By Suma Varughese September 2006 The Oneness University and oneoness movement, founded by Sri Bhagavan, whose mission is to help birth satyug, specialise 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, regard 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 EnlightenmentTheir 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. Some time 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 ProcessI 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 ‘satkarma’ 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 a severe depression due to financial stress. The condition paralyses the face 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 LayoutThe 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 accommodation 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 constitutes 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 the 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 are 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 does 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 a happening. ‘Bu
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