I am writing this to remember what it was like to go to southeast India for the first time in November 2018. I wrote daily to capture my experiences in a more personal way, some of which I will share here. And since a few dear peeps are interested in my experience - a more comprehensive review :) And I hope this is helpful if you plan to travel to this region of Tamil Nadu, considered the first place Africans settled in India and really feels like it has deep roots in Hinduism and a generally harmonious nature. As you travel you’ll encounter altogether on the road herds of cows which are considered very sacred animals and always have the right of way. An entire family of 4 on a scooter is not uncommon, mom dad and 2 kids wedged in between. Bikers, street vendors, tuk tuks, walkers and more.
It’s worth noting that I had the great privilege on not needing to know much about where I was going before I went on this trip because there were organizers handling a lot of the details. I glanced at the website for Sri Puram for a couple visa / logistical questions. This was such a gift because I had no expectations or preconceived notions of what it would be like. Only a few stories of family that had been before. And a heart calling to go. I recommend going on this kind of trip researching only what you really need to. You will get more information there - recommendations from others who have traveled as well as information from your own heart. As westerners, its so relatively cheap to be there that you can book travel and accommodations easily.
I had been planning to go to India for a couple years in November, and also the past few years life has been joyously full with work and this summer getting married, so I had decided I would wait and see if the timing felt right as it got closer. I had pretty much decided I wasn’t going, but was still keeping the time blocked on my calendar. And one woke up and kind of thought, hmmm, yes. So I bought tickets about 10 days before leaving and packed my bags. I love to travel this way sometimes. Life feels a bit more spontaneous and easier to have less expectation around what it should be.
So the visa came in record timing of 2 days and from there it was smooth sailing from SF, to Philly for a couple days for one of the best weddings ever, and from Philly to Doha, to Chennai, and eventually to Peedam, also known as Sri Puram Narayani and the Golden Temple, the first landing pad where I stayed for 10 days.
The calling to go to India felt like a magnetic pull and when I got here I understood why in a heart sense. Our group was greeted by the most genuine, warm and wonderful people. One of the many blessings of the trip was traveling with my cousin (who is a bit older and more like an aunt and the sweetest soul). She has been coming to Peedam for 20 years before anything was here and it was desert land. And so with her deep roots there we were in the great company of westerners who have also been coming for 20 years who were visiting then and have been steeped in rituals and Bhakti (devotional) nature of the place and who also made us feel very comfortable and at home upon arrival. And even if you go on your own, everyone who visits there is so wonderful. Someone there will absolutely make you feel at home. Many people who are there are returning for their 3rd, 5th or 10th time and come as an annual ritual.
I of course went through various thoughts and feelings about how I felt about the place and my relationship to it between when I first arrived to when I left. I had never been to an ashram before and even as a lover of ascetic nature and devotional practices I still felt a bit skeptical about a what an ashram would be like, how I would feel about the guru relationship.
In my experience on my own spiritual path - what’s most resonated with me is that God is everywhere and in everything. That everything is divine - every being, animal, living organism, including me. So I went in open-minded, thinking the Guru, like all of the sacred teachings and texts, to reflect back to us our own divinity.
I think what landed with me most about Amma is the resonance I felt and the experience of being in her presence. Its not something I feel can be explained, but a sense of high heart vibration. I think a big part of feeling it is that there is already a lot of reverence for Amma, so the devotion around her and the tangible goodness she is creating in the world felt as powerful as the energy she herself was emanating.
For context - Amma is the creator of Peedam.
Arrived there in 1999. She was born self-realized, and at 16 realized exactly who she was - the goddess Narayani who is 3 goddesses in one - Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. While each of these goddesses have various aspects and meanings, a brief overview - Durga in this aspect is the goddess of inner strength and protection, Lakshmi goddess of spiritual and material wealth and abundance, and Saraswati goddess of wisdom. So Narayani is all three. You can watch more about her on the website video. Amma is also considered an Avatar, not a Guru because she was born self-realized, and didn’t become enlightened through a lineage of teachers, which is a Guru.
If you look at a photo you will see she is in male form. She has said she came as the divine feminine in male form because she could get more done in a male body and make more of an impact with less resistance. Women are still not welcome to be part of Brahman priest class in Hinduism, though we did see women participating in a few of the Pujas (prayer ceremonies) while we were there.
What I found pretty wild is that in the Vedas (around 4500 yrs old, the oldest sacred texts of India) they describe Narayani coming into human form at this time, the age of Kali Yuga, the dark age, to help us move back towards the light.
