Don’t let your Mind get stuck with old-fashioned Traditions or religious Dogmas – 9 Oct 14

When I told you yesterday that you have to leave old mental garbage behind, I was talking of memories and thoughts related to your personal history. Another thought crossed my mind however: what about old patterns of thinking, old values and old attitudes?

I am actually of the strong opinion that every once in a while you have to clean up your moral household as well. What of the things that you previously thought and believed are still true? Do you really still have faith in those forces that you worship or pray to? Are you holding onto traditions that bore you and are actually against what you really want to do just because it was always done like this or because you learned of it from your ancestors?

Traditions and religions are of such nature that they put one value, one rule and one way to behave out there and people believe this will be like this, fixed and as of stone, for the next thousands of years. Once written in a holy book, it is to be seen as eternal truth. That’s nonsense.

Times change, people change, ways of behaving with each other change and even languages change! Why should our values not? With time, science has discovered so many things that it would be ridiculous to believe in school teachings of 200 years ago! We changed what we taught our children in school, so why not change what we teach them at home? Why not change what we believe ourselves and how we act?

A lot of people hesitate getting rid of old traditional, religious or even cultural burden! It is very obvious that they would sometimes like to, that they envy those who can just throw it off and walk freely into a future with values chosen of their own. At the same time however, they feel they cannot. They want to but are not fully sure that it is right. They are, basically, afraid. Afraid that they could get harmed by not doing and believing what their parents and grandparents did and believed! And afraid of what their neighbours, their relatives, what society could think of them!

Please do yourself a favour, gather some courage and take a step forward! You are walking behind, with the people a generation or two before you. So next time, when you do your spring-cleaning or Diwali-cleaning at home, sit down for a while and consider clearing out your mind, your personal history and your belief and values as well.

You will see how free you feel once you have taken that step!

Use of ancient Rituals like Sweat Lodges in modern Times – 5 Aug 11

I came across some news about a modern American guru, James Ray, who had performed sweat lodge retreats for spiritually interested people. In one of those retreats however, three people died. He was accused and convicted of negligent homicide.

Of course I don’t believe that this man is a murderer. He did not have any criminal intention but he was probably looking for the money that he gets through such a retreat. He had 56 participants in that retreat and each of them paid 10000 US-Dollar. They were in a sweat lodge which was obviously too small and then too hot for these three people who died. This is why he was charged: he was responsible for the people at his retreat and he did not take care of them, seeing that he can earn more if more people come. I have seen in other, similar events that people got sick or fell unconscious in sweat lodges.

On such an occasion I was asked once what my opinion is about sweat lodges. I personally have never been to a sweat lodge and have not made this experience. I know however what it is and I know that it is an ancient ritual of the Native Americans in the USA which has become more and more popular in the spiritual scene and all over the world. I know some similar rituals of tribal times and I do have an opinion in participating in those rituals.

Imagine the time in which all those rituals were invented. People were living in tribes, they were living close to nature, with heat and coldness as it came through the year. It was hundreds or even thousands of years ago. How can we compare ourselves to them? One thing is that physically we are not in the same condition. You live in your multi-story, air-conditioned apartment, you are not in nature usually but then you decide to go into a sweat lodge. It can of course be dangerous to your health. This however is only a point on the side.

I don’t see why we need to copy those rituals. These are old and ancient practices which are nice if they are preserved by the true offspring of those tribal people. In former times, the shamans of the tribes were performing them and today it could be their great-grandsons. But why do we need to imitate them? Why do we need to pretend to be who we are not? We are not Native American Indians, we don’t live in tribes. Most of us don’t have any connection to those times, so why do we copy them? Why do you wear feathers and leather, dressed up as a Native American if you are not? I know that it is a big business for some people. If they dress up in this way and make a show out of it, they can attract more people. Why do you want to be someone who you are not? Only to attract attention and money? Then you are not yourself.

