North side of Arunachala – Under the loving gaze of The Elephant: By Richard Clarke

We are starting to explore the North side of the holy hill. One thing we look for is an ‘Inner Inner Path’ that is closer to the base of Arunachala. On all sides of Arunachala there are many paths, foot trails and animal paths. We have been gradually exploring the mountain, using what we can find from these paths.

Earlier this week we took the

and started exploring the area between what we call ‘the Basin’ and the hill. We found a bit of what could be the ‘Inner Inner Path,’ and started round the mountain. Soon we found a big rock formation that climbed up the base of the hill. We went up this rock and found a wonderful view of the area North of Arunachala and Adi Anamalai. When we left, my new pruning clippers remained behind, on the rock where I placed them when I sat down to rest.

Today we went back to see if the clippers were still there – and with our camera. Here are some photos we took ‘Under the loving gaze of The Elephant. The Elephant is the move visible structure on the North side of Arunachala.

The Elephant from the Inner Path, North of the Hill, ‘Parvati.’

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My wife, Carol, is walking ahead, with The Elephant on the mountain in the background. You can see the head and trunk on the hill.

The Frog Pond

At the end of Parvati there is a small tank we call ‘The Frog Pond.’ There is usually water and frogs in it. I dried out towards the end of May. Since then rains have filled it again, but I don’t see the frogs yet.

Approaching the Frog Pond, you may notice a small palm. I use this as a land mark, since I can see it from up the trail before we arrive at the Frog Pond.

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The Frog Pond is a place where often people walking the Inner Path will sit a rest a bit. Notice stone steps on the other side of the photo below. There are a couple of sets of steps. We usually sit on the steps at the South end of the pond. There is shade there in the mornings when we pass by.

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We will sit a bit, drink some water, and maybe read a few verses from ‘The Song of Ribhu’ before proceeding on our walk.

To and across the Basin

Today we would head to ‘the Basin’ and cross it to find the same set of paths we used earlier in the week. We are heading out from the Frog Pond. If you look closely you can see an earthen berm, with trees growing from it. This is what collects water in the basin.

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Looking across the Basin:

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Sometimes this is filled with water. In this dry season there is just a small pond, to the left of this photo.

We are going to the trees on the right of the photo aboive. That is one place where the path was easy to find.

Below is the path, we took the second, higher path. There are many places to explore here. There are several big rocks that push through the trees. These interest me. I know that there will be great places to meditate at some of them.

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Today we walked through the woods …

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And started to see the rock structure on the mountain. IN the photo below you can see a grey path of rock in the center of the photo. This is the rock.

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Up a rock on the North side of the hill

At the base of the rock. the rock is maybe 10 – 20 meters high, certainly high enough to get a grand view of the surrounding area.

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And at the top of the rock, there were my pruning clippers, still there two days later.

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The view from the rock on the North side of Arunachala

Back towards Parvati Hill

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towards the Frog Pond and the North side of Parvati

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Adi Anamalai (enlarged to see the detail)

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Up Arunachala. More places to explore some other day

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Looking North. Note Adi Anamalai to the left in the photo.

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Postscript

Today we did not explore more. We just headed back to the Inner Path to finish the mornings walk.

After the path section I call ‘The Elephant’ is another section where maybe 20 years ago many trees were planted in rows on both sides of the Inner Path. I call this section ‘The Trees.’ IN this section there is a picturesque area with big rocks. Here is a photo of Carol sitting here.

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Tired today . Further on the trail, near Panchamuka Shrine, Carol and I were very tired. Carol rested a bit before going on. Here she is in a yoga position, Savasana.

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A goat on a Rock

As we walked on the road down the hill from the Shrine, there was a goat again, sitting on a rock.

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From here we walked to the RamaKrishna Hotel and had breakfast of dosas and vadas, and Indian Milk Coffee. Then we called Rajan, our auto-rickshaw driver for a ride the rest of the way around the hill, and back home.

