By Aalif Surti October 2004 We present the life and work of some contemporary gurus who have affected the lives of millions through their teachings and personal example Maharishi Mahesh Yogi“Expansion of happiness is the purpose of creation and we are all here to enjoy and radiate happiness everywhere.” This is the core of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s teachings. A pioneer in the field of consciousness study in modern times, Mahesh Yogi is best known for popularising meditation and Indian spirituality throughout the world. Famous in the 1960s as guru to the Beatles, Maharishi has moved beyond the image of a ‘flower power’ guru to touch millions through his teachings, programmes and educational institutions. Maharshi’s teachings are Vedic in spirit, and encompass every sphere of human life including health, education, economy, peace efforts, science, government, religion, law, rehabilitation, art and culture. His Transcendental Meditation (TM) programme has gained worldwide popularity, and at one time his name became synonymous with levitation—the raising of the body through yogic techniques. In fact, the image in popular culture of the levitating sadhu can be said to owe its origin to Mahesh Yogi’s ‘Yogic Flying’ programmes. Today there are millions who have been introduced to TM—the simple system of mentally repeating a given mantra, taught by an estimated 40,000 teachers worldwide. Scientific studies have found that TM indeed does have a tangible effect on body responses and stress levels. Says Maharishi: “My easy system of TM is a desired means to spiritualise modern materialism and materialise old spirituality.” In recent years, the Maharishi who is now 86, has turned his attention to drawing out streams of Vedic knowledge, like sthapatya, science of architecture, jyotish and ayurveda, and present them in a practicable manner. Yet his lifelong dream has been the establishment of an ideal society based on Vedic principles and ‘natural law’. All his activities are geared towards this supreme goal, whether it is the creation of the World Government for the Age of Enlightenment in 1976, the launch of the ‘Ideal Society’ programme in 108 countries, the Global Administration through Natural Law, and the Maharishi Open University. Although his utopian plans may appear grandiose to some, he is a visionary who not only dares to dream but also tries to actualise his dreams.Websites: www.tm.org, www.maharishi-india.org The Dalai LamaHis Holiness the Dalai Lama is perhaps one of the most respected and recognised spiritual leaders in the world today. Through his non-violent approach to politics, refusal to hate the enemy, emphasis on universal values rather than religion, and the willingness to explore consciousness in scientific terms, he has touched the hearts and minds of many. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, has multiple identities—he is the spiritual and temporal head of the Tibetan people, winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace, and perhaps the single largest factor responsible for the current global interest in Buddhism. Born in a peasant’s family in Tibet, he was recognised as the reincarnation of his predecessor at age two. He was just 15 when the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950. After 10 years of struggle, he fled to India along with 80,000 Tibetan refugees. Since then, he has lived in exile in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. His Holiness has repeatedly appealed to the United Nations and the world community on behalf of Tibet. He has been able to bring a measure of democracy in the traditionally feudal Tibetan society—members of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile are elected directly by the Tibetan diaspora. He has encouraged his people to protest non-violently against Chinese occupation and has never termed the Chinese government as his ‘enemy’. Starting life as head of a nation, the Dalai Lama has grown to be so much more. If any one person could be honestly called ‘world guru’, it would be him because of the wide respect he commands, and the transformation he has affected in the way we view the politics of conflict. He talks in language free from religious jargon, and his message is rooted in the essential equality of all human beings and the concept of universal responsibility. Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, he said: “Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us…. When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace…. What is important is that we each make a sincere effort to take our responsibility for each other and for the natural environment we live in seriously.” His entire life has been an untiring mission to spread and actualise this profound message.Website: www.tibet.com Mata AmritanandamayiPopularly known as Amma, Mata Amritanandamayi’s life comprises her teachings. For most of us, Amma is the ‘hugging guru’, who sweeps all who come to her in a warm, accepting embrace. Clad in a white sari, her face wreathed in smiles, Amma’s greatest miracle is unconditional, free-flowing love for all. Amma began life as a fisherman’s daughter in a coastal village in Kerala. Her childhood was difficult, and she would often go into states of spiritual absorption. As she grew up, so did her fame, and she now has an ever-growing following all over the world. Amma’s activities are not limited to providing spiritual succour. She has enabled the building of numerous hospitals, schools, old age homes, and shelters for the poor. Her humanitarian activities have attracted the attention of the world community and she was awarded the United Nation’s Gandhi-King Award for Non-violence in 2002. For Amma, service not only benefits the receiver, but the giver as well. She encourages her disciples to serve with smiles and kind words, so that those who give, those who receive, and those who look on, are all transformed by the sprit of selfless love and universal kinship. Today, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math in Kollam district has got ashrams and centres all over India and abroad, which serve as home to those who wish to engage in spiritual practice. A cancer hospital near Mumbai, AIDS care centre in Trivandrum, community outreach programmes for the terminally ill, neurological care camps and free treatment for epilepsy and diabetes have been made possible through Amma’s efforts. She has also established 60 educational institutions including the Amrita Institute of Technology and Science (AITEC), the Amrita Institute of Management (AIM) and the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS)to impart modern education while reorienting society to universal spiritual principles. Asked how she managed to do so much in a relatively short span of time, Amma says: “I am like a river which keeps on flowing. The river has no mission but simply keeps on flowing and people flock to it to drink its pure water.”Contact: Mata Amritanandmayi Math,Ph: (0476) 2896399378678, website: www.amritapuri.org Gurumayi ChidvilasanandaLovingly called Gurumayi, Swami Chidvilasananda is the current head of the lineage of Siddha masters. She has devoted her life to spiritual practice and serving her master, the late Swami Muktananda, who introduced shaktipat initiation and teachings of this lineage in the West in 1970. Before he passed away in 1982, Swami Muktananda passed on the leadership of this lineage to Gurumayi, and she has been engaged in giving teachings and initiations of the Siddha lineage since then. Siddha Yoga sadhana is the process of connecting with the power and wisdom of one’s inner being, the Self. It involves: bringing the heightened awareness and strength of the Self to outer activities and situations, nurturing one’s awakened inner power by engaging with the practices, opening oneself to the transforming power of the gurus’ teachings through contemplating their words and putting them to work, and allowing the wisdom of the guru to call forth one’s own inherent truth. Obviously, the guru’s guidance is of prime importance in the lineage of the Siddhas, since it is a path of direct transmission of knowledge and energy from the guru to the student. The Siddha guru is also said to have the power to effect kundalini awakenings in the disciple through shaktipat. What is unique about Gurumayi’s role is that she has brought this tradition out of its cloak of secrecy; a process set in motion by Swami Muktananda and continued by her, and has made it available to students in the east and west in the form of a curriculum of study, and also through retreats, chanting, and meditation ‘intensives’. Teachers are trained in Siddha Yoga meditation through SYDA (Siddha Yoga Dham of America), an organisation that is responsible for much of Siddha Yoga activities throughout the world. The original Siddha Yoga ashram is at Ganeshpuri in Maharashtra, and is called Gurudev Siddha Peeth. Gurumayi is author of several books including Courage and Contentment, Enthusiasm, Inner Treasures, and Kindle my Heart.Website: www.siddhayoga.org S.N. GoenkaS.N. Goenka is the man behind making widely available the Buddhist meditation technique—vipassana—as a secular form of mind training. Having learnt vipassana in Burma from Sayagi U Ba Khin, Goenka decided to teach vipassana to anyone who needed it. In 1974, he established the Vipassana International Academy in Igatpuri in Maharashtra for this purpose. This meditation moveme
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