It was a really great privilege to travel with a brilliant group of healers and researchers who Amma had actually invited there because we got quite a bit of time to sit directly with Amma. Amma is interested in changing the world, and so wants to help scientists measure and understand what is happening there at Peedam. At the same time Amma laughed but also seemed to find the devices used to measure biofields quite interesting. Biofield loosely defined as the energy field around a person.
Here are some (ALL!) of the notes I took in one of Amma’s discourses (lectures). This is directly from Amma.
understand that this is not just a body, that we have a soul.
there is a force that exists everywhere. we need to understand that supernatural force, or God. Generator, Organizer, Destroyer.
God has no particular form. It can take any form. There is no particular place God exists, bc there is no place without God.
God has no agenda.
The state of God is in energy.
Human form has the most divine energy, more than any other creation. That is the blessing of the human birth.
Proof of the divine is the universe. (look around)
A car needs a safe driver. The divine is the driver using the vehicle of the body.
Divine is organizing everything.
Humans want to be happy and share happiness.
We are part of the divine but we are not in the consciousness of divine. We are in the body. We have to move into the soul.
We are divine. And the way we connect to the divine within and all around is simply to think about the divine. Thinking is the pathway. Our medium is thought.
Chant, pray, meditate.
Prayer is like charging yourself. Like you charge your phone. Plugging in to the divine with rituals like Pujas, abyshekam. Through these practices it stays in us more.
To connect with the divine, just surrender. You need to become part of the divine to understand the divine.
We can’t understand consciously. Very few people are blessed with the desire to know more about the divine. (me and you)
Healing is not happening from the body, it’s happening from the soul. The soul is from the ocean of the divine. Just a drop of water is enough to understand the taste of the ocean.
In this way you can communicate with anyone with long distance healing.
The divine is infinite. We are part of the divine. We are infinite.
We use our thought as a channel
We can heal long distance - anywhere on earth. The moment you think of the person you can heal them. It takes no time for the healing to travel.
The key is faith and trust. Faith is the key that opens doors to connect to divine.
If you don’t have faith, you are resisting the divine.
Thought is connected with the soul. Both curses and blessings come from the heart.
If your soul is blessed, utilize the skills we have to do more good things.
Sankalpa, intention. We can influence people with our intention.
Prayers are not just for us. We can pray for anyone we care about. Prayers come from the soul consciousness, from the heart.
When we have a good intention we can connect with anyone and change them.
Whenever you are one with the divine, there are no questions.
You know everything because you are everything. Try to be that. Be everything.
The greatest lessons of our life is our suffering. Our pain is our greatest teacher. Otherwise we wouldn’t learn. Pain is the message.
We can’t change our karma but we can reduce it by doing good deeds. We don’t want to suffer again so we do more good deeds.
Karma lives in a feeling. It is a sense. Good Karma comes when you make others happy. Our soul carries karma in the form of sense.
Going to temple feeds the human through love and devotion. People who go there can feel that peace and sanctity. Normally that takes humans a lot of energy to feel that. At temples its easy. You can be receptive.
We don’t go to temple to please God or the divine. God doesn’t need anything. We do.
Most people are afraid of suffering. Once we understand that we are responsible for our own suffering, we can accept it and do more good. The spiritual practice brings energy and strength. We get the opportunity to wash the slate clean.
Healing is love. People need pure unconditional love. Amma is in you. When you spend time connected to Amma, you feel that love.
We need not worry about people who are not evolving.
If we try to do everything with technology, we miss the joy of life. The pleasure of experiencing life. **Humans are here to experience the divine** We need to experience it for ourselves.
When you connect with your soul, then you know what you need. You know your purpose.
Divine love is like feeding a child. Pure love. No expectation. Just love the divine, love the soul, love the force. When the kid goes to feed the mother she laughs and loves it. But she doesn’t need it. Thats how the divine is.
I stayed in Peedam for about 10 days and each day felt transformational. Some days in the intellectual way discussing the nature of time and physics with Amma and the group. Most days in a vibrational sense and also the feeling of getting so many blessings everyday from attending one, two or sometimes three pujas in a day.
We also walked the star path everyday which is a 1.6k path around the golden temple. It has beautiful messages from along the path about devotion, giving back, and refreshing your spirit in sacred spaces. One of my favorites was something like:
Some may ask, why did Amma spend so much money on a golden temple when we really need schools and hospitals for people. Amma says because when people visit the golden temple, and beautiful sacred spaces, they get inspired and renewed. And from that hundreds of schools and hospitals will be built.
