By Suma Varughese
Suma Varughese traces the journey of Shoonyo, a young computer engineer who has turned spiritual teacher
If there is further proof needed that we are moving with ever increasing focus and speed into the New Age, it is that people seem to be getting enlightened at a younger age. A case in question is 36-year-old Vishal Avchar, a computer engineer based in Pune, who seems to have got to that hallowed place at age 30, and is now a respected spiritual teacher. Now called Shoonyo, he is a likeable and stable young man with unmistakeable depth, openness and honesty. I met him briefly in Mumbai and was disarmed by his unpretentiousness and authenticity. The interview happened over Skype, but it was certainly one of my most enjoyable and deep experiences in the recent past. His journey and where it has taken him, reminded me of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, because both of them spent a few months after enlightenment, hanging loose, doing nothing, and then being appointed as a spiritual teacher by life. As if to reinforce the resemblance, Shoonyo is shortly emerging with a book, Looking for the Obvious, which he enthusiastically calls beautiful. Whether it will make as big a splash as Eckhart’s books, is up for conjecture, but what seems indisputable is that the Divine has plans for him, and this young man has a lot to offer the world.
How did a young man like you become Shoonyo?
I have been interested in the way the mind functioned and what lay beyond the mind from the time I was 12, in 1992. I was good at studies, and wanted to improve my memory further. But to understand memory, I had to understand mind so I did programmes like EFT and NLP. By the time I was 17, I had a good understanding of how the subconscious mind worked.
Were your parents interested in spirituality? Was that how you got into it at such a young age?
Yes, my parents have been with Osho since before my birth. But my interest was not so much with spirituality as it was with mind. I did not really take Osho seriously, until 19.
Then there was a break. I fell in love with a girl. I got married for a brief while and then separated. And it triggered off contemplation. I delved into psychology, Western and Eastern philosophy. I wanted to understand how society affected the psyche. I had also taken a job in IT.
In 2004, I got the chance to go to UK to work with a client. I was alone, which was a great advantage. Also the culture of England is introverted. People don’t talk, so I was with myself, checking out how the different philosophies related with each other, why the differences, and so on. I was 24 or 25 at that time.
The study of ontology, the study of beingness, then came my way, and brought me way closer to recognising what was going on within my body and mind systems, and beyond my mind. That’s when Osho started making a lot of sense. That is when a lot of spiritual teachers started making sense at a deeper level. They were J. Krishnamurti, Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita, Jesus, and teachers of Zen Buddhism.
The jigsaw puzzle of life began to fall into shape. What had once seemed like contradictions seemed more like paradoxes, which could co-exist without conflict. For instance, Western philosophy seemed more head-based, while Eastern philosophy seemed more surrender-based. I went on to see that they were using the head and the heart to point to the truth, and these two were tools to take us beyond both. I could also synthesise the differences in my own psyche, that nothing was really good or bad, it was just perceived by me to be so because I belonged to a certain culture.
In 2007-8, I went through a divorce. The collapse of my marriage was a big shock. My parents have a very successful marriage even now. I also had to go back to the UK. Both these were blessings in disguise. I got time to be with myself, to face the shock and see what was beyond this. A lot of meditation began. Around 2010, there were big bombs of clarity. Even walking on the street would trigger revelations. Perception started dropping. There was a clear seeing of what life is, and where life was to be lived from in this body-mind.
Can you expand on that?
Until then my attention had been on the outside world, by which I mean anything that I perceived from my senses. But now, this thing that was living through me, the life force itself, started revealing itself, as I paid attention. There were multiple showering of blessings of love, of self-acceptance.
Earlier, I would experience a lot of conflict, which would drive my actions. Then it became clear that even before the conflicts are learnt from society, what is, is really a very peaceful quiet space which has the flavour of love. This space of love made more sense. Before I take one step out, engage into the conflict and then want to solve it, it started making more sense to become aware of that space that already exists.
It started becoming clear that my IT work may not last long, or I may not last in it. But there was no reason to push it away. I continued for two and a half years or so, but I was losing interest. Even at work, there was more talk on who we are with my colleagues and once or twice with my directors. That started happening without my putting a structure on it to the point that at the end of 2012, I ended up conducting a couple of retreats in UK and Spain.
How did these changes impact your relationship with others and your life?
As I started going within me, the outside reality started losing meaning. What people say about me or how people look at me…There was more space for people to say what they wanted to say even about me, which was the result of my acceptance of who I was, including looking at my own messed up psyche. There was a sense of everything being okay in the world. There was an ease with relationships. At the same time, the company of some old friends didn’t make sense, because they came from the conditioned mind. I could see that they were saying the same things over and over again. Big challenges arose, especially with my girl friends.
Because everything was so open, because there was an allowing of the other, it was not expected that they would hurt. It wasn’t understood why I was hurting them. There were still remnants of the conditioned mind. At the same time, I could not help wondering, what in us gets hurt? It is not a heart ache. It is a mind ache. It is the mind and its expectations that ache. The heart is a beautiful space which only knows love.
Today, relationship does not take priority, but love does. It would be beautiful if we could understand this – the space of ‘Let me take care of your heart and you take care of mine’. This takes priority and not the rules and regulations of a relationship, where we say, now we are in a relationship and you can do this and you can’t do that. That is not honouring the heart of the person.
You don’t know what they are going through, what experiences they need. If I am in a love relationship with you, I will support you with any kind of experiences you want. That’s what I see opening up for me. The more people come close to me I am like, I am standing for you. We don’t have to be in a relationship. If they would allow me, I would like to share that love.
But in that sharing, more often than not, they very quickly jump to what do we do about this? How do we label this, take this as a relationship, draw some boundaries, and then live within those boundaries? And the possibilities of the expansiveness of the heart or their hurt being addressed, suddenly vanish. I don’t say, don’t get into a relationship, but we don’t have to hurry about it. If we understand that the priority is holding each other’s hearts really gently, then the relationship will happen anyway.
