Experiences of the Divine touch
HH Swami Chidanand Saraswati is the president and spiritual head of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, a spiritual institution based in Rishikesh, India. He is also the founder and spiritual head of the Hindu Jain Temple in Pittsburgh. Below is the captivating tale of his eventful journey on the path to Self-realisation
My father, Pitashri, was renowned throughout the village for his devotion to saints. No rupee of income from the prosperous family shop was saved in a mattress or deposited in the bank. It was all given freely, with open hands, to saints, sadhus, and spiritual institutions. Pitashri’s choice was purposeful, deliberate, and made after great contemplation. “The saints are my insurance,” he replied when anyone questioned his ways. “What can be greater insurance for my family than the blessings of spiritual masters?”
First meeting with Guruji
One morning, a revered wandering saint, clad only in a scrap of jute tied around his waist, came to our town. As soon as word reached Pitashri that the saint was in our local temple, he rushed with me to the temple and prostrated at the guru’s feet. “Swamiji, please come and have lunch at our home after your satsang in the temple,” Pitashri begged the saint.
Pujya Swami Brahmaswarupji was a fakir, one who needed nothing, depended on no one except God, and was unattached to any needs or desires of the flesh. He replied, “If I am still sitting here at noon, I will come home for lunch. If I have left before then, God will provide my lunch somewhere else on the path.”
Therefore, Pitashri instructed me to sit there, in the temple, at the guru’s feet, and should the Swamiji try to leave, I was to immediately run home and call my parents, who would come quickly and bring Swamiji to our house. I sat, quietly transfixed, at the feet of the guru, surrounded by a small group of devotees, as Pujya Swami Brahmaswarupji silently began to transform me.
My mind was clear and calm and seemed to be held by the gaze of the holy man. Neither of us spoke. He was sitting on a cot in the room of the temple, and I was sitting on the floor at his feet. I remember the incredible sensation of peace and love which filled the room.
Suddenly, Pujya Swami Brahmaswarupji motioned to me to approach him. As I stood in front of him, the saint placed his thumb firmly on my “third eye,” the place just between the two eyebrows, known as the Ajna Chakra, or seat of divine knowledge and wisdom.
I lost all consciousness of the outside world. It was as though the vessel of my individual consciousness was shattered and became one with the universal consciousness—just like the air in a pot merges with the air outside as soon as the pot is broken.
I was simultaneously aware of nothing and aware of everything. Behind my closed eyelids, with the inner, divine eye, I beheld a bright white light into which everything dissolved. Out of the white light emerged a vision, a premonition prophesying aspects of my future life: I was standing on one foot in Vrikshasana (tree pose) somewhere deep in the forest, surrounded by trees whose leaves and branches refracted the early light of daybreak. My eyes were half shut, yet I was distinctly aware of being able to behold all that was around me as well as all that was within me. It seemed that the position of my eyelids was merely due to the comfort of the lids themselves rather than bearing any relation to my field of vision. My hair hung down nearly to my ankles, cascading off my head in long flowing locks. Slithering around on the ground beneath me were cobras, pythons, and other poisonous snakes.
I could feel them as they swirled around my one foot planted on the ground, and yet, there wasn’t a trace of fear or apprehension. I knew, beyond a doubt, that they would not hurt me.
The vision was prophetic—both literally and metaphorically. Undergoing intense sadhana (spiritual practice) in the forest, spending hours each day on one foot in meditation, and having a vision that sees beyond the realm of the physical eye were all events that would soon come to pass in my life. After some time, the vision merged back into pure white light, which gave way to a vision of Lord Krishna, hand raised in blessing. These visions kept me captivated and mesmerised for hours.
The next thing I remember, Swamiji was touching my third eye again, and my consciousness returned to normal. However, although my vision and consciousness came back to the world I inhabited, my relationship with that world had changed forever. I had seen the truth. I had been plugged into the divine powerhouse and knew that I was meant to remain connected only to Him.
The guru agreed to come to lunch. When lunch had finished and Pujya Swami Brahmaswarupji was preparing to depart, I clung to his cloth dhoti. “Take me with you,” I pleaded with the saint. “Wherever you are going, please take me. I need to be with you.” He told me, “Not yet. I will return soon, and then we will see.”
As suddenly as he had appeared the first time, Pujya Swami Brahmaswarupji reappeared many months later. Elated, I exclaimed, “Now, please, take me with you.”
“Not yet,” my guru replied.
A life of sanyas (renunciation) is not granted easily or recklessly. The sanyasi (renunciate) stands as a symbol, an embodiment of strength, courage, self-resilience, autonomy, and complete detachment from anyone or anything other than God. To grant it or take it in haste undermines its very nature. Sanyas is a shedding of a life past and an embracing of life anew—in a different form, with different values, goals, and meaning. It is not the decision a guru can permit an eight-year-old to make.