There’s an EB White quote “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Amma says you can do both, and experience the joy of life and the joy of service.
There are so many really really wonderful things about Peedam. People are so nice, warm and welcoming. It’s very diverse, with people from all over the world visiting. People from China, a family from Singapore, Australia, all across Europe - I met a fellow Irishman, French, lots of Canadians.
A day in the life of being there could look really like anything you want. Most days I woke up for an early morning Puja (prayer ceremony) at either 4 or 5am. There are 2 going every morning, and about 6 each day you can attend through various parts of the day. I really enjoyed getting up early and the stillness of the morning ones. Meals are at the guest house where you stay, or a local cafe right on the Peedam property. The first few days we were there were fuller - we went to 3 pujas a day and toured programs for most of the morning and early afternoon. It was a great way to learn about the culture. The last several days we did a bit less and days were filled more with rich conversation around spirituality, science, growth, love. A lot of people come on their own and it feels like family when you arrive. There is a genuine interest to connect and also permission to do whatever you need to do whenever. There are no expectations.
The establishment and growth of Peedam I am told has transformed the town. You can feel that the place is flourishing. People are happy and there willingly. The Peedam itself employs around 1500 people, through various programs from working at the golden temple, the zero waste facility turning trash into gold (healthy soil). Very well executed permaculture. They won the award for greenest ashram in the world last year. The school with spirituality, rigorous academics and earth programs where kids are engaging with the environment every single day. They plant at least 100,000 trees every year. They have yoga and twice a week the whole school of 800 people meditates together. An incredible hospital with many highly trained specialist and a cardiology center. An ayurvedic herb farm with 400 + herbs that are specialized, potent and some that are becoming very hard to find. A new super beautiful Ayurvedic center being built. The cow farm with over 500 types of native Indian cows. They sell milk and also gift cows to low income families to have milk and be able to cell some. The kitchen which feeds 5,000 people a day and is preparing to expand.
Everyone who visits the golden temple is welcome to enjoy a meal. Amma says when you are given spiritual food and food for your belly, you can experience joy. Meals are served on a banana leaf which is how you would be served as a guest in someone’s house, as guests are treated like God. So that is the way here.
Literally every project they have going seems like a world leading program, and some are. When you visit you can tour any of the programs that interest you. You can volunteer for some depending on how long you stay.
People here are educated, inspired, deeply kind and taking care of each other and its a beautiful energy to be in.
While I’m not sure I feel ready to call Amma my guru, that doesn’t feel as important of a question as what is my relationship with Amma and Peedam. My experience of being here was real and transformative. The energy of what’s happening here deepened my connection inside and all around. Reminded me of my devotion to a path of truth, love and service.
The energy of Amma and this trip is still with me and I can think will be forever. And I know I will be back.
After leaving Peedam we spent the day getting to Auroville with a stop at Ramanad Maharshi’s ashram. We hiked the shiva mountain and got to 2 of the caves where he sat for many years.
The next part of the trip was in Auroville. I had read nothing about Auroville, and hadn’t read works of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo who were the creators or rather designers of this place. I was so surprised to learn about this radical intentional, exceptionally beautiful community in what seemed like the middle of south India. This large community started as a desert with 1 Banyan tree at the center and since 1967 has grown out from there.
Auroville is INCREDIBLE. It’s pretty secular, futuristic feeling. They say there that Auroville is the future living in the present.
The MatriMandir is the temple and its the most elegant exquisite building that also feels like a spaceship when you go in and you feel like you are ascending to the cosmos! I actually recommend not looking it up if you think you might venture this way. Although photos can’t compare to the feeling of being there.
The whole community is built on progress and doing work to bring to life the Dream the mother had of an elevated humanity.
It’s like a commune but also maybe not? I haven’t been to a commune in Israel or anywhere else but they are really focused on developing and healing from the inside out as a means to elevate the consciousness of the community and the world.
There is so much to read about this place. So please if you are at all curious, dive in.
We were also very lucky here to have a few incredible hosts who helped tour us around and made us feel at home. We got to see beautiful residences, attend a sadhana class (spiritual lecture), visit the music workshop and outdoor museum where you can play all of these new and old classical instruments, another place where they are interested in music for joy and also for developing consciousness. The leader of this music program is world-class and is super smart, an inspiring leader and genuinely deeply interested in finding the common threads of music across humanity.