By Roozbeh Gazdar
Spirituality in the New Age has flown out from the icy peaks of the Himalayas. Self-contained asceticism, though still valid, is no longer considered the only path to nirvana. Facilitated by a growing trend in unconventional careers, and the easing of work routines aided by the Internet, urban aspirants today effortlessly combine the quest for money, matrimony and meditation—these are not seen as watertight compartments anymore. For life’s routines offer the best ground for practice, they say.
Spouses are co-seekers on the path and children are divine—to be nurtured, not molded.
A truer awareness has led to tastes becoming more sattvic and wealth, though there for the taking, is not the only ‘feel good’ factor in their lives.
Find out how some spiritual families are walking together the golden path to salvation.
A heart-to-heart with four couples
Your daily life is your temple and your religion. Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.
—from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Rajiv and Romola Butalia
Himalyan quest for wisdom
People have always been asking, ‘Where are the enlightened Masters?’ Well, they exist, just that they are so difficult to access and recognise,” says journalist Romola Butalia, whose travels in the Himalayas provided several meetings with enlightened sages such as Mahayogi Pilot Baba and Goraknath Baba, culminating in the book In the Presence of the Masters.
Romola, who is the editor of indiatravelogue.com, and husband Rajiv, spend a few months every year teaching at the Mahayog Academy, which was set up to bring the wisdom of these masters to the world. “Our lop-sided development with extreme distractions, materialism and consumerism needs a balance. These masters have so much to share with us,” she explains.
A few years back, Rajiv took a year’s sabbatical from his bank job and the couple took off travelling the country by car. “We were trying to see if we could have an alternative lifestyle and it was wonderful,” he says. “However, it’s not as if just by leaving everything you will grow. What you have to do is work on the mind, till you come to the point where you leave it behind.” A couple of years later, he quit his job for good
Their quest for spiritual awareness involves the environment. Keen on Himalayan conservation, Romola is planning a yatra to Panch Kedar around September. This is an area that is still relatively pristine, she says. Tourism is inevitable, but she wants to ensure that it is better planned to avoid pollution, and at the same time serve local interests. “The idea is to have a platform where people from different backgrounds with common interests can join hands and build bridges. For instance, spiritual leaders can do a lot to spread environmental awareness,” she explains. But, before that, they will be going to the Kumbh Mela to be held in Ujjain in April.
These schedules mean that the couple is often on the move. Romola especially is home for only about a couple of months in a year. How do they ensure their regular practice?
‘‘Spiritual growth is much broader in context. It is about detachment to the result of your work,” says Romola. “There is a complete cessation of conflict where any event would make you transcend life, so that your practice and your work are not two separate paths. However, if the schedule is busy I make extra time by cutting on my sleep.”
For Rajiv, who is much more at home, life follows a more regular routine. Morning is time for swimming, yoga, pranayam and dhyan. During the day he attends to different things. “But even then there is more of a flow because I am not acting as the entity called Rajiv Butalia. It’s more about being part of the whole.” Once a year he finds time for a scuba diving trip. “While diving, I see myself as a microscopic bubble lost within the immense power and vastness of nature. For me, it is the closest to a spiritual experience,” he says.
Romola’s extensive travelling means that she spends only a couple of months at home with her husband. How do they ensure that the marriage stays alive?
“Well, we are together at the yoga academy,” they laugh. “But it’s not just about being physically together. And for a happy relationship, it’s important not to be judgemental. One accepts the other unconditionally,” explains Rajiv. Romola adds: “There should not be this need to possess, which usually comes from social pressure. But then, this is true of every relationship.” The same worked for Siddharth, their son who is 21. Into advertising, he has currently taken a break to give an exam.
“Though he is our son, we did not feel the need to impose our own views on him. We have brought him up without any expectations, believing that he will find whatever potential he has.”
