Friday, August 17, 2007

Return to India

Dear Friends,
Just to let you know, Sadhana Devi and I arrived in Delhi last Tuesday after finally receiving permission to return to India from the Deputy Secretary of the Home Ministry, using our still active tourist visas This allows us to be in Gurgaon while the details for properly registering Ananda Sangha with the Home Ministry are worked out. Once that is done, Indian Consulates around the world can, if they choose, issue Entry (X) visas to qualified volunteers doing service for Ananda Sangha in India. Technically, I'm not supposed to teach public programs while using my tourist visa, so I must be discreet, but once the OK for the new visas is given, Sadhana Devi, I and others can apply, making all the service activities of us foreigners proper and legal. Still to be determined is whether we'll need to return to the USA to make the visa switch. I hope not.

Swamiji and many from the ashram are in Rishikesh to participate in the dedication of a Kriya Temple at the ashram of Swami Shankarananda. Representatives from numerous kriya lines are expected to be there and this is an opportunity to bring together the many branches of the kriya tree. I would have like to be there but everyone had left by the time we arrived back in India. and I was too pooped anyway. Since I was one of the few acharyas at the ashram while everyone was away, I was asked to represent Ananda last night at a discourse presented by Brahmarishi Prithriji from South India, hosted by DR Karthikeyan, on the topic of The Science of Meditation. Sadhana Devi and I went and gave our greetings. Prithriji claims to be "enlightened" and gave an entertaining talk on his version of meditation practice, which is basically watching the breath. I liked him but our traditions are rather different. I kind of had my doubts about his claim to be a reincarnation of Benjamin Franklin and of the Buddha's favorite disciple Anand.

The fun part was that it turned out Brahmarishi is the founder of the Pyramid Society in India. They are the ones who use the "pyramid hats" that I and others have made fun of for so many years. You put a styrofoam pyramid on your head while meditating for "3 times the depth." He has a big, glass pyramid temple in Bangalore and invited me to visit sometime when we are down there. I tried to keep an open mind and my opinions to myself, and I bought a hat, but haven't yet had time to try it out. It will take courage to wear the thing at morning sadhana in the ashram. Not wanting to pass on such a great opportunity, I bought one for Swamiji too.

Although we were gone for only two months, I've noticed lots of little changes. Most noticeable is the advance of the Delhi Metro system into Gurgaon, with tracks and a station being constructed about a half mile from the ashram in Shikanderpur (for those of you who know the geography). The roads have been temporarily rerouted in the vicinity of the new station while massive construction is underway, causing me to direct the taxi driver in a couple of circles when coming back from the airport Tuesday. Once the Metro is completed, probably in a year or two, we'll be able to hop on for a trip to downtown Delhi, much quicker than by car and cheaper too. At least that is what they say. Eventually, a line is planned to even go from here directly to the airport.

When I first came to India I couldn't help but notice all the construction and wrote about this in a previous letter. As time has passed, I've actually begun to see many of these projects coming to completion. Because so much hand labor is used, things progress more slowly than in America but things actually do move along steadily. This is especially so when it concerns the Metro which is run by an independent agency less subject to political pressures and bureaucracy. The Metro gets things done on time and on budget, if you can believe the newspapers. I think its true. One day there is nothing and the next, miles of roadway are walled off from view with Metro barricades while construction proceeds behind. A month or so later, steel and concrete appear above the fence.

One of the reasons for so much construction is that Delhi will host the Commonwealth Games in 2010. This a big, big sporting event and a matter of national pride for the country. India wants to show what it can do and is pulling out all the stops to clean up and modernize Delhi. I've noticed the changes, even beyond the construction. I believe the city is actually a lot cleaner now than it was when I came. The government seems to be making a serious effort to remove the previously ubiquitous rubble, debris and trash along the roadways, making the whole city much more attractive. Last year Delhi became one of the few cities in the world to ban plastic shopping bags (San Francisco is another) and the difference is apparent. My theory is that the cows can eat the paper bags, thus helping the effort. I've heard it said that the police are also driving out the homeless and tearing down some of the shanty-towns, but whether this is true or not, I don't know. If Delhi can put on the 2010 Games successfully, I expect India to make a bid for hosting the Olympics within 20 years, just like China is doing in 2008. Now, if they only had some athletes to win a medal in something. Cricket isn't an Olympic sport yet.

Keshava and Daya are due back in a day or two and will be getting things ready for our group pilgrimage to Badrinath in September. Many Indian devotees are going and I'll write next about this Himalayan adventure.

Joy to everyone,