Learning from the Himalayas

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The Anaadi Foundation organised its Himalayan weekly Yatras to the Valley of Flowers, Hemkund and Badrinath, between September 14-20. It is also organising a Tapovan Tapasya, a trek and retreat, at Gomukh and Tapovan between September 20-27 and the Dravya Guna Yatra, an Introduction to Himalayan herbs, from September 28-October 1, and Scaling Heights – the Himalayan Leadership programme for Corporate Professionals from October 2-7.

The white capped peaks of the Himalayas in the higher reaches of North India, have for centuries stolen the thunder from the living. The orange and purple flowers dotting verdant land overlooking thundering rivers, have always waited in humble attendance as mankind looked outwards to the high summits. Wild bulls, boars and even the leeches know who is king here. As one seeker put it, it is actually very difficult to meditate in the Himalayas – to look inwards when all one yearns is to look outwards.

Every mountain range in the world invokes a deep connect with nature. But the Himalayas are special. Founders of Anaadi Foundation – Adinarayanan and Smrithi – have tried to get people to be touched and inspired in environs that have always mesmerised the world. Says Smrithi – “Every mountain range has its unique appeal but the Himalayas surpass many of these. For thousands of years, rishis, sadhus, yogis, sadhakas and rajans have been visiting the Himalayas not just for mental peace but for a complete transformation. Many of the temples that you will find in the Kedar region are consecrated by the Pancha Pandavas. So a trek to the Himalayas is not just an adventure travel but an opportunity to come face to face with one’s own limitation and transcend them. In the plains when you do yogic practices there is a certain experience. When you do the same in the Himalayan regions, the experience and the benefit is enhanced multi fold. So everything can be experienced in an enhanced manner in the Himalayas.”

Every program at Anaadi Foundation is designed based on the needs of the people they come in touch with. “Some people are capable of experiencing deeper states just by sitting in one place. Some will need other tools that are go beyond their will and the yatra is one such opportunity. It is our blessing that through us hundreds of people get the darshan of the Himalayas and the temples every year,” says Smrithi.

Yatra for them is a journey that liberates. “The very word Yatra means a journey that liberates just as Mantra and Yantra are tools for liberation. What happens in a Yatra especially that involves a rigorous journey on foot with limited access to resources – the physical, emotional and cognitive processes start transforming. We usually say that a walk up to Tunganath is like perfoming a lakh ‘kapalabhatis’ (a shatkriya which literally translates as illuminating the brain) in a go and that too in a non-harmful way. One feels physically rejuvenated and the body is not the same after returning. That is why we initiate people into yogic practices a month before the yatra so that they don’t just experience the physical beauty of the kshetra but also draw spiritual benefits. Else all attention would be gone just managing limb aches.”

Psychologically, mundane problems fade, and a common experience of the yatris, “is that problems that seemed big before the yatra start looking small. The yatra takes them away from the routine context and secondly the grandeur of the Himalayas and the emotional experience that it brings makes one forget those mundane problems that they keep chewing in their heads.”

The Himalayas are also vulnerable. As Smrithi puts it, everything there is very fragile, despite the image of grandeur and invulnerability the mountains exude. Uttarakhand has been declared as the herbal state with the presence of numerous medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPS). But with an increase in human activity and modernization, there is a rapid decline in these herbs. The Dravya Guna Yatra has been designed to given a glimpse into some of the rare Himalayan herbs and their Ayurvedic benefits. The Himalayan region has about 5000 vascular plants of which 800 have been found to have value. There are many more to be discovered. Only a very few people have knowledge about them and more researchers are needed to uncover as many of these herbs as possible.

 “The Himalayas offer a deep ecological perspective. Everything is so fragile there and thereby the need for conservation is much more. The yatris become aware of the impact of human activity on such fragile ecosystems.”

The sustainability activities of Anaadi Foundation are carried out at the Center for Research in Ecology and Sustainable Technologies (CREST). In tune with the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals, the center integrates various aspects of sustainability including Sustainable Health, Self-Reliant Agriculture, Natural Buildings, Alternate Energy, Waste Management and Chemical free living. The national and international visits are designed to given the participants a glimpse of various sustainable models and how they can be adapted and adopted to contextual needs.

Quietude is a word that comes uppermost to one’s mind in experiencing the Himalayas. Adinarayan has practiced Mouna Tapasya periodically as do other seekers visiting this land. “The Mouna Tapasya undertaken periodically by Shri Adinarayanan serve several purposes. In the constant chatter and hustle bustle of daily life, we accumulate a lot of what one call baggage. If the system has to be cleansed, Mouna tapasya is a great tool. A sadhana is gentle but tapasya is rigourous – tapah is fire. The fundamental quality of fire is to transform and that is what Mouna Tapasya is largely about. At Anaadi Foundation, mouna tapasya is also a means to first person research into consciousness. Yogic practices have significant benefits but they have to be constantly fine-tuned to reach that level of perfection. Just as a laboratory is used to fine tune the results of an experiment, mouna tapasya can be used to fine tune yogic experiments.

