North of Rishikesh is a small, austere ashram long the Ganges, complete with a meditation cave deep into a Himalayan hillside. Before the visit, I know nothing about the site. Upon arrival I learn an individual meditated in the cave for 40 years.*
Members of our group take turns removing shoes and entering the cave in silence, many to sit in meditation. The dark and narrow passage way opens into a small room with an altar at the far end. Gentle candlelight illuminates the space, which accommodates six to eight people.
I join others in the cave, take my seat, close my eyes and center myself for morning meditation. After a brief period, my mantra naturally arises and repeats, as it has for nearly a year. Suddenly, my mantra is drowned out - overtaken - by the word KARUNA. Shouting, almost, within my mind. KARUNA. KARUNA. Yes, in all caps, bold.
I smile, recognizing karuna as the Sanskrit word for deep compassion and a quality (along with enlightened wisdom) on the bodhisattva’s path.
Am I sensing the meditations of my fellow yogis in the cave? Or a sentiment embedded into the cave over the centuries? Or have I tapped into a greater universal consciousness? I consider it a mystical gift of peace&love from a remarkably beautiful and spiritual place.
* I later learn many saints and sages over thousands of years have meditated is the cave, among them the Hindu sage Vasishtha. It is also sometimes referred to as the "Jesus Cave."