Rajiv believes that everyone should go in for what they want to do. “We have been trained to always postpone happiness for the future, which never comes. Life should be a series of present moments where nothing is postponed. If you enjoy every moment of life, you have enjoyed life. One should create an awareness in every activity. For instance, while eating, I enjoy the flavour of food. I would find it disturbing if there were people talking at the same time. Also quantity is now not as important as the quality.” Romola has over the years become a vegetarian. “It wasn’t a conscious decision. The reasons were partly environmental, partly the spiritual practices I am into.”
For Romola, spiritual growth has led to a mellowing of attitude, even with respect to clothing. “For instance, I used to wear jeans and say that I would never change into anything else. Now I dress more appropriately to the situation. But that’s not because of someone else. It was more a natural change, just as you outgrow what you wore at three.”
Both are untouched by the current trend of decorating interiors in accordance with vaastu or feng shui. Says Rajiv: “See, spirituality is freedom from fear. Dependence on stones, rings amulets, etc., comes from fear.” Romola agrees, but adds: “That is not to say that I don’t believe in that different planets, stones and material do have a bearing. But I would rely on my instinct to guide me and would give more importance to aesthetics, and ensure plenty of air and sunshine.”
Having given up a good job, do they feel any insecurity? “Well, you come to a point where you see that life is not just the pursuit of money,” says Rajiv, admitting that they have given up a lifestyle. “But one doesn’t need money for anything,” says Romola. “I feel it is totally irrelevant, so there is no need for insecurity. If money is there, it’s fine, if not, the Universe will provide.”
Besides, the couple says, the kind of social circle they move in has changed. “We meet so many interesting people who have gone in for their passion, be it river rafting or para-gliding. You spread out and make connections and meet different people from all over the world. If you earn money, it’s incidental, if not, at least you are enjoying,” laughs Rajiv.
How has life changed with spiritual awareness? Rajiv quotes Zen: “The enlightened master explained it thus, ‘Before enlightenment—chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment—chop wood and carry water’.” While a lot is outwardly unchanged, the couple professes a deeper significance in their lives. “While we may still socialise, we won’t go to a cocktail party,” says Romola. Rajiv adds: “I can’t talk at a superficial level any more. But if people are willing to come from where they really are, I find it easy to relate to them. If I watch TV it’s because I want to see a programme, not kill time.”
Adds Romola: “Every moment is so important now that I am not willing to fritter away even a minute. I always ask, “Is this the best thing that I would be doing… because if not, I will not be doing it.” Rajiv quotes Carlos Castaneda: “You see, a warrior considers himself already dead, so there is nothing for him to lose. The worst has already happened to him, therefore he’s clear and calm.” Death is always with us like our shadow, and any moment he can tap us on the shoulder, explains Rajiv. “If you have lived in total awareness, you are always ready for it.”
Prem and Bharti Nirmal
Living the Tao
There is a wrong notion that spiritual practice is not possible while living a normal city life. In fact, every situation in Mumbai is an ideal testing ground for growth and pushes you even further. Mumbai, thus, could be the best ground for spirituality,” believe Prem and Bharti Nirmal, both qualified electronics engineers.
While still in his teens, an intense spiritual experience in the presence of J. Krishnamurti left young Prem with a void, one that was filled only years later when he met Dada Gavand. “That which was pending all these years was completed and remained so. The journey continues but is a joyous one,” says Prem who today manages his own electronics business.
Till last year, Bharti used to be actively involved with the business. “But I found that I was being torn between different roles,” she says. “I realised then that I had accomplished all that I hoped to achieve on the outside front and began to concentrate more on my inner growth.”
“Electronics was now slowly converting to lifetronics,” she laughs, describing how a place close to their house, bought with plans for business expansion, ended up as a library housing spiritual books. As like-minded friends gathered to read and discuss spirituality, the Tao Anand Spiritual Centre came into being.
Prem and Bharti became increasingly nature loving, spending a lot of time in the nearby Yeoor forest close to their home. Ever the friendly hosts, they started inviting friends on these excursions. Today, weekend nature camps to the nearby hills or to the seaside are a regular activity organised by them. “A group of friends get together to experience kinship with nature from within. Spiritual issues are discussed and learning, growing and enjoying happen naturally,” explains Bharti.
