Into The Dawn

“One who is really in search of the Truth will have humility and simplicity. The Guru’s grace will be showered only on such a person. To really live spiritually and attain real spiritual experience, one must develop the qualities of love, humility, and innocence.” Amma

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The majority of mornings I wake with the sound of the three rings of the ashram bell, which sound at four in the morning. I usually feel a burst of energy pulsating through my body as I spring from the bed to have a quick cold shower, since there is no hot water here in rural South India. Around 4:30am I leave my room, descending into often darkness, so softly it envelopes around me as I walk to the end of the hall with the only sound of my shoes touching the floor. As I reach the point that overlooks the ocean, I glance out to see the infinite darkness, some sparkling lights that look like distant stars, and the sound of the waves crashing ceaselessly against the sandy shoreline. There is a light breeze most mornings with a cool silkiness that comes from the light humidity in the air. A deep tranquility pervades the atmosphere brining one’s sense of self deeper to an inward level. To go within with a concentrated focus feels effortless, allowing the stillness to penetrate throughout my being is something I love about this time of day. I surrender to the peaceful nature of early dawn, before the sun ascends to bless this part of the world with his infinite beauty of light. I surrender to the folds of darkness, allowing them to wrap around me as I move through the dark to my destination. 

The majority of mornings I wake with the sound of the three rings of the ashram bell, which sound at four in the morning. I usually feel a burst of energy pulsating through my body as I spring from the bed to have a quick cold shower, since there is no hot water here in rural South India. Around 4:30am I leave my room, descending into often darkness, so softly it envelopes around me as I walk to the end of the hall with the only sound of my shoes touching the floor. As I reach the point that overlooks the ocean, I glance out to see the infinite darkness, some sparkling lights that look like distant stars, and the sound of the waves crashing ceaselessly against the sandy shoreline. There is a light breeze most mornings with a cool silkiness that comes from the light humidity in the air. A deep tranquility pervades the atmosphere brining one’s sense of self deeper to an inward level. To go within with a concentrated focus feels effortless, allowing the stillness to penetrate throughout my being is something I love about this time of day. I surrender to the peaceful nature of early dawn, before the sun ascends to bless this part of the world with his infinite beauty of light. I surrender to the folds of darkness, allowing them to wrap around me as I move through the dark to my destination. 

I then make my way down the ten flights of stairs into the darkness, surrounding me, with my mantra on my tongue and reverberating through my mind and body. Often I will get my small flash light out to assist the descent and make sure I am not falling down stairs. As I reach the foyer of the building I go outside, there is a wave of powerful stillness at this time in the morning, coupled with a profound sense of energy that is almost electrical. Right near the entrance of my building is a massive sacred tree, I glance at this majestic king and silently greet him, as I look at his massive form in the partial darkness. I then begin walking to the Kali temple which is located within ten feet of the tree. I send a second glance at the banyen tree located closer to the gate entrance and greet him as well. The practice of acknowledging such trees I learned from watching the older Indian’s who practice in this way. Certain trees are considered sacred and to greet them with a certain level of respect is commonly practiced in such an ashram setting. I love the presence of trees and feel a deep connection with the intrinsic aspect of nature that they provide.

Upon arriving at the Kali temple I first remove my shoes before I ascend the many white marble steps. As I come to the entrance I place my hand on the middle section of tile and bring my hand to touch my forehead and heart, as a humble prostration to the Infinite Divine Mother. The interior of the temple is of a medium size, yet at this time there are a few female renunciate’s in their trademark white saris sitting here and there. I prefer to sit near the front if possible, so I walk the length of the hall to find that my place is almost always free, due to the time I arrive. I place my mat down and organize my area quickly. Then I make my way to the inner chamber further up, which is raised up and can be closed with two large front sliding doors, with an additional two entrance way’s on either side allowing us access. I walk over the smooth marble tiles, cool against my bare feet at this time, feeling the silence and stillness that still pervades. Again, as I step up through the door on the left hand side, I again put my hand on the door stoop to prostrate. As I enter I see the shrine, yet as I come closer I see the large murti of Kali that has a splendor that transcends the ability of language to convey the ephemeral beauty. I sit down to one side of the enclosed shrine, where we can pay our respects to Kali.

The inner shrine is magnificent, with ornate decorations and carvings in all of the surfaces, bright brass ghee lamps with multi tiers are always holding fresh flames. The entire front of the temple is dark, except for this one area that hosts a brilliant display of lights filling the entire temple. Kali is there, in all Her full glory, always wearing a different extremely beautiful and ornate sari or other style of Goddess wear, decorated in a massive display of cascading jewelry which changes daily. Today She has on a exquisite sari in a beautiful red hue, some dark green and infinite amounts of gold brocade. The crown, nose ring, and piece that hung over Her forehead were all glittering with stones reminiscent of diamonds. along with the multi tiered necklace and belt. She wore a freshly made very thick garland of jasmine flowers and another made of medium pink flower. She is standing on Shiva’s chest as He reclines on the ground laying down.

The muti represents the infinite divine quality of the divine mother that we can not conceive without an external form, to redirect our attention inward. This is not idol worship, the murti is said to be alive, activated by the SatGuru, for there is a definite presence in the temple. I stare at Her red rimmed eyes, with the black pupil, the red tongue that is out and the onyx black skin. She wields a brass weapon in one of Her two hands on one side and a severed human head in the other hand. On the left hand side, Her hands are in gestures to calm the devotee, freeing us from fear and negative emotions.

