I am a firm believer in the power of collective consciousness. I am seeing millions of fervent pilgrims here at the Maha Kumbha Mela who have come to bathe in the Ganges and do spiritual practices, and I know that smaller gatherings have taken place here every January. Yet despite the positive energy generated by these events there is an amazing amount of hatred, animosity, and greed even here in India. I couldn’t get a train ticket without paying a bribe! Why?
What happens to this positive collective consciousness?
There are genuine spiritual seekers and adepts attending this Maha Kumbha Mela. Long before coming here, many of them started their practices and will complete them here. Others will undertake their practices here and either complete them in the month they are here or at a later date.
For the most part, the consciousness of these pilgrims is occupied in reaching the bathing ghat and returning to their homes safely with their possessions intact. Their minds are trapped in their luggage, not centered in God.
But we also have to acknowledge a disappointing fact. The millions of people you are seeing are only pilgrims. Very few of them know the spiritual significance of this event; most pilgrims will do little or no practice here. They are convinced that by simply bathing in the Ganga their soul will be cleansed and they will be entitled to go to heaven. Custom dictates that they take this bath only under the guidance of priests, and the priests take advantage of this custom. For the most part, the consciousness of these pilgrims is occupied in reaching the bathing ghat and returning to their homes safely with their possessions intact. Their minds are trapped in their luggage, not centered in God.
Further, the thousands of sadhus who are here belong to one sect or another. Their leaders have sectarian agendas and so do they. You must have seen the manipulation, arguments, and fights taking place among these various groups on the traditional bathing days. Within the general consciousness of this Maha Kumbha Mela, there are thousands of mutually exclusive and conflicting sectarian collective consciousnesses, which are contaminated by the desire for power, prestige, fame, and, most significantly, money.
As a result of all these factors, the collective consciousness generated by this event is disorganized, unfocused, and lacks a common goal. That is why the world—and even India—fails to reap the fruits of the powerful transformative energy that characterizes this time and place.
I am neither a pilgrim nor the member of a sect. How can I benefit from the transformative energy that is said to permeate the Kumbha Mela site at this time?
Those who are filled with religious fervor may feel offended by what I am about to say, but to put it in modern terms, this Kumbha Mela site is the largest spiritual mall on the planet. It is totally up to you what you seek here and what you find. If you do not know why you are here, you will waste your time. If you have not learned the art of penetrating the outer garb of religion and reaching the subtle realm of spirituality, you are bound to be confused—all you will see is crowds, chaos, and corruption. The powerful spirit of the Kumbha Mela will elude you.
To put it in modern terms, this Kumbha Mela site is the largest spiritual mall on the planet.
For the media, the Kumbha Mela is a gold mine because they can entertain their audience with the immensity of the crowds and the bizarre goings-on. For a true seeker, the Kumbha Mela is also a gold mine. All the benevolent and divine forces of the universe have converged at this particular time and place. Open your heart and commit yourself to self-study and self-reflection. Pray to the visible and invisible forces of nature to teach you the art of finding silence amid chaos. Accompanied by that silence, do your practices. The process of transformation that begins here will continue its work long after you have returned home.
But what kind of practice is most effective? What practice will fill my personal life with peace and harmony and contribute to the peace and harmony of the world?
For your personal peace, undertake the practices of self-study, mantra japa, and prayer.
For your personal peace, undertake the practices of self-study, mantra japa, and prayer. For the peace and harmony of the world, make a strong resolution not to hurt others and, most importantly, not to hurt nature. This resolution and the commitment to carry it out is a great practice in itself. During both of these practices, maintain a positive attitude toward yourself and toward others. Stop searching for faults in others. Don’t pollute your mind by cataloguing the bad behavior and unwholesome activities of others. Don’t waste your time in distinguishing the virtuous from the non-virtuous or in deciding who is holy and who is a sinner. Simply mind your own business. Just as you have been trying to surrender both your vices and virtues to God, let others surrender theirs. If they don’t, it is not your problem.
You are still giving me only a general answer. It seems you are not willing to address my specific question: Which exact practice should I do here?
The purpose of the first twelve-year-long group practice that the sages did here was to restore and honor natural law, to restore the harmony and balance in the planet's ecology.
I confess I was trying to escape. The reason is that Hindus think the Kumbha Mela is “their” spiritual festival, a perception shared by many non-Hindus. The truth is that the Kumbha Mela started long before Hinduism was born. The forces of nature that converge here at this time and place have no regard for nationality, creed, or caste. The cosmic forces do not even register such distinctions. As I wrote in an article this magazine published in January 2000, the sages found this to be the place on the planet most conducive to their spiritual practices. The purpose of the first twelve-year-long group practice that they did here was to restore and honor natural law, to restore the harmony and balance in the planet’s ecology. That practice was known as the ashva medha, the horse sacrifice. Symbolically it means sacrificing one’s personal pleasure and comfort for the welfare of all creation. In this context, “horse” refers to the mind and senses; therefore it also means attaining mastery over oneself; gaining control over one’s thought, speech, and action; and using the forces of body, breath, and mind to attain self-realization. This is the highest and most ambitious of all practices.
This practice can be done in several steps. The practice of rudra yaga, which we have organized here at the Himalayan Institute campus, is something all of us can do. If we are proficient in the knowledge of Sanskrit, the Vedas, and tantras, that is good. But if not, we can still do this practice. It is a group practice, which means that participants of varying degrees of spiritual development can join this practice and benefit from it personally while contributing to the peace and prosperity of the world. So my straightforward answer to your question is: Take part in this rudra yaga.