Didn’t spiritual diversion lead to neglect on the work front? Business, in fact, prospered and today Prem effortlessly shifts in and out of various roles such as visiting faculty at various management institutes and corporate training centres.
Prem sheds some light. “Today’s professional scenario is not about lack of information but too much information and a spiritual approach helps. As a professional I have to take decisions and deal with tricky situations. I depend on my intuition even if I take the help of logic to prove my point.” Claiming to have become a more efficient person, he says: “My patience levels have increased. I am a better listener and can establish rapport with people. There is an effortlessness coming out of spontaneity and joy in every moment.”
In fact, it is this pulsating energy in the moment that is the experience of God, believes Prem who feels he is lucky to have been brought up without any preconceived notions of God enforced on him. Agrees Bharti: “God is existence and existence is the ultimate organising God.”
Having met various masters, attended workshops and learnt many self-improvement and spiritual techniques such as Art of Living and Reiki, they believe that each of these has had something beneficial to contribute. But, warns Bharti: “Every kind of learning is useful as long as you don’t start clinging to it.”
A typical day for the couple starts by doing the 3SRB, a breath awareness exercise. But then, Prem says: “Meditation is not something separate from life. Every activity when done with awareness constitutes meditation.” Bharti, who divides her time between being homemaker, taking care of the welfare of the factory workers and conducting creative programmes for children, says: “Whenever I am idle, I watch my breath to be in the present moment. If one masters the art of being in the moment, the practice of learning is over.”
“Spirituality for us is being simple and ordinary and enjoying the happiness within. We are certainly not the serious, long-faced seekers,” laughs Prem. Intent on separating the chaff from the grain, he says: “Many people consider marriage as a hindrance to spiritual growth. But being a grihasthi affords potential for a tremendous spiritual growth, which in turn nurtures the relationship by removing undue attachment and making it stronger, more loving and caring.”
“In fact, we are still lovers,” says Bharti, who was with Prem in college where the couple met and fell in love. Rejecting celibacy or suppression, Prem believes in “giving respect to all your needs, including bodily ones”. He says: “Indulgence with awareness is the key to spiritual growth.” The couple believes that it is this “prayerful and meditative approach” even in their physical relations, that has blessed them with Kalyani “who came because we invited a good soul”. Kalyani, all of 12 years, is already a Bharatanatyam dancer, a gifted musician and an orator who once gave a talk to a grown-up audience on Lobsang Rampa. Bharti believes that a child, even as a seed, is already evolved and so the concept of bringing up children is a myth. “Children pick up from their parents attitudes and behaviour and should be given complete freedom except when they ask for support,” she declares.
According to Prem, a bonus of their inter-region marriage (he is a Kutchhi, she a Maharashtrian) is the food they eat. “Now we have the best of Kutchhi and Maharashtrian cuisine,” he laughs. Bharti adds on a more sober note that meals at home are “vegetarian and light, without an excess of oil and spices, as a lot of energy tends to get depleted while digesting the wrong kind of food”.
Prem, who also holds workshops on aura reading and astral travel, elaborates on his concept of ‘power dressing’: “You feel most comfortable when you wear colours based on your aura. Intuitive understanding of colours, clothing, plants, stones, etc are capacities which are inherent within us all, and emerge as a natural outcome of spiritual growth.”
Explaining that there is a direct connection between your inner state and the outside world, he says: “A couple of years after we designed our house, we came to know that it conformed to vaastu. But we had just depended on our intuitions.” It has to come from within, he says. “Otherwise it can be a farce,” feels Bharti. Prem quips: “We have seen people quarrelling over the arrangement of objects that have been bought to maintain harmony in their homes.”
Spirituality is fine, but there is no doubt that the Nirmals enjoy the good things in life. “Money is also energy. How it is used makes it either good or bad. The spiritual approach is to earn and enjoy by going with the flow of life without hoarding.” Stressing on the right intentions, he says: “If your intentions are right, work will never stop because of lack of money. Existence has a miraculous manner of responding to the right intention and then, goodwill never stops.”