Indian Village Funeral: By Richard Clarke

Last week in the village in which we live a woman died. She was the mother of a man we work with Ramesh, in the Quality of Life Trust. That afternoon we heard the drums, typical of such funerals, and Ramesh called us and asked us to join him. We walked about two hundred meters to the village and spent the next few hours there. We asked for permission to take photos, and some of these are in this article.

Coming into the village, under the awning is mother's body

As we enter the village we see people gathered under an awning. The mother’s body is in the center of the group on her bed. People are gathered around the body grieving and paying respect.

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Ramesh is sitting with the men. He’s in the middle.

Village drummers

Drummers are important to the funeral. Their music announces the death to the village. After the drums start, people come from up to one km away to join in the ceremonies.

Gathered around mother - women on one side, men on the other

Often the sexes are separated. Here naturally the women and men seem to select different areas to sit.

Decorating the car - building the wood frame

Much of the activity of the afternoon was in preparing the car that would take Mother to the crematorium. First a wood frame is built.

Village boys posing for a picture

The village boys seeing the camera naturally want to pose for a picture. Here they are looking tough. We’ll make some prints of this photo and give one to each boy.

Decorating the car getting started

They have started to decorate the car. Notice in the foreground bamboo sticks covered with flowers. These are bent and inserted into the frame for decoration.

Woman joined together in mourning

The woman, grieving, would approach each other and stand and beat their chest in a gesture of mourning. Then they would get into a group hug circle and sink down into a squat. They would moan and cry together, swaying back and forth. This death was particularly painful to the village women. Mother was only in her mid fifties, young to die, even for an Indian village woman. She had had a hard life – her husband died 15 years before and she had to support the kids without much help from anyone. Somehow she was able to send at least one of her boys, Ramesh, through college. Ramesh said that she was very sad though, due to her deep poverty, and especially do to the fact than none of her children were married, and she had no grandchildren.

Decorating the car - working on the back

The villagers are working on the decorations for the car. Here they are bending the flower-sticks and inserting them into the frame on the back of the car.

Decorating the car

Now they are adding the flower malas to the central frame on the car.

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Decorations are nearly done.

Villager dancing to the drums as people carry puja materials

As new people join the funeral the drummers escort them in, and ‘drum them’ into the group. Here a man is dancing as people bring puja items into the funeral.

Preparing the body

Now they start to prepare Mother’s body. They will clean up the body, re-dress her in a fine sari, then perform puja, before placing her body on the decorated cart.

Ramesh helping prepare his mother's body

Ramesh (second from left) is here helping prepare his mother.

Getting puja items ready, needed to prepare the body

The men are getting some puja items ready.

Pouring water to use in preparing the body

Water for the puja is being poured. This was not only sprinkled onto mother, but onto the people in the crowd. They especially sought out Mother’s three children and made sure they got pretty wet.

Mother's body fully prepared

Now Mother is fully prepared. Such loving care was taken in this preparation. And this was something that almost everyone in the village took part in. Very much this was a village ceremony, not just something done by the family.

Carrying mother to the car

Mother was then carried to the car. I took part in this. She seemed so tiny, so light. She had been ill with cancer, supposedly, and stopped eating three months ago. Ramesh and his two siblings had taken her to several doctors for cures, and, as a last resort, took her to a “miracle shrine” when the doctors didn’t improve her health.

Going to crematorium

Now the car is off to the crematorium. The drummers will lead the way, then the car and the mourners.

Icon Painting As A Spiritual Path: By Gabriele Ebert

Gabriele Ebert is a well known German librarian, scholar, and a painter. For information on her books and German translations, please go to the bottom of the article. Gabriele is a long term member of HarshaSatsangh and has been active in Sri Ramana groups for many years. She has served as an inspiration and a role model for all of us with her dedication to the interfaith approach to spirituality. Because Gabriele’s native tongue is German, I did some minor editing on this article and accept responsibility for any mistakes which may have occurred because of that. Fortunately, in this medium, mistakes can easily be corrected once we become aware of them. Enjoy the article. The Icons are stunning and beautiful! Thank you Gabriele for your generous sharing.

