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Why meditate in a cave?

Dieng Plateau Telaga Warna

During my three months of travel in India and Indonesia, I’ve visited and meditated in a few caves that renowned yogis or ascetics have meditated in.

Why would anyone meditate in a cave?

Teachers say that because the temperatures are moderated in a cave–it’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter, it’s a comfortable way to meditate in nature. Sounds from the outside world are shut out. And you are inescapably alone in one. I mean, check out the ones below from Indonesia. They are really just for one person. So you can be in comfortable solitude in nature, protected from the elements.

Sounds great in theory, right? But meditators have reported online that meditating in a purely natural cave isn’t so pleasant, since you’ll be sharing it with critters and dirt, if you can find a vacant cave during high season in the Himalayas at all.

So there must be other, non-practical reasons for meditating in a cave. One spiritual reason is that when you meditate in a cave where others have meditated, they say that you can still feel their energies.

Totally hippie-dippie fairytale or is it for realz? You’ll have to visit a meditation cave for yourself to decide.

As for me, I meditated in a few caves in India and visited a few meditation caves in Java. To be frank, the reason why I am even writing about meditation caves is that I had one of my deepest and complete meditations in one of two famous meditation caves in Tiruvannamalai.

Maybe it was because the night before I had spent it on top of the mountain or maybe it was because of the time of year, since I was visiting during the ten days’ celebration period after the Karthigai Deepam, the biggest festival in Tiruvannamalai for the year. But once I sat in the cave, I was still.

Keep reading to find out my number one practical reason for meditating in a cave in India.

Meditation caves on Arunachala Mountain in Tamil Nadu, India

The two well-known meditation caves are known as Virupaksha and Skandashram on the Arunachala holy mountain the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The Sri Ramana ashram maintains both of them, because Sri Ramana Maharishi–an acknowledged enlightened being–spent many years meditating in both of these caves as well as in other caves on the same Arunachala mountain.

Both Skandashram and Virupaksha are natural caves that have been added onto: they are both enclosed compounds now, so current meditators don’t have to worry about leaks or critters.

In fact, around Skandashram, there is even a natural mountain source for spring water behind the cave compound under a huge tree. Usually, the source is covered by a flat stone, which you can easily remove (see below). This is not from a natural spring but from rain runoff that passes through the interior of the volcanic rock mountain. Outside of the cave compound, the water gathered in a small pool.

Natural Mountain Spring behind Skandashram on Arunachala Mountain

Further down from the Skandashram cave compound an ascetic showed me another mountain water source. He was washing his hands, not drinking from it, I noted. You can kinda see it behind him in this photograph below.

Renouncer in front of natural spring at Tiruvannamalai

Since the biggest holy festival day for Karthigai Deepam had just passed when I was there, I had personally seen the evidence of many pilgrims peeing on the mountain. I was pretty sure the urine went the same way as rain does, so when I tasted the water, it could have just been my imagination, but it faintly smelled of urine. So even though I wanted to fill up my water bottle like the other pilgrim meditators, I refrained.

If you continue hiking from the Ramana Ashram beyond the Skandashram, you’ll find your way to the Virupaksha cave a bit lower on Arunachala.

The way to Virupaksha Cave

 

The Virupaksha Cave is said to be in the shape of the word ‘om’, but it felt just like a round cave to me. In the middle of the cave stands a pile of sacred ash–vibhuti–from the body of the first ascetic who meditated here in the 13th century, after whom the cave is named, Virupaksha Deva. Later on, Sri Ramana Maharishi meditated here for 16 to 17 years.

Doorway to Virupaksha Cave on Arunachala Mountain

If you get a chance, try meditating in Virupaksha cave. It’s a cave with history that left a deep impression on me.

Meditation Caves on the Dieng Plateau in Central Java, Indonesia

Misty Telaga Warna on the Dieng Plateau, Central Java, Indonesia

On the Dieng plateau in Central Java were a few caves around the Warna Lake / Telaga Warna where ascetics / rishis used to meditate. Over 2000 meters above sea level in volcanic mountains, the name of the plateau in Old Javanese means “Abode of the Gods.” Along with meditation caves, scattered around the plateau are eight small 8th to 9th-century temples dedicated to Shiva, now sitting among rice and potato fields. According to scholars, as many as 400 temples were excavated at Dieng Plateau and records show that it was an important sacred center for quite some time.

When I visited Dieng Plateau I had assumed that these caves were contemporaries with the Hindu temples, but now that I’ve read up on these caves, I found out that these caves are used even today. The ex-President Suharto came by helicopter from Jakarta to meditate at the Ratu cave by the Warna Lake and had met the then Australian Prime Minister in one of Dieng’s limestone caves in the 1970s.

Outside of the caves are statues of the rishis / ascetics in miniature.

Gold Rishi Statue around Telaga Warna on the Dieng Plateau

Actually, I had assumed at the time that the statues were of the rishis, since one of them (see photo above) is sitting in lotus posture–a classic meditation posture–but they could have been guardians of the caves as well.

The caves are behind bars, which I now have found out that you can ask the caretakers to open. I didn’t see anyone around when I was there, but I suppose you can ask the ticket sellers to open the gates for you. Below you’ll see how small and narrow these natural meditation caves are.

Dieng Plateau Meditation Caves

Rishi Meditation Cave on Dieng Plateau, Java, Indonesia


In this Semar Cave / Gua Semar above, the Javanese deity Semar, who although is a clown figure is said to be more powerful than all the other gods, is said to appear to seekers who fast and meditate here for days.

Since I did not meditate in these caves, I can neither confirm nor deny this. If you go, sit in these caves for a while, and tell me what you experienced.

So, really, why would you meditate in a cave?

In my own practical experience there are no mosquitoes or flies in caves, which makes a critical difference in India and Indonesia. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been irritated and distracted by mosquito bites while meditating; I find it easier to meditate on a bus with loud music and smokers, bouncing over potholes on a dirt road, than with a mosquito in my meditation corner.

Have you ever meditated in a cave? What was your experience? Please share them.

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  • a_novice_yogi

    Amazing post. I personally think Caves are natural sound proof boxes. The higher you go in the Himalayas the better the sound proofing, ‘coz less creatures will be there to survive that harsh an environment, so one can meditate in peace. However, how will they survive themselves, i have no idea.

    • thatbettina

      Thank you for reading and responding. I’ll try to find a warm cave when I go to the Himalayas.