Thursday, September 11, 2008

Other Student Stories

The other night Gangesh Chaitanya came to "consult" with me. He told me more of his personal story.

In 2007, his travels brought him to Benares for Shiva Ratri. He arrived with no money, etc., but the first thing he did was go to the famous Vishwanath temple for darshan. Even though there was a line several kilometers long of people waiting to get in, he stood patiently for four hours before getting a brief moment before the Lingam. He said his prayers and made his obeisance in a very emotional state of mind.

He said to Shiva Vishwanath, "Tomorrow is Shiva Ratri, but it does not look like it will be easy to get darshan of you. But anyway I have seen you today, if you are merciful, then tomorrow I will be able to see you again."

After offering obeisances a second time, he went down to the Ganges and sat on the ghat, fully intending to spend the night there, as it was about 10.30. But sitting nearby was a sannyasi, so he decided to ask him if there was anywhere, any ashram, where he could go to render some service. The sannyasi was very welcoming and took him to a room somewhere nearby, where, on entering, there was a meeting of about 15 sannyasis in progress.

These monks immediately welcomed him and started a heated discussion, which led to the leader of the group, Madhava Giri, to say, "You must take sannyas right now." Someone produced a piece of saffron cloth and tore it to make a bahirvas and kaupin. Someone else took Gangesh to a barbershop and had his head shaved. Then he was taken to the Ganga and bathed, and then by midnight, he was a sannyasi, Sri Parvat Giri.

[A rather odd name, by the way. Parvat is also one of the 10 sannyas titles, as is Giri. Furthermore, both words mean "mountain." Anyway...]

Gangesh went to sleep with a deep, sound sleep like he had never known. So he tells. But at 3.00 some of his new companions stirred him from his slumber and said, "Come on, Baba, it is Shiva Ratri. It is time to bathe."

The entire group of fifteen went down to the Ganga where they joined a throng of other vairagis of various types who were bathing fully naked in the holy river. Gangesh was also stripped down, but he says that as everyone was equally naked, he felt no embarrassment. After bathing, they all covered themselves with ashes (vibhuti).

Then one sannyasi said, "Nagas over here, Mahapurushas over there." Gangesh did not know what he was talking about, but all the sannyasis divided into two groups. Someone ushered him into the Mahapurush group. The other batch remained entirely naked, while his group put on lengutis (kaupins) and the saffron cloth. Then they formed two lines and started walking towards the Vishwanath temple.

Gangesh tells that someone pushed him to the very front of the line and so, there he was, on his way to the Vishwanath temple just as it opened on Shiva Ratri, the holiest day of the year in Varanasi, at the very head of a procession of naked sadhus, to be the very first to have darshan of the Lingam.

So, whereas on the previous day it had been doubtful that he would even manage to get into the temple on account of the crowds of pilgrims, it ended up that he was the very first to enter!

Afterwards, though, things took a bit of a different turn. These were Nagas, and they are a bit fanatical in some of their practices. One of the things these sadhus do is whack their penises to deaden the nerves and make them permanently flaccid, inoperative and insensitive. When he realized that they were going to initiate him in this practice in the near future, Gangesh though, "This is not for me!"

Unfortunately, the group must have realized that their customs were not everyone's cup of tea, for they suddenly became very watchful. Gangesh was "put under surveillance." Two or three of the others followed him wherever he went.

Finally he made his escape. Again penniless (He says that during the time in Benares, he attended several feasts where many sannyasis were fed and given dakshina of 500 rupees, but he turned everything over to his Naga guru.), he boarded the first train that pulled into the Kashi station after being told that as a sannyasi, he had the right to free travel anywhere in India.

He ended up in Indore in Maharashtra, where he found an ashram there and was serving the cows. In this ashram he met another sannyasi, Padmapada Dandi Swami, who took one look at him, laughed and said, "You're not supposed to be a sannyasi!"

So he told him to become a brahmachari student and gave him the name Gangesh. He also told him that this would be his last birth in the material world.

Another of my students is another effulgent brahmachari with perfect teeth. This may be purely coincidental, but all our South-Indians seem to have this characteristic. Vachanananda Swami is another. One day in English class I was asking each of the students what their special talent was, and he said, "My smile." He was probably right... Of course, he has other talents. But this story is a short one about Ratheesh (Ratisha). It was told to me by Greg, an American who is also living in the Gurukula.

Apparently Ratheesh is a bit of a clairvoyant. When he was still very young, he would say things to people, quite spontaneously, that would come true. Word of this first spread in the family, and then through the village. Some business-minded relative or villager saw financial possibilities, and started charging money for him to exercise his gifts, rather successfully it would seem.

This went on for some time until Ratheesh went to the ashram of his guru. When his guru found out what he was doing, he immediately told him to put a stop to it. He said, "Whatever spiritual gifts you possess, whatever pious attainments you have from a previous life, are meant for you to perfect your spiritual life. You are going to ruin everything by using it for profit like this."

So Ratheesh left home and went to live in the ashram. I don't know how he got from there to here, but this is where his spiritual quest has taken him.

Greg told me that the two of them went to see a famous astrologer here in Rishikesh. The two of them were sitting together at the consultation and Greg went first.

Greg says, "You know, it was pretty positive and all that, but when he started talking about Ratheesh, the astrologer began to gush. 'You have the same chart as Adi Shankara!' he said. And on and on he went about the great spiritual attainments and future he was to have.

"To really put things in perspective, when it came time to pay, I gave my money. But when Ratheesh was pulling his wallet out, the astrologer categorically refused. 'It was an honor to do your chart...'"

I don't suppose that will happen to many of us in this lifetime.