The Personal Story

Eleousa (Mother of Mercy)

It was 16 years ago that I discovered icon painting as a spiritual path. This door opened when at one Christmas eve my mother presented me with an icon of the Theothokos (Mother of God). Looking at it I was sure that I would start to paint as well. I felt drawn to painting and through it discovered a creative spiritual path.

Over the years I found different teachers for learning the technique – and later the Jesus prayer (see below).

Icons are enjoyed by many. Most of all it is wonderful if an icon can find its home in a meditation-room or prayer-edge, where it is dedicated to its original meaning.

This icon of St. John of the Cross has found its home in the prayer room of the Carmelite Monastery in Dolgellau, Wales.

Christ the Vine” is in the meditation-room the Christian Zen-center in Eintürnen, Germany.

Icons – What Are They?

“Sad Christ”

The home of the icons is the Christian Orthodox Church. The earliest icons were painted in the 6th century in Byzantium. From there they later came to Russia and to all other Orthodox countries. Most of the earliest icons have been lost. The oldest collection of icons is found at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Sinai.

Icons play an important role in the liturgical service, and also in the public life and of course for the individual. An icon is a steady companion from the cradle to the grave.

The icons are not individual paintings but rather in the individual. These painting come through the individual by spiritual grace and in a sense the painter does not count. So icons are normally not signed to claim ownership. Outwardly, icons follow fixed patterns and change of the pattern is only possible in a rather limited way as they are real “copies” of the one reality, which represents itself in various pictures and stories.

Icons are of great help for concentration, for prayer, for awareness of the ever-presence of Christ or Mary or the Saints. They are called “Gates to Heaven” or “Windows to Eternity”. If you look at an icon in candle-light, the gold and painting shines in an unearthly magic. The faces are serene, the gestures and colors are full of meaning. The more one dives into this world, the more one becomes drawn into it and the mind becomes silent.

The Path of the Painter

“To paint and to pray are the same thing” (Balthus)

Jesus with animals

I have always felt that this kind of painting is by special grace and has something in it which can’t be compared with other types of paintings. This kind of painting is devotion and prayer – prayer with the brush, so to say. So this “doing” needs not only much outer care, but also inner care. One should not do it with a distracted or unclean mind. According to tradition it is good to have a prayer before starting. The inner attitude should be giving up the sense of doership – which reminds one of Sri Ramana’s instruction as well. It can also be seen as an exercise for just being an instrument of God, which should become a reality in all our actions.

The Jesus-prayer (also known as the Prayer of the Heart) is a short prayer, which should be continuously repeated. The words are: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!”

Like the icons, it comes from the Orthodox church. The prayer also can be shortened to just the call: “Jesus Christ!” or whatever one prefers. One repeats it as often as one can. In some way it can be compared with nama-japa. It helps to silence the mind and lead it to one thought. With practice it starts to become automatic (self-doing) and sinks into the heart. Yet at each stage it always stays as a prayer in you. The Philokalia – a collection of texts on the Jesus-prayer – can be a wonderful companion on this path. It is recommended in “The Way of a Pilgrim”, which most know who practice the Prayer of the Heart.

It is not so long ago that I discovered – or better re-discovered – the Jesus-prayer when reading this book (“The Way of a Pilgrim”). I felt immediately that this is a wonderful complement to the icon-painting as well. From the tradition of the icon-painters I have found out that my main-model, the famous Russian icon painter Andrej Rubljow must have practiced it. I am sure that his icons reflect it and speak through it.

Icons Interfaith

“Dakshinamurti-Ramana” – an icon dedicated to Sri Ramana Maharshi

Icon of Narada

Mostly I am painting icons in the Christian tradition. Yet it happened that this Ramana-icon was painted and also some icons of Narada (the bhakti-musician). When being in Tiruvannamalai in 2003 and seeing the paintings in one of the shines of the Arunachaleswara-temple I was reminded of the icon-painting. Also there seems to be a connection to the Buddhist paintings as well. I am sure that the same thing has found its expressions in many religions.

