India is the soul of the world
I enjoyed reading Christine Garvin’s article, Can You Develop Your Spirituality Without Visiting India? on Brave New Traveler (part of the Matador Travel Network).Of course, I whole-heartedly agree that finding or increasing your spiritual awareness is not about location. Spirituality is an attitude and an understanding. You can find it, learn it or increase it anywhere and anytime. In fact, the lessons often come from the unlikeliest people and places. You don’t even have to go to a temple, church, mosque, gurdwara, mediation centre, ashram, monastery or what have you. Once you begin to see the world from a spiritual perspective, you may never need a formal teacher again.
Interested in travelling to India for Yoga? Please read my Complete Guide to Yoga in India to have all of your questions answered.
Yoga is my spiritual path and my teacher, Swami Brahmdev (known to his students as Swamiji) of Aurovalley Ashram said there are two conceptions of yoga. The one that is popularized in the west is that yoga is something you do. According to Swamiji, however, “Yoga is established in your understanding and attitude; it is a way of life. Yoga is living with a yogic attitude – naturally and with simplicity. When that attitude is born, you are a yogi, no matter where you are.”
But I take exception to the Brave New Traveler article subhead “Forget flying halfway around the world to find happiness.” I encourage you to fly to India — or sail or walk or go by camel if you must! — if you feel the urge. I felt a compelling desire to go to India about five years ago, and to say I’m glad I went is the biggest understatement of my life. Going to India was the best thing I ever did. I am writing a book about all the gifts I have received from three trips there.
Everyone’s path is different and for me, India is my spiritual home. The “advances” I made on my spiritual path while traveling and studying yoga in India for 11 months may have taken me a lifetime here in Canada. I recently wrote an article for a Canadian travel magazine, India is Yoga, that addresses the question: why go to India for yoga? I asked three Indian yoga teachers, including Swamiji, for their opinions, and their answers are worth reading if you are interested in the subject.
It is my experience that, generally, India has a milieu or energy that I find very spiritually conducive; whereas I feel the opposite is true in my home town, Toronto. I am not saying you can’t have a spiritual experience in Toronto or that you are guaranteed to have one in India, of course. As I said, a lot of it is attitude. I go to India with the attitude that I am going to learn, and I do. Just learning to go with the flow of train delays and crowds and sights of appalling poverty can really open you up, if you let it.
Until you experience India, and yoga in India, you probably won’t be able to understand just how different it is over there, as compared to here. God is ever-present in India. God is celebrated, worshipped and invoked in road-side shrines, massive temple complexes, at tiny altars in many stores and in the prayer rooms in most homes; and in the thousands of sacred places — rivers, mountains, tress — and places associated with sacred events, such as Krishna’s birth or the battle of Kurukshetra. All of India is a living, breathing sacred place that is alive with history, myth and the stories of the epics and the gods.
And of course it is not just that the people are religious. They are also, for the most part, very spiritual. My own experience is that the people of India are kind, helpful, open and much more content and — dare I say it? — happy than we are in the materially affluent west.
To people of a certain temperament, like me, all of this makes a big impact.
Joseph Campbell would say that if you are a seeker, if you are on a quest, at some point, you must leave your community. There are certain predictable steps or stages in the hero’s journey, and leaving your community to go in search of treasure — your holy grail — is one of them. It doesn’t mean you have to go to India, of course. A pilgrimage is a very personal thing.
But by going to India, you are at the very least bound to gain some perspective, which I think many westerners could benefit from — as only about 8% of the world lives as luxuriously as we middle-class westerners do.
It probably all comes down to your attitude. I often say that India is like the cave that Yoda sends Luke into. Luke asks, “What will I find in there?” and Yoda answers, “Only what you bring with you.”
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