By Suma Varughese
The Oneness University and oneness movement, founded by Sri Bhagavan, whose mission is to help birth satyug, specialize in creating graduates in enlightenment, through Deeksha, Seva, and teachings.
What’s going on here? Is everyone enlightened or what? Am I dreaming, or have I, by some astral force, entered the legendary land of Shambala, where enlightened people live together in peace, joy, and harmony?
The place I am in is not quite Shambala, though its founder dreams of creating a heaven on earth and indeed is completely focussed on bringing enlightenment to the world.
I am at the Oneness University founded by Sri Bhagavan, near a small village called Varadaiahpalem, in Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh, some two-and-a-half hours from Chennai. And by the looks of things, enlightenment, which seekers outside this privileged spot, regarded with love, longing, and more often than not, despair, as toward some impossible goal, is an everyday commodity here, talked about and even experienced with matter-of-fact acceptance.
‘My father is enlightened, my mother is enlightened, my sister is enlightened and I am enlightened,’ says Radhikadasa casually, causing my jaw to drop. The said jaw descends even further when I discover that her sister can neither hear nor speak. ‘To see her is to experience the reality of living without suffering in this world,’ says Acharya Samadarshiniji, one of the three acharyas who, in hierarchical seniority, are second only to Bhagavan. This acharya, who struck me immensely by her gentle, loving presence, lofty ideals and largeness of perspective, is said to calibrate at 1000, which, they tell me, is about as far as you can get in the enlightenment sweepstakes. Buddha and Christ apparently calibrated at 1000 and 999 respectively.
Later, I am taken to meet the participants of Mahadeeksha Level ll, the ultimate course that guarantees permanent enlightenment. Some 80 people are undergoing the process, and all of them, the dasas tell me, are enlightened.
As for the dasas, themselves, who number about 170, I am told by our guide, Namanndasa, with great assurance, that all of them are enlightened.
What’s more, of late, the dasas have been fanning into the nearby villages giving Deeksha, and already 200 people are enlightened, they say.
Towards World Enlightenment
Their avowed intention is to create a core group of 64,000 enlightened people, which is a number sufficient to raise the consciousness of the whole world. Lately, the focus has shifted to enlightening 72,000 people in the villages around the University which will form a force field sufficient to enlighten India. ‘By the end of this year, we hope to make Varadaiahpalem enlightened. Then we will take on India. After India is finished, we will take on the world,’ says Bhagavan nonchalantly, in a talk to the journalist group I am in.
There is no doubt at all of Bhagavan’s single-minded commitment to world enlightenment. He says, ‘Right from early childhood, I wondered why people had a different consciousness from mine. I saw that people needed to be transformed, but not by technique or teaching. It had to be given to them.’
In adherence to standard New Age speak, the year 2012 is referred to as the definitive time for the shift, though Bhagavan sanguinely hopes that it will be even sooner.
What does one make of all this? Are these the fantasies of a woolly-headed prophet or is there anything to this vision? While one can take or leave their optimistic projection for world enlightenment, there is simply no arguing with the fact that something out of the ordinary is going on here. I saw people clearly experiencing an altered state of consciousness. One of the participants of the Mahadeeksha Level ll, for instance, was walking as if in a stupor. At the dining table, each morsel of food took ages to travel between the plate to her mouth. Sometime later, I saw one of the dasas, Sadhanaji, also in what someone described as a ‘state’. She was unable to speak until another of the dasas told her with friendly authority, ‘You must speak now.’ With difficulty, she returned to her surroundings.
Mystical states of mind are not my specialty, for I have experienced none of them. But what I would use as testimony – the level of love, compassion, clarity, egolessness, a protean capability – were also visibly high in all of the dasas.
All these qualities are also present in many members of most of the movements I have been privileged to visit, but I could sense, though I could be mistaken, a greater experiential depth and clarity among the dasas here. Certainly, I have never been anywhere where so many people claimed to be enlightened.
Experiencing the Process
I was here to do a three-day beginner course called Phaladeeksha in this University, whose avowed purpose is to convert us into real human beings. The courses are conducted by dasas. These are renunciates of the order who also refer to themselves as guides. Dressed in white, with tonsured heads, most are startlingly young, the majority being within the region of 20 to 40 years. The youngest is a sweet-faced 19-year-old called Aparna. Incidentally, of the 170, 101 are women. Says Bhagavan, ‘I was taught to believe that women could not get enlightenment and that they would have to attain male birth to do so, so I decided to test this out by giving women Deeksha. To my astonishment, they got it faster than the men.’ Today, he is convinced that it is womanpower that will fuel the New Age.
