One truth, many manifestations
Pradeep Krishnan meets Sritha Mahagatha in Bengaluru to delve into the metamorphosis of an enlightened guru
Reading an article about Sritha Mahagatha, a realised master belonging to the Rudra Sampradaya, in the August 2018 issue of Life Positive, prompted me to meet the saint at the Ecumenical Christian Centre (ECC), Whitefield, near Bengaluru.
On the appointed day, Shri Pavan Valluri and Dr Vinod Nair, staunch disciples and trustees of the Mahagathe foundation, picked me up from my hotel, after which we proceeded to meet the saint.
In his cottage, Sritha Mahagatha was sitting in a settee in deep meditation. Shortly, the master opened his eyes with a warm smile, stood up, and tightly hugged me for a few minutes. At once, I felt as if a low voltage current was passing through my spine, from bottom to top, making me immensely cheerful.
Sritha Mahagatha, reverentially addressed as Gurudev, spends time in his ashram in Nepal and among his disciples in Bengaluru. The foundation conducts a Self-Actualisation for You (SAY) programme and spiritual retreats in Bengaluru, offering practical solutions to spiritual and emotional problems.
Last year, devotees established the Mahagathe Foundation Public Charitable Trust to provide education, healthcare, food, housing, clothing, and drinking water for the less privileged sections of the society.
Gurudev spoke to me for about two hours about his spiritual journey.
Please tell us about your spiritual journey.
I was born in 1980 in a Syrian Christian family of Mavelikkara, Kerala. While growing up, I did not have many friends and preferred to spend time alone, mostly reading stories and comics. Unaware of the happenings around, I used to be fully absorbed in whatever I was doing. Though not attentive in reading the Holy Bible, I liked visiting places of worship of all religions, and particularly, kavus (sacred groves) captivated me. I enjoyed devotional songs and bhajans and was fascinated by Hindu customs and rituals. Often, I felt that existence is much deeper than what was seen on the periphery. Right from school days, I was fond of reading the biographies of saints and sages such as Krishna, Buddha, and Jesus, and used to wonder whether I would ever be able to become like them. The deep quest and attraction to the ascetic way of life prompted me to join a Catholic monastery at the age of 17. However, after four years, I quit the church to become a Hindu.
Why did you leave the monastery?
While in the monastery, as part of the syllabus, I studied scriptures of different religions, including Hinduism. I felt that life has more depth than what the Christian theology states. I could not feel connected with the idea that God, after creating this planet, designed humans with a lifespan of 80 to 100 years, to rule over, giving them either salvation or damnation, depending only on one’s faith in Jesus. Likewise, the concept that one has to beg God through prayers seeking favours and inducements did not appeal to me in any way. I felt restricted with the Christian belief of single life and opportunity. Also, frankly, I did not feel connected to Jesus Christ, whom the theologians describe as the only way for salvation. I started questioning: Can God be limited by a name? Does he not hear you, if you call him Krishna or Rama? Why does Jesus answer the calls of only those who specifically address him as such? The insistence that one has to focus only on Jesus made me disturbed and suffocated. Shortly, I became convinced that God cannot be restricted by any name or form. Since I experienced life more deeply than what was taught by the priests, something larger than Christianity, contradictory to the official Church position, started triggering within. Besides, life there helped me to understand at close quarters the internal functioning of the organization. Soon, I realised that I am doing injustice to my heart and soul. I not only quit the monastery but also the Christian faith, to embrace Hinduism.
What is unique about Sanatana Dharma? Why did you become a Hindu?
Sanatana Dharma accommodates all schools of thought; it is all-encompassing and encourages a scientific temperament. The concept of reincarnation that speaks of continuity of life, gives it a large scope. I do not consider that I have embraced Sanatana Dharma; rather, I was born and live in it. Just as closing one’s eyes cannot make the sun go away, an incorrect understanding of salvation could not take the Sanatana Dharma out of me. I knew always, but time revealed its eternal identification with the perpetual Truth. Sanatana Dharma holds the incorruptible and everlasting truth about God, life, Universe and Self as experienced by the seers at various points in time, to this very day. No other congregation, does this. On the contrary, all of them choose to idolise and stagnate the Truth to one particular point in space and impose it as the universal and sole model of redemption.
What was the turning point in your life?
After leaving the monastery, carrying a pair of clothes, a water bottle, and a bag, I wandered all over the Himalayas without any clue as to what to do or where to go. But I always had the conviction that I am being protected. One day, in 2004, prompted by an inner urge, I reached Uttarkashi, and while walking through a narrow path between the Ganga and a hill, suddenly a pitch-dark bearded man with jada (matted hair) appeared in front of me and said, “Bhole ka beta, ayyiye ( Please come with me, son of Bhole).” I simply followed him. My first darshan of my Gurudev, Sri Mahalaya Suvas Nandi Pada, belonging to the Rudra sampradaya, paved the way for my transformation.
