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The Significance of a Yatra


The sig­nif­i­cance of a yatra

Let us first under­stand the mean­ing of the word “yatra”. We all have heard of the word “mantra”. Mantra* — “man” + “tra” — to lib­er­ate the man­as (mind) through sounds. The sound itself has cer­tain qual­i­ties which ben­e­fit us. Sim­i­lar­ly, yatra is a San­skrit word derived from the roots “ya” and “tra”. The word “ya” means move­ment and “tra” means “to lib­er­ate”. Yatra is a jour­ney that helps us over­come phys­i­cal and men­tal con­di­tion­ing that we have cre­at­ed for our­selves uncon­scious­ly and which lim­it us.

When we live in the same place for a long time, the peo­ple and the envi­ron­ment rein­force a cer­tain kind of men­tal con­di­tion­ing onto us — con­di­tion­ing that is required for action in that par­tic­u­lar envi­ron­ment, but which we need not hold on to all the time and feel stuck. But what hap­pens is, when we stay in the same envi­ron­ment, we might be so iden­ti­fied with the con­di­tion­ing the envi­ron­ment has rein­forced that a change of con­text becomes nec­es­sary in order to gain clar­i­ty of con­scious­ness.

Lib­er­at­ing our men­tal con­di­tion­ing

A yatra provides this change of context, as we are exposed to very different climatic conditions, food, people and thought processes from those we are exposed to everyday in our regular context. So, a yatra is essen­tial­ly a jour­ney of re-dis­cov­er­ing one­self to gain the dis­tance and objec­tiv­i­ty to disiden­ti­fy one­self from the con­di­tion­ing and know one­self as one real­ly is – a con­stant and dynam­ic flow. We, nor the beings around us, are sta­t­ic. It is only the men­tal con­di­tion­ing that makes us feel that way. We are all dynam­ic beings who are on a con­stant flow, just like Ma Gan­ga and Ma Yamu­na. The whole idea of a yatra is to lib­er­ate us from this con­di­tion­ing which makes us feel lim­it­ed and sta­t­ic.

Break­ing free of our phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions

What is imme­di­ate­ly obvi­ous in our aware­ness is that a yatra is phys­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing; one would have to walk a dis­tance of about 20 km in one day. One would have to spend the whole day with one­self, and cov­er the long stretch walk­ing for many hours. One might won­der, what is the point of under­tak­ing such a tough jour­ney on foot? Can’t we just enjoy the beau­ty of the land­scape trav­el­ling in a vehi­cle and return? No, it is in fact the very tough­ness of the jour­ney that we con­scious­ly choose to under­take that trans­forms and lib­er­ates us.

Smrithi ji shares her expe­ri­ence and insight into this trans­for­ma­tion­al sojourn -

The first time I walked up the Himalayas to Kedar (14 kms — about 7 hrs), I under­stood a lot about the moun­tains and about myself. Most peo­ple do not take up “climb­ing” activ­i­ties because they are not com­fort­able with the pain they feel in the body dur­ing and after the trek. What I learnt from my expe­ri­ence is that, if your leg aches, it is just a leg ache! If your head aches, it is just a head ache!! Noth­ing big real­ly hap­pens. Your body takes some­time to adapt to the new set­ting. Things are defin­te­ly not going to be the same on the plains and the moun­tains. There’s a world of dif­fer­ence. Do not pan­ic if you feel dif­fer­ent. Just enjoy the trek.

In most treks, the last few kilo­me­ters are the tough­est. First­ly because you are tired, sec­ond­ly because you may be get­ting clos­er to the peak. That’s when most peo­ple give up. But believe me, its going to be awe­some once you reach there. So chal­lenge your body a lit­tle bit. That’s the only way to break the lim­i­ta­tions that you have set for your­self and that’s the only way to under­stand your true capa­bil­i­ties.

