Simon Haas is a teacher of Dharma and yoga philosophy. He is author of The Book of Dharma: Making Enlightened Choices, which shares ancient teachings from India on how to consciously direct our life, by improving the quality of our choices. As a boy, he began studying the Sanskrit texts of ancient India, spent his teenage years in temple monasteries in India and apprenticed for sixteen years with a master practitioner in the Bhakti tradition. Currently, he lives in the UK and focuses on making the teachings of ancient India accessible to modern day audiences. He lectures and gives workshops internationally on yoga philosophy and the teachings of Dharma. We are very happy to speak to him about his love of travel in our new column the Tao of Travel.
Why do you travel?
I started travelling at a young age, driven by a fascination for ancient cultures and lost treasures. Today I have come to realize that the most valuable treasures are those that lie within us already. So when I travel, I go in search of treasures of the heart. I look for experiences that will deepen me as a human being, that will help me develop sacred love in my life. In that sense, my travels are like personal pilgrimages, sacred journeys.
What does travel do for your soul?
In our society, we have very few sacred spaces left. As we rush about anxiously, looking for happiness somewhere in the future, we become disconnected from who we are and live against ourselves. We neglect our purpose. We forget we are spiritual beings. A sacred space is a place of tranquillity free from misery associated with time, a sanctuary for the soul in this world. I love travelling to these sanctuaries, these places of pilgrimage, to rejuvenate and deepen my practice. These places have a way of decluttering the soul and helping us remember what is truly important in our life. They teach us to create our own sacred spaces in life—and eventually to make every moment of our life sacred.
What was the most significant journey you have taken and why?
At the age of thirteen, my interest in archaeology and my desire to unearth lost treasures led me to explore the ancient Sanskrit texts of India. In these texts I found something far more valuable than lifeless artefacts: I stumbled upon a powerful set of teachings formerly intended for kings and queens. But my own study of these Sanskrit texts could only take me so far. I realized that to understand their deeper meaning I would need to apprentice within one of the ancient lineages of masters that have survived to this day. So I made my way to India and lived as a monk in temple monasteries for nearly ten years. That utterly changed the trajectory of my life.
Where is your most inspirational place on earth?
The sacred land of Braj, located in what is today North-central India, south of Delhi and north of Agra. Its perimeter of about 168 miles encompasses forty-eight forests, with countless lakes and smaller ponds. The river Yamuna winds like a dark ribbon in the east, and outlying spurs of the Aravalli Range, which reaches into the Rajasthan Desert, comprise the western hills.
Why? What do you experience there?
In Braj, every home is a temple, and meditation is effortless. I am always drawn to Braj’s many secret places—such as “The Lake of Sacred Tears”, “The Pond of the Goddess of Love” and “The Forest of Loving Desire”. Braj has in recent years suffered deforestation and over-development in places. But it remains a timeless place of pilgrimage in the Bhakti tradition. As a sacred place, Braj is compared to a lotus flower situated above the turbulent waters of the phenomenal world. For the spiritual aspirant and the mystic, Braj represents a doorway to the highest level of transcendence, a land composed of sacred love. In one ancient text it is said that the trees in Braj are wish-fulfilling trees, the land is made of touchstone, the water is nectar, all speech is song, every step is a dance, and the constant companion is the flute. That Braj is the goal of the pilgrims’ wanderings. It is difficult to enter this enchanted land without a sadhu, or spiritual guide, and without a mood of service.
Which sacred place would you most like to visit and why?
There are many sacred places in South America I hope to visit, including Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley in Peru. I would also love to travel deep into the Himalayas, visiting Gomukh on the way. Situated at a height of 13,200 ft, Gomukh is the source of the sacred Ganges, revered across India for her purifying influence. The journey can be made only in the summer and is difficult.
How do you choose your travel experiences and destinations?
Sometimes I go to a place simply to rest and recuperate; but it’s usually a desire to serve with love and affection and to deepen my own yoga practice that takes me from one place to another.
What was your last trip and what was special about it?
I was invited to Lithuania to give a series of workshops on The Dharma Code at an annual summer festival called “Masters of Calm”. It was a truly incredible experience. The event was held on an island. In the early morning I would bathe in the tranquil lake, watching the sun rise like a burning red gemstone. A delicate, thin layer of fog would drift gently across the still waters of the lake. It was magical! This festival brought together many beautiful, wise souls.
Do you believe travel can support rapid spiritual transformation?
Yes and no. I have travelled to five continents, and learned that it depends very much on the state of consciousness, or intent, of the traveller. When we travel, we actually rarely venture far from where we truly are, our familiar state of being. Whatever we see and hear and smell, we interpret through our existing perspective. If we are troubled by something, we take our troubles with us. Our greatest journeys are therefore not physical, but those that occur within us—as when we experience a profound shift in perception, or when some of the limits of our ordinary perception fall away. As such, the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. Physical journeys can help us by pulling us out of our ordinary state; they can propel us on our inner journey, but only if let them. Therefore, I always say that the first step on a journey is not the first physical step out the door, but the intent we set before we even put on our shoes or purchase a flight ticket.
The best book you’ve read whilst travelling?
Different books speak to us at different times. The Alchemist by Paula Coelho and The Voice of Knowledge by Don Miguel Ruiz are a lot of fun. I think we are drawn to what is most helpful for us at the time. The book that has had the single most profound impact on me while travelling has been the Bhagavad-gita, a book of astonishing poetry spoken by Krishna to the warrior Arjuna in the middle of a battlefield, during Arjuna’s dark night of the soul.
Simon Haas is a teacher of Dharma and yoga philosophy, puranic story teller, and “archaeologist” of ancient wisdom. He is author of The Book of Dharma: Making Enlightened Choices. www.bookofdharma.com