As mentioned earlier in this series, I was visiting in Kashmir with friends who imported fabrics made in Srinigar to the states. This enabled them to live there and spend time with their Spiritual Master, Swami Lakshman Joo.
For those of you who would be interested you can find out much more about Lakshman Joo via the internet. It will be more concise and accurate than what I can offer I am sure. I will say he was highly respected and loved in Kashmir by ordinary people, scholars and other spiritual teachers.
Traveling to Kashmir was was not a spiritual oddessy for me. In fact I was rather iconoclastic and ironic in mood. My friends were involved in their path and that was fine. I went over there to experience a change of culture, to break patterns that needed shaking up. However, as it turns out, I did spend a good deal of time around Lakshman Joo, and his ashram., which really didn’t amount to much more than his home and some acreage around it with a gathering hall. It was peaceful and serene. (Qualities that I still treasure in places to this day) and I was happy to occasionally do some simple chores around there, helping take care of the grounds mostly. It helped to balance out my energy and allowed me to come to rest in this area and feel it, versus just touristing around in a consumer costume.
So, I, along with five thousand or so other people who showed up, were invited to Swami Lakshman Joo’s 65th birthday celebration in 1975. The day started early, with Lakshman Joo sitting in meditation for three hours, from five in the morning till eight or so. A smaller group of people had been invited to be there for this, the larger crowds coming over the next three days to pay respects and share in food and good company.
During the occasion, his followers came up to where Lakshman Joo was in meditation and placed flowers before him or on him. There was a number of his male devotees who seemed to be immediately nearby to offer protection ( mostly symbolic) for one who is in a state of deep meditation. In the meantime those who had offered their flowers then sat down and participated in chanting that went on for the hours of meditation.
Later on and throughout the next three days, the temporary mud walled kitchen that was built for the Brahmins to cook in provided rice and dahl and other foods to those who came to visit. There were several occasions where Lakshman Joo would hand out rock candy for hours as a gifts to those who travelled to see him.. Traditionally it is considered auspicious to receive “prasad” from a spiritual master as it represents the blessings he or she offers to all.
Later during my visit I went with everyone to the opening of an either an ashram or a library ( my memory is unclear) in a small village in the Himalayas. Quite the bus ride. Sorry to not have a lot of photos as it was quite beautiful but…..
And so my visit came to an end. The funds I had brought were just about gone, six weeks had passed and it was time to go. I told my friends my departure date and they were suprised I didn’t want to stay and remain with them, possibly becoming a student of their teacher. But I was clear in my feelings, and told them, “No, my heart is in the states”. Don’t know why I said that particular line but it is what came out. They said their goodbyes and told me to go tell Lakshman Joo goodbye as he liked me and that would only be appropriate. So I went down the street, paid my respects and told him that although I had appreciated my time there and felt affection for him, my heart was in the states and I was leaving in a few days. He was quiet for awhile, then said “Fine, I’ll pray for you.” And so I took my leave.
Several days later I arrived in Los Angeles weary from a very long flight. Upon arriving at my friends stateside home in Santa Barbara, everyone took off for whatever reasons and I had the house to myself.
I was stretching out on the couch, about to take a nap, when my eyes caught the only thing laying on a very clean coffee table next to the couch. It was a copy of the “Knee of Listening” , the autobiography of Adi Da Samraj ( then Franklin Jones) who had begun teaching his spiritual path to westerners several years earlier. I had never heard of him.
The photograph was attractive. I remember saying to myself, “This is a bright looking fellow.” So I picked up the book to glance at it. The only words I have for what took place next comes under the heading of being hit by a lightning bolt. Within six pages it was utterly clear to me that this was someone I simply had to study with. His description of the human condition, it’s limitations, patterns and unconscious processes, all spoke to the very emotions that represented many years of turmoil and questioning by me. And those patterns were the very ones I wanted to shake up by traveling to Kashmir. But there was much more to the book than just a description of the human condition. He spoke of what was Transcendent, not limited by the ephemerality of conditional existence and I confess I didn’t intellectually understand a word of it, yet still found it incredibly moving and exciting. There was something penetrating that I could tangibly feel that said this was right for me. Six months later I had moved to San Francisco to begin a relationship with my Spiritual Master that continues to this day.