In most treks, the last few kilometers are the toughest. Firstly because you are tired, secondly because you may be getting closer to the peak. That's when most people give up. But believe me, its going to be awesome once you reach there. So challenge your body a little bit. That's the only way to break the limitations that you have set for yourself and that's the only way to understand your true capabilities.

That was the main aim of a pil­grim­age those days in India. You learn more about your body and mind when you are put through the rugged­ness of the moun­tain. And for sup­port, you always had the deity. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, such pil­grim­ages are being made into tours with heli­copters drop­ping you in the shrine for a pre­mi­um price!

Anoth­er thing I real­ized is that the famous ad line “Walk while you talk” nev­er works in a trek. You either walk or talk. Con­serv­ing ener­gy by every means is very impor­tant. That’s why my hus­band finds it more con­ve­nient to take me on a trek, main­ly because that’s the only time I don’t talk. A good way to han­dle fatigue and the “this-is-not-for-me” feel­ing is to have a small mantra for your­self. Chant it silent­ly as you walk. Before under­tak­ing such a yatra and accept­ing the chal­lenges that are part of it, many of us would not have imag­ined that we can actu­al­ly do it. When we suc­cess­ful­ly com­plete the yatra, there is cer­tain­ly a sense of achieve­ment and we feel empow­ered to go back to our reg­u­lar lives with a spir­it of readi­ness to take on chal­lenges in life. After fac­ing the chal­lenges offered by the yatra, we feel as though our old chal­lenges are no big deal and very much man­age­able!

In order to suc­ceed in this phys­i­cal chal­lenge, prepa­ra­tion is very impor­tant. One needs to have the phys­i­cal capa­bil­i­ty and sta­mi­na to endure the yatra. This is where the yog­ic prac­tices are very rel­e­vant. Yog­ic prac­tices not only help us devel­op excel­lent phys­i­cal sta­mi­na but also make us flex­i­ble. A pen­cil has strength but it is rigid – it breaks when stress beyond a cer­tain mag­ni­tude is applied. A rub­ber band, on the oth­er hand, does not break but stretch­es. This flex­i­bil­i­ty of body and mind is an indis­pens­able qual­i­ty for a yatri. He or she must be able to bend the body and mind as required by the cir­cum­stances and adapt quick­ly.

A per­fect out­er envi­ron­ment for rapid learn­ing

One would dis­cov­er for one­self that one can­not fol­low the same dietary pat­terns as one did liv­ing in the plains. In the plains, one can eat what­ev­er type of food one wants and noth­ing hap­pens (at least the effect is not observ­able imme­di­ate­ly). But while in the Himalayas on yatra, one would have to be very con­scious of what one eats. One would cer­tain­ly have to eat the right kind of food because the low tem­per­a­ture at such heights can make the body behave dif­fer­ent­ly from the way it does in the plains. The body is much more sen­si­tive and one can observe the effect of the food imme­di­ate­ly. One may fall sick if one does not eat the right kind of food.

Adi ji explains how the rela­tion­ship between our actions and their con­se­quences, which is not vis­i­ble to such an obvi­ous degree in the plains, becomes sud­den­ly vis­i­ble in one’s plain sight in the Himalayas -

“We, a group of about 50 peo­ple, have been on a trek; about 60 kms trek in 4–5 days time at alti­tudes of more than 12,000 ft above sea lev­el.

.…So there we had been from Gan­gotri to Gomukh and then beyond that to Tapo­van, that is about 4500 m above sea lev­el, about 30 % less Oxy­gen than the plains, so your lungs, every­thing needs to real­ly work, pret­ty good. In the plains you eat what­ev­er you want, you eat how­ev­er you want, you have any which lifestyle, still, the con­se­quences are not imme­di­ate, it is like pro­ject­ed into the future. For many of us that become a prob­lem. Sud­den­ly you are jolt­ed – dia­betes, hyper­ten­sion, B.P, you are jolt­ed awake. So there the jolt is not so long drawn, it is like imme­di­ate. You don’t have the right food, gone! So that way, the right out­er envi­ron­ment is there for one to learn quick­ly, adapt quick­ly.” (From a talk at Vision India Foun­da­tion “The India, my India”)

