January 13, 2013

I am now in Varanasi and preparing to travel to Allahabad and the Kumbh. Yesterday I was picked up at the airport by Anindo Bhattacharjee from SMS and transported to the Gateway Ganges Hotel. Varanasi is the oldest continuing city in the world and traveling it’s streets is like experiencing all of humanity and its cultures and possibilities in one huge overwhelming rush. The cars, motorcycles, cows, people, rickshaws, monkeys, and other forms of life are everywhere and in constant engagement and motion. The din of the honking horns and the smells and scents of cooking food, petrol, excrement, burning bodies, incense and just a million people all crunched together is beyond description. And yet underlying it all, is a deep sense of spiritual continuity and an oldness that gives one a sense that the very streets and often crumbling structures have an animate awareness of our history as humans that cannot possibly be written down due to the sheer volume of the stories. Here in this ancient sacred city, people come from all over the world to find themselves … and often do. For we are all here in the chaotic dance that swirls before me. Our stories can be found in the faces of the beggars and lepers, and the farmers and the merchants, the rich and the poor, and the faithful and non believers. They have seen love and hate, birth and death, war and peace, and civilization and its demise. But the one thing that strikes me most as I stand here, the one thing that has remained constant over the millennia in every crumbling brick and weathered face,
… is hope. And that is the reason I’m here!

After a quick shower, I was taken to the university. I was both surprised and honored to be greeted by a large banner at the school’s entrance with my name and a welcome message.

Both Harriett and I were whisked away to a meeting room where we were given tea and sweets, and the introduced to those who oversaw the school. Harriett was invited to speak with me, and gave a wonderful short talk on how Hindu culture and practices has become a part of the fabric of America.

Then I was introduced, and I spoke on the importance of including spirituality and an honoring of our fellow brothers and sisters in our business practices. I pressed for a new narrative for business which throws out the old model that we must claw our way to the top and diminish those below us in order to succeed. And to insert instead that success should be the result of people wanting to do business with you because you both honored and saw them in your transactions, and that you use your gifts to contribute to a better society and world.

The talk went well, and I was graciously presented with a bouquet of flowers and a wonderful plaque commentating the occasion. Then I offered to meet with the students and answer their questions.

When all was done, we were returned to our hotel and then taken to the Ganges to Aarti, a sacred ritual to Lord Shiva and the Goddess Ganga.

Then in a rickshaws back to the hotel, for a very late dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow, we we travel to Allahbad and the Kumbh Mela. It is projected that it will be at least a ten mile walk through the crowd of pilgrims to get to the center where I will camp at the sacred Sangam, the confluence of the three sacred rivers.

More tomorrow.

Blessings to All,
Patrick McCollum