A Dhyan Mandir (Temple of Meditation) has been constructed in the garden of Ishvar Parvat, in order to provide a space for a small group of practitioners. It was consecrated and inaugurated on 28th October, 2016 in the presence of Swami Ritavan (Spiritual Guide and Head of Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama) and the spiritual family and friends of Bettina ji. Her long-standing dream has been given concrete shape by the wonderful alternative architect, Didi Contractor, who specializes in mud-architecture in a very creative and artistic way. Her students/interns have helped in supervising this unique construction, and the caretaker Shiv Sagar has coordinated the work. The outcome is both, aesthetic and has a contemplative atmosphere. Bettina ji is deeply grateful to Didi Contractor for her genial design and her continuous support of this project.
A few stone slabs with Sanskrit inscriptions have been fitted in the walls and indicate the purpose and inspiration behind Dhyan Mandir. One sloka from the Sivastotravali (13.6) expresses the movement from meditation to vision, and to union with the Lord. Two Sivasutras express the very basis of the spirituality: caitanyamAtma, 'Consciousness is the innermost nature of everything', and: udyamo bhairavah, 'Uprising or elevation itself is Bhairava'. Below a photo of Shiva the mantra so'ham is installed, leading to identification with the Divine. The Devi is present in her different forms in three niches, one of them being an icon of Mary, 'the Virgin of the Sign', indicating the inter-religious openness of the space. The entrance porch has a welcoming murti of Nandi, and a protecting Ganesha (sculpted in Varanasi).
In the introductory reflection on the meaning of this mandir, Bettina ji referred to her earlier article "From Guha to Akasha", because this space is like a cave for a deep retreat within, in the 'cave of the Heart', but it should also lead to the openness and infinity of Space.
This consecration was an inauguration of what is going to happen in the newly created space - whether a solitary retreat or a small group sharing their spiritual practice, in meditation, by reciting stotras, or by studying a spiritual text - in order to fulfill the vision and purpose of Dhyan Mandir.
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Since I have a website I had stopped writing annual reports, although it is not the same as sharing the life experience. But the year 2015 has been so extraordinary that I am inclined to summarize it and share the essential events – as far as they can be communicated. How much is beyond words and cannot be communicated.
The year started with a pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai, where a group of friends came together. The Ramanasramam was crowded but the caves of Arunachala, and giripradakshina (circumambulation of the holy mountain) were a deep entering into the silent mystery of this sacred mountain. The other attraction was the inspired teaching of Sri Nochur Venkataraman on Ramana Maharshi’s Tamil Hymns to Arunachala. A real spiritual communion was established between us, involving also a dialogue between the Ramana Way and Kashmir Shaivism. On 13th January we were back at Varanasi, with some teaching in Samvidalaya (my Library), on Abhinavagupta’s Tantrasāra, among other texts. On 25th, the evening before the Republic Day, I received the news that the Indian Government has chosen me for the Padmashri, a high civilian award. The actual conferring by the President took place on 8th of April. On 26th also Frere Antoine Desfarges OSB came to Varanasi for a month, to work with me on the manuscript of Swami Abhishiktananda’s Diary, for a new and complete edition (still far from being completed). It was wonderful having him with us, a strengthening of my Benedictine association of this year.
In February Baba Harihar Ramji of Aghor Ashram came to Varanasi and we re-established a spiritual bond, extending also to Shivam, my dear student.
On 11th February my students and friends from Varanasi celebrated the Padmashri in a beautiful function, with a Dhrupad concert by Ritwik Sanyal and Ashutosh Bhattacharya.
Shivaratri fell on 17th February, with the usual intensity and fervour of the City of Shiva, combined with the Dhrupad Mela music festival. Immediately following the great festival we started an intense retreat-seminar in Veda Nidhi, on an extraordinary text of the Yoginī tradition of Kashmir Shaivism, the Vātūlanāthasūtra (with commentary by Anantaśaktipāda).
Beginning of March I had to be in Shimla for a meeting of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS). I was invited as a National Fellow for a period of two years, for which I joined the Institute in April. After a short retreat at Ishvar Parvat I went to Bhopal (M.P.), where I had been asked to teach a 15 days course on Kashmir Shaivism, at the start of a new “Sanchi University of Buddhist-Indic Studies”, located near the famous Buddhist site of Sanchi Stupa. It was a real spade work, with no infrastructure of a University, and a small but very interesting group of students, but it turned out to be an important event for all of us. Fortunately it was also a collaboration with Sadananda Das who was teaching Sanskrit, resuming our long and close collaboration. The main text studied was the Śivasūtra with Vimarśinī. It was combined with very enriching excursions to some of the great sites of Madhya Pradesh: the pre-historic caves of Bhimbetka, the famous Sanchi Stupa, the Udaygiri Caves of Gupta period, the Bhopal Museum, the Shiva Temple of Bhojpur, and, most exceptional, Chanderi with a number of Shaiva Siddhānta Temples and Mathas spreading out (dating from the 7th to the 13th century), a discovery I owe to my colleague Prof. R.N. Misra who has done extensive research on these archaeological sites.
After this adventure I had to be in Delhi in order to receive the Padmashri. Four days guest of the Indian Government at Ashoka Hotel, with the impressive award ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on 8th April, with the President, Sri Pranav Mukherji, bestowing the investiture. I felt it like a secular initiation, and the joy of my work and person being recognised by the very centre of Indian democracy.
My 75th birthday was celebrated in the quiet of Ishvar Parvat with a visit to the cave of Vasisht Guha. Immediately after I shifted to Shimla with Shivam, to join the IIAS as a National Fellow.