The Phaladeeksha is the first of a series of courses that culminate in the enlightenment course or Mahadeeksha. For international participants, this is conducted in an unbroken stretch of 21 days after which not only are they supposed to be enlightened, they also have the power to give Deeksha to others. For Indians, this course is divided into two parts, Level l, and Level ll. In between, they are supposed to do Seva to earn ‘sat karma’ for the Mahadeeksha, which also includes getting a certain number of people to attend the courses.
Participants of the Phaladeeksha are given the power of healing. Healings and miracles seem to be everyday currency here.
For instance, I am introduced to one of the participants of the Mahadeeksha Level ll, Manjulavani, a housewife in her 30s. This dignified and poised lady was struck by trigeminal neuralgia, on account of severe depression due to financial stress. The condition paralyzes the facial muscles and is so severely painful that most victims commit suicide. Unable to eat or talk, she suffered for 15 days. Desperate, she prayed to Bhagavan, asking either for a complete cure or death. She says, ‘I heard Bhagavan’s voice asking me to chant the mool mantra. Even before I could complete one line, I was 80 per cent better. By the time it was over, I was cured!’
The University stretches over a massive property of over 2,000 acres and is a disparate collection of buildings situated far from each other. Almost at the start of the property is the mammoth Golden temple, a beautiful structure in chaste marble, studded with cupolas, domes, spires, and other symbols of religious architecture, all harmoniously held together. A three-storied structure which is as yet incomplete, the top floor consists of a massive 30,000 square-feet hall to accommodate 8,000 enlightened beings whose meditation will create a force field believed to raise mass consciousness. At one corner is a raised dais upon which a throne will be placed to enable all visitors to have visions of their own personal god.
Several miles down the narrow country road brings us to the four campuses of the ‘University.’ These provide both accommodations as well as rooms for the courses. A unique feature is their use of thatched roofs for most of their buildings, enabling them to harmonize with their rural surroundings. Adorable huts with thatched roofs set amidst a square of lawn constitute part of the innovative accommodation. The first, campus 4, holds youth programs. The movement strongly emphasizes the need to transform Indian youth and has devised a six-day program to help them develop self-esteem, a sense of vision, a personal goal and to attain success.
Campus 2 is where the majority of the courses are held and this is where my fellow journalists and I are headed.
We are scheduled to do a Hindi course. A young female dasa, whose name I later discovered is Suvrata, is seated there, and am impressed by her confidence, clarity, and obvious depth.
It’s an incongruous combination of approaches one encounters here, starting with an almost compulsive belief in the divinity of Bhagavan and his wife, popularly called Amma. Amma-Bhagavan, as the pair is referred to, form a unit, representing the union of the male and female, or Shiva and Shakti.
We are advised to throw ourselves at their mercy, pray to them to fulfill our desires, and so on. Dasas daily perform aarti before their joint portrait, called Srimurthy, reverentially festooned with thick garlands, changed twice a day. Most devotees hold their hands above their heads in a namaste during the aarti. The beautiful mool mantra, a resonant Sanskrit chant, is uttered in the beginning and end of every aarti or class. At the end of the aarti, everyone, including the dasas, prostrate themselves in a sashtang pranam before the portrait. I later discover that they have courses oriented for Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists that do not center around worship of Amma-Bhagavan. However, except in the case of Muslims, the emphasis is on the personal god.
As time goes by I understand some of the logic behind the worship of the personal god. One of the strongest tenets of Bhagavan’s hypothesis is that enlightenment cannot be obtained, it is happening. ‘Buddha advocated self-effort, whereas we advocate the opposite. We ask you to do nothing,’ he tells my journalist group. Giving the burden of our lives over to Bhagavan or any other deity facilitates this non-doing. Surrender is effected when we let go. Faith is another outcome of this intense worship and is doubtless the source of the numerous miracles. I wonder, though, if it does not also breed an unhealthy dependency, an inability to think for oneself, that is so often the fatal flaw of many guru-based organizations.
What possibly averts this danger is the University’s reliance on a strong undergirds of psychological concepts. Although the promotional literature solely emphasizes the power of Deeksha in obtaining enlightenment, these teachings are sound and have doubtless played a role in maturing participants. In the first class, we are introduced to Fundamental Childhood Decisions (FCDs). These refer to the period from conception to the age of 6. The immature mind jumps to a false conclusions about oneself, based on a careless word from a parent or peer, which could determine its very destiny.
A young participant in the youth camp, Shruti Sutkati from Belgaum, doing her 1st year PUC, says, ‘I used to put 100 percent effort into whatever I did, but I never succeeded. When I contemplated why I was a failure, I saw Bhagavan leading me in a vision to the garden of my house, where my mother was teaching me something when I was a little girl. I kept making the same mistakes over and over again until my mother said, ‘If you keep doing this you will never get success.’ This got stored in my mind.’