People ask us sometimes why we wear the clothes that we are wearing. I always answer, if I wore jeans and t-shirt I would not be myself! I don’t change my dress for showing off. It is what I normally wear in my daily life, wherever I am. It is a part of my culture, a part of me and it feels right to me. It is comfortable and simply natural for me. I don’t want you to imitate my dress, I want you to be yourself! In the same way, if you do any ritual, I ask you to do it with your heart and honesty. Don’t just do it out of fascination but see the deeper sense behind it and ask yourself if that corresponds with who you are. Don’t stick to any ritual just because some scripture, religion, guru or master told you to. Feel it yourself and you will know what it right.

Joy of having a Friend from Germany at the Ashram – 3 Jul 11

We landed in Delhi in the midday and at the airport we were welcomed by my brothers Purnendu and Yashendu. They had been looking forward to meet my German friend who had so spontaneously accompanied me to India.

Together we started towards Vrindavan. On the way, my friend had the wish to stop somewhere for a chai. He had been in India before but not in our area and he knew that you can get chai, Indian tea, nearly everywhere along the road. We stopped, took a small break and he drank his chai before we went on. It was nice to see that he felt good in his surroundings and that it was easy for him to just be there in India, in that culture.

Just as it had been the first time for me to live in the house of a foreigner when I had been with him, it was the first time for me and my family to host a foreigner in our home. We all, my whole family, were excited and happy to have him there. He stayed at the Ashram with my brothers and me and a group of students who were living there to learn Sanskrit and about the scriptures. We also still had cows at the Ashram. I vividly remember a few incidents of the time that he spent with us in India in 2001.

As it had been my habit before, we went to my parents’ house for dinner to eat together with the family every day. I remember one of those days, maybe one of the first ones of his stay, when we were at dinner in my parents’ home. As usual, my mother was cooking and my sister served the food to the plates. As usual in India, she always came to everyone and asked if they wanted more. In this way she came to my German friend and he accepted the bread, he accepted the rice, the vegetables, the dal and also when she brought it again. He was eager to taste it all and the food was really great, and so he had a really full plate and was obviously not able to eat it all. I think he just did not have the idea to say no when my sister came with food.

I had known that my friend always smoked one cigarette after dinner. He did not otherwise smoke, only one in 24 hours and that after dinner. He went outside of the Ashram to smoke his cigarettes and in the beginning he asked me, the rest of the cigarette in the hand, where he should throw it away. I looked at him and could only shrug my shoulders. I had no idea where you should throw this away! He became inventive then and we could see him how he squatted down at the road after each of his cigarettes and dug a hole into the sandy ground. He threw his cigarette rest in there and covered the hole with sand again. It was very nice to see this as he did not just throw it away anywhere but actually cared about it.

It was a great time. We laughed a lot with each other and about each other, each other’s habits and each other’s cultures. Getting to know another person and his culture in this way is really wonderful and my friend was so open to get to know more that we all enjoyed showing him around, cooking for him, talking to him and taking him to different places.

Of course we showed him Vrindavan and the surrounding towns. We went to Agra with him to the Taj Mahal and to Fatehpur Sikri. We even drove to Khajuraho, where we visited the popular Kama Sutra Temples which are of course always interesting for tourists in India. It is a distance of about 500 kilometers and we drove by car. It was Yashendu, my friend and I who went there. Yashendu and I were taking turns in driving and on the way back, my German friend wanted to drive, too. So we switched and there he was, driving on the left side of the road in Indian traffic. It may have taken a few minutes for him to get used to it but then he was pretty good and drove quite a while. He was behind the steering wheel for about two hours and we really had much fun. Until today he is the only one of my western friends who ever dared to drive our car in Indian traffic.

This is how our time together passed quickly and the last day before my friend’s departure came. When we came back from dinner at my parents’ house in the evening, we were standing in the Ashram and looking into each other’s eyes. I am a very emotional person and with the feeling of that evening and looking into his eyes, I felt tears dwell up and run down my cheeks. He also got tears in his eyes and so we were standing there, just looking at each other. I will never forget that beautiful feeling. We hugged each other tightly.

On the next day I took him to Delhi.

