The above video does not truly convey the beauty of Rishikesh. It's located on a stunning stretch of the Ganges headwaters. It's full of soft-hearted pilgrims trudging not towards a religious obligation, but rather a personal search for enlightenment and transcendence. As the birthplace of yoga, the town is full of ashrams and studios where one can sleep, eat, and practice for as little as 15 USD a day. The surrounding hills are laced with steep trails and the riverbank provides opportunities to scamper, boulder, or find blissful seclusion.
The town is also a massive resource of wisdom (and a bit of chicanery) as dozens of "gurus" hold open meetings, called satsang, free of charge. Naturally there must be some commercial incentive for pasting glossy headshots of the charismatic leaders all over town. There is most likely a sliding scale of intention, from those hoping to accrue power and wealth via a spiritual avenue, those looking to share a message while keeping their operation afloat, and those who believe these two objectives can be ethically integrated.
I visited several of these satsang, dividing my attention between the guru and his/her audience. The teachers ranged from pure charlatan to well intentioned. The best had informative wisdom on the nature of consciousness. They attempt to drop the right insight or pose the right question which will enable the seeker to break free of the dominant paradigm of what the Hindu's would call "maya" and the modern world would understand as "the matrix". That is the illusion of a separate self schlepping through a foreign world, motivated by fear, lurching toward ephemeral pleasures and away from pain. Keep climbing until you reach the promised rung of contentment or die on the ladder.
The audience of these gurus tilts heavily towards the wide-eyed and credulous, the majority of skeptics perhaps having written off the whole scene. This is an understandable division. There is quite a stew of woo woo sloshing around the sphere of Rishikesh. One will hear many insightful observations about the experience of consciousness mixed in with improbable yet assured metaphysical claims about the nature of physical reality. Unfortunately this combination means that many savvy intellects who could benefit from the baby in the bathwater will stay away, and the overly impressionable will drink the whole concoction down. Con artists thrive among the latter group, the wise have a small audience among the former.
Although I too may be self-deluded, I believe I've plucked some diamonds from the experience of Rishikesh; including a more committed yoga practice and deeper meditation sessions. It's a place I recommend all "spiritual" seekers visit, with a healthy balance of openness and critical thinking.
Links related to video:
John de Ruiter according to Globe and Mail
and according to Vice
Two gurus I would visit again (this does not entail an endorsement nor do i concur with all their ideas. Rather I believe them to be well-intentioned, humble, and in possession of some unique insight)
I'm Jonathan Legg
The road has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and developing understanding of others. I hope the content on this blog will bring a sliver of that juju to you.