Gradually and with time, the session reached its consummation and the camp members together with Acharya Prashant proceeded towards the breakfast. As soon as the breakfast ended, the camp members received their first reading for the day, and it was an Upanishad - a form of ancient Indian writing many of the camp members were eager to read and experience.
They were given Mandukya Upanishad. The shortest of all Upanishads and an offshoot of Atharvaveda, Mandukya Upanishad, despite its brevity, is at the heart of Indian mysticism. Mainly because all the twelve verses it contains are dedicated to the mystical syllable Om.
Soon the camp members in their respective teams began reading the text. And after an immersed reading of an hour, gathered for an enthusiastic discussion on the same. As the discussion matured, the camp members were joined by Acharya Prashant, who asked them all for their queries and learnings. And as it happens in his vicinity, in no time, by being open to his presence and by letting the silence underneath his words overpower oneself, the camp members found that not only all their doubts regarding the text were dissolved, but also a sense of completeness settled within them. The session thereafter continued for around three hours.
Interestingly, this time the session with its own mysterious flow ended with a bout of laughter. Jokes, humor, wit, bantering- these engulfed the surroundings. And finally, with a grin on each face, all proceeded towards lunch.
Post-lunch all the camp members were given the choice to either take a nap or to pick up the next reading and go through it. After an hour, the members themselves asked for the next reading. And this time it was Bhaja Govindam, an 8th century Hindu devotional text attributed to Adi Shankara – the founding figure of Advaita Vedanta.
Reflection as Acharya Prashant puts it – ‘is an act of remembrance’. The mind, since it is designed to forget, needs to be reminded of all that is worthy of remembering. And needless to say, reflections occupy a crucial position in Advait Learning Camps.
They were all spaced out in different directions. Experiencing the life-powering silence of solitude, they were all reflecting on yesternight’s happenings. ‘What a magical night that was! My heart was brimming over with joy. Where else are you served the innocence of Ramakrishna, the dance of Rumi, and the simplicity of Lao Tzu in one drink!,’ wrote Dr. Pankaj Gupta, one of the camp members and the Vice-chancellor of Apeejay Stya University, India.
Time passed, and with each passing minute, the sun became harsher on the hills. And in no time, all the camp members were made to gather in a large jute hut, where they shared their reflections with Acharya Prashant. Surprisingly, while recalling the experiences from last night and listening to Acharya Prashant in deep attention, a relaxed ambience quite similar to the previous night overpowered the happening.
The camp members had traveled long enough to feel tired. And the first day was indeed tiring; but only for their bodies. Their minds were fresh throughout – as fresh and fragrant as the flowers that swayed gently in the breeze blowing across the hills.
Now, that out of the five days they would spend there, one had already passed, the camp members were ensuring that they live each moment of this opportunity to its fullest. And the proof was that despite having slept at 4:00 in the morning, they were found writing reflections at 9:00.
And then came the silence of Tao. Selected poems from "The Tao Te Ching" brought forth the words or it may be said, the Silence of Lao Tzu, the first Zen Master who infused Taoism and Buddhism to bring to the Oneness of Zen. Each group were given time to read, discuss and touch the core of Zen teachings and then take up the poems to prepare roleplay. The preparation time brought forth a unique freshness and liveliness to the camp. Beautiful sense of belonginess transpired from the various corners, as all the words and voices blended into one blissful rhythm.
As the bonfire was lit, so was the fire lit in each heart. The words and act became one with the natural serenity around. Even laughter and jokes didn't once break the rhythm. Enjoyment took on a whole new meaning. And as the words of Lao Tzu, Rumi and Ramakrishna infused in one, formed a natural rhythm, the flames from the bonfire flickered on till early morning. As the first rays of light kissed the mountain tops, the fire settled into ashes, and the music moved each one of the members to a deep silence, one by one all of them settles into a peaceful sleep, under the open sky, with a light breeze touching their faces and hearts.
Thereafter breakfast was served and few more moments spend on reflections. Soon the words of Rumi came to visit, with the call of love, immensity and beyondness. Love was infused into each heart. The words flowing from Acharya Prashant became One with Rumi, and moments came when it no longer mattered from who the words came. The language was of Oneness and the Ultimate.
