For many years, I had a strong desire to visit the homeland of my gurus and meditate in their holy shrines. Last year I was privileged to take part in an Ananda pilgrimage to India, walking in the footsteps of Yogananda and the great saints of India.
The pilgrimage for me was a homecoming, both inwardly and outwardly. I felt my meditations deepen and my worldview expand enormously, as I learned some important truths about Paramhansa Yogananda’s global mission.
Yogananda’s prediction is now unfolding
Yogananda predicted that America and India would one day unite to lead the world toward balanced living. Before the pilgrimage, these were only beautiful words for me. In India I saw how this prediction is unfolding, right now!
The most wondrous part of my visit to India was that Swami Kriyananda, my spiritual teacher for almost 30 years, was now living and teaching in India. Kriyananda moved to India in late 2003 with one goal: to make India more aware of one of her greatest sons, Paramhansa Yogananda, and of the life-transforming techniques of Kriya Yoga.
Yogananda often spoke of how his mission was to unite East and West, but he spent most of his adult life living and teaching in the United States. So it’s not surprising that he is not well known in his native land. Swami Kriyananda is determined to change that.
“Why begin in Gurgaon?”
Initially, however, I was puzzled as to why Kriyananda located Ananda’s headquarters and newly developing community in Gurgaon, a new and ritzy suburb of New Delhi. Walking the streets of Gurgaon is somewhat similar to walking the streets of Palo Alto — not at all what I had expected in India. But there is a very good reason for Ananda’s work to begin here.
To explain more clearly, I need to skip forward to the next place we visited after New Delhi — Rishikesh, a four-hour train ride to the north. Rishikesh at first seemed like a “spiritual Disneyland.”
The Ganges River is very beautiful here, where it emerges from the Himalayan foothills and enters the plains. There are lush green jungles on the hillsides above the town and a temple or ashram on every block.
“Why,” I wondered, “wouldn’t Kriyananda choose a place like Rishikesh to live and teach? It seems so spiritually oriented and it’s also physically beautiful.”
Romanticizing the outward rituals
Though I certainly enjoyed my stay in Rishikesh, I soon began to see how easy it is to romanticize the outward aspects of the India experience, to become mesmerized by the beauty of the temples and rituals — and to forget that their power comes from what deeply meditating yogis have implanted there.
As Kriyananda often expresses it, the deep spiritual heritage of India abides “in the soil”—meaning that thousands of years of spiritual practice infuse and vitalize both the land and its shrines with powerful vibrations.
Outer rituals and experiences are a great aid to the spiritual seeker — this should not be underestimated. But the essence of Yogananda’s teachings is deep inner communion in meditation, and it is this essence that has been lost to most Indians in modern time.
“Don’t get lost in materialism”
All over India, East is meeting West with a big bang. Burdened with poverty, severe over-population, and a lack of basic technology and hygiene, India desperately needs what the West can offer.
But the meeting of East and West is full of challenges for India. Of all countries in the world, India holds the greatest heritage of saints, masters, and avatars. Its people are magnificently inspiring in their devotion and fearless love for God.
Kriyananda often reminds Indians that India “is the guru of the world,” and can lead the world toward true inner spirituality. But he pleads with them not to get lost in materialism, the scourge of the West, as India goes through a necessary phase of modernization.
The “middle of this hurricane”
In choosing Gurgaon over Rishikesh, I saw that Kriyananda has gone fearlessly into the “middle of this hurricane,” where East and West are coming together in full force.
The Indians being drawn to Ananda are hard working and successful materially. But they long to achieve this success while feeling God’s presence in their lives, and adhering to the laws of dharma.
Kriyananda repeatedly assures his Indian audiences that they can move forward materially, without losing their priceless spiritual treasures. He urges them to meditate, to apply spiritual truths to everyday living, and to form spiritual communities with like-minded people.
He has also written a new set of lessons, Material Success through Yogic Principles, which explain how adhering to spiritual principles actually leads to material success.
During our first day in Gurgaon, our group met with Swami Kriyananda. One of my fellow pilgrims asked him a question: “You are doing so much here! What can we do for you?”
Kriyananda answered simply: “Pray for me, that I have the strength to carry on, and pray that Yogananda’s mission and true teachings can be made known throughout India.”
Face to face with Babaji
We had many inspiring experiences throughout the pilgrimage, but our greatest adventure was an excursion to Badrinath at 10,000 feet in the Himalayas, a place sacred to Babaji, first in the Ananda line of gurus.
Yogananda describes this area in Autobiography of a Yogi: “The northern Himalayan crags near Badrinarayan [Badrinath] are still blessed by the living presence of Babaji, guru of Lahiri Mahasaya. The secluded master has retained his physical form for centuries, perhaps millenniums.”
During my time in Badrinath, I experienced Babaji’s “living presence” in a way I had never thought possible.
The Badrinath temple is the holiest shrine in India. One freezing morning we were privileged to attend a major temple puja (ceremony), where we saw the statue of Lord Badrinath unveiled.
This statue, which is thousands of years old, is said to be a natural rock formation, but it looks very much like the portrait we have of Babaji seated in the lotus posture. For many years the statue was lost, then miraculously rediscovered and restored to the temple around 800AD.
Inwardly changed forever
As I gazed at the statue and meditated before and during the puja, I felt Babaji’s presence and blessings more strongly than ever. I reflected on how grateful I was to Babaji for his crucial role for our planet at this time — the upliftment of human consciousness through meditation techniques, and the unification of East and West — a role being played out so clearly through Ananda’s new work in India.
While the blessings flowed over me, I knew I was being inwardly changed forever. I felt very close to all my gurus, at complete peace with India and her people’s ancient and deep love for God, and deeply grateful for my many years of striving to meditate deeply and attune myself to the masters.
If you ever feel guided go to India, go without hesitation. But don’t go as a tourist. Go as a pilgrim. Then India and the blessings of the masters will give you inner treasures to last a lifetime.