By Suma Varughese
After attending a seminar on the concept of guru at Lonavla’s Himgiri Spiritual Research & Training Centre, the writer comes to know about the elusive resident guru, but a face-to-face with him brings a surprise
After a long, hot and tiring drive from Mumbai (in India), we are finally at our destination-Himgiri Spiritual Research & Training Centre, 12 km off Lonavla.
An archway leads up a mountainside, on either side of which are identical futuristic looking rooms flanked by enormous red columns. One has dua written on it and the other, dawa. The first is a small temple for the benefit of passersby and the other is where free treatment is given to outpatients. They encapsulate the philosophy of Himgiri, where worship of God and service to humanity are entwined into an integrated whole.
We are here to attend a seminar on the concept of the guru in Indian philosophy and religion. My companions are philosophy lecturers from various Mumbai colleges. We are taken to our dormitory by a fleet-footed girl who tries to be of utmost service. The main temple situated high up the mountain is in a straight line to the opening archway to Himgiri.
Shiva (a Hindu god) appears to be the principal deity with a Nandy bull outside and a gigantic lingam within. Most of the sadaks appear to be from Punjab. Most men have handkerchiefs tied to their heads. The temple bears the portrait of a man wearing a shirt and trousers but he, I am told, is the guru’s guru. The guru himself is shrouded in mystery. His name is not revealed.
‘We call him Guruji,’ they chorus and he does not even appear at the aarti, which is performed by an athletic young man with long wild hair.’ The place is called Gurugaon, and the motto of Himgiri set up in 1989 is: Dhyanamoolam Gurumoorti, Pujamoolam Gurorpadam, Mantramoolam Guruvakyam, Mokshamoolam gurukripa (Guru’s idol is meditation, guru’s feet is worship, guru’s word the mantra, and guru’s grace, liberation).
Says Dr Pramila Joshi, Vice Chairperson of the centre and Director of their Educational Institute: ‘True wisdom can dawn only through awareness of the guru element and by respecting and following its instructions. With the help of Gurudhyana, it is possible to correct one’s pattern of feeling.’
The acolytes exude a palpable love for the guru. Says Ram Swaroop, executive chairman of the centre: ‘Guruji is my father and mother, my aim and achievement. My thinking is guru, breathing is guru.’
I draw in my breath the next morning as Himgiri reveals itself in all its natural splendor. The surrounding beauty comprises shimmering waters of Kolshet dam ringed by tall mountains. The seminar starts with much activity in the vast hall that doubles as dining area. The meals are served at one end of the room on coir mats.
The ritual constitutes of sitting patiently till all are served. Then the servers assemble in a line and raise their hands in blessing as a cue for us. I notice that many of the diners receive their food with cupped palms, lending it sacredness. Following naturopathic principles, the food is vegetarian and lightly spiced.
At the assembly, the Vice-Chancellor of Pune University, Dr Ashok Kolaskar, notes with remarkable open-mindedness that time was ripe for welding knowledge with wisdom and creating a society where cultural values were placed on the same pedestal as scientific achievements. Over the next two days, the concept of the guru is dissected and analysed, criticised and endorsed.
Dr Joshi informs us that the guru’s movement is restricted to night and interaction limited to a few disciples. Curiosity fuelled, we petition for a glimpse. But the meeting arranged that evening does not materialise. Himgiri’s philosophy is broad and tolerant in the best spirit of sanatana dharma, pleading for an inclusive approach that transcends all barriers of caste, colour and class-fostering service to humanity.
The centre asks none to renounce their faith. The purpose is to nurture seeds of virtue, faith, self-confidence and tolerance. The communion achieved through surrender to the guru is the goal. Healing is one of the principle activities done through naturopathy, yoga and water therapy. Water potentised by the guru’s blessing is ingested.
Says Dr Joshi: ‘His water has brought me much transformation . The same situation which troubled me earlier, leaves me calm and peaceful today.’
The required stay for a cure is a minimum of 45 days and the efficacy of the treatment is attributed to the guru’s grace. A sign of being in the fold is the gift of a copper kada to the sadak, who must henceforth wear it and refrain from bathing with soap or give alms or wash clothes on Thursdays. I am tempted to take a kada and experience the Guru’s tangible grace.
Courses in yoga and naturopathy are also on offer with free boarding and lodging. They are also ready to offer a PhD for research in philosophy and spirituality with recognised guides from Pune University, free of charge. The aspect of seva or service is given primary importance. Only the virtuous are allowed to perform kitchen duty as food is endowed with piety.
The spirit of seva climaxes the next day when we gather for lunch. The men and women have separate entrances where each get their feet bathed. As teachers (I am given honorary status as a disseminator of the good word) we are gurus ourselves, worthy of worship.
It is one of the most moving moments of my life, enhanced by the application of chandan applied to our feet and an endowment of a shining five-rupee coin, as we sit for lunch. The beauty of the gesture, the sense of reverence for each individual that it embodied, will remain the essence of Himgiri to me.
My visit draws to an end without encountering Guruji. Finally, Dr Joshi relents and I am soon face-to-face with the Great One. Far from the austere, silent image I had conjured, I see a radiant presence with an unmistakable Punjabi joie de vivreabout him (actually he is a Sindhi).
Greeting me by touching my head, he continues a rollicking conversation with a family of devotees, breaking off every now and then to hug the men fervently with an Aaja Pyare (come, buddy)! He is by far the jolliest guru I have had the pleasure of meeting; launching jokes, pulling everyone’s leg and scattering profundities as he goes.
‘Do seva, that’s all. My yoga is satupyog. If I live and do not do satupyog, I will have to pay the bill.’
The negative and the positive are one, he says, and both are necessary. And whether an action is negative or positive depends on the motivation behind it. He stops and addresses a lachrymose professor of philosophy. ‘The matter is very serious but don’t be serious. Take it lightly, but be sincere.’ He asks us to die to ourselves, for only when our name is gone can we get His name.’ ‘Enjoy with God,’ he smiles.
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