I recently purchased a medium size Kali doll from the ashram and this is what was written about Kali, “Kali represents the fierce aspect of Devi. Dark in color, Her three eyes see the past, present, and future. Her gleaming white teeth symbolize sattva, purity, and the lolling tongue represent rajas, the active principle in nature. Artists depict her with multiple arms, usually four. She holds a severed human head in one hand, indicating the destruction of the ego of Her devotees. Another hand wields a sword with which She cuts the thread of bondage. Other hands show gestures to dispel fear and enhance spiritual strength. Kali wears a garland of fifty-one human skulls, which represent the fifty-one letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. Sanskrit, a sacred language, contains perfect knowledge and wisdom. When one worships Kali with love, Her fierce aspect ceases to cause fear. For Her sincerest devotees, she appears in the most loving and protective form. Kali’s love equals Her wrath. Her love is limitless, eternal; so too, the devotee can love Her eternally, without end. To the curious, the wrath of Kali seems frightening and destructive, but the beloved devotee, Kali brings freedom, protecting the devotee from his own destructive self. Hindus worship Kali in various forms. She represents the divine force of destruction. She dispenses boons to dispel fear. She destroys that which keeps man separate from his divine source. Love for Kali destroys the fear of death, which prevents progress on the spiritual path. She constantly reminds the seeker that liberation cannot be achieved as long as time, space and human limitation bind him. She destroys these limitations and brings freedom. Kali embodies time and nature. The word Kali originates from the word “kaala” which means black and also time. People call Her Kali, the black one. The three aspects of cosmic functioning – creation, maintenance, and destruction – take place in time. To symbolize this idea, artists show Her dancing on the bosom of Shiva, the Mahakaala (the eternity).” Amritapuri Ashram write up for the Kali doll.

After a few minutes I say a prayer to Kali, prostrate my forehead to the cool marble floor then make my way back to my seat. I usually meditate for a few minutes before the lights are turned on and the bell chimes to indicate the beginning of Archana. Archana is a very ancient Vedic practice of chanting Sanskrit mantras to invoke the divine. This practice has been taking place in India ceaselessly for thousands of years. This particular Archana is focused on the feminine aspects of the Divine Mother. A renunciate leads all of us woman in the Mata Amrtanandamayi Astottara Sata Namavali, otherwise known as the 108 names of the Divine Mother Amma. Followed by the Sri Lalitha Saharanamavali, which is the 1000 names of the Divine Mother, Sri Lalitambikaya. The Archana is an extremely powerful sadhana, especially done with a temple filled with other spiritual aspirants, most of which are renunciate’s or bramacharini’s. This is the part of my day that is sacred, as I submerge myself into the chanting, moving through them with a speed that has taken me time to learn. This particular sadhana is very important and is offered three times a day at various times so that everyone can come participate. After we chant a long mantra that is more like a song, the Sri Mahisasuramardini Stotram, which is a very ancient hymn to the Divine Mother Durga, who killed the buffalo demon. It was originally written by the historic figure Shankaracharya, who brought back the system of Advaita Vedanta to ancient India. Although He was a pure Advaita Vedantic scholar, He also knew that the path was not for everyone, due to its difficulty, thus he composed many hymns to the Divine Mother. 

After the final prayers Arati is performed, where a bramacharini holds a brass dish with a burning flame fueled by camphor signifying the burning of the ego. We stand at the front of the stage area, looking towards the Kali murti, in silence we say our prayers as the flame is offered to Kali from the top of Her head, to Her feet and back again. Then flower petals are offered to Amma’s picture on the side and Kali’s feet. After the burning camphor is placed on the corner of the stage where we each take our turn to take some of the smoke up to our head, over our head and to our hearts. If there is any ash we can use it to place a tilik on the third eye. Today, the flame was so high that there was no ash. I love this part of the sadhana, as I love flame and the process of purifying our ego with the camphor smoke.

In silence, we take our mats, walk down the Kali temple steps; filled with an immense inner stillness, peace, and energy. I feel centered in a way that nothing has allowed me to feel, bright, awake, aware, and with a deep feeling of inner peace. I walk back to my building, up the ten flights of stairs doing my mantra, as I prefer to be alone, rather than ride the elevator. The time is a little after six in the morning so there is more light entering the atmosphere. Once I reach the tenth floor, again I stop to look out over the ocean. The rising sun has given everything a soft appearance, as I watch the pattern of waves, the aqua and indigo color of the water and the sky that has become an entire panoramic view. I feel this immense feeling of being filled with so much gratitude to be here, right now, and able to live this life. To find a time and space in life dedicated to inner transformation, is the most precious and powerful use of our time here as human beings. To still the mind enough to experience the depth of stillness and inner silence, even if just for a short while, is a gift that is so rare in this world. The product of inner stillness is an outpouring of joy, love, and feelings of being grateful for everything that life has to offer. 

Copyright © All Rights Reserved 2013

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2 responses

    • Sarah, I am glad that you like this post, as its very different in perspective than anything else I have thus far posted. I am attempting to convey my experience of being here in India, at Amritapuri Ashram and the daily nuances that almost everyone participates in. I know many people may find this post different, yet the practice of chanting specific mantras in a temple is going on in India most likely throughout the entire day, all over the entire country, not to mention for the last many thousands of years. As foreigners perhaps we may see this as ‘strange’ or something we can not understand, yet here this practice is very normal and numerous people come specifically to participate in such a practice, as there is massive positive energy generated!!

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