Feeling at Home among Foreigners in a foreign Country – 12 Jun 11

At my German friend’s home, I met again his wife and his son, the jolly 5-year-old boy whom I had met with him on the plane and then on Mallorca, too. In the next days I again made several new experiences.

As he had told me on our flight to Mallorca, my friend was a doctor and psychotherapist. He took me to his praxis in the town of Lüneburg, where he worked, and showed me around. We went shopping together and I cooked Indian food in their kitchen.

He had invited some friends to come by so that they could get to know me and I could get to know them. I showed them some yoga in his living room and they tried to do along with me. Of course they had fun copying me but also just enjoyed watching me. Everybody enjoyed the time very much and they were curious about me. I was just as curious about them.

It was really a very new experience for me. It was actually the first time that I lived with a foreigner in one house. The first time I was together for a long time with someone who was not from my country, not from my culture and who did not speak my language. In Itzehoe I had been with my Indian friend and also on Mallorca, in London and in Thailand I had been with Indian families, surrounded by people who came from India, had their roots there, spoke and understood Hindi and understood who I was.

I had got in contact with westerners before, too. Getting in contact is however something fully different than actually living together with them. I got to know about the food habits in Germany, about the living style and many small things which just belong to the way how life works there differently than in India.

Another difference living in a western family was how they saw me. My new friend was not a religious person. Wherever I had been before, people had been religious and respected me as a holy person. Of course, in London it had been a little bit more relaxed and more close but now I felt really just like among friends. There was curiosity and a respect for what the other one has experienced but not the awe that had started making me feel a bit uncomfortable.

So we did not know too much about each other’s culture but nevertheless he and his wife were brave enough to host me and I was brave enough to be their guest. It was the house of a foreigner but their love gave me the feeling of being at home. We did many things together and got to know each other better. I realized that he might not be a religious person but a very spiritual man. This is how we found out that we both liked to meditate and spent some time in meditation together.

My Idea of Holidays – Not Learning but Relaxing – 25 Jan 11

In Cochin I wrote about churches, temples and sightseeing and received a few comments telling me that people do appreciate the architecture of those temples, churches and other houses of God.

I actually fully agree with this idea, too. I myself have been to Paris and also saw Notre Dame there and I stood in front of it, admiring the many hands who built it and the mind of the architect who saw this all before in his imagination. I have been to the Kamasutra temples in Khajuraho, too, which were built with religious purpose, and I have been amazed by their architecture. Another great example of architecture that I admire is the Taj Mahal in Agra. Whenever there is any guest at the Ashram, we send them to see this wonderful monument of love which is only a one-day trip from Vrindavan.

Religious buildings have always been the places where architects showed their best work and I like to look at their work. However I don’t need a temple to worship and I don’t want to fill my holidays with only looking at those buildings, especially if they are not really masterpieces of art. Here in South India however this kind of religious tourism is very common, especially among Indian tourists.

Temples make a lot of money in this way. You pay entry fees to go into the temple but not only that! There are different categories and you can decide how close you want to get to the deity and the altar and how much you want to pay. You can pay only a little and practically stand at the door to have a look from far away or you can pay more and have a look from close-by. Your worship thus depends on how much money you have. To have a close look at God, you need a big pocket. I surely don’t want to support this kind of religious business and this is why I said, I believe religion belongs into museums.

I am also not a tourist who has a long list of all places in my hand that I want to see because my idea of a holiday is not visiting historical buildings and learning a lot. This can be a part of my holiday but not the main aim. On the other hand my main aim is also not shopping and eating. I eat in the same way that I eat at home, with my times and often even the same food. I don’t need many things, so I would not know what to buy either.

When I think I have a holiday, I want to relax. If I am at a nice place, I enjoy the atmosphere and maybe also look at a few buildings. I like to see what the differences are to the place that I normally live in and I like to see a nice sunrise or sunset. In this way it becomes a nice mixture of nature, culture, relaxation and sightseeing.

Natural Physical Closeness in India Make Families Strong – 18 Jan 11

Yesterday I said that you can develop a strong emotional relation with someone if you are physically close. I often see that there is a big difference in this kind of relations in between India and western countries.