The second class is run by the gracious Sadhanadasa, a former Chemistry lecturer at Vivek Vidhyalaya, Goregaon, Mumbai.
A widow with two children to look after, she describes herself as irritable and with many psychological problems, before the advent of Bhagavan in her life. ‘I was a changed person after I did a two-day retreat. My students and colleagues told me that my tension lines had gone. I felt as if the Lord had enveloped me with His energy.’ In time, both she and her daughter became monks. She is one of about six older monks. She describes the 10 years she has been with the movement as a ‘growth in joy’.
The class revolves around the concept of acceptance. Sounding like J.Krishnamurti or Eckhart Tolle, she tells us to practice ‘sweekariyat’, beginning with acceptance of the self. We are urged to look within and acknowledge all that is. She points out the suffering inherent in rejecting aspects of ourselves we do not approve of and of the false self we construct. She emphasizes the importance of ‘experiencing’ the moment, instead of resisting it. Bhagavan says, ‘Seeing is the key thing in the dharma. Supposing jealousy is there, you must learn to see jealousy. To see is to be free.’
For a populist movement that is so focussed on bhakti, this seems like an unusually sophisticated concept, but if the stakes are enlightenment, nothing less will do. I later discover that Bhagavan was well-acquainted with Krishnamurti through a childhood friend, and had even helped out at Rishi Valley school. But, he says, he quickly discovered the flaw in his teaching, ‘Krishnamurti’s teaching describes the enlightened state: choiceless awareness, stay with the what-is. But how do you get there? (describing a common dilemma K people grapple with). Someone needs to give the state to them. That is when I decided to return to the ancient concept of Deeksha.’
Nevertheless, Krishnamurti’s influence is palpable and adds to the course’s depth.
Sadhanadasa talks of the importance of accepting the circumstances of life as well, and not resisting what comes up. However, she also emphasizes our inability to change ourselves and the role of grace in doing so.
The third class dealt with the importance of prayer. A key concept is an importance of cultivating an intimate relationship with God, based not on fear or awe but friendship. ‘God is your supreme friend,’ Bhagavan is reported to have said, and we are urged to argue with God, fight with him and compel him to hear our prayer, as we would with a real friend. I find this concept of the friendly God very attractive, for too often we distance ourselves from divinity out of a sense of unworthiness.
Other aspects of prayer include being clear about what you want. Give details, Uttamdasa, our guide, tells us, adding that the power of our prayer will be directly proportionate to the details we bring into it and how clear a picture we can present of our desires. Next is to profess our own inability to make it happen, stressing once again on surrender. Finally, he brings in creative visualization. I am struck by the intermingling of New Age processes with a very Indian ethos, including the performance of a homa or havan (though unconventionally enough, by female dasas) for the peace, prosperity, and wish-fulfillment of the participants.
An invaluable part of the teaching is the focus on relationships, particularly the primal one with parents. According to Bhagavan, a bad relationship with one’s father shows up as financial scarcity and with one’s mother as blocks and hurdles in life. Fundamental truths are stressed. It is not important what the other says or does; our own reaction and attitude is. ‘Your outer world is a reflection of your inner world,’ the dasas repeat, asking us to take responsibility for righting our relationships. We are urged to be more sensitive and caring, and be aware of our needs for domination and control. At one point, Acharya Samadarshini asked us, ‘When you relate to others, do they feel less respect for themselves? Ask yourself, ‘What can I do to make them happy? Can I boost their self-esteem and self-respect?”
Forgiveness of those who have hurt us and seeking the forgiveness of those we have hurt is crucial. Later, Suvratadasa shares that her own autocratic father had brought her and her sibling up strictly. She says, ‘After coming to Bhagavan, he changed. He stopped correcting us and he became affectionate, hugging us and asking what we wanted. I saw my mother changing too, becoming happier and more loving. This inspired me so much that I decided to join the movement. Even today, what gives me the greatest satisfaction is to see people set right their relationships with parents.’
She shares the example of a girl who had a contentious relationship with her father. ‘She confided her problem to me and I urged her to resolve it. Later, while I was talking to someone else, I saw her running across to her father, who was also attending the course and hugging him. I felt so joyful!’
Bhagavan says, ‘We found that Deeksha does not work on people whose relationships with parents is not complete.’