Living in a world of abundance, the couple sees in nature, the sun and trees, a strong message of charity. And so, family occasions such as birthdays are often celebrated by sharing some bounty. “Last time we enjoyed hosting a party for tribal children and we all ate and played games together,” recalls Bharti.
Living a full life, it is not surprising that death has no special meaning for them. “Death is not something different from life,” says Prem, who feels that the body, as a mechanism (saadhan) for saadhana deserves respect. Bharti agrees: “Through astral travel you learn to see the body from outside. What more proof is needed that you exist out of the body, that death is not the end?”
Jehangir and Rashmi Palkhivala
Lakshmi is as great as Saraswati
A traditional bonesetter named Madhivala had predicted to Jehangir Palkhivala’s mother, when she was carrying him, that her child would grow up to be a doctor. His words were prophetic. Though Jehangir never studied medicine, today he heals not just physical ailments, but effects transformations through yoga. He calls it “lifestyle modification without much effort”.
“Right from a young age I had a feeling that I’d like to help people. Even today I can’t resist that urge,” says Jehangir who learnt yoga from B.K.S. Iyengar since the age of seven. Following in his famous uncle Nani Palkhivala’s footsteps, he earned his law degree. Nine months after starting to practise law, however, Jehangir permanently gave up the bench for the yoga mat.
Already teaching yoga while in college, when his mother, who was also a yoga teacher, had to discontinue due to an accident, Jehangir was only too happy to take on her students. Slowly, yoga became more and more a means of addressing specific problems. “My teaching became such that I started relating it to practical life. At class we would address specific problems, anger, for instance, with the idea of practising on it at home. Thus when you leave class, it is not the end but the beginning of yoga.”
Wife Rashmi’s entry into his life meant that there was a transformation in his own manner of teaching. “Rashmi smoothened my rough edges. I became much more mellow and patient while dealing with students,” says Jehangir who had a reputation for being a hard taskmaster.
It is also Rashmi’s encouragement that saw Jehangir making a trip to America to teach, which opened up a whole new world for him “It was such a universal feeling to meet and relate to people coming from different viewpoints such as atheists, and seeing them respond with the same beauty and caring,” says Jehangir, who will now be teaching there every year around April.
For Rashmi who comes from a family of scientists, adjusting to the Palkhivala household wasn’t easy. “I was brought up more or less as a sceptic and it was a little strange to come into a home where people would sit together, and even be moved to tears, reading spiritual stuff,” she recalls. Believers of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo, Jehangir’s parents often made trips to the ashram at Pondicherry and their devotion naturally rubbed off on Jehangir who grew up to be deeply spiritual. “I always start my morning yoga by first praying to The Mother. Though I recognise any aspect of God which may be in front of me, I feel an especially strong connection to The Mother and also Sri Aurobindo, Lord Zarathushtra and the Sai Baba of Shirdi. And I share a tremendous relationship with Lord Krishna,” he says. Over the years, Rashmi has also come to accept “God as a spiritual presence” in her life: “At times I have to make an effort to realise this, but when it is strong it spills over of its own accord into my life.”
In fact, when she was six months pregnant with their first child, Rashmi recalls: “I was listening to Jagjit Singh’s cassette titled Ma, when I felt strongly connected to The Mother and then I knew that the child’s soul had entered into me.”
Rashmi has always been a source of strength and inspiration for Jehangir, who attributes it to her strong faith that they could go along with their decision to have the deliveries of both their children at home. “Of course, we did our homework and a fair amount of preparation was called for. Rashmi kept fit, and even continued doing yoga till the actual day of the delivery,” he says.
And it was all well worth the effort according to Jehangir who feels that it is the home birth that is at least partly responsible for the wonderful relationship that they have with their children, Rishaya, 10, and Paritosh, 7.
