Posts from: January 12, 2015

GOVARDHAN ECO VILLAGE

This time last year, myself and Sandy King – fellow Jivamukti Yoga teacher from Sydney – were on our way to Govardhan Eco Village in rural Maharashtra for the India Asana Jivamukti Yoga Retreat led by Padma-ji (Sharon Gannon) and Jules Febre-ji and managed expertly by HaChi Yu.
It was the inaugural Jivamukti Yoga event at this fine ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) establishment.
Govardhan – named after Govardhan Hill in Vraj, the birthplace of Lord Krishna – is a multi-function eco paradise a few hours outside of Mumbai. Within its vast grounds are organic farms, an eco farming education centre, an animal refuge, an ayurvedic healing centre, several indoor and outdoor yoga shalas, lecture halls, a Krishna Conscious school for the sons of the local farmers, accommodation for the staff and simple and comfortable dorms for guests. Oh yeah and a swimming pool and a completely VEGAN kitchen.
The dream of Sri Radanath Swami was to secure and develop land that would resemble the community ideals of Vraj in the time of Lord Krishna. In other words: simple living, high thinking. Within the first few hours of our stay at Govardhan, the Jivas from all over the world learned just how self-sufficient and sustainable Govardhan really is. There is absolutely NO WASTE. And what once was waste is recycled. And I mean everything. The volunteers showed us how even WATER was recycled…
Seva – selfless service – gave us all an opportunity to get involved with community life. Some days our designated seva group would make the cups for chai (sadly, mine resembled ceramic versions of Salvador Dali’s melting clocks); on other days we made bed mats (which I really enjoyed). We also had the opportunity to work a loom (yes an actual hand-and-foot-operated loom) to make dohtis (the Indian kilt), create mud bricks for the houses and massage the cows at the sanctuary. All of it was fun but my most favourite activity was learning to manually thresh rice. So Asian.
Days were spent with morning asana class and breakfast. Then free time to explore the extensive grounds or participate in seva. Lunch, then similar ‘open time’ then class again followed by dinner and evening satsang. I loved hearing Padma-ji’s stories from childhood and how her sincere devotion to God developed during her Catholic school days. I also loved hearing Jules talk about his insights about life in India and growing up Jiva. And I felt truly blessed to hear my teacher’s stories about Shyam Das-ji, who left his body exactly a year before. Never has anyone been more devoted. It was fitting that we would celebrate his life in a place so brimming with bhakti.
On several occasions, we were gifted an audience with Sri Radanath Swami himself. I had been reading his autobiography, The Journey Home whilst staying at Govardhan. It tells the extraordinary story of the spiritual wanderlust that led him to all corners of the globe, WAY BEFORE Lonely Planet guides and WIFI. In fact all this happened when the sixties turned into the seventies; a time I often daydream of having lived through.
My goodness, could Sri Radanath Swami tell good stories! Like the Swamis at the ISKCON temples of my youth in Sydney, Sri Radanath Swami told stories of Krishna that made them unfold like IMAX specials. Naturally, I was transfixed…
I spent some of my free time at the primary school because, to be honest, I missed my students at X. It astounded me how quickly the boys picked up melodies they had never heard before. But I guess that’s what happens when you spend such a large part of your day learning things aurally (‘Through repetition the magic is forced to arise’ – Sharon Gannon).
Apart from the food – which is always offered to God first – the thing I remember most vividly about Govardhan was the way time seemed to slow down. With no motorised vehicles on the property whatsoever, and walking being the main form of transportation; each moment seemed to stretch on forever. And yet, in the evening when I mentally reviewed my day, I realised how much could actually be achieved in a day when you’re truly present and savouring it. I have the strongest feeling this is what it’s going to be like for staff and students alike at the Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training in Maharashtra. And I cannot wait for that unique moment to begin.

HOME IS WHERE THE ART IS

HOME IS WHERE THE ART IS
My first trip to India ended with me saying an earnest prayer: if it be Your will, bring me back here again and again.
Little did I know how soon that prayer would be answered. Eleven months later I was back with my Indian family, Anushree Agarwal and her mother, Seema Johari Agarwal, daughter of legendary spiritual teacher and renaissance man, Harish Johari.
It was the second day of 2014. We were on a train from Delhi to the Johari compound in Haridwar, the gateway to Rishikesh. And this time I brought my very dear friend and fellow jiva, Sandy. I just knew Sandy and Anushree would get along great due to their very close proximity in age. The moment Anushree introduced Sandy to the Indian version of marzipan (which by the way is 100% vegan!), it was clear that I read my cards right.
The Johari compound is 20 metres away from a private ghat on the Ganges. The energy there envelopes you in a subtle but sublime way. The first time I did my rounds of the maha mantra on the ghat I felt closer to God at that moment than I had since… the last time I was in India. Vibration pure and simple. Sound is God. Water is God.
The compound itself is made up of two very large 3 level houses (if you have seen the Bollywood classic, Devdas, you would get an instant feel for the place) and Sandy and myself revelled in practicing on the roof overlooking Mother Ganga most mornings. We could hear the morning aarti and see the sun ascend like a giant mango at exactly the moment we practiced our Jivamukti sun salutes.
One day, Anushree opened up the largest room in the house. We were instantly taken in by both its beauty and palpable spiritual energy. There was a shrine with many ancient holy relics as well as photos of Anushree’s very handsome grandfather. And like the rest of the compound, this room was filled with yantra paintings by the maestro himself, and works by his most dedicated students from all over the world. The mark he made on them was clearly profound.
In the coming ten days of exploring the compound, I felt like I got to know Harish Johari a little better, even though he left his body many years before. I could see why he chose this spot in which to be inspired in his work from fields as diverse as numerology, painting, ayurvedic medicine and cooking, the chakras and gemstones. And I could see why he amassed such a dedicated international following: seemingly without ego, Harish Johari was instead able to focus on refining and developing his work which evolved to become a form of deep spiritual and creative expression. Like my teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life, Harish Johari was one of those rare souls who lived a truly holistic life. Of course, he was also vegetarian…
Seema, Anushree and countless students all over the world have dedicated their lives to continuing the spiritual and creative Iineage of Harish Johari by holding retreats at the family compound, at the important spiritual sites of India and throughout the world. I myself have gained incredible inspiration from his chakra book which is as comprehensive in its explanation of the form and function of the chakras as it is stunningly illustrated (by Johari himself, naturally). I also love his Ayurvedic Cookbook but that goes without saying.
In between day trips to Rishikesh and the ashram of Neem Karoli Baba, Sandy and I enjoyed exchanging recipes with Seema and Anushree. The kitchen was where these thoroughly modern Indian ladies weaved their magic. It was their canvas and the herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables and grains were their palette. My God could they cook! Every meal was an event where one course was simply a flirtatious prelude to the next. Sandy and Anu often had bake-offs and I often enjoyed eating what they made. And yes once or twice I cooked too. After all I am the son of a chef.
I felt sad to leave Anushree and Seema as it was time for Sandy and myself to make our way to Mumbai. But the Johari compound will always remain in my heart; a gallery where art lives and breathes in very many manifestations.