Journey to the Birthplace of Yoga: Awakening to Natural Intelligence

By Philip M. Hellmich

There is a Power that will light your way to health, happiness, peace, and success, if you will but turn toward that Light.
— Paramahansa Yogananda

In February, I traveled to Rishikesh, India with my longtime friend, Sandra de Castro Buffington, a world leader in entertainment for conscious impact and longtime meditation practitioner; new friend Richard Bergin, a professional videographer; and four Shift community members. Sandra and I were leading a Shift Sacred Pilgrimage into the Soul of India and we also were conducting interviews for the Yoga Day Summit, celebrating the third annual United Nations International Day of Yoga.

Swami Brahmdev, Richard and Philip

We traveled to the birthplace of yoga to explore the ancient roots and wisdom of yoga and to better understand its role in transforming lives and societies around the world.

The timing of the pilgrimage felt all the more powerful as the United States and world were reacting to the U.S. elections. Anger, fear and polarization filled the news.

As a longtime peacebuilder and Kriya yoga practitioner, I have come to strongly believe that inner peace is a global responsibility. I love bridging the inner science of peace with practical ways of cultivating peace on personal, community, and international levels. (See my article, Inner Peace is a Global Responsibility.)

As a response to the global situation, Sandra, Richard and I were inspired to ask swamis, swaminis, and world-renowned yoga teachers and students from around the world about the deeper wisdom of yoga and its relevance to events in the world.

Our first stop was Aurovalley Ashram, where we participated in a Peace Leadership Conference. Our interview with Swami Brahmdev set the tone for the rest of the pilgrimage. When asked about global events, he replied, “It is all guided by Natural Intelligence.” He went on to say, “She knows what she is doing… and sometimes she will use a hammer, such as war, to wake up humanity from selfishness and greed.”

Sandra and Philip with Kia Miller, founder of Radiant Body Yoga, and Tommy Rosen, a vinyasa flow and Kundalini Yoga teacher

He reassured us that Natural Intelligence is helping humanity to evolve and that She shapes each of us over lifetimes for the roles She wants us to play.

Swamiji talked with a certainty that was reassuring. He also said it is the consciousness of the individual that determines our reactions and/or responses to world events.

Swamiji talked about yoga bringing us into an alignment with all of Nature, where we feel our oneness with Her and then are guided to act in ways for the betterment of the whole.

It was easy to feel a deeper sense of peace and oneness at Aurovalley as there is a strong spiritual vibration that permeates the ashram, which is situated near the holy Ganges River.

Natural Intelligence and spiritual presence became central themes for our pilgrimage. In our next visit with Anand Mehrotra at Sattva Retreat, he too spoke about Natural Intelligence. In fact, Anand said he was guided by Nature to build Sattva Retreat on that site.

Sandra interviewing Anand Mehrotra
in the Ganges River

Anand told the story of looking for land for a retreat center and not being able to find anyplace that was appropriate. One day, he was returning from a village where he was working on a Seva (service) project. Anand’s finely tuned motorcycle mysteriously stopped on a hill where he saw beautiful land along a stream. Anand inquired about the land and learned a farmer had been trying to sell it.

Anand bought the land that day and set out to build a traditional retreat center with mud huts. During the construction, an unseasonal storm came and washed away the mud huts. Anand sent the workers home and then spent days sitting in silent meditation, deeply listening to the land.

Natural Intelligence guided Anand to build a modern retreat center that would be accessible to people from around the world. He began conducting ceremonies on the land before doing any construction. Without cutting down any trees, he erected buildings with modern amenities, including a swimming pool.

Sandra with Prabhavati Dwabha, founder and director of Ramana’s Garden, home to over 60 at-risk children and a free English medium school for local underprivileged families

While we were at Sattva Retreat, we met people from Russia, Poland, the United States and several other countries. Sattva Retreat is attracting people from around the world so they can learn the ancient teachings of yoga to take back home with them.

Sattva Retreat sits on an ancient trail that had been used by Rishis throughout the centuries to travel from the high Himalayas to Rishikesh in the winter. Truly, Sattva Retreat is on sacred land.

Anand shared with us how the land has responded to the ceremonies and how plants, birds and other wildlife long not seen are returning. He said people come from around the world and often experience a powerful transformation from the spiritual vibrations — healing of addictions, stress, fear — and often finding new purpose in life.

Natural Intelligence permeates every atom of creation. In places like Sattva Retreat, Aurovalley Ashram, Parmarth Niketan Ashram (site of the International Yoga Festival) and other places along the holy Ganges River, theses vibrations are more readily accessible because of all the spiritual practices done over the centuries.

Philip with Bruce Lipton

When I later interviewed Bruce Lipton, PhD, a world-renowned scientist who bridges science and spirituality, he echoed the idea of spiritual practices creating and reinforcing positive vibrations that elevate individual and collective energy and consciousness. Yoga, as an ancient science and art, estimated to be over 5,000 and possibly even 10,000 years old, opens people to these positive vibrations and Natural Intelligence in a methodical, scientific process. As some yoga teachers that I have interviewed say, “You do yoga, yoga does you, and you look to your own experience; there is no dogma or blind faith.”