“In them I feel the presence of a spiritual entity in much more tangible a fashion than anything else,” says Jehangir, adding that they never thought of their children as a burden or a chore. Rashmi agrees: “So much peace has come into our home with the children and it’s sad to see some parents getting so completely frazzled. As divine beings, we have always treated our children as having come with their own wisdom. Otherwise they have an absolutely normal upbringing. They often accompany us to spiritual sessions for bhajans and so are getting the right values,” says Rashmi. Jehangir adds: “I always teach them between right and wrong by asking them to relate to others. And they realise things without having to be told. It is really amazing how mature children can be.”
Rashmi explains how, after the children were born, their concerns grew wider. “We became environmentally more conscious; after all, this is the world where our children are growing up. It is at this time that we went into things like organic food in a big way.” Once an advocate of a diet devoid of milk, meat and eggs, even wheat, Jehangir’s entire family subscribed to these views. Today he feels they were a little extreme. “The food we eat now is far more balanced and occasionally includes meat also. However, I still find it difficult to accept the cruelty to animals that is involved.”
Even in matters of clothing, Jehangir goes in for natural fabrics and dyes, but laments: “I love bright colours and organic dyes are often restricted to the more earthy tints.” Rashmi enjoys clothes and believes in “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”. And the couple are not against a bit of vaastu or feng shui as long as it is “non-destructive”. “We agreed to a few minor vaastu improvements as suggested by a friend,” says Rashmi.
Teaching yoga means that Jehangir’s schedule is an office-goer’s envy. Tuesdays to Fridays, he takes two classes, between 7.00 and 10.30 a.m., after which he is relatively free to attend to other things. That includes taking yoga classes for children at a school, learning Sanskrit, catching up on his reading… But home loving Jehangir is happiest spending time with family, which includes his parents. “I love being with Mom and Dad and the kids and doing anything with Rashmi is a joy.” Rashmi, besides being involved with an organisation for environmental education, takes pre-natal yoga classes and helps out at a school. Special occasions are spent at home with the family or with a few friends.
Having few needs of his own, Jehangir earlier attached no particular importance to money. “Things changed with marriage and the kids. I feel blessed and money is a bonus. I feel that along with Saraswati and MahaKali, MahaLakshmi is equally great.”
The problem, he explains, is not possessing of wealth, but being desperate in your desire for it. “It’s important to find out how you would feel if you were to lose all you have,” he says.
Besides donating regularly to certain organisations, Jehangir often becomes a conduit between charity causes and people who wish to donate. However, he says: “The happiest charity is that of my skill. I do not charge anything for consultations, only for the classes. And I get enormous satisfaction when people are healed or when their lives are transformed with yoga.”
Since childhood Jehangir was often obsessed with death, which was also the theme around which a lot of his early poetry revolved. But he feels that the way one lives life is what is important. “The more centred we become, the less anxious we feel about death, as long as we are doing the best we can,” says Rashmi.
Anil and Aruna Bhatnagar
Discipline is the key to success
Since his student days in IIT Delhi, Anil Bhatnagar was always looking for a meaning in life. He wanted to unravel the purpose of life. And he found it. It’s quite simple: joyful existence, which is all about “living in harmony with the laws of nature and in harmony with the spirit’s grandeur”. And doing things in the wider context of meanings and values. “Our actions should be tracked down to a higher context of values that this nature and universe expects from us,” he emphasises. Sensitivity towards all that lives is the key to ideal life.
Spirituality, Bhatnagar believes, means being ruthlessly honest with yourself. Spiritual living should not be confused with religious living. Religion emanates from external sources like priests and scriptures and conventions, whereas spirituality is based purely on inner convictions.
Watching Anil and his wife Aruna together, they seem to be truly ‘made for each other’. No matter that they are a study in contrast as well. Anil is an extrovert and outgoing while Aruna is a woman of few words. Both came from diverse educational backgrounds; Anil is a former technocrat whereas Aruna was a teacher by profession.
The couple share strong spiritual bonds. In Aruna’s case, her first brush with spirituality came in the form of ‘true dreams’ or telepathy that she experienced in her childhood. Now she is a full time Reiki practitioner. Tracing her association with holistic healing, she says: “Although my father was an allopathic doctor, I never took these medicines.”
