Local Women Travel to India For Celebration at Ashram


People / Jun. 2, 2005 12:00am EDT

Local Women Travel to India For Celebration at Ashram

Leslie Blair (left) and Kathryn Schenkman during their recent trip to India.Leslie Blair (left) and Kathryn Schenkman during their recent trip to India.

Kathryn Schenkman and Midge Scanlan of Rochester and Leslie Blair of Hancock, and their friend, Margery Anderson of Rutland, recently returned from a fascinating journey to India, where they helped celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Shri Ram Chandra Mission (SRCM), founded 60 years ago by its namesake. The mission is a worldwide organization with the purpose of supporting the meditation practice called Sahaj Marg (the natural path), a Raj yoga (yoga of the mind) heart-centered meditation. The four Vermont women are among over two million people around the world who practice Sahaj Marg.

The celebration took place over three weeks in late April and early May, at an ashram in Tirupur. The site was a 160-acre plot of red clay land recently purchased by the mission as a place to hold large gatherings. As more than 30,000 people arrived, it became a tent city with 100 tents that could each accommodate 200 people and a meditation hall that could hold 40,000, but despite the huge numbers of people, Scanlan said, "It was amazing to see the incredible organization. Everyone had a job and helped out. For example, the kitchen operation fed over 30,000 people three meals a day and no one went hungry. Even though the people there spoke many different languages, they were all working together."

"What you notice at an event like this is the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood, a lot of laughter and good feelings," Schenkman noted. "To have the luxury of not worrying about all of the everyday problems we have in our culture and to be able to concentrate on yourself and your surroundings was wonderful."

"You feel like part of a spiritual family and the positive energy created is profound," Blair added. "These gatherings are a microcosm of what the world should be." As preceptors (instructors) she and Schenkman gave meditation sittings and supported others in the practice.

This was Blair’s sixth trip to India and Schenkman and Scanlan’s fourth. Although this time they were part of a large celebration, usually they stay at an ashram (spiritual retreat), which has dormitories where visitors can stay for free, as well as homes for full-time residents. The ashrams are supported financially by donations and the sale of books, CDs, videos, and audiotapes about the practice, which are produced by the mission’s own publishing company.

Blair noted that she and Schenkman are available on an ongoing basis to introduce other people to the practice and support them in it. "Anyone who is interested can call us at any time to set up introductory sittings, free of charge."

There is no cost to learn or do the practice of Sahaj Marg, which Schenkman compared to using a diving rod to search for water. "The practice gives you the tools to dig for the divine that exists in the heart of each human being," she said. "The difference between a religion and a practice is that a practice has a living teacher. The practice of Sahaj Marg has a living teacher who is an ‘adept,’ Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari. He has learned to master himself and is teaching us to do that for ourselves."

Rochester is the SRCM center for Vermont with group meditations offered twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. Individuals also practice daily on their own. Schenkman, who has practiced Sahaj Marg for 24 years, introduced Blair and Scanlan to it 13 years ago.

"We take what we learn from this practice and put it to use in our everyday lives with our families and communities," Scanlan explained. "All of those aspects offer an opportunity for spiritual growth and evolution. That’s why this is free, because we believe spirituality is a God-given right and you can’t charge for it."

Blair, Schenkman, and Scanlan will hold an open house this Sunday, June 5 from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at Scanlan’s home at 59 Kennedy Drive, off South Main St. in Rochester. This event is an opportunity to meet people who are doing Sahaj Marg, ask questions, hear about the recent trip to India, and view a CD of photos taken there.    

Anderson, who is the owner and founder of Mountain Yoga at the corner of Route 7 and Melrose Place in Rutland, will host an open house at her studio Friday, July 15, beginning at 7 p.m.

For more information about Sahaj Marg, call Blair at 767-4407.

By Martha Slater

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