Sandra holding a painting of Mahavatar Babaji

As we learned about and directly experienced Natural Intelligence and the sacred vibrations, I often remembered how yoga was intentionally sent to the West by great Himalayan Masters, planned centuries in advance. The movie Awake: The Life of Yogananda tells how Mahavatar Babaji, a deathless yogi, re-introduced Kriya Yoga (which had disappeared during the dark ages) in 1861 in a remote part of the Himalayas, a day’s drive from Rishikesh. Babaji taught Kriya Yoga to Lahiri Mahasaya, who then taught it to others.

When Lahiri Mahasaya met Yogananda as an infant, he prophesied that Yogananda would take yoga to the West and that yoga would spread around the world to help harmonize humanity.

Swami Keshavananda’s ashram

The Himalayan masters waited to introduce yoga to the West until quantum physics was being explored, so that people in the West would have the language of energy and consciousness, giving them the capacity to begin to understand the ancient science and art of yoga. The great masters also knew that humanity was entering “Dwapara Yuga” — an age of rapid scientific advancement, as evidenced by the strides made in the study of atomic energy. There is a powerful scene in the trailer for the movie Awake: The Life of Yogananda in which the narrator notes, “While he [Yogananda] was writing the autobiography, we set off the first atomic bomb… the need for the teachings was more urgent than ever.” He goes on to say, “He [Yogananda] always said, “The man who can reform himself can reform the world.’”

Philip with Sri Mooji, a globally respected spiritual teacher

These thoughts about yoga being intentionally sent to the West to help harmonize humanity and to help us handle the atomic age deepened my experience in Rishikesh. We were journeying into the heart and birthplace of a global spiritual awakening, one aimed at creating peace on Earth through inner transformation.

When we visited the ashram of Swami Keshavananda in Haridwar, where some of Lahiri Mahasaya’s ashes are laid to rest, I fell into a trance-like state that opened my heart. Being a practitioner of Kirya Yoga, it is hard to put into words the transmission that I experienced; I was overcome with profound love, peace and bliss.

Philip, Sandra and Sri Prem Baba, a highly respected Brazilian spiritual teacher

We carried this blessing with us as we participated in the International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan. Over 1,000 people from 101 countries were in attendance. We heard story after story about how yoga was transforming lives, helping people heal from physical and emotional illnesses, and helping people recover from addictions and find peace of mind and heart. Many people talked about starting with a hatha yoga class before gradually welcoming yoga as a way of life, leading them to practicing seva — service to others as oneself.

The Beatles Ashram in RIshikesh

The International Yoga Festival was just a five-minute walk from the Beatles Ashram, where in 1968 the Beatles helped introduce yoga and meditation to the world. Were the Beatles simply another instrument of Natural Intelligence’s intention to disseminate the ancient science of yoga so humanity could awaken to its own divinity?

Day in and day out during the International Yoga Festival, we enjoyed meeting yoga practitioners from around the world. When India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the Festival via livestream, I was deeply moved to think that the United Nations and people in every country in the world will be celebrating the International Day of Yoga.

The International Yoga Festival is an annual celebration of how yoga is spreading around the world, and how yoga is slowly helping to harmonize humanity and transform lives — one person, one breath, one posture at a time.

In the evenings at Parmarth Niketan, an ancient “Aarti Ganga Ceremony” takes place on the banks of the holy Ganges River. Swami Chidanand Saraswati calls it the “happy hour,” due to its beautiful chanting.

As the sun set, Sandra, Richard and our friends would chant and pray, feeling an upwelling of spiritual energies opening our hearts. From all of these experiences, it’s clear that Natural Intelligence is guiding everything. All we have to do is turn to Her and She will guide our lives to health, happiness, peace and success... and eventually to help harmonize humanity.

A Personal Note From Philip

It is with incredible joy that Sandra, Richard and many friends and colleagues invite you to enjoy and share the Yoga Day Summit. It is our hope that the interviews with these beautiful swamis, swaminis, world-renowned yoga teachers and students from around the world will provide a taste of the spiritual transmission emanating from the birthplace of yoga. We hope your hearts, minds and souls will be touched and inspired by the stories and practical insights about the ancient science and art of yoga, and that you find them relevant to your life and to all of modern life.

Philip M. Hellmich is Director of Peace at The Shift Network, director of The Summer of Peace and lead designer of the World Peace Library. The Summer of Peace is an annual event created by The Shift Network in 2012 that includes a free online telesummit featuring interviews with peacebuilders from around the world.

In 2012, Philip presented on the Summer of Peace at the first United Nations High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace. That forum was opened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. In 2013, the United Nations published Philip’s article about the Summer of Peace in its UNITY magazine in China (edited version): Creating a New Narrative of Peace: From Inner Peace to International Peacebuilding.

Philip was the initiator and lead architect of the first virtual World Peace Library. Launched in 2014, the library includes interviews of over 350 peacebuilders representing over 15 sectors of society, including science, spirituality, education, business, military, etc…. Having conducted a majority of these interviews, Philip has a bird’s eye view of the larger peacebuilding trends emerging around the world.

Philip has dedicated most of his life to global and local peacebuilding initiatives, including 14 years with Search for Common Ground. He also served for four years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone where he lived and worked in small remote bush villages. A published writer, Philip is author of God and Conflict: A Search for Peace in a Time of Crisis with a Foreword by Lama Surya Das. He serves as adviser to Global Peace Initiative of Women. A longtime meditation practitioner, Philip enjoys studying and teaching about the parallels between inner and outer peace.

Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.

This article appears in: 2017 Catalyst, Issue 12: Yoga Day Summit