Here I have to say a few words about Shivam. We met at a seminar in Deer Park Institute (Bir, H.P.) in May 2014 where I gave a teaching on the Yoga of the Netra Tantra. Shivam was attracted to Kashmir Shaivism by reading my book “Abhinavagupta’s Hermeneutics of the Absolute”. A brilliant young man from Uttar Pradesh, Shivam has a very different background, having studied technology (I.I.T. Kanpur) and Public Administration at Columbia University (New York), and having held several posts in the U.S.. In 2013 he decided to return to India to study philosophy and spirituality. His intensive search brought him to Kashmir Shaivism. Since then he attended all my seminars on different texts, and joined me in a guru-śisya relationship, to learn and also assist me in various ways. It is a very enriching relationship for both of us.
We both returned to Deer Park Institute for a seminar on the Spanda Kārikā in May, with a large and excellent group of students.
The coming months in Shimla I was also busy with two book projects. The first is a commemoration volume for Pandit H.N. Chakravarty (co-edited with Hamsa Stainton), titled “Tantrapuspāñjali; Studies in Tantric Traditions in Memory of Pandit H.N. Chakravarty” (submitted to IGNCA in October, to be published in 2016). The second occupied me till January 2016, containing a collection of my articles (edited by Sadananda Das), titled “Paśyantī: Insights into Indian Traditions”, which will also be published by IGNCA.
Descending to the plains of Haridwar-Rishikesh in the extreme heat of summer (for some film shooting) I had a chance to meet Swami Veda Bharati on 8th June for the last time. He attained his samādhi in July. Though our spiritual friendship started only three years ago, it was very enriching and supportive.
In June a pilgrimage brought us, Shivam and his family, to the Devi Temple of Bhima Kali in Sarahan, one of my favourite temples in Himachal, with a splendid view of the snow peaks.
On 1st July I flew to Salzburg for a two-month stay (on leave from IIAS). A meeting of the ‘Association Ajatananda’ took place near Lyon, from 6th to 9th, where we discussed about the publication of the spiritual diary of Marc Chaduc/Ajatananda. It was a good meeting. From Lyon I proceeded to Paris, to meet my revered colleague and great scholar of Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism, André Padoux (in his nineties). From Paris Usha joined me to visit the monastery of Frere Antoine at Le Bec Hélouin, a beautiful and peaceful place. Both, the Ajatananda meeting and this visit again strengthened my link with the Benedictines.
My next duty in Salzburg was the coordination and collaboration with the Salzburg Festival (Salzburger Festspiele) in organising an ‘Ouverture spirituelle’ on Hinduism, Indian music, theatre and dance. This was truly an intercultural experience, mediating between the two cultural worlds, with some splendid performances in the University Church (Kollegienkirche). The enchantment was great on both sides, the Indian artists and the Festival audience.
Shivam came to Salzburg for one month in connection with a project from the Centre for Intercultural Theology at the University of Salzburg, and sharing the musical events. On 6th August a small group of friends went to Hochkönig, climbing up to the sacred place which we had discovered during the Puregg seminars. We carried a Devī image (mask) from Himachal Pradesh and performed a simple but deeply significant pūjā. Again an interreligious (and inter-mountain) ceremony!
On 11th August Shivam and I travelled to Trier, and with Usha to Chevetogne in Belgium, my favourite Benedictine Monastery of Byzantine rite. These were days of entering deeply into the liturgical and mystical tradition of the Christian East, with personal meetings with Fr Maxime Gimenez, whose spiritual friendship is the greatest gift of these last years. For Shivam it was an initiation in this tradition with its rich musical expression.
Back in Austria we had a (too) brief visit to Vienna, meeting with my family and my former students. A week-end seminar on Netra Tantra brought us to Innsbruck (Yoga Tirol). On the way back to Salzburg we visited Grossarl, the village where my family took refuge during the Nazi regime in the last year of the World War. It was very moving to see it after all those years and to vaguely recognize the places where I spent the most difficult year at the age of 4-5. Now it is a beautiful touristic village, with a memorial for the priest who had protected us and saved our life, Balthasar Linsinger.
End of August Shivam and I returned to India. After ten days in Varanasi I joined Shimla again in September, this time together with Sadananda Das, to work on our volume of collected articles.
In October I was invited to Srinagar (Kashmir) for a seminar on Sufism and the Rishi tradition at Srinagar University (organised by ICCR). It was the first occasion for Shivam to visit the places sacred to Kashmir Shaivism, the Ishvar Ashram, now empty, Harwan etc. On 26th October when I had to present my paper, I had hardly started to speak and suddenly an earthquake shook the whole building. Everybody ran out in the open. It was the earthquake with its epicentre in Afghanistan. We could resume the seminar and a dialogue between Sufis and Shaivas.
After our return to Shimla I was also busy preparing my paper to be presented at a seminar on Aesthetics which took place at the IIAS in November. This was an occasion to release the book “Utpaladeva: Philosopher of Recognition”, edited by Raffaele Torella and myself (published by IIAS and D.K. Printworld). It is a milestone in the literature on non-dual Kashmir Shaivism.
After this seminar we left Shimla for Ishvar Parvat for some quiet days of retreat, before returning to Varanasi. In the first week of December we held a retreat-seminar on “Quest of the Absolute: The Parātrīśikā Vivarana of Abhinavagupta”, at the beautiful and history-rich campus of the Theosophical Society. It was a wonderful group and, with the musical collaboration of Manju Sundaram, an enriching experience. The conclusion was a grantha-pūjā (worship of the text studied) performed by all, guided by Dr. Ajithan from Kerala, with a dance offering by Navtej Johar from Delhi.
The Christmas celebration at my home was again interreligious, and a deep sharing. After Christmas I left Varanasi with Usha for Chennai and Tiruvannamalai, to celebrate the New Year at Arunachala.