The still­ness of thought process­es

Since oxy­gen lev­els are low rel­a­tive to the plains, one can observe the effect of pranaya­ma prac­tis­es instant­ly at such heights. Also, low oxy­gen lev­els means that one will have to change and reg­u­late the rhythm of breath­ing (to make it slow and deep). One can­not afford to hold on to unnec­es­sary thoughts and past mem­o­ries and aware­ness nat­u­ral­ly become cen­tred in the present moment.

An impor­tant rea­son the yatra is designed to be phys­i­cal­ly exhaust­ing is that at the end of it, when one sits down in front of the deity after exert­ing one­self, the mind becomes still and recep­tive to Divine ener­gies.

An important reason the yatra is designed to be physically exhausting, is that at the end of it, when one sits down in front of the deity after exerting oneself, the mind becomes still and receptive to Divine energies.

Under­stand­ing a pri­ma­ry com­po­nent of our per­son­al suc­cess

We all wish to suc­ceed in what we take up. But most of us fail to see that our suc­cess requires not just our per­son­al effort but the har­mo­nious coop­er­a­tion of two oth­er forces: the nat­ur­al forces and the social forces. The three forces (the nat­ur­al, social and per­son­al) are called the tap­a­treya in Indic terms. Nat­ur­al forces are called Adi daivi­ka, social forces are called Adi bhau­ti­ka and forces with­in one­self are called Adhy­at­mi­ka. These three forces need to be har­mo­nious if we desire suc­cess in our endeav­ours. Gen­er­al­ly in the plains, the nat­ur­al forces are rel­a­tive­ly sta­ble and hence it is tak­en for grant­ed that these forces will not pose an obsta­cle to our actions. We don’t even care about it. But in the Himalayas, at an alti­tude of 12,000 ft above sea lev­el, it is not so! It is chal­leng­ing in many ways because there could be land­slides, rain­fall or snow at any time and our plan can­not be put into action until things clear away. A yatra would open our eyes to see­ing this fact — that the sup­port of nat­ur­al forces is very impor­tant for even a sin­gle step of ours to be suc­cess­ful.

Becom­ing eco­log­i­cal­ly sen­si­tive and min­i­mal­is­tic

Climb­ing up a moun­tain is a tough jour­ney, and nat­u­ral­ly, we do not wish to car­ry excess bag­gage (Car­ry­ing our­selves itself is a big bag­gage!) . We do not want to car­ry every­thing in our jour­ney. We start cut­ting down on all the things that are unnec­es­sary for us, so that we feel light. If we learn this life les­son well dur­ing the trek and con­tin­ue prac­tis­ing it in our dai­ly lives, we would be con­tribut­ing a great deal to the sus­te­nance of the plan­e­tary resources and bal­anc­ing the eco­log­i­cal issues that we face today. We are hap­py in keep­ing only what we and those around us need and we nev­er hoard. This is the most fun­da­men­tal aspect of ecol­o­gy.

The spir­i­tu­al sig­nif­i­cance

In fact the core aspect of the yatra, and what dis­tin­guish­es it from a trek which may be equal­ly phys­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing, or an adven­ture trip, is that it is a jour­ney with and guid­ed by enlight­ened Mas­ters. The yatra is not mere­ly about under­tak­ing and over­com­ing a tough phys­i­cal chal­lenge; at its heart, it is about the yatri explor­ing the spir­i­tu­al dimen­sion of life with the Mas­ters. Sat­sang­ha, yog­ic prac­tices and pow­er­ful med­i­ta­tion ses­sions are woven into the yatra and offer us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expe­ri­ence deep­er states of con­scious­ness that have a pro­found trans­for­ma­tive impact on our being.