If you would like to see more and get information about the technical side of this kind of painting you can visit:

http://icons.interfaith.googlepages.com/

Gabriele

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Gabriele Ebert lives in Germany and works as a librarian.

Recent Books by Gabriele Ebert are:

Ramana Maharshi: Sein Leben, Stuttgart, 2003

Sadhu Arunachala: Erinnerungen eines Sadhus, Berlin, 2004 (German transl.)

Both books are available at amazon.de and can be ordered from each German book-shop.

A Visit To The Robert Frost Museum: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

On July 3, 2006, I was in Franconia, New Hampshire. Someone mentioned that the famous American poet Robert Frost loved the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Frost, in fact, lived in Franconia from 1915 to 1920 and spent nineteen summers there as well with his family.

I discovered that the Robert Frost Museum was only three to four miles from my motel and was open from 1pm to 5pm. Immediately, I decided to make the sacred pilgrimage to the house where Frost lived. You can find out more about the Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire, on the website, http://www.frostplace.org.

Walking along the road, I was struck by the beauty of the flowing creeks and the mountains in the area. Here are just some of the pictures I took on the path which had clear signs to the Robert Frost Museum.

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It had been a long hike in the sun but the goal was now in view. Sweating profusely and thirsty I arrived at the Frost House.

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I looked for a water fountain in the yard but there was none in sight. The first person I met was Sara Brickman, a student at Smith College. Sara was busy arranging Robert Frost books and T-Shirts and other memorabilia that visitors buy. Sara welcomed me warmly, told me that she was a Frost Place Intern for the summer, and would be happy to answer any questions and show me around.

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Upon my request, Sara kindly supplied me with a tall glass of cold water from the house. Water never tasted so good! Sara introduced me to Professor Robert Farnsworth of Bates College who was reclining and reading a book on the porch of the Frost House.

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Professor Farnsworth is a highly distinguished and well published poet. He is the 2006 summer’s poet-in-residence at the Frost Place and will be doing a number of readings there. I told Sara and Professor Farnsworth that I taught at Bryant University and was a Frost enthusiast. Soon we were all on first name basis, smiling and laughing, having wonderful conversations. I requested Professor Robert Farnsworth for some pictures and he kindly obliged. We took turns taking pictures.

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I probably spent an hour and a half to two hours at the Robert Frost Museum. Part of it consisted of watching a 20 minute video on Robert Frost’s life and poetry. I saw only four or five other visitors to the Frost House during that time. Sara and Professor Farnsworth told me that the day before, July 2, had seen a much larger inflow of people who had come for the poetry reading and the music concert. July 2 is Frost Day, which is an annual celebration of Robert Frost, and was established by an official act of New Hampshire Governor Hugh Gallen. The following pictures show Robert Frost’s portrait, the chair that he sat on while living in the farmhouse, and his handwritten poem.

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As I was getting ready to part, Professor Farnsworth generously offered me a ride back to the motel in his car. Since the memory of my long and hot walk earlier to the Frost House was still fresh in my mind, I gratefully accepted. Professor Farnsworth and I continued our conversation during the car ride and he told me that he had grown up in Rhode Island and received his initial academic training at Brown University. Later, he had gone to Columbia University.

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My afternoon adventure at the Frost house reached its conclusion when Professor Farnsworth dropped me off at the motel. Back in my room, I turned on the air conditioner and took out some ice tea from the refrigerator. As I slowly sipped the drink, I marveled at how perfect the afternoon had been. I had gone to the Frost House with nothing other than my enthusiasm for the poet and his poetry. What I had found was an afternoon of good conversations with two people I had never met before. At the end of the day, what remained with me was the warmth of friendship and good will from Sara Brickman, the student intern at the Frost Museum, and Professor Robert Farnsworth of Bates College, the 2006 summer’s poet-in-residence at the Frost Place. Thank you Sara and Rob!

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