After nearly a month, our trip to the holy city of Rishikesh (see earlier post) still lives in my mind as a series of inspiring memories. One of these is our group’s visit to Vanamali Devi, an internationally well-known spiritual light, who is also an author and speaker.

Vanamali Devi has a beautiful ashram overlooking the Ganges (the view is pictured here), and, in the room where we met, an altar which is carefully and devotionally arranged (also pictured).

Our group had a short (30-minute-ish) audience with her. One of the first questions we asked was if she would talk about devotion. She replied, “That is one of the hardest things to talk about!”

So she took a charming approach to the subject: why wisdom is a necessary prerequisite for deep devotion. Wisdom, she said, is the knowledge of what we would be devoted to, and without it, we become dogmatic and fanatical, focusing our energy not on our perception of God, but on our conception of Him: on mere belief or superstition.

My favorite part of our audience was her answer to this question, and her follow-up answer:

“Would you tell us something about your life story?”

Her response: “I’m trying to forget this body [in other words, transcend the ego], and you ask me to talk about it?” Everyone laughed.

And there was a follow-up question:

“How do you forget yourself [transcend the ego]?”

As I recall, she replied that, over time and by continuous practice, the thought that God is the Doer “superimposes” itself onto the current attitudes of the mind – and then this way of seeing life becomes the living reality. I found her attitude deeply encouraging: the thought that time will bring the goal to hand. As yogi-Christ Lahiri Mahasaya said, “Doing, doing, one day done.”

For those interested, Vanamali Devi leads a retreat at Ananda on May 11 – 13, at Ananda’s Meditation Retreat; details for the retreat are here. Much of the retreat will be in silence; talks, meditations, and a question and answer session are also part of the schedule.

After her talk, I felt like we were good friends – a feeling which had come seemingly out of nowhere. I think this is a common experience to have when meeting spiritual people, who are good friends, first, with the Self who is in all. I told my Dad about this feeling, and about the retreat, and he said, “I think you should definitely go!”

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