommodated, the devotional chanting, the bhajans, would begin. The father and the monks leading them, while they were playing wind and percussion instruments. Father Mark played a small drum called kanjira with his hands.

And those chants were moving: the father in front of us with his kanjira and everybody singing, praying aloud…


Om Asato ma sadgamaya        From the unreal lead me to the Real

Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya        From darkness lead me to Light

Mrityor ma amritamgamaya    From death lead me to Immortality


          And when the father gave his sermon, his words moved me in a permanent way, not only for what he said but, and mainly, for how he said it. Never, in the few times that I had attended a Mass and listen to the priest,  had I perceived such a power, such a conviction, such a truth. All in him was inspiring…

          I remember phrases from his sermons, like that time when, with joined hands and shining glance, he said:


“Prayer and meditation are ways of going beyond appearances and touch Reality…

Meditation is a way of going beyond the ego and opening to the Spirit, letting Him transform us.”


Or that other time:


“The word God has infinite meanings and none is adequate… It points to Something that is beyond words and things.”


And he also seemed to go beyond words and things, nearly ethereal, luminous…