Dr Spomenka Mujovich battled extreme hardships to become a medical doctor, but found solace and answers only after entering the path of spirituality
My search for the meaning of life started very early in a rather strange way. I was 10 when my family moved from a big city, Sarajevo, to the small Bosnian town of Bijeljina. I was very small and found myself schooling in a new class where I was the youngest, the smallest, and one of the poorest students. My new classmates were mischievous and mistreated me. Everything around me looked very ugly; I was desperate for help. My father was in the military and rarely at home. My mother, too occupied with domestic chores concerning my father and us four children, had little time to spare. So, my parents weren’t of much help. If I were to look at the teachers for support, the children, on getting to know this, would treat me far worse. I used to cry a lot over this when suddenly one day, a voice seemed to tell me: “You are all alone between the earth and the sky. Only you can help yourself.” It was like a soft whisper from a loving friend (guardian angel?). “How can I help myself?” was my question; to which came the prompt reply: “Become the best pupil in your class and later, at the college level.”
After that, everything fell into place. I asked the professor-in-charge to let me occupy the first bench, just next to the teacher's desk, so that no one could disturb me during the lectures. I made use of two libraries (military and municipal) to broaden my knowledge beyond the curriculum. Within three months, I became the best pupil in my class; and by the next year, I got the highest grades. I started helping my classmates wholeheartedly with their math, grammar, physics, chemistry, and Latin, and won their respect. At 18, as the best pupil of my batch, I entered the medical faculty at Belgrade University. When I got my M.D. degree after five years, I was already married and expecting my first child. I think I had been doing the work of three average working women.
Yet all along, my forays into medicine, science, philosophy, or religion were not giving me satisfactory answers to my ever-persistent question: “What is this life all about?” Neither evolutionary theory, nor religious dogmas could fill this ‘black hole’ in my soul. I have been practicing Hatha Yoga since my second year at medical school; one of our famous ballerinas had started yoga classes in 1962, and that helped me ‘survive’ studying anatomy. Soon I found myself in a group of people, spanning different ages and professions, who were reading rare spiritual books.
A new world opens
While reading them I came across books by Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh who immediately won my love and respect. But he was not alive, and even if he was, I could not have gone to India—I had too many family and work obligations. Incidentally my husband got an NIH fellowship to do his post-doctorate at the Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, USA, and I too got permission to attend it from our medical school in Belgrade. The next two years were spent over there with my family. While attending Basic Science Research in my second year at Tulane, I came across a Reader’s-Digest-book biography of Jiddoo Krishnamurti, whose teaching appealed to my scientific mind. Subsequently, I participated in yoga seminars held by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (one of the chief disciples of Swami Sivananda) in Switzerland and Slovenia. Later, I practised Zen Buddhism with masters Roshi Philip Kapleau (Japanese Zen) and Seung Sahn from South Korea. I had the good fortune of hosting Master Seung Sahn for three days at my Belgrade home. Though I’ve never met the adorable Sri Ramana Maharshi, but, for years, I carried his picture in my wallet, keeping in mind his main teaching: ‘Who am I?’ Finally, this year in February, I visited his ashram in Tiruvannamalai and enjoyed the beauty of the holy hill, Arunachala. I have known about Sathya Sai Baba for decades but visited his Prasanthi Nilayam Ashram only in 2013 and this year. He too taught, “Siva is everywhere.” I have always felt that ‘Divine energy’ (the source) is eternally everywhere with no name and form. It is very clear to me that our human mind is too limited to grasp such a profound reality.
Teaching the teachings
I have been practising Vipassana meditation as taught by the late Satya Narayan Goenka, since 1995 and it remains my main spiritual practice. I strongly recommend that everyone should do at least one 10-day course. I have participated in about 28 basic, 10-day courses, organised in India and Europe. I also completed a teacher’s course at Dhamma Giri, Igatpuri; along with several such courses organised in Jaipur, France, England and the USA respectively. Now I conduct a 10-day course every year (as Goenkaji advised, to refresh practice). In this tradition, Vipassana is taught only on the basis of donation. All the teachers have to earn money through other means. They teach to further their own spiritual practice which I love. I was a contact person for organising courses in Serbia and was very surprised to get an invitation to participate in the Vesak Day celebrations in Bangkok, 2007 by King Bhumihol on his 80th birthday. My good karma, I guess!
As a medical doctor and a scientist, I value preventive medicine and rehabilitation because of which I search for effective but low-cost or free medicine. I also give lectures called ‘Joyous Holistic Health Workshops’, which teach people free and easy techniques for maintaining good health. I have given interviews for health journals, and sometimes, appear on some TV programmes in Belgrade and elsewhere. To sum up, I have found that there are four main ways to keep our health and life in order—awareness and changing the attitudes towards life; breathing exercises and laughter; physical activities like Hatha yoga; and healthy food. Knowing that we are all lazy people, I suggest doing ‘Take-away’ yoga to people—doing everything mindfully during the day with a smile on our faces, becoming aware of the breath and body, and unifying our body, mind, and soul.
Lastly, I got some ‘final’ answers from my ‘celestial friends’—you need not ask superficial questions about God, the genesis of this planet, or our human life because our human mind cannot grasp anything outside time and space; ask your heart more than your mind how to solve human problems; respect without a trace of fear, love, and enjoy the obvious omnipresence of a creator who people call God; be happy!
Enjoy, celebrate life, sing, dance, meditate, be hardworking, and courageous. Joy and happiness are the best protectors from all the evils of all the worlds. I have experienced the ‘celestial sound of silence’ and eversince lost all fear of death. I observe in my mind and heart, how much love, peace, and joy I have from moment to moment. I really feel there’s enough work ahead for me—for the next thousands of lives!
I will finish this story with Goenkaji’s chant at the end of each Vipassana session: “Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam.” (May all beings be happy.)
At 73, Prof. Dr Spomenka Mujovich is a retired professor with three grandchildren. After a demanding university career, she spent two years in the USA for obtaining higher education and has published scientific papers in domestic as well as international journals.
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