A yatra includes vis­it­ing places of spir­i­tu­al sig­nif­i­cance. Vis­it­ing such sacred places reju­ve­nates and rebuilds shrad­dha in the parampara of our rishis. There is clear­ly a dis­con­nect with the spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion of India among many Indi­ans. Going on yatras and vis­it­ing places of his­tor­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al sig­nif­i­cance helps us con­nect to our land and to our rishis.

A yatra includes visiting places of spiritual significance. Visiting such sacred places rejuvenates and rebuilds shraddha in the parampara of our rishis. There is clearly a disconnect with the spiritual tradition of India among many Indians. Going on yatras and visiting places of historical and spiritual significance helps us connect to our land and to our rishis.

While on yatra, espe­cial­ly to the Himalayas, we get the oppor­tu­ni­ty to inter­act with beings who are very dif­fer­ent from those we are famil­iar with in reg­u­lar soci­ety. The sad­hus, as they are called, live in caves for years togeth­er on a par­tic­u­lar sad­hana. They are on tapasya, noth­ing else. Some of them allow us to offer food and grain. Some serve food to the yatris as part of their sad­hana. We under­stand their way of life, the aus­ter­i­ty and free­dom with which they live their lives and that becomes a source of inspi­ra­tion for our own effort towards free­dom.

Adi ji describes his inter­ac­tion with sad­hus -

“And I have inter­act­ed with sad­hus, who will be like dressed in dhoti, there will be noth­ing here, car­ry­ing one or two blan­kets, that is all. And then wrapped up. And they will just be walk­ing up the Himalayas. Just going wher­ev­er, most of the places, you know, it is sparse­ly pop­u­lat­ed and hence you might not even get food. You might not get any­thing. And it does not mat­ter to them. See that is some­thing sig­nif­i­cant you know. That you can see in the Indi­an land. And you inter­act with them, they will be like won­der­ful peo­ple, real­ly won­der­ful peo­ple. They will share what they have with the dog, and they hard­ly get any­thing. They might get one roti in a day or some­times a roti in four days. They will still be robust, able to with­stand all kinds of cir­cum­stances, and very hum­ble, very polite, very very good-natured, very humor­ous. In spite of all that, thet would have giv­en them a sense of humour. (Laughs) They will laugh at every­thing. I find it the great­est intel­li­gence, you know. They would just be sim­ple, hum­ble folks, very very approach­able, but not every­one will appre­ci­ate incur­sions of pri­va­cy, so you need to respect that as well. And they might not open up because they are on their own sad­hana. And they would just be there. And if you get to inter­act close­ly with them, they would have left every­thing just for this expe­ri­ence of self-real­iza­tion or God-real­iza­tion. They would have ded­i­cat­ed them­selves for that and what that is, no idea. Still that does not mat­ter. Because some­thing urges them on. This, there is scope in India, to do. You can­not do it else­where. Because the sys­tems are so well-reg­u­lat­ed that you can­not afford to do this. You will be thrown in jail.” (From Vikasa 2016 at Rishikesh)

Anaadi’s Himalayan yatra — A mul­ti­di­men­sion­al expe­ri­ence for all kinds of seek­ers

Anaadi’s Himalayan yatra is a learn­ing-explor­ing-expe­ri­enc­ing jour­ney in which par­tic­i­pants learn var­i­ous prin­ci­ples of yoga, med­i­ta­tion, phi­los­o­phy, psy­chol­o­gy, ancient his­to­ry and its con­nec­tion with mod­ern soci­ety, con­ti­nu­ity of tra­di­tions, diver­si­ty, food, art, archi­tec­ture, sci­ence and basi­cal­ly what­ev­er they feel is rel­e­vant in their lives in a mul­ti­di­men­sion­al­ly rich set­ting of the Himalayas. Many stu­dents have expressed how deep the impact of the yatra has been and how trans­formed and ener­gised they have felt. This gives par­tic­i­pants, espe­cial­ly stu­dents, a Grand Nar­ra­tive in their lives to live by.

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