Needless to say I am grateful to Swami Lakshman Joo. The prayers of a realizer are powerful. I think I got a lot more out of my visit to Kashmir thirty five years ago than just some rock candy.
Thanks for taking some LIP from me,
The west side of Dal Lake is more rural and steeper. Rice is grown in terraced plots of earth. The Srinigar Valley is a lush valley and that is easily evident in this area. My friends lived in a large house at the end of the small road just to the left of Nishat Bagh. I rented the middle flat of a new house just a little bit down the same road for something like $30 a month. Swami Lakshman Joo’s home and ashram was also on that small road , at the bottom just off the main road circling the lake. We were the only ones on that particular road.
It was a pleasure to walk out the door and up to the end of the road to continue hiking in the hills above NIshat Bagh. Small villages, enclaves and farmland all with a view of Dal Lake. Eagles, countless birds and not to many people at that time.
Taking the bus home was always an adventure. The drivers seemed to take pleasure in pretending they didn’t hear the westerner shouting out “Tarsa Hey!” (Stop here!) No cords to pull to signal where you wanted to stop, just your vocal chords to make use of. Usually after two or three shouts, and some amused chuckles from the locals, the bus driver would acquiesce at the next stop to let you off. It made for nice walks and good photo ops, though.
The men would smoke from their water pipes during the day. There was always a can with some embers going to keep the tobacco lit. At the end of the day, there would often be a little bit of the ever plentiful hashish thrown in for relaxation.
Hope you enjoyed these. In the next few days I’ll be posting one more set of photos. They’ll be of Swami Lakshman Joo’s 65 birthday celebration. Till then….
thanks for taking some LIP from me,
Just when you thought you guys had me pegged……. I’m not going to blab ( too much) at you this time. Instead I wanted to share some photographs from Srinigar, Kashmir, circa 1975. I’m in the midst of setting up a new computer and was moving my digital library over to the new back up system when these gems were rediscovered. Wish I had taken more, but digital cameras hadn’t arrived on the scene yet and the cost of buying film and having countless photos developed was too steep for a young vagabond of 23. Henceforth, not too many photos for six weeks of visiting in one area. I am however grateful for the photos I have and most happy to be able to share them. I am sure they will find their way into a media slideshow soon that can enjoy a wider audience.
Many of the photos have a grey sky quality to them. Srinigar is in a broad valley bowl, situated below the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Consequently there was some temperature inversion and often some smog and haze was present.
Where were you in 1975? For those of you LIPpers who weren’t even born yet-that’s a really good question. Please, send in your answers for everyone to read.
In 1975, nothing- I mean absolutely nothing was satisfying to me. So I figured a radical change in environment for period of time would shake up the status quo. Boy, was I in for a ride. But I will save that verbage for a later time.
For the upcoming few LIPs, please enjoy your trip to an area that has suffered to much trouble and upheaval since these photos were taken.
Srinigar is a dense city. Built mostly on land and partially on Dal Lake, it currently has a population of close to 900,000. Not quite sure what it was back in 1975 but I certainly considered it plenty crowded.
I was staying with friends who owned a fabric busines. The crewel work they imported was made in Srinigar. Occasionally I would go into town with them when they had business to attend to. They lived on the west side of the valley next door to the botanical gardens and their Spriritual Master, Swami Lakshman Joo, a highly respected and loved being, the last living Kashmiri teacher of Kashmir Shaivism.
We traveled to and from Srinigar in several ways. One was the bus, which was always an interesting experience. Westerners, although not rare, were uncommon enough to be the object of unabashed staring. The busses were well used and during rush hour it was asses to elbows. When everyone was jammed in way to intimately for comforts sake, a small boy would then somehow weave his way through the tunneled openings of arms and legs, collecting the bus fare from each individual.
My favorite way of going home after taking the bus into town , was to indulge in a water taxi home across Dal lake, through the water neighborhoods and gardens, across the open shallow waters to the landing at the Botanical Gardens, where along with the exquisite beauty of the countryside, there was this concession stand that made the best mango milkshakes you could possibly imagine.
We’ll travel around the west side of the valley a bit next time.
Thanks for taking some LIP from me.