Spirituality played an uncanny role in their marriage. Recollects Anil: “In those days I was involved with the Hare Krishna movement. Somehow, the Hare Krishna fervour made my parents apprehensive that one day I would abandon everything including them. So when my elder brother’s matrimonial alliance was being finalised, my father thought it prudent to get me married as well. So he searched for a spiritually inclined girl for me. The search ended with Aruna and we tied the knot.”
To this day Anil remains grateful to Aruna for having come into his life, a bulwark of strength. After marriage Aruna learnt Reiki and today her world revolves around her family and Reiki. As a homemaker she goes about her responsibilities with equal devotion. What Anil likes most about his wife is her uncanny ability to understand things in their correct perspective.
For Bhatnagars the year 2001 was a milestone. After 21 years of service, Anil who was working as a senior manager with Steel Authority of India (SAIL) quit his job. He started organising workshops to spiritualise corporate operations under the banner Thrive? What drove him to chuck a cushy job in favour of a lesser rewarding proposition? Anil says he wanted to strive to improve the work atmosphere of the corporate sector. “I wanted to know why people are doing what they shouldn’t be doing? And I wanted to be on the side of the solution and not on the problem side,” he says. He soon realised that like SAIL other organisations might also be facing the same problems. And then he decided to “get out of this small well and make the difference all over other organisations”.
Anil is a multi-faceted personality. He is a self-taught painter with nearly 40 oil painting to his credit, and an accomplished writer. He has contributed some major articles to Life Positive, and authored quite a few books. His Water the Roots was nominated as the best book in 2001 by Global Business Press. Currently, Bhatnagar concentrates on delivering lectures, conducting workshops and training camps on stress management, time management, attitudinal transformation and similar skill enhancement programmes. Within a couple of years he has made a name for himself as a trainer with leading corporates as his clients. In management, Anil points out, the lasting strategies stem from spirituality.
For son, Vedant (15), and daughter Moksha (21), Anil and Aruna are doting parents. The foursome lead an interesting lifestyle. Their day begins at 5 a.m. followed by yoga, surya namaskar and pranayam. Then it is time for Sudarshan Kriya.
From breakfast table they go on to their respective routines. Anil has his own unique fitness regimen. “I climb 20 storeys everyday before I take lunch,” he says. A disciplined life is the basis of success, he feels. Afternoon is meditation time for Bhatnagars because the stillness of the afternoon is ideal for its practice.
The evenings are spent in an interesting manner. The family sits together for a unique session. “One of us leads the rest. If Vedant is leading, he would make us play carrom. On her turn, Moksha would read out from a book. If I am leading, I would be telling them about spiritual laws. My wife would give suggestions on how to live more spiritually,” Anil reveals. The family has devised its own mechanism for self-appraisal and appreciation called ‘white board’. Anil explains: “The board has two columns: one is for appreciation and on the second we enlist our shortcomings. While we all express our appreciation for something good, we also acknowledge our weak areas and work on remedial measures.”
The Bhatnagars follows their own code when it comes to festivals. Holi and Diwali are a relatively subdued affair. They celebrate the spirit of the occasion, minus its customary hype and hoopla. Diwali is the festival of prosperity and they believe in sharing their prosperity with others, especially the underprivileged ones. “If you are very rich and your affluence it confined to your own self then you are indeed a very poor man,” philosophises Anil. He continues: “We have earmarked a fixed amount of money which we donate to various welfare organisations on Diwali.”
How did his extended family react to this spiritual regimen. Replies Anil: “I think it came naturally. I strongly feel that whatever you try to bring in others never succeeds. But if you lead by example, then everything percolates down effortlessly.” He elaborates: “Children never learn from mere lectures. They learn from practical things that they see their parents doing.”
For Vedant, a class XI student, the spiritual impulse arose from within. The way he sees it, spirituality instills a strong sense of self-belief: “Self-belief is the basic prerequisite of success—whether it is in the academic field or elsewhere.” Moksha, in the final year of graduation, feels a balanced life at home has an element of positivity in it. This has a cascading effect
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