And how are you relating with people other than girl friends?
Earlier, there used to be a lot of anger and resentment towards people. When things began to become clear, I used to frequently get surprised and ask myself, Why are people doing this? Then I would sit with myself and go back to how I acted from the conditioned mind and say, “Oh, yes, that is how the mind works. I used to act like this too.”
Now I see them as innocent. Ignorance is innocent. However, sometimes when I see society shackling girls who want to wear short clothes or stopping young lovers from meeting, I experience a kind of righteous anger. How dare you shackle God? Who the hell are you to stop two people from talking lovingly to each other?
When did you come back to India?
End of 2014 is when I finally came back. It is almost four years since I quit the corporate. After I quit, I did nothing for a few months. I was staying with friends near the River Thames. For six months, I would wake up, meditate, cook my food and walk by the Thames. Then after deep meditation, for about two days, I kept getting persistent images of a book I could write. It was clear to me that I was going to write a book with spiritual insights in it, but it was going to be fictional. The story just kept coming to me. I started making notes around it. After a couple of months, it felt right that I should include my friend Asha Patel, into the writing of the book. She and I were aligned in our thinking. I started supplying the scenes and the concepts. And she would write it. Soon, I realised that my intuition had been spot on. There was so much sync between the scenes I narrated and how she wrote them up.
Since then, there has been a natural trust about the process. The book is near completion. A professional editor from the UK is editing it right now. Within the next five or six months time we should be able to publish it. Before starting the book, I had hardly written blogs before. It has been an amazing journey of trust and intuition. We have been writing it for three years now. I have loved every single moment of it. The book is called, Looking for the Obvious. It has as much depth as it has style and drama.
It is the story of three different people. A CEO, a girl who wants to explore the world, and finally a Mafia don. Initially they don’t know each other. But something happens to all of them to make them ask, Who am I? Each starts exploring in their own way. Intuition flows in the underworld felon; The CEO strives to go beyond the mind. The girl starts exploring self-acceptance and love. At some point their lives collide into each other. They struggle with each other’s different perspectives. Eventually they discover that the journey is the same. Together, the differences of thought, practice, wisdom and wonder are aligned to reveal one profoundly liberating insight.
Would you call it great literature?
Yes, I would. Asha has contributed greatly to make it so.
How did the teaching begin in India?
One evening while I was at home, a friend of my dad’s came home and they began to discuss spirituality. I kept quiet, though I could see that something was missing. My dad’s friend asked me, ‘What do you think?” I boldly shared what I thought. He was to conduct a half-day workshop on spirituality and he straight away asked me to conduct half of it, while he would hold a meditation. I told him that I would not cheat and prepare. The topic would be whatever came up in the present moment. Next day, I spontaneously shared some thoughts. The audience of about 70 – 80 people took it well. Some members began organising more of these sessions. Eventually, I saw that a retreat may be necessary. I have so far conducted these retreats in nine cities of India.
From your Youtube talks, you seem to be focussed on the Jnana path.
Yes, I started with it, because some members of the audience had been meditating for 30 – 40 years, and understood advaita. But along the way, a lot of bhakti came. My latest programme, Unstoppable Commitment, is pure karma. The city life we lead these days needs a base. It is best to have all three paths.
How did your parents feel about your moving into spiritual teaching?
They feel beautiful about it. Dad is my first guru. There has not been a single day that I have not had a deep conversation with my Dad.
So what lies ahead?
Thankfully, no idea at all. I can see as far as the very next event to be created which is the Unstoppable Commitment programme that we will hold in January next year in Mumbai. That is what we are playing with right now. I say playing with because the commitment is unstoppable, but at the same time it is so lightly held. There is a joy and a playfulness about it. There is also an inclination to start one-on-one sessions with seekers because that has been really fruitful, lately.
Having left your job, how do you manage your finances?
I saved a bit while I was working. Initially, a lot of my retreats were free. A few months ago, there were no savings for future use. I have now registered an organisation, Agyaat. I was totally ok with offering programmes free. At the same time, am totally ok to say, this is what a retreat will cost you. I have no guilt if I have to charge even Rs 2 lakhs for a two-month programme.
What are the primary issues seekers face?
There are a couple. One is that they become too happy too quickly. They are content with just a deep glimpse. Only when they trip again, do they ask. ‘I was enlightened. Where is it gone?’ Secondly, the healing community has a tendency to use the understanding they receive for their own benefit, without dissolving into it. One needs to be honest enough to share that one is not enlightened. And also be careful that one is not sharing from the want of fame or credit. if the help is in order to boost my ego, it is not a help. It is disastrous. We need to understand that there is something working through us and it is not us who needs to take the credit.
So are you enlightened?
I don’t know that that means.
That is what people who think they are enlightened always say! I mean are you in the Now? Is your mind operating? Are you in a state of peace and happiness?
The mind operates. Emotions come.
Do you identify with the emotions?
No, I don’t. Most times, no. Sometimes, I identify with them and let them be. Most of the time, things keep happening on their own. Thoughts don’t bother me any more. The concepts, judgements, sense of right or wrong, these things are not there anymore. A person can come to me and say the exact opposite of what I say, and I would say, oh, yeah, perfect. A person could murder someone and I could say, Nothing wrong with that. That is how he had to express himself in the moment. I would see the person as some trapped energy that got released. And since the energy got released, there is no need to label the person as a murderer forever. If one could share some love with him, that would be great.
What is the ideal world?
This is the ideal world. This is Paradise. All it needs is recognition and falling in love with the way it is. Love what is fully, and everything else will blossom.
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