Peggy’s India Travels
When one travels to exotic lands such as India, there are revelations that take one by surprise. From past travels to India, I knew to expect chaos and confusion, mystery and awe. Anyone who has traveled there knows what I mean.
But in the midst of chaos all around, there is a place that is the center which is “I”, a center of peace and presence (just as the eye at the center of a hurricane is a place of powerful peace and stillness).
My experiences in India have taught me that regardless of what is happening around me, I can move into a center that is perfect peace. I can meet others who live from their center. Those meetings are extraordinary, transcending ordinary time and space.
My India Experience with the Yoginis
The place I stayed in India during my spiritual retreat did not have hot running water.
My bathroom was a small, very simple cement room that included a western style toilet and sink, a water spigot, and a cold water shower.
I really did miss having hot water in the bathroom. Towards the end of my three-week stay at the retreat, I found I could get a bucket of hot water from the kitchen. From then on, I happily chose a warm, bucket bath over a cold shower.
Perhaps because of my preference for warm water, I thought a lot about my bathing experience. When I felt sorry for myself, I reminded myself that I was lucky to have a private bathroom, with or without hot water.
Not having what I was so accustomed to gave me particular sympathy for the orphan girls’ situation: They had no shower facility, hot or cold!
About the Orphanage Ashram
Sri Lalita Mahila Samajam is an ashram run entirely by women monks, or “virgin yoginis,” to be more precise. I believe it is the only community of its kind in South India.
The nuns have dedicated themselves to providing schooling, as well as health & medical facilities for destitute women and girls. They house 150 girls in an orphanage, and run a school for 400 females, which include the poorest of girls from the community. The place is unusually well tended, bright and clean.
I was most interested when I had the opportunity speak with the nun in charge.
Jayamba willingly answered my many question: what their daily spiritual practices are, what the daily routine is, how successful the schooling is for the girls, etc. Then I asked, “What is your most pressing need at this time?” Jayamba replied that other than sponsors for the girls, she wanted to build a bath house.
She told me that the girls now bathed in an open area. Hearing “an open area,” I formed a picture in my mind of many girls bathing in one big room. I thought she was talking about wanting privacy for the girls when she said she wanted to build 15 showers and 5 new toilets. But no! Then she took me to see where the girls bathed.
Down by the road there was a large pipe that brought water to an area used for washing clothes in buckets. It was here that the girls took “bucket baths,” in their clothes, for privacy. They had no shower room.
I was undaunted when I heard how much it would cost to build a new facility with proper water and drainage.
I told Jayamba, “I don’t know how I will do it, but I will raise money for that shower building!”
Imagine not having a shower or bathtub for bathing. Our building codes require bathroom facilities before a house is even considered habitable.
But you can relate to this:
- When you last took a bath or shower, were you able to adjust the water to a perfect temperature?
- Do you take that warm shower for granted?
- Have you ever been showering when the hot water ran out, and you had to finish up quickly with only cold water left to rinse yourself?
- Now imagine if there wasn’t even cold water.
I put out an appeal to my yoga students and newsletter subscribers:
Would they help me raise money to build a bathhouse with showers and toilets for orphan girls in India? Any size donation was welcomed. I received checks from $5 to $100.
I promised everyone who donated funds towards the project that 100% of the money donated would go to the project. That is almost unheard of in organizations whose purpose is to raise money, because usually administrative costs are taken out first.
I was true to my word. With each check I sent to India, we got to see more and more happen on the building through the photos that Yogini J sent to me.
If you have been following my newsletters for a while, you got to see regular updates with photos as the construction progressed.
When the bathhouse was built, I visited the orphanage to verify the result. I wanted to document the building’s completion in order to celebrate this effort with all those who helped me raise the money.
So off to India I went. What a joyous trip that was! I was received so warmly.
To express their gratitude, Yogini J., my contact who speaks English—and who is now my friend, arranged for me and Alan to meet with their head, and guru, Mataji.
During that darshan, Mataji bestowed a mantra, with the injunction to repeat the mantra daily 108 times. Mataji also gave us a crystal bead mala (like a necklace with 108 beads) with which to keep count of the repetitions. The mantra was a long and was difficult to learn.
Did I do that? You bet!
Mataji decided to continue the improvements to the orphanage and wanted to add a second story of classrooms to the high school building so they could educate twice as many girls.
Would I help? You bet!
I did not want to ask others for money this time; it was onerous to raise the money for the bathhouse.
Instead, Alan and I made regular donations as the building progressed. The yoginis documented the progress through photos.
At last the day came for the grand opening of the new classrooms.
I was invited to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony and to appear on stage with Mataji before all the students, teachers, and guests. My final $ donation for this effort went towards new clothing for all the kids for this special ceremony. And did they ever look grand in their new clothes!