“Before you can come with me, you need to ready yourself. You need to detach fully from the world around you and reattach only to the inner world, the world of the Divine,” Pujya Swami Brahmaswarupji told me.
He instructed me that for the next year, I was to remain in silence and seclusion, physically in the house of my family but otherwise removed from it. I was to live in one room, seeing no one, speaking to no one, engaged fully, all hours of the day, in silent meditation, sometimes seated, and—for eleven hours a day— standing on one foot in Vrikshasana. Once a day, I was permitted to have a bowl of dal (lentils) boiled in water, plain, simple, saltless, and with neither ghee nor spices, and two dry wheat chapatis. Upon Matashri’s (my mother’s) entreaties that her beloved son would perish from malnutrition, the guru granted permission for a glass of hot milk each evening. Thus, the next year of my life was spent moving deeper and deeper, further and further, into the unknown reaches of the inner world, into the depths of the divine realm.
Fear in the forest
Finally, the year came to a close, and Pujya Swami Brahmaswarupji returned. I was ecstatic that now, having passed the test, having undergone the year-long austerities, my guru would keep me near him forever. My heart full of joy, my mind stilled and withdrawn from the year of intense sadhana, I rushed to the feet of the guru, ready to be swept up eternally into the guru’s loving embrace. “Not yet,” was Pujya Swami Brahmaswarupji’s terse reply when I reiterated my insatiable desire to never leave his side.
The tests and trials of a sanyasi are never-ending. Pujya Swami Brahmaswarupji explained, “A sanyasi must be like a military man: completely self-sufficient, scared of nothing, brave, courageous, and a master of his own body and mind. For this, you must go into the jungle.”
I remember the first few nights in the jungle were really difficult. My guru had said I would be protected, but I was a child. I was afraid, particularly of ghosts. Every sound I heard, I thought it was a ghost. I remember the first night I had to go out to the bathroom. The jungle is frightening in the daytime. In the night time, it is much worse. I barely made it a few feet away from the hut when I heard the snapping of twigs. Convinced it was a ghost coming to get me, I ran—mission unaccomplished—back into the hut. Regardless of what I did, I could not muster enough courage to venture back out into the dark of the night. Pained by a full bladder, yet unable to empty it, I spent the next two nights awake, in discomfort and fright.
On the third day, I had an idea. I held the picture of Dhruv being showered with blessings from Lord Vishnu, the only image my guru had given me upon which to meditate. I looked deeply into Bhagawan Vishnu’s eyes and said, “Okay. We will go outside together. If anyone tries to hurt you, I will save you, and if anyone tries to hurt me, you will save me.”
On the third night, I lovingly placed the divine image on a tree stump while I went to the bathroom in the trees and washed up. As I pumped water in the dark of the night, a nail came loose from the rusty pump and fell onto the iron base, startling me.
At the time, I was sure the ghost was upon me and ready to snatch me up in his hands within a moment. I rushed, full of fright, back into the safety of my hut. Only upon catching my breath inside did I notice the missing picture, and I remembered my arrangement with God. I was bereft to realise that, despite all my best intentions, I had abandoned Him when it mattered most. I had sworn to protect Him, but when the ghost came, I had completely forgotten and selfishly cared only about my own safety. I was overcome with guilt and remorse I had never known before and have never known since.
All night, an ocean of tears poured down my cheeks. Wave after wave of guilt, anguish, shame, and unbearable regret filled my head. Sleep did not visit for even a minute. Yet, stronger than the guilt and remorse was the ever-present fear of the ghost. Even knowing that God was out there alone, that I had abandoned Him and broken my promise, even worrying that the ghost was probably devouring Him at that very moment, I still could not muster enough courage to return to the trees in the dark night, the playground of the ghosts.
God becomes best friend
Only when the first light began to creep through the branches and onto the leaves did I venture outside. I rushed out to see what had become of my beloved God. Miraculously, there He was, untouched, unharmed, exactly where I had left Him on the tree stump. With tears of joy flowing over the path the rivers of sorrow had laid on my cheeks during the night, I grabbed the picture and held it tightly to my chest, my heart opening into the divine eyes of Vishnu. Suddenly, as I held the picture up to gaze into the eyes of my Beloved, as I poured out my apologies and regret, a voice came from the portrait.
“Do you think I am only in this picture? Do you not realise that I am everywhere, always with you, always taking care of you? I will never leave your side. If I am here, what is there to fear?”
From that moment on, my life changed. God became my best friend. He became my mother, my father, my closest confidante. I would talk to Him the way people talk to their closest, trusted friends. My thoughts, my fears, my ideas, my experiences—I would sit down and share them with Him in the way that children run home and tell their mothers about everything that happened during the day. And He would speak back to me. I heard His voice clearly—in my ears and in my heart—sometimes guiding me, sometimes consoling me, sometimes just letting me know that He was listening.
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