The Power of Deeksha
And so we come to Deeksha. This is the central plank of the Oneness dharma. It is to the mysterious power of this process that they attribute their success in achieving enlightenment for themselves and others. In essence, it consists of laying of hands on the participants by dasas. According to writer Kiara Windrider, who has spent time with Bhagavan and is appreciative of his work, ‘A Deeksha is a transfer of divine energy that is so powerful it has the ability to break through the concepts and conditioning of our mind.’
He further adds, ‘Bhagavan says, ‘The mind of man is like a wall which divides man from God. The Deeksha is electrical energy that makes a hole in this wall, which we call the mind. Once this happens, then God and man can come to relate to each other.’
Every evening we were taken to a separate shed for Deeksha. Three dasas, dressed in saffron, sat on chairs and we knelt before each in turn. The look on some of their faces was striking, a melting tenderness mingled with joy and compassion. They seemed to be in a state of altered consciousness and most of them kept their eyes closed. Sometimes, the dasas took the person in their arms to hug or even kiss them. Women dasas give Deeksha to women participants and so on. The impact is clearly powerful. I saw women becoming prostrate and being led by other dasas to lie down. Many burst into tears.
Omprakash Kumar, who we encountered at the beginning of the article, recounts his experience of Deeksha, ‘The moment the dasas put their hands on me, I felt so powerfully, ‘God loves me’. I began to laugh and laugh with joy. I could not control myself, the laughter came out so forcefully. They kissed me. I also kissed them!
Young and poised Shilpa Omkari from Belgaum, walks up in front of her class of youngsters from Karnataka, and says, ‘If I can stand in front of all of you today and speak, it is because a change has impacted my brain. Today I have learned to forgive people, because only then will they forgive me.’ Says Sadhanadasa, ‘What we teach is nothing new. We all know that we must forgive. The deekshas give us the power to do so.’
There is a whole complicated theory on how the Deeksha work. They stress that it is a neurobiological change on the brain. Deeksha impacts the hardware (brain) and not the software (mind). They say that two things are required to give enlightenment. One is to eliminate the ego’s false sense of separateness. The parietal lobes in the brain govern this function; while this sense of separation is necessary for functioning, the lobes are overactive, creating a needless sense of otherness. By reducing their habitual overactivity, enlightenment is obtained. Further, the activity of the frontal lobes, the zone of the human will, needs to be enhanced in order to facilitate the submergence of human will into that of God’s. According to the German scientist, Christian Opitz, who provides the scientific reasoning behind this, ‘If the deekshas attune the brain of a person to the syntropic fields of optimum brain functioning, the individual consciousness would soon realize its seamlessness with unity.’
Says Bhagavan, ‘When the left parietal lobe is 30 and the right is 25, you are enlightened.’
The movement also uses a lecher antenna to gauge the energy levels of people which, they say, offer a good indication of their spiritual progress. Ordinary people like you and me are said to calibrate at 200. Calibration levels of over 500 indicate enlightenment, and over 750 would indicate a very high state. They claim to know the calibration of Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Ramana Maharshi, as well as that of Jesus Christ and Buddha through the revelations of those who are in direct touch with the Source.
For Bhagavan, it is the Deeksha that is all-powerful. He dismisses the rest of the teachings as a ‘placebo’ and claims that despite imparting only Deeksha to villagers, they attained enlightenment.
If Deeksha is the all-powerful phenomenon they claim it to be, it’s hard to figure out why it takes many of the members years to attain enlightenment. The dasas themselves, took an average of seven years to become enlightened, and many of those completing the Mahadeeksha Level ll, has been within the organization for 10 to 12 years.
My own reading is that while the deekshas work, you cannot discount the contribution of Seva, worship, righting of relationships, forgiving, and the other spiritual processes they advocate.
There is, of course, something to be said for Bhagavan’s statement that enlightenment has to be given, it cannot be attained. The role of grace on the spiritual path is indisputable. All seekers are familiar with the utter loss of control they feel over their own progress, especially the state of enlightenment. At the same time, self-effort has a role to play too. The individual who uses everything he encounters as an instrument of growth is more likely to reach his goal than one who continues to be ruled by conditioning.
As for my own Deeksha experience, I cannot honestly say that I tangibly felt the passage of the energies into me. However, on return, I have distinctly sensed a change within me. The contents of the mind can now be pushed aside, almost as if one were rolling up a blanket, and the state of pure being more easily experienced. Today, I can see the contours of this mind-self fully and am able to imagine what life without a mind will be like. It is still a projection, but I can see enough to know how completely effortless, free, and joyful the state will be. How much of this was my effort and how much Deeksha? I honestly cannot say. I have, after all, spent more than 15 years on the path, and had felt a readiness for this stage before I went there, but that the shift happened during my visit cannot be without significance.
So Deeksha? Yes, why not?
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