By Punya Srivastava
Punya Srivastava meets Yogi Protoplasm, a former botany professor and disciple of Ramana Maharshi, who seeks to explain the truth of Oneness through the help of science
A spiritual scientist. This is how Yogi Protoplasm, or Swami Prajna Aranyaji’s followers describe him. Dressed in a single ochre robe, Yogiji was napping on a mat on the floor of a richly furnished room when I visited him. Sporting a clean shaven head and a stark white closely cropped beard, Yogiji’s built and height resembles his guru Ramana Maharishi. The bungalow belonged to Vandana Khaitan, Yogiji’s disciple, and the managing trustee of the Vande Krsna Foundation. She saw a 360-degree turnaround in her life that was plagued by 15 years of trauma, when she first met him in Rishikesh. Within two hours of chanting Om with him, the trauma vanished from her life forever. In a fervent flow of gratitude, she founded the Vande Krsna Foundation to propagate Yogiji’s teachings to the masses.
Talking about her guru, she said, “He is a yogi in every sense of the word,” adding, “Yogiji meditates around 12 hours at a stretch, and takes only milk once a day. This has been his routine since the last 33 years.”
But why the name Yogi Protoplasm? Swamiji smiled as Vandana explained the philosophy behind his amusing name. “Yogiji believes that all the species in this universe – plants, animals, insects, bacteria – are made up of protoplasm. It is the single basic unit of life that is one, but has taken many forms. This is similar to Brahman – the Supreme Being. Protoplasm is the living prototype of Oneness and interconnectedness. Hence, this name,” she said. “Even when I was working as a botany professor in the university, my colleagues and students addressed me as Brother Protoplasm,” Yogiji piped in, adding, “Practice cosmic love. Love everyone as your own self.”
A follower of Ramana Maharishi, the great Advaita master from Thiruvanmalai, and Yogi Ramaiah, his disciple who is said to have attained self-realisation at age 18, the 83-year-old Yogiji is a hermit who travels around the country to propagate spirituality through science. He was a science graduate in the Andhra University when he read Paul Brunton’s book, A Search in Secret India, which inspired him to meet Ramana Maharishi. The lucky soul got to meet the self-realised saint just three days before the latter took mahasamadhi. Later, Yogiji became a disciple of Yogi Ramaiah and served him for 10 years from 1952 to 1962. His conversations and discourses are littered with anecdotes and teachings from these great saints’ lives. “Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi was a high school dropout, a mere boy of 16 when he acquired enlightenment through self-realisation. He didn’t follow any guru. Yogi Ramaiah’s last words were ‘I am everywhere’. These great saints attained sacchidananda through self-enquiry. And that is what they preached, and that is what I am trying to disseminate through my discourses,” he said.
“Who am I? should be our question to ourselves. I am not this perishable body, but a part of the Brahman, that which is limitless. This is the simple truth of human existence. This has been in writing since ages in our Upanishads, which finds resonance even in science,” he says. Coming from a science background, Yogiji very interestingly gives a scientific twist to his spiritual teachings and vice-versa. He left his cushy government job to walk on the path of truth and invoke the eternal question of Who am I? in every mind.
Explaining the meaning of sacchidananda, or sat-chit-ananda which literally translates into truth, consciousness and bliss, Yogiji elaborates in his discourses how ‘I am’ is sat-chit or true consciousness (awakened consciousness). “What remains to be found is ananda or bliss, for an average human being. That comes when we learn to detach ourselves from our body. Ananda comes into the picture when we are truly ‘I am’,” he explained.
Formerly a botany professor at Andhra Universtity, Yogiji teaches deep Vedantic truths simply with the help of science. Through skeletons, circulatory systems, genes, galaxies, prisms, concave and convex mirrors, electromagnetic spectrum, holograms, and magnets, he takes seekers on a fascinating journey of scientific self-discovery. According to Vedanta, there are three steps to sadhana – sravana (listening to the scriptures), manana (reflection on the scriptures) and nidhidhyasana (intense meditation). While most people do a lot of sravana and listen to a lot of lectures, they fail to practice reflection and intense meditation to attain self-realisation, he explains. That’s why Yogiji has designed an intensive meditation retreat where the focus is not on bookish knowledge, but on serious meditation. Seekers in his Atma Parisodhana Yoga Sadhana camp practice a week of silence, sit for nine hours to meditate continuously, listen to lectures on science and Vedanta, and live only on milk and fruits. His camps are regularly held at SVYASA – Swami Vivekananda Yoga University in Bangalore, and in his ashram in Nellore.
An enquiry about his life before walking the path, or about his family, garner a mere shrug of shoulders, and a long silence coupled with a toothy smile. According to Vandana, Yogiji doesn’t like to talk about his life as a householder.
Vandana has released a book, Who am I ?, available in Hindi and English on her guru’s teachings. “Look at the cells in the body. It has trillions of them. Each cell is made up of a substance called protoplasm. All food is digested and sent to the cells. Each cell takes the food you have taken, breaks it down and converts it to energy. Evidently, there is some highly intelligent mysterious power combining all sciences together, which is constructing and running this amazing human body. Hence, cultivate humility and understand that you are not the doer. You are only an instrument of God. Develop akarta bhavana. Destroy your ego,” reads a chapter in the book.
Vandana has also made a film titled Yogi vs Bhogi in which, inspired by her guru’s teachings, she presents the spiritual solutions of self-enquiry, intensive meditation, and detachment to the three burning issues of society – corruption, female foeticide and AIDS. These topics are touched upon through the life of the protagonist who is a materialistic man (Bhogi) to whom the Yogi imparts all the knowledge. The film preaches that when individuals follow the path of consciousness, society as a whole gets healed. According to her, the 67-minute film inspires one to live like a rajrishi – make money like a raja but live simply and selflessly like a rishi. The film also includes experiments by scientists on the garbh sanskar theory and healing through the mantra Om.
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