Table of Contents
NOTE: As this trip evolved from a dream, to a plan, to an incredible opportunity, to a life-changing experience, ever-deeper levels of meaning and significance emerged, and things happened that wouldn't make much sense unless you understood more of my background and personal history. I've had to come back to this post several times already to add additional explanation and background, and now I realize I might have to do it a few more times before I finish the series of posts.
In 1994 I was a new Rotarian, working with the Lenape High School Interact Club when I first heard about RYLA - Rotary Youth Leadership Awards. (See: www.ryla7500.org
) I became the Director of Rotary District 7500's RYLA that year and still hold that post today. RYLA instantly became one of the most important things in my life. For the past 20 years I have volunteered over 500 hours per year to it, did my best work there, learned the most there, and met most of my best friends there. Thanks, Rotary!
In September of 2014 we first heard that there was to be an International RYLA held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat State, India, from November 24 to 28, 2014. We had some funds left over in our RYLA bank account and we felt this was a good way to spend them. We would be giving a great leadership training experience to two members of our staff, and no doubt learning some new techniques that could make our own RYLA even better.
Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India Campus, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
We decided to send two of our senior staff members to this iRYLA, and I was fortunate enough to be selected.
I don't think I can convey to you how thrilling this is to me. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to go to India. If you had ever asked me, "If you could visit just one other country in the world, which one would you choose?" I wouldn't have hesitated a second: "India, of course!" If you had then asked, "Why India?" I'd have had to pause a few moments before answering. Not because I don't have an answer ready - I do! - it's more that I would be afraid you wouldn't believe it. Or would think it's a silly answer. But I'm just going to put it out there:
"Because I think I must have lived in India in a previous lifetime." For as far back as I can remember, I've loved India. My friend Saji recently asked me, "Is that because your parents told you something about India? Or perhaps they had some good friends from there?" Absolutely not. The only thing my mother ever told me about India was that there were "Poor starving children living there that would be grateful for those lima beans, so I had better eat them!" And even at that young age I must have loved India and Indians because I always said, "So send the darn things to India, then!!!"
Other than my mother's stories of a land full of starving children, the only other certain exposure I had as a child to anything remotely Indian was The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.
I remember reading and re-reading that book over and over and marveling at the stories and illustrations. And it seems to me, looking back now, that I always had a very strong interest in India. I remember reading Siddhartha
by Herman Hesse in high school and being deeply moved by the spirituality it contained. From there I read Autobiography of a Yogi
by Paramahansa Yogananda and learned even more.
And in April of 1970, when I was a Sophomore in High School, the very first Earth Day celebration was held in thousands of locations around the United States. There was a big event taking place in Philadelphia and we talked about it in school. I had a Geometry teacher who was really cool and somehow I got him to agree to drive me into Philadelphia after school to attend the event. While I was there I met a group of robed young people from the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISCKON).
They were my very first introduction to Indian Spirituality, and they invited me to their feast where I tasted my first Indian food, including my very first Gulab Jamun! Thanks to them, I've had a poster of Krishna and his devotee Radha on my wall for 42 years.
But I didn't really learn very much about India until I began studying Transcendental Meditation
as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. That was in 1972, just after graduating from high school. Through that organization I began to be exposed to a lot of Indian culture, Indian food, Indian music and most of all, Indian spirituality. And I loved all of it.
Perhaps because of this fascination, or perhaps coincidentally, I was drawn to the religion of Druidry
. The Druids were the learned class of the Celtic people who (according to the most widely-accepted theory) originally came from somewhere near Central Europe over 3,000 years ago (~1200 BCE). They spread out and many of them ended up in what we now call the 'Celtic Countries', i.e. England, Ireland, Scotland, & Wales. They were polytheistic, believed in male/female equality, and greatly honored nature. ('Druid' probably means 'knower of the Oak', i.e. 'Tree Hugger'!) Modern cultural archetypes of the classic 'Druid' include Merlin, Gandalf, and Dumbledore. But they really existed, possessed great knowledge in many areas, and were performing successful brain surgery over 2,000 years ago. Look it up.
Another group that was performing successful brain surgery thousands of years ago were the Vedic Brahmans
of India. (Look that up, too.) In fact, there are all sorts of similarities between the two groups, including linguistic connections ('tri' means 'three' in both Welsh and Sanskrit), ritual practices, cultural similarities, meditation practices, production of the oldest written texts on Earth, an even older tradition of strict memorization of history and knowledge, legal systems, mythological figures, precise astronomical calculations, a Caste system...the list goes on and on. The more I study each group, the more similarities I discover, and the more closely I feel connected to these two ancient systems of knowledge and spirituality.
Pashpati Seal, Indus Valley Civilization ~ 2000BCE Cernunnos, on Druid Cauldron, ~ 200BCE
All of this is to try to explain to the reader why I feel a deep and almost overwhelming spiritual connection when I enter a Hindu Temple or see an image of Krishna.
I believe India is the Spiritual Soul and Homeland of the planet and it's been drawing me homeward for nearly my whole life.
Read my Planned Itinerary
post to see what I THINK
I'm going to do in India. (Yeah, I want to make God laugh!)