I’ve shared with you several descriptions of the places I visited in and around Pondicherry. But, as a colleague of mine who reads my posts noted, I have not fully shared with you how I felt while I witnessed those places. I honestly feel at a loss of words to describe my time traveling. There is something grander than anything language can express in travel. There is a point where anything but the experience itself approaches hyperbole. But I shall try.
Rather than give you a play by play of many places that I witnessed and an account of my internal process, I will share with you my visit to one very special place: the Matrimandir at Auroville. I had little understanding of what the Matrimandir was. My hosts said that its construction was a massive undertaking that was specifically ordered by the Mother. The Mother, to disciples of Sri Aurobindo, is an important figure. She was a French woman that effectively sat as Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual partner and assumed the lead role in the community after Sri Aurobindo’s death.
Auroville was her brainchild and the complex around the Matrimandir was to be its beating heart. Matrimandir translates to “Temple of the Mother,” but it is not a temple. When I saw Matrimandir for the first time, I was remiss of what else to call it. It is a giant muted gold sphere. Around it are twelve massive red sandstone “petals” that contain places of contemplation, each named after aspects of life as named by the Mother. I encourage you to research this special place further, but it is not my intention to give a thorough history here. This is simply a recount of my experience.
As I walked along a curving path, I scanned the area around me; massive manicured lawns surrounded me. A massive banyan tree sat in a glade and behind it beamed the Matrimandir. To see it in person is the nearest, I think, I will ever feel to seeing a UFO land on earth. It is huge and gold and spherical. We walked toward the entrance and removed our shoes. The entrance was a gradual ramp that seemed simply to merge into the sphere. The other thirty or so guests around me were totally silent. Ushers walked us in and directed us to don fresh white socks provided in baskets.
I sat on the bench in the circular white room and felt an instant sensation of calm. This was an important place to many people. It is interesting when we enter places of worship. Often regardless of what we believe, there is some kind of sensation in those places. Different communities feel different to me. To me, synagogues are quiet, churches are ominous, gurdwaras feel like hugs, mandirs feel like someone lit fireworks indoors, and mosques feel like surrender.
The Matrimandir felt like when you jump from a high place into water and there is that moment of fear and elation when your buoyancy carries you to the surface: little air bubbles tickle you and the water cradles you, but you are deep and your lungs are aching. Do not mistake, there was nothing uncomfortable about this place. But, there was something important happening in it.
We walked up stairs or a ramp, I do not recall, and came into a large chamber. You could see the spherical shape of the structure now. Water trickled down four evenly spaced golden rivulets on the rounded walls. Two ramps spiraled up the expanse to doors leading to a room that took up the remaining third of the sphere. As we walked up the ramps, I felt winded. The ramps were steep and we were several feet above the ground by now.
Every surface of this place was meticulously painted and formed. Plush white carpet covered the floor. The design was at once angular and soft. I felt like I was in the yoga studio on the Starship Enterprise.
We arrived at a white door. We entered a domed room. At the center sat a beach ball sized clear crystal ball on a golden pedestal. My skeptic senses were tingling, but I told them to chill out. Surrounding the crystal ball were twelve massive white columns. They were smooth with no capitals or ridges. Soft white sunlight bathed the crystal. The light came trough a series of small crystal balls atop the domed ceiling.
We sat, the doors closed, and I closed my eyes.
“What a bunch of hocus pocus,” I thought. “Okay, so I’m in this giant room and there is a crystal ball in the middle. There is nothing magical or ‘special’ about this place. Right?”
My mind was racing coming up with reasons to discredit this place. I realized that I was missing the point. Regardless of whether or not this place was objectively special or spiritual, it was my mind that was getting in the way of some perfectly good meditation time. So I silently began the Mool Mantra.
Ik OngKar One Ultimate Reality Sat Nam Its Identity is Truth Karta Purkh Doing Personality Nirbhao Fearless Nirvair Revenge-less Akal Moorat Timeless Being Ajoonee Never Born Saibhang Self Illumined Gurprasad Realized by the Grace of the Enlightener Jap Meditate
My mind became silent. In fact, the room was the most silent environment I’d been in for some time. I think we forget true silence during our bustling lives. The silence facilitated deep meditation and the only sensation I felt was the echo on the domed ceiling from the tiniest of sounds. I was overcome with emotion. Silence and focus can bring forth deeply hidden feelings with no warning. It was an intense feeling of love and belonging; a connection to life. Then I understood why this was not a temple: you do not come to this place to worship anything in the temple; the temple is you.