My dear friends,
It would be a great and lasting joy for me if you were able to join me on a journey to the sacred places of south India. For me, south India is the most powerful and holy place on earth; the Sacred lives there with enormous and transforming intensity. To share this alchemical intensity and its truths with you, and to guide you into the empowerments and inspirations that have flooded my life because of them, fulfills a lifelong dream of mine. I have waited until now to offer to open south India to others because I wanted to be mature and experienced enough to begin to teach at a height that could do this marvelous world justice.
I was born in south India in 1952 in Tamil Nadu, where the whole of our journey will take place, and went to school there between the ages of six and nine, before being packed off to England and the various dull rigors of English education. At the age of 25, when I was in despair at my life as an Oxford professor, it was to south India that I returned for inspiration. There in Pondicherry, I met the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and had the first mystical experiences that determined my destiny. In fact, one of the things that continues to astonish me about the journey into God that I am taking is how much it continues to be influenced by south India. It was in Pondicherry in 1978 that I met Mother Meera and began my exploration of Hindu mysticism; it was on repeated visits to Mahabalipuram, a seaside temple town near Chennai, between 1978 and 1995, that I explored the mysticism of Shiva and tantra; it was in 1993 that I met my spiritual father, Father Bede Griffiths, in his ashram near Trichonopoly and began, under his guidance, a journey that attempts to reconcile all faiths and doctrines in what I have called “The Direct Path.” Every visit to south India that I have taken since brings me fresh discovery and deeper and deeper inspiration; I have come to recognize it as the always-fertile birthing ground of my soul and my life.
The journey I want to invite you to take with me has been carefully crafted to unveil progressively the depths I have myself uncovered in south India. We will begin by meeting in Chennai and then proceed to Thiruvanamalai, a sacred city built around the mountain of Arunachula, which has been worshipped as a living embodiment of Shiva for thousands of years. There we will meditate in the ashram of the great twentieth-century sage, Ramana Maharshi, and will visit the caves in the mountain where he lived for several decades and will plunge together into the Self and attune our whole being to its eternal and brimming calm. From Thiruvanamalai we will proceed to Pondicherry and the ashram of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, where I will introduce you to their revolutionary philosophy and practice of the transfiguration of human nature into its full divine potential. After Pondicherry we will dive into the depths of the ancient Hindu world of Shaivite mysticism by visiting perhaps the holiest and most powerful of all south Indian temples, that of Chidambaram. From there, where Shiva is worshipped as Nataraj (Shiva the Dancer), we will go to Tanjore (Thanjavur) where there is a majestic temple to Shiva and a world-class museum, which displays the treasures of the Chola dynasty (9th-12 centuries) and its celebration of Shiva Nataraj.
After this feast of beauty and splendor, we will visit Father Bede Griffith’s peaceful ashram on the banks of the sacred river Calvary at Shantivanam, a two hour drive from Thanjur, where we will share together Father Bede’s sublime mystical vision, which synthesizes all he learned from the traditions of south India and the experience of living for nearly 40 years in its holy atmosphere. Our pilgrimage will end in the seaside temple town of Mahabalipuram, a place which for me brings to a golden consummation all the different strands of the journey. There, in the 8th and 9th centuries, the Palava dynasty carved temples and bas reliefs from the rock and left us their glorious vision of what I call the “Golden World”: the world as seen through the eyes and senses of the transfigured human being that has become one with God, the Dancer, and has realized his or her identity with the Divine in both its calm and dynamic and ecstatic aspects. In Mahabalipuram, in the sound of the sea and in the dazzling light of its beaches, we will bring together all we are learning and dedicate all we are to the work of Sacred Activism. This is especially poignant for me because it has been south India and Father Bede Griffiths that have brought me to the culmination of my life’s work in the vision of Sacred Activism that I am trying now to make as clear and inspiring as possible.
What I am sketching here is a mystical overview of our journey. What I want to stress, however, is that the teachings that I will give live on the streets and in hearts, faces, and eyes of the amazing people of Tamil Nadu, for they have never lost, despite everything, their connection with the living Divine. Just to be in their presence and to receive their kindness, joy, compassion, and unconditional love is to be helped to re-imagine the divine truth of human nature.
I will be teaching throughout the trip on the core message of India’s greatest scriptures, the Upanishads, on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s revolutionary philosophy, on Tantra, on the vision that Shaivism gives us of God as Dancer, on Father Bede’s personal journey and his extraordinary synthesis of eastern and western philosophy. My hope and belief are that passionate instruction and profound immersion in the sacred power of south India’s holy sites and people will help you discover your own divine self and the radiant and exuberant powers that dance from it. In dangerous times like ours, I believe there is nothing more crucial for survival than discovering and experiencing the peace, bliss, fire, and dynamic love energy of the Divine Self, and nowhere more conducive to their discovery and intimate experience than south India, where the most ancient traditions of Hinduism are still vibrant and wildly alive.
In love and faith,