Runner-up in the New Philosopher Writers Award 2015

Twenty-one years ago I came to a high town on the banks of the Ganges called Rishikesh. The thin air had a chill that came off the river and over the rocks that old tides had spilled on its banks. My guest house was near the part of town where they fixed cars. As we drove past I could make out the auto wallahs moving about in the grime and gloom of the workshops. Sump oil made dark rivers in the ditches and scabrous pigs nosed through it all for something to eat.

The rooms of the guest house had bare concrete floors and single beds and were grouped around a garden with few shrubs and a sparse lawn. I met Robert soon after I got there. Robert was not like other travellers I saw in India. He didn’t wear yoga pants or loose cotton shirts or have a nose ring. He was more like an accountant on holidays. Faded no-name jeans worn high with a belt, beige T-shirt, closecropped dark beard and thin-rimmed glasses.

Robert had read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha and then moved to an ashram in upstate New York. Now he took photos of the rocks strewn by the river with a cheap plastic camera. A man in town would blow up the pictures nice and big. Back in his room, the smooth floor cool against the day’s rising heat, Robert would sit before a picture in his
morning meditation.

One day Robert asked me to join him. He pulled out a small pipe and we smoked it, then sat cross-legged in front of a photo. I let my eyelids droop and straightened my back and clasped my hands loosely in my lap. I could just see the brown lines that coursed over the rock. I noticed my breath, observed my thoughts and let an unseen string pull my head to the sky.

Like others I was on a quest for something elusive. So hard to find that many said it could not be named, only felt, and then in a state few could attain. The scholar Juan Mascaro said enlightenment was a climb to the Himalayas of the soul. Swami Muktananda, the founder of Siddha Yoga, thought the true goal was below ground and if one could still the mental chatter it would be revealed like a bright penny at the bottom of a pool. One would know the Self.

Read the full article from New Philosopher here