The words coming from the Saints were very soon engraved into leaves, stones and papers, decorating the walls and the environment around. The sound of Silence that seems so afar in the day-to-day humdrum of life, were now whispering peacefully into the ears.
As the group approached the resort, a new and refreshing yet familiar sense of belonging touched the heart. Peace settled on the group. The 2km trek up hills, into the forest was covered in silence and solitude by the members. Once in a while discussions happened with Acharya Prashant, with someone or the others bringing forth questions pertaining to their lives or relating in a completely new way with the manifestation of nature around. But the flow of the discourse became a part of the silence, not once breaking the flow and yet immersing each one of them into his words.
The sight of the resort, with the trees, forest and hills surrounding the premises, exuberated with serenity and bliss. With the dropping of the luggage in the various rooms, each one of the members dropped the baggage that filled their minds and sat down for writing their reflections. The camp members were divided into 5 groups with one of the Advait core members leading each group. And soon the first droplet of grace had fallen in the form of the text "The Gospels of Shri Ramakrishna". The thirteenth chapter from the text was taken up and soon each group went into deep reading and discussions, seeking a way to the core of the text. The text brought to life the free-flowing and powerful words of Shri Ramakrishna, a peek into his day-to-day life, the infusion of Brahm and Sakti and the vibrance and essence of a Bhakti margi. And the discourse on the text by Acharya Prashant that ensued henceforth pierced the hearts of the listeners, connecting the words from beyond to their lives.
A journey that began from the dusty and crowded lanes of Noida on the night on 11th June, brought the camp members to the foothills of the Himalayas on the early morning of 12th June. The members who had left by bus to Haldwani, had already reached the resort "Da Nantein", which is 35kms from Hadlwani, by 7am. The rest of the members, along with Acharya Prashant, covered the 320km journey on bikes and cars, stopping on the way for writing reflections, discussions with him, and taking moments for seeking that bliss and silence within that would be a part of their lives in the coming days.
The 21st Advait Learning Camp began on the night of 11th June from Advait Office with a group of 32 members.
The camp members included students from various colleges, professionals from various fields of work, like IT professionals, Vice Chancellor of University, Government officials etc.
Camp Venue:- Kenchidham, Near Ranikhet
(12th - 17th June, 2015)
21st Advait Self-Awareness Camp
WAYS TO CONNECT
As the sun said goodbye to the camp members, the moonlight brought another reading for them. It was Kahlil Gibran’s play The Lazarus and his Beloved. Kahlil Gibran is a Lebanese-American artist, writer, and poet known for capturing the depth of human emotions and for a tinge of mysticism in his works.
After two hours of rigorous reading and discussion, the camp members gathered in the main lawn in front of Acharya Prashant to share their learnings. Soon the session took an unexpected turn when the ostensibly biblical plot of the play unearthed the concept of Maya. In a witty yet profound manner, Acharya Prashant explained the intricate workings of Maya to all the listeners, who in turn, found this unorthodox reading not only interesting but also very helpful.
The session stretched till midnight. And still hardly anyone was willing to go to bed. Why would they? They were already at peace. What else does sleep give? Finally at 3:00 in the morning, all the camp members slept, but they weren’t tired at all, though their bodies were.
Once again the teams proceeded for readings. But unlike the previous time, this time Acharya Prashant had asked them to express their learnings with a medium different than verbal discussion. It could be anything – a role-play, a song, or even a musical dance.
The preparation time at Advait Learning Camps is one of its kinds; something one can’t express in writing. You have to be there to know it! The camp members were all charged up. One could feel guitar notes echoing through the valley, hear the beating of drums, and see the dance of the leaves with the dancing camp members. Youth!
While the groups were engaged in preparing their performances, Acharya Prashant himself being a versatile artist visited each of them and made valuable additions.
It was 6:00 in the evening and the sun was setting, and the groups were called for performance. The immense sky that looked drained in the redness of the setting sun seemed to appreciate these performers. What a spectacle it was: the earth and sky merged into one, the small found shelter in the sublime. The sun seemed so close!