Once a western man was here, many years ago. He saw me and my sister, who is no more with us, and saw how we play and hug each other. He was in a way fascinated and said ‘If I did this with my sister, she would kick me immediately! We never hold hands or sit next to each other in close contact. We just never had this physical closeness and these things seem like something I would do only with my girlfriend.’ And when you are not used to it, it may seem funny that siblings are as close as we are.

Many times travellers in India also have the impression that there are many homosexual men in India. They see them walking on the street holding hands or arm in arm. In western countries this usually means they are gay. You don’t see many men walking hand in hand there. Here in India however it is completely normal. Yashendu and his close friends often sit close-by each other, have the arms around each other’s shoulders and talk in low voices which could give a western person the impression they are a couple, whispering love talk. Only when tourists have spent some time in India they notice that men here can have a friendship with physical contact to each other. It is just normal.

I appreciate this point of Indian culture very much. A family often sleeps in one room together. With this I don’t mean people who cannot afford a house and only have one room where they all live, cook, eat and sleep. No, also families that can afford more than one room to live in. In the house where we lived in my childhood, we had four bedrooms but still all six people, my parents, my sister and we three brothers always slept in one room. A family lives together in one house and they simply have more physical closeness. Through this, the emotional connection is of course also stronger.

I have seen cases in both cultures, too, in which family members have big fights and problems, simply because there is not any emotional relation which they are lacking because of physical separation. And I feel especially in the west, everybody gets trained for physical separation.

It starts in very young childhood, when already babies get their own room in a flat or a house. They sleep separately before they even speak their first words! And if any child does not have his or her own room by a certain age, people start thinking that it is in some way unnatural! Of course, you pity families that cannot afford a separate room for a small child and thus let it sleep in the parents’ bedroom but actually you think it would be better for the child to sleep separately. For me this is strange to see, simply because in my culture, a family can sleep in one bed even when the children are adult by age already.

Panic does not Help you – 7 Sep 10

We have been talking for a while among us and also with our friends Thomas and Iris about how people reacted to the flood here. We again noticed that there are differences from here to western countries and of course these are cultural differences, attitudes that vary because of the way how you grew up, how people think and talk around you and how your parents told you to deal with problems.

When we went in the flooded area for the first time, the water was still increasing, people did not even know how bad it would be. However nobody panicked. They were just there, looking at the road and debating whether it would rise or not. The parents agreed to send their boys to the Ashram, happy that they would be taken care of. They may have worried but definitely not panicked.

When the flood was on its peak, we went there to distribute food and found a remarkably high number of people still living in the area and again, relatively calm. There were of course some women who were crying when they saw that their houses were flowing away in the water however the majority of people just watched. They were sitting on their roofs and when you listened you could hear how they calmly discussed about how far it will rise and if they would have to move fully out of the area. They realized the tragedy but they accepted it.

Every attitude has its good and its bad aspects. When discussing, we assumed that Germans would have been far more excited, sad and angry about what was happening if it had been their homes. I have experienced this, a pipe breaks and water starts filling a basement room, something that can happen and which is under your control. People panic. You can empty the basement room still on the same day, you have someone to call for help and you finally even have an insurance for your damage but you are shouting, crying, running around and are simply in panic because of this small mistake or accident.

In this case here, people have to watch without being able to do anything how the river, something uncontrollable, enters their homes. The water takes whatever they had, everything they have built in their lives and they do not know even what an insurance is that could give you anything of the value back. They do not have any possibility to do anything about it but they do not panic.

It is good, we did not have a mass panic and people were still very reasonable and we could talk with them and discuss in which way we could help them. They are fine although their whole life’s earning is gone with the water of the river. It is amazing if you see the difference in reaction. But I would say, these things are things that you cannot change. Accept them. If you are calm, you have a possibility to think about what you can do which you do not have when you get panic. You cannot change it, now water is there and you have to deal with it. Be there, don’t panic, think about what has to be done and the situation will get better.

