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On the Road to Enlightenment
by Dennis Hughes, Share Guide Publisher

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I was in college when I first heard about the concept of enlightenment. I visualized an inner path to a completely calm center, that was attainable in this lifetime. I read that there were teachers to illuminate the path, enlightened sages from distant lands that taught ancient methods for attaining enlightenment. So I began to attend lectures, but none really grabbed me until a certain Guru from India came to Berkeley. This revered holy man looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland: he wore an orange silk robe, sandals, a purple knit hat, and he carrried a brilliant red and yellow umbrella. Seeing him speak started the beginning of my love affair with Swamis that has lasted a lifetime.

During the Swami's lecture, lights suddenly went off in my head like at the end of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Apparently I passed out while experiencing a vast totality of scintillating White Light. When I came back to consciousness, I was in the back of the meditation hall. "No big deal, it happens all the time" said the attendants who had carried me away. I later learned that this experience was called Shaktipat Diksha or Kundalini Awakening.

I thought to myself, "this is the real deal; this is what Ram Dass was talking about in Be Here Now." It was definitely better than the best LSD I had ever had. So I figured, why not head for India? Nothing in college was nearly as interesting anyway. I decided to follow the Swami across the country, to his rural center in upstate New York. My plan was to continue following him to India, when he returned to his main ashram in a few months.

Thus, when he flew to New York, I set out to catch up with him on the road. The fine art of hitch-hiking had gotten me out of Los Angeles and to Sonoma State in the first place, so I figured I could make it to New York. I left my dog with friends, as this was intended to be a one-way trip--from Cotati, California to New York to Bombay. I planned to live in the ashram and serve the Swamis and never come back to what I jokingly called "civilian life."

There was only one problem: I had a mere $20 to my name when I hit the onramp in Cotati. (I had saved $300 for the trip, but it was stolen.) But I did have my backpack and a good sleeping bag, and had always worked to earn my way ever since I was a kid. From Cotati to Reno took three rides. I was making good time! But in Reno I met other hitch-hikers who had been stuck there for days. It's illegal to sneak up the ramp and try to flag a ride directly on the freeway, but it sure increases your odds of getting a good ride. So, risking a night in the lovely Reno jail, up the onramp I crept. You need a good sign to show clear intention and I'd made a doozy for this 3,000 mile journey. It was a one foot by six foot cardboard strip, which folded like an accordian for easy storage in the backpack, and it read N-E-W-Y-O-R-K in foot tall letters. The wind was whipping off the desert at twilight as I held up the sign with my arms extended. It was tiring and after awhile I felt like Jesus on the Cross standing there as the cars zoomed past. Finally, a car stopped for me after a couple of hours, driven by a man named Bob. He was taking the summer off work to travel across the nation and visit his relatives.

Bob was flabbergasted that I was headed so far with so little resources, and with the mystical destination of a meditation center run by an Indian Swami. But once he understood it was my focused goal and part of my studies in comparative religion, he bought all of my meals the whole way across the country. When we eventually we pulled into Woodstock, New York, where we parted company, he even gave me a few dollars as a parting gift. I hope life has gone well for this Good Samaritan. He surely enhanced my faith in humanity.

Later that night I finally arrived at the ashram, which was a converted resort hotel in the Catskill Mountains. The place was beautiful and immaculate, but it seemed deserted, as it was late at night. So I sat on a bench outside, breathing in the warm summer air. Two guys walked by and broke my reverie. They said "Hi there. What are you doing out this time of night?" When I informed them that I'd just arrived after hitch-hiking from California to live at the ashram, the two were amazed. They invited me in, after hearing that I had nowhere to stay. Thus I spent my first night at the ashram. I had made it!

Soon after I got a job in town at a family owned warehouse, and rented a room off-campus with other meditation students. I spent months at the center: up for meditation at 5:00 am, then back and forth the entire day between inward practices and seva, or spiritual work. This routine went on, day in and day out, seven days a week. I was content, but my goal was still to go to India. However, every day the Swami ended his talks with "Take the message of yoga meditation back to your homes and spread it." Eventually, I began to see that India was not Never Never Land, and that I could not escape my worldly obligations by going there. I belonged here, in this country.

One day I realized that it was time to leave. My quest was complete. I had learned a great deal in my months of living in this spiritual community, and it was time to move on. If I returned to California, to take the message of yoga meditation back home, I could apply the lessons of service I had learned and contribute to my own community. And many others did the same. Now, as we find our inner peace and become more sharing and caring, we are consciously living in the Light together.


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