A spiritual journey to the beautiful sacred site of Varanasi was on the cards, I was alone and excited to visit the great mother Ganges River which flows directly through the hair of Shiva god of death and consciousness.
Post Script: I commented on a gorgeous blog we found: 15 Beautiful Sacred Sites Around The World on our Facebook fan page recently and wanted to revisit it to speak about the part of it that references Varanasi
Like all participants of sacred journeys, I, like Vishnu the Preserver in his incarnation as of Vaman, wished to discover myself, wished to measure my universe. As Vaman had measured the universe he had extended his left foot to the end of time and space and poked a hole in it with his big toe.
As the story goes the purest water of the Divine Brahm, the causal ocean that brought all forth, poured through the hole and entered the universe as the Ganges the great river that had washed the feet of Lord Vishnu.
I too was in a causal place in my life, I was 33 years old, the great spiritual and numerological age of change. I had arrived in India six weeks earlier thoroughly disenchanted with my life, rejecting both a Christian and atheist path but still very open to be influenced by much older gods.
I had worn the mask of atheism and radical left wing politics for a whole number of years throughout my twenties, for me it had been a reaction to the distortion of my evangelical Christian childhood.
Yet like all spiritual or philosophical masks it was dualistic, on the one hand, atheism, or humanism, was an attractive idea, equality for all and no need to bow to a god to find it. On the other hand however, there was a shallowness to it, I always knew that my childhood clairvoyance existed and I still saw Spirit every day, however hard I tried to ignore them.
I’d started to meditate again about a year or so before I left for India. I hadn’t really committed to any particular spiritual path but the atheistic mask, I was beginning to find, was no more real (or satisfying) than any other mask.
India, so far, had been mind blowing, spirituality oozed from every nook and cranny. I was loosely drawn to two masks, the aspect of Hinduism of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the mask of Buddhism.
There was something so appealing to me about the Brahma/Vishnu/Shiva mask that resonated very deeply even though I didn’t know why. From the depths of Narayanaya, the primal void, the causal ocean, Brahma the Creator rose as a babe on a lotus flower. He was helpless and cried out to Lakshmi great Goddess of Abundance to protect him so he could weave reality.
Today as a Chaos magician I still enjoy this mask, Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva the Destroyer, all parts of the same being, balanced (like all powerful magicians understand) for to create you must destroy and draw abundance again from the primal soup to create anew.
The mask of Buddhism attracted me because it did away with the need for a Creator god as such and it was hot on meditation, however it’s not a mask I utilize a great deal today.
For more on masks, spirituality and magic see our blog: Is magic real: The key to spiritual power
Varanasi: A Challenging Journey of Spiritual Growth
I checked out of my hotel at about 10:30am and caught a bicycle rickshaw to the train station an hour’s ride away. I’d been prepared and bought my ticket the day before, I remember feeling pleased with myself, only half an hour to wait for the 16 hour journey from Agra, the home of the breathtaking Taj Mahal, to the beautiful sacred site of Varanasi.
If you follow any sacred path yourself, you know that what I’m about to tell you is true, every spiritual journey is littered with challenges, apparently this one was to be no different.
An announcement came over the tannoy system that the train to Varanasi had been delayed by 10 hours. I was amazed by the calmness of the locals, whole families sat down on the platform, pulled out cloths designed for picnics, and enjoyed each other‘s company whilst sharing good meals.
I managed to stay pretty calm inside until I was approached by an official who told me the station master wished to see me. The said gentleman informed a number of foreign travelers and I that although the train was still coming, our carriage had been canceled and there were only third class carriages left. A big row ensued and was finished, to my eternal shame, when I commented that I hoped he would be reincarnated as a donkey.
Still I was on a journey to the sacred Ganges that flowed directly from Narayanaya the causal ocean of the universe, tested I would surely be.
Spiritual Growth: Further Testing
Three armed police officers, two sober, one pretty drunk, waited for the train with the now isolated foreigners, about 20 or so people and one pretty young Indian woman who insisted on joining us. The train finally arrived 12 hours later than advertised.
The third class carriage was already packed with people, sheep, goats and some other animals. The three police officers forced their way into the carriage with their rifles and pushed the passengers into the back third of the carriage.
We too were herded into the train and instructed to sit in the newly vacated seats. On one side of me was a very depressed man in his mid twenties who was traveling because his fiancée had been killed in a road accident two days before they were due to marry, he kept himself dosed up with diazepam.
The young Indian woman sat on my other side and after a few hours linked my arm, rested her head on my shoulder and promptly fell asleep. The drunk police officer sitting opposite me started screaming and placed the end of his ready loaded rifle in my belly.
Fortunately the young woman woke up and a rather loud and animated verbal fight took place with the police officer. The drunk officer was replaced by a sober one and the tension relaxed somewhat. The price of peace, however, was an in-depth conversation that lasted until morning, about the difference between Eastern and Western morals.
I was still a babe on my spiritual path, rising from the causal ocean to create my new reality, as the demons arrived Mother Lakshmi had risen, in the shape of the woman, and banished the danger to my fledgling spiritual experience.
Spirituality: A Less Protected Path
The police and the young woman left the train in the morning and we still had another eight hours until journey’s end. The atmosphere was hostile to say the least but there were no further problems on the journey itself.
On arriving at the train station in Varanasi we decided to form a human chain so we could unload our luggage off the train safely and it would be protected by each other. A whole number of young Indian men tried to break the chain and force their way onto the carriage in order to be able to collect any garbage or left behind belongings that they could sell later in the day. The whole experience was chaotic and a little worrying but this was Varanasi anything could happen!
There was a group of about 20 young men dressed in dark purple robes, all with shaved heads. They were wailing and screaming and running up and down the station platform slapping people hard on their backs.
Later that afternoon on the very narrow streets down by the ghats in Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges, we saw the same group of young men carrying a makeshift stretcher with a dead body on it, limp limbs dangling from the sides of the stretcher and a lifeless head draped over the end. This was a Hindu funeral procession taking their loved one to be cremated on one of the numerous ghats beside the sacred river.
We, some of the other foreigners and I, hired a punt boat and a guide the next morning to experience the Ganges. Every ghat was full, rich families cremating their dead or Buddhist monks striking gongs to remind us all to stay in the moment.
Many people were washing, swimming and drinking from the holy river as dead cows or even humans could be seen to be floating in the waters occasionally bumping into the punt boat.
This was the river you come to wash away your evil doings and ensure your karma was safe for the experience of reincarnation following your death in this life.
And here in Mother India the holy Ganges herself showed me that the sacred comes from the chaos and all is impermanence as death plays out daily in her ghats and life is restored in her filthy waters.
Would I recommend a visit?
For those who choose to walk their personal, independent, spiritual and magical path, then yes absolutely. Go and be tested, let the adverse strengthen and empower you. Experience the Ganges herself the sacred river of life and death that flows from Narayanaya the causal ocean through Mother India and beyond.