January 20th 2013
Kumbh Mela
Allahabad, India

Today began at 4:00 AM as I was called by the power of the river.  It's hard to describe my overall experience here at Kumbh Mela to anyone.  I am involved in many events daily which in themselves are often once in a lifetime moments. Moments which are connected to direct action on my part to promote and set into place principles that I live by.  Exemplifying compassion, demonstrating new pathways to peace, teaching about the sacredness of nature and the importance of caring for our planet.  But underlying that, I am also having a deep spiritual experience here and a true pilgrimage for myself.

I am known here by many in India as the Venerable Shide Gyarpo, which means simply, the King of Peace.  I was originally given this name by Rimposche Lama Gangchen at Borbodur on the Island of Java, but it seems to have carried on here.

I have been clearly accepted as a spiritual mentor here in India, and as a result I have had the humble honor of being in the company of other such leaders.  I am learning so much from them, and at the same time sharing from my own tradition. 

I have had the honor of being in the presence of Primbaba and feeling the sheer radiance of his presence and compassion.  I have also had the honor of watching Swami Puja Chidanand Saraswatiji transforming activism into a sacred act that not only accomplishes the desired change, but also touches the heart in profound ways.

For me personally, while I don't talk about it much, I am guided by the voice of the Mother and filled with her love.  It is She that serves as my touchstone, and I am forever amazed by the journey that she has laid before me and the unique places and incredible opportunities I get to participate in while in her service.

On my last journey to India, I had a profound experience when I entered the Ganges river at Varanasi.   As some of you may have read in a previous blog, I entered the sacred river right at the point where Hindus perform cremations, and I found myself literally surrounded by the ashes of those who had gone before.

On my third time under the water, She spoke to me, and I have never been the same since.  I am not a Hindu, but there is something so ancient and compelling in their beliefs and practices that feels like home.
Both they and I see nature itself as directly connected to God, and their general acceptance of diversity is inspiring.  Hence when they see me blessing myself on the shores of the Ganges at four AM in an outfit better suited for a priest of my own tradition, they respect that, and only see a holy man praying at the river.  We in the United States could learn a lot from them.

It seems to me that each of the different paths toward the Divine, have gotten skewed or off course over time.  I forever struggle with how it is that such beautiful traditions which teach unconditional love, charity, and the love of fellow man and all of the Divines creations, find their way to hatred of their neighbors, and destruction of our planet.

But here at the Kumbh Mela is hope. Literally millions and millions of people, both rich and poor and from many different traditions, live together with such harmony that watching them as I look across the river is like watching a beautiful flock of birds taking flight.  Each is aware of the other and gives that other space and support, and yet in taking flight, every one is in unison moving towards the same destination.

That is the Kumbh.  And seeing it differently is just being disconnected from source.

I have noticed that the press and people observing from afar, focus on things like a million naked priests walking through the crowd.  And yet here, they are simply a part of the whole.  What is it that prompts us back home to think nothing of seeing a member of our own family or a loved one in the same state, yet to be so critical of the same state of being when it is another?  Perhaps it is because the first are seen as family, and the others are seen as outsiders.  Maybe rectifying this single truth, is the key to mankind's survival.

Today, I had the wonderful experience of walking with five thousand school children who showed up at the Kumbh to stand up for the rights of nature and our planetary family.  Most were quite young, but fully aware of what they wanted to convey.  They carried thousands of signs in both English and Hindi, calling for a responsible conservatorship of our planet.

I marched with them for several miles.  And then when they assembled at the Saraswati Gott, the stairway to the Sangam, I had the distinct honor of blessing them all.  Not the kind of blessing one sees at the beginning of a congress, like a benediction or such, but rather I walked through every row and personally blessed and acknowledged each and every one of them.  I also blessed the teachers and principles, and took time to talk with many of the youth about ways that they could contribute to a better world.  Their enthusiasm was contagious and soon many observers cheered them on.

Following the assembly, we all marched back to our camp, and had a huge presentation which was attended by the Governor and many important officials.  The children put together a play about the importance of protecting the environment which was received by literally thousands of people.

As with every day since I arrived, we are surrounded by press, and the constant sound of shutters and flash fills the air. The sheer volume of input on the senses here at the Kumbh is very intense and some are unable to bear it. 

A typical day begins with loud chanting and singing from a thousand different camps three or fours before sunrise with a thousand different melodies.  The cacophony of voices, drumming, sitars and other instruments, combines with a layer of wood smoke from millions of campfires that is so thick that visibility is often limited to only a few feet, giving one the sense that all is unreal.  Then as the sun rises, the campfires are extinguished and the smoke is replaced by a dense natural fog from the river laced with the smells of incense and cooking.

As soon as everyone's awake, the level of sound goes up significantly until there is just a constant din in the background.

It's hard to describe, but just imagine only the sound of thirty or forty million people simply shuffling around.  The sound of eighty million feet simply walking from here to there.  And that is on a slow day.

I am beginning to feel ill and am not sure if I am just exhausted or if I've caught one of the thousands of diseases present here.  I have had nearly every inoculation available, but as my doctor said, there is no way to protect oneself against all of the possibilities that the sheer number of people here present.  Some of the deadliest diseases on earth are likely to be present in the crowd.

Right now, all of my joints are starting to ache and I am beginning to have difficulty breathing.  Whatever it is, it is setting in fast and I am literally losing the ability to focus in the last few sentences.

I think I'll sign off for now and hope for the best.  I have a lot of people looking out for me here.  I am really going down!

Blessings to All,
Patrick McCollum