Traditional Dress of Indian Women – 12 Aug 10

Yesterday I mentioned that you should take care of what you are doing in whichever country you are. That is true but I again would like to come back to the point of respecting and understanding different cultures. When you travel to a country that is far away and which has a different culture from yours, you usually prepare yourself for your journey and what you will experience. At least you try to get to know it a little bit although it is only possible to really know a culture if you have felt it from within.
If you come to India as a woman, you will get advice to take clothes that cover your shoulders and your knees. I wanted to start this topic by explaining how the traditional and common dress of Indian women looks like.

It is not like in some countries where women cover themselves from head to toe and in India women also do not only dress in black. If you have seen pictures of Indian women you must have noticed how colourful their clothes are. You can buy everything in hundreds of different shiny colours.

Indian women usually wear traditional Saris or Punjabi Suits. The suits, also called Salwaar Kameez, are pants with a kind of long shirt over them and a scarf, called Dupatta. So you have only the arms free and that only if it is a short-sleeved suit. Additionally you carry the Dupatta over your breasts.

The Sari is actually only a five meter long piece of cloth. For wearing it you need more: a petticoat and a Cholee, which is a short blouse. Nicely wrapped over the petticoat, around the body and over the Cholee, a Sari can leave a part of the back and the belly open. You can also wrap it in a way that it covers both, back and belly, that is according to you.

You see, shoulders and legs are usually always covered. This is how they are considered as sexy here in India. In bigger cities you will see it change already and many young women just dress casually in western style but they usually also know how to wrap a Sari for bigger events and occasions.

Tomorrow I will talk more about the attention that western women travelling in India sometimes get because of their clothing. Today however I would like to add that the food was sponsored by our friend Diana Vosyliute who has already visited our Ashram this year. We send much love to her for her birthday!

Cultural Exchange between India and USA – 21 Jul 10

In May, when we were in Texas, we stayed with our friends Jeff and Joanne. One day Jeff took us along to his church, the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church in League City, where they also have a small school. He is a teacher there and showed us around a bit. The church also decided to sponsor one of the children from our school and while we were talking about this, Jeff had the idea that we could do a cultural exchange for the children.

They had planned a cultural week in July in which the children should learn about different countries and India could be one of them. We were all looking forward very much. And last week then Purnendu told the children in our school about it and a girl prepared a dance which we recorded via Skype. This video we uploaded and sent to Jeff’s school so that the children there can get to know our children a little bit and see how they eat and what kind of dance they do. They are already looking forward to see the performance of the children in Texas which they will record and send, too.

We are very happy about this kind of exchange. Through the internet and our international connections we have the possibility to show our children the world. They get a unique insight, something that was never possible before and maybe one day it will be possible for them to meet in person in the other country. Who knows? If any of you has a similar project in mind, and would like to do an exchange, you are very welcome to contact us and we would love to do something for the children together. 

Dealing with Misunderstood Messages as a Guru and after – 12 June 10

When you express something it is usually because you want to give the other person a message. You want to share something or you need information and express your confusion. And if the other person gets your message, he or she will understand what you want to say, give you an answer, hand you over what you needed or just keep in mind the information that you shared.

What if that message doesn’t reach its intended recipient though? What if the one whom you are directing it to, does not understand or understands it fully wrong? This sometimes happens to me, especially when I am talking on phone, so if the person is not in front of me. One reason is of course the language and another reason the culture, because you express things in different ways and can read in between the lines more easily if it is your language and culture. Well, it happens sometimes, often you can set things straight but sometimes it takes a lot of effort and energy.

I was wondering today why this has not happened that much before in my life but increased in the last years. And I believe, I found the answer to this, too. When I lived the life of a guru, I was just not approachable. I gave lectures, healing and counselling to people but I was always a little bit higher seated, somehow in a distance. That came with the profession of being a guru. And even after the cave, when I started travelling, there was still this distance. Nowadays I make it more clear in my talk and in my actions. I am approachable; I let people know that I am a usual, normal human person. And now anybody can misunderstand me, unintentionally or even intentionally and I deal with it personally. Well, I guess that is what comes with this little change. But I am happy about this change, too, because my life is beautiful and I am just very happy.