Engineers and educationists, Adinarayanan and Smrithi have worked hard to promote Indic knowledge Systems among the youth, and in the Yatras they combine a love for the outdoors with knowledge of our shastras and traditions. “One thing that connected us well with students when we were educators was the fact that we could patiently answer the questions that they had about all aspects of life – technical and non-technical. We have always felt that these questions have the potential to transform into a quest that can take them deeper. When young people find a mentor who is non-judgemental, who can accept their limitations as much as their strengths and who has walked the path, they are willing to enagage with them. Prescriptions don’t work well with young people. Hence at our home and at Anaadi Foundation we have created a platform for self-exploration especially for young people. They are gradually guided into deeper aspects of life and at the moment we are able to offer them personalized attention and care. That is how the members of Anaadi Foundation, who were our past students, got associated with us. Each one pursues their Swadharma and we have a platform for that. They work with themselves, tinker, fine tune and arrive at insights on their purpose in life and carry forward that work. That is how we have these people working on Education, Well-being, Culture and Sustainability,” says Smrithi.

They have explored the Siddhar Parambarai, or the tradition of the Siddhars. And to them each of the Siddhas hold great appeal and offer great benefit to youngsters. “Each of the siddhas (within the 18 and outside) have explored several dimensions of human endeavour and can benefit humanity greatly. Since we are close to Palani and living with the blessings of Lord Murugan, Bogar is very close to our heart. He is a visionary who made the deity’s benefit available for many many years. Knowledge of Tamil is key to decoding the Siddha literature. We do find good number of people in and around Palani with knowledge of siddha works. We are interacting with them closely to see how Siddha literature can benefit modern people,” she adds.

Both of them were Professors of Computer Science at Amrita University for more than a decade. Their interactions with students were deep both in and outside the classroom. “Outside the classroom, we observed that most people we interacted with came to us for solving life problems than computer science problems. As faculty, we evolved tools that would be helpful for enhancing the learning potential of students. These tools blended asana, pranayama, dharana and dhyana with modern concepts of time management and cognitive abilities. At some point, there were a group of our students who left their high-paying jobs and even potential US university admissions to stay with us for a deeper sadhana.”

Founders Adinarayanan and Smrithi

When the numbers increased of people wanting to contribute to society, they formed the Anaadi Foundation in 2015 on Guru Purnima day. At the Foundation since most of the ashramites are technologists, they combine technology, science and spirituality to promote and popularize Indic Knowledge Systems

Having spent their early lives as techies, the couple speaks the language that the younger generation can understand. Ofcourse, modern science is headed in a certain direction with researchers all over the world doing excellent work in science and technology, they say, but the scientific community is hesitant to embrace the Indian sciences because of various reasons. “One of the reasons could be that we do not have enough number of (critical mass) of Indians who can talk both the languages – modern and traditional. Interdisciplinary research, systematic publication and data-oriented approach will be needed to ensure that Indian knowledge systems are adopted. We will also need institutions- schools and colleges that promote the study and research of these sciences so that an interest is created in today’s children to pursue Indian knowledge systems. It is only a question of time and history will have to be rewritten once there is a critical mass of people and their research talking about it.”

Modern neurocognitive sciences and Yogic Sciences are tied to Anaadi’s goals. “Neuroscience looks at experience from a third person perspective while yoga looks at it from a first person perspective. Both these perspective when put together can generate powerful outcomes. At Anaadi Foundation, in collaboration with other research groups, we are studying the neuro-cognitive benefits of Yoga. At the same time we are also look at the insights that yogic literature that can inform neuroscience research.”

The Anaadi Foundation emphasises that shastras are core to the Hindu way of live and Gnana, Bhakti and Kriya all are needed for a fulfilling life. “If one has to decode the experiences that one gains through the yogic path, the knowledge of the shastras is important. Just as research happens from theory to practice and practice to theory, shastras and our daily life are closely tied. The fundamental aspect of Indic teaching is that it encourages us to see everything as interconnected ecosystem – the microcosm and macrocosm and lead life based on the purushartha- goals of human life. What strikes us about the modern way of life is our consumption patterns- food, objects and even ideas and thoughts. When guided by the Purushartha, we lead an enjoyable life that has a purpose and is also aligned with the larger goal of life- moksha. The very way we look at material objects and consume them changes with this framework.”

All of these lessons will be tied in when managers climb up Himalayas, learning to manage expectations, abilities ofcourse with an eye on the goal.

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