October 29, 2011
Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
I arrived in Coimbatore early this morning, having taken a sleeper bus from Pondy. The 8-hour bus ride was freezing but the bed was comfortable. Now I’m with Bini and her parents, spending a night at the Isha Foundation ashram. The founder of the ashram is Sadhguru, a guru known for his spiritual depth as much as his modern and charismatic wit. The foundation has a large rural school development project, with 150 schools set up in Tamil Nadu alone. Bini told me that the schools are run on volunteers from all over the world, as only knowledge of English and computer skills is required. Sadhguru has also expanded his reach in the United States, with a large ashram located in Tennessee.
Over 2,000 people live at this ashram surrounded by the misty Velliangiri Mountains. The air feels fresher than in Pondy, and the red clay of lower Tamil Nadu has given way to a darker loamy soil that feeds the rich vegetation on the 150 acres of ashram property.
The temples and facilities of Isha are beautiful, an admirable balance of modern interiors with sustainable materials of earthen brick, wood and stone. The buildings all look like they have been there forever, blending in well with the natural beauty of the hills.
In the morning we took a bath in Isha’s Theerthakund (place of sacred water). Consecrated by Sadhguru, the pool contains a charged lingam of mercury. This mercury serves to return balance to one’s physical and subtle being, making you more receptive to the vibrations of the temple. The liquid mercury has been solidified in the water, through a very ancient and sacred consecration process. At one end of the pool is a cascading waterfall, and the ceiling displays a beautiful mural of men and women purifying themselves in water. All of the painted murals in the Isha buildings are done with the natural pigments of plants.
Women and men go at separate times to take a bath, so I followed Bini and her mother into the changing facilities. To go into the water you must remove all jewelry and change into ochre-colored robes. Descending down the large stone steps, I admired the way the natural light filters down off of the high brick walls onto the cold water below.
Unlike the forced baptism of the jungle’s daily monsoon rain, my purifying bath was consensual and willing. I made myself slowly relax in the water’s cold, quietly floating. Along with Bini and her mother I touched the shiny lingam, resting my forehead on the cold metal. I stood under the waterfall, letting the forceful drops patter out a massage on my shoulders and forehead. For a moment the sound of rushing water was the only sound that existed. I have much of fire in me, but at my core I am water, at times shifting form to suit the needs of nature, always calmly running towards someplace else.
After our bath we went to the Dhanya Linga Temple, a circular meditation temple with another lingam in the center. The temple was built with a very complex consecrative process. Using all volunteer power, the whole temple was built in only three months. Facilitated by Sadhguru, no chemical or hard cement was used to lay the bricks. A special mortar made of herbs was used, which loses its adhesive power within fifteen minutes. So each layer of the dome’s roof had to be placed in fifteen minutes. All the bricks rely on each other for support. If one falls, they all fall. [A month ago I watched a Youtube video of Sadhguru who told the story of an ancient temple architect who built a temple with a thousand pillars. He designed it so that if one pillar fell, the whole temple would fall. And somehow, despite his audacity, the temple still stands today.]
My meditation experience in the temple was wonderful. I sat for half an hour, and when the bell rang to end the session I didn’t want to leave. I could feel the temple’s energy enter through my open palms, a tangible tingle that I have never felt before.
After a nap we toured the Isha conference center, large program hall, and residential school. Before dinner we went to a session of chanting. Since the chants are in Sanskrit, I simply sat with everyone and listened to the rhythm of the collective voice over the drums. After another visit to the meditation temple, hard rain sang us to sleep.