What happened after that?
Gurudev and I walked together to reach a small cave (his dwelling) a little distance away. He asked me to sit in front of him with eyes closed. Then, for a few hours, I did not know what happened. When I opened my eyes, it was already a different time of day. I came to know that I was in a deep state of meditation. My Guru revealed to me that from the age of 17, I was being prepared to have this phenomenal experience. Afterwards, since 2010, at the instance of my Guru, I started sharing the message of meditation and spiritual life to a selected few. In 2011, in the month of Shravan, amidst a session in Bengaluru, a few days before Guru Purnima, all of a sudden, Gurudev summoned me to Uttarkashi. Though he had arranged for my stay in a nearby ashram belonging to the Naga sampradaya, he did not meet me for a couple of days. Then, one day, during routine meditation, my body started expanding continuously to embrace the clouds, stars, and even planets. When I came out of that amazing experience that lasted for a few hours, Gurudev was sitting in front with a broad smile. He confirmed that it was the opening of my third eye, a phenomenal expansion in consciousness, and conferred on me the name Sritha Mahagatha.
What is your core teaching?
The Vedas proclaim that truth is one but manifested as many. That is why, in Hinduism, there are crores of deities. Each one, in any form, the smallest of the sand particle to somebody like you and me, is that totality in itself. What is lacking is the realisation of it. My aim has been to enable each individual to realize their totality.
Could you please elaborate?
When we talk about realisation or enlightenment, it remains only as an idea or a concept. Actually, realisation is experiencing the oneness of this diverse manifestation. In order to achieve that, one has to connect to one’s core or Self. According to the Upanishads, irrespective of whether you achieve enlightenment or not in this life, nothing happens to your Self as your Self is sat-chit-ananda and satyam, jnanam, anantham. When you realise the fullness in this life, in this body, you are able to lead a meaningful life. Otherwise, you will move towards tamas and your next life gets influenced by that.
What ought to be the aim and purpose of human life?
Start living. We do have the beautiful imagery of Shiva’s dance, ananda nadana (blissful dance) that represents the perfect harmony of the Universe. When one lives in this ananda bhava, one will always have santushti. All the endeavours of such a person will reach an optimum potential, benefitting all around. Then, in due course, the focus shifts inwards, paving the way for their transformation. Those who follow the Vedic system of brahmacharya-grihastha-vanaprastha-sanyasa, in that order,
cannot escape mukti or moksha.
How far does prarabdha karma influence one’s life?
The body is the result of one’s prarabdha of the past life and karma cannot be separated from it. Whatever was accumulated, life situations, the family in which one is born, financial status, health, etc., together create one’s prarabdha. We often mistake prarabdha as inability to perform in this life—something that is pulling one back. Actually, this particular body and circumstances in which one is placed is an opportunity, a platform, to have the bhava of the owner to perform the various tasks coming one’s way.
Do we have free will to do that?
In life, we definitely have a choice, as destiny is not fatalistic. Whatever has happened till this moment is one’s prarabdha. But what bhava one should take at the moment is definitely one’s choice. Prarabdha compelled Arjuna to have a fatalistic approach and behave in a particular way. But hearing Krishna’s words of wisdom, Arjuna could exercise his will. This shows that Paramatma and jivatma coexist; Narayana is within Nara, so one certainly has free will.
How far do sadhanas help?
Without sadhana, one cannot move beyond the level of thinking. Practices open up the physical limitations of the mind and connect it to higher realms of existence, so that awareness of the full and complete happens. Sadhana equips the body to overcome physical limitations as well as helps to access the higher levels of consciousness. Usually, based on one’s maturity, the guru gives a particular sadhana, and it indeed helps to experience one’s true potential.
There are a number of gurus and paths. How can one choose?
One cannot choose a guru; rather, when one is ripe enough, the guru appears. According to Sanatana Dharma, the Guru is Brahman. In the Guru Gita, Shiva tells Parvati that the holiest sound that exists in our realm is that of ‘Guru.’ Forget about the number of gurus. If one sincerely longs for a guru in his heart of hearts and stays tuned, one will definitely have the guru’s darshan. Remember the words of Krishna that in Kali Yuga he will appear in the form of a guru.
What is your concept of God?
We do not believe in a creator God. When God is described as omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, we think of it as a power or force. Though power is ingrained in God, God is not energy alone. God is satyam, shivam, sundaram—all that exists.
Message to the readers?
Be always true to yourself and ensure that there is no disconnect between the Self and the truth. Ask, “Am I seeing the physical comforts as the most sanctified things, or do I perceive a larger reality?” Forever keep in mind the totality of existence, and do not limit your Self to your tiny individuality brooding on self-serving interests, however noble it may appear. Dedicate time, effort, and energy to know and experience the totality of existence. Remove and dissolve all the Self-limiting barriers and recognise that the cause of all limitations is within.
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