By Suma Varughese
The search for enlightenment is what drives us, consciously or unconsciously. however, finding the right path is no easy matter for it has to suit our inclination, interest and temperament. while we can’t promise you a custom-made path, we give you the next best alternative—a compilation of 100 paths including 59 formal paths and 41 readers’ experiences to pick and choose from. happy seeking!
Supreme Love is extolled by Adi Sankara as the highest yoga, for what is knowledge, action, service and meditation, without love? Krishna also says that devotion is dearest to him. Bhakti is devotion, and like Sufi and Christian mystics, yogis also cherish the concept of love as the best means of reaching God.
Swami Vivekananda describes this progression from personal love to the final egoless surrender into a universal ideal thus: Vairagya, non-attachment to all things that are not God, evolves out of great attachment to God, Anuraag. Taking physical attachment—with a burning, passionate desire for the beloved—to higher levels of para bhakti is purifying in itself, burning away egoism so that all existence becomes an immersion in the love ideal and every breath is an act of surrender. God too enjoys Love, seeing His own beautiful image reflected in the eyes of the entranced devotee. What option does Krishna have but to embrace in a blissful merging, to forever dwell in the devotee’s heart, playing sweet music on the eternal flute?
This may appear to be the easiest path to God-realisation, not involving penances, asceticism or tortures of the body that other systems of yoga may involve; yet the act of surrendering one’s ego and worldly desires is the most difficult to achieve! Radha, Meera and the Gopis of Brindavan merge with Krishna, free from worldly cares and jealousy, in a continuing dance—raaslila—the celebrated path of Love.
It channels intense emotion, an upsurge of feeling, offered as adornment to the deity. Women poets like Andal and Akkamahadevi uninhibitedly pray to the Lord as their bridegroom.
Ramakrishna’s love for Kali, or the Nayanar saints’ devotion to Shiva is also similar, the worshipper experiencing emotional surrender as a child or woman, yearning for God who is Mother or Lover.
Swami Sivananda has enumerated five main bhavas that lend emotional tenor to Supreme Love: Shanta, a peaceful or serene state where the devotee simply overflows with love, without being demonstrative. Dasya, the attainment of pure bliss in service to God, as in Hanuman’s devotion to Rama. Sakhya, friendship on equal terms, like Arjuna or Draupadi with Krishna. Vatsalya, motherly worship, as expressed towards the infant Krishna, through a swell of tender caring. Finally, Madhura, where God is the Lover. This is the enjoyable path where the devotee not only becomes sugar, but asks for a taste of sugar, so that Love, the Lover and the Beloved are One.
This is considered the best path for God-realisation in our Kali Yug, rather than ritual worship, yajna and meditation. Japa is the repetitious invocation of a mantra or nama (Lord’s name), as the means of purification of the four-fold body, as the path to attaining God-realisation.
The Universe is made of sound, as subtle vibrations in the ether, or dense forms and shapes in the material world. Cellular forms within the body (and mind) are transformed in harmonious attunement to the divine through sound vibrations, eliminating negativity in thought and emotions and leading to experience of oneness. Concentration, visualisation and devotion are important in the practice of Japa. The underlying principle is that sound and form are one and the same, the deity being present in the invocation itself. Japa ultimately results in dissolution of the separative ego so that sound (or speaking), speaker, and spoken (the ishta or divine) merge into One. The result is bliss.
Mantra shastra is the highly developed Vedic science of sound, based on the numerical properties of Sanskrit, deriving from the Sankhya philosophy of Kapilamuni. The definition of mantra is given as mananat trayate iti mantra, that which saves through constant thinking, and mantra is that which helps to cut through the bondage of karma and reincarnation, helping to attain moksha. The mind is the bow and mantra the arrow which, aimed at a particular thought form or ideal, brings realisation.
Swami Sivananda refers to a mantra as “divinity encased within a sound structure”. Mantras can be recited aloud, softly, like while humming, or wholly in the mind. Use of the mala or rosary for counting, and the sitting postures are recommended, but not strictly necessary. AUM or the pranava is supposed to represent the Absolute in its manifest vibrational form, considered a powerful mantra in itself. Soham meaning ‘That I Am’ is also a powerful mantra, representing the subtle sound of breath inhalation and exhalation, leading to liberation. Gayatri, the powerful mantra invocation of Divine Light, is considered the Mother of all Vedas. Mantras are also known to result in beneficial effects on the health and well-being of the sadhak.
On the other hand, just repetition of the divine name, nama Japa, is strongly recommended by many as a more direct and modest alternative to complicated mantras. The benefit of nama Japa is its very simplicity, lending itself beautifully to the vagaries of modern living, since there are few rules and regulations. Nama Japa can be mentally repeated while commuting or even while doing routine chores, bringing similar results as formal mantras, if practised with full devotion.
In various spiritual paths and religions down the ages, prayer has been practised as a means for communion with the Divine. Whether in times of suffering, with hands folded and head bowed, or during festivals and joyous occasions, with much singing and dancing, it is in prayer that some of the deepest emotions and experiences of humankind have been accessed and expressed.
Monotheistic religions like Islam, Judaism and Christianity institutionalised prayer as a form of adoration of God into daily practice. Times were fixed, and strictures laid down as to the proper ways and environs to pray in. Yet the act of praying, and the powerful experiences it seems to lead to in so many people, seems to be above and beyond this. The best way to pray still remains the spontaneous one, in which one’s entire being becomes absorbed in the prayer, such that a point comes when dualities of self and God fade away and a state of transcendental union is entered into. Though the words of the prayer may be initially important, ultimately they tend to fade away as the one praying achieves a state of absorption and deep connection.
Prayers may be vocal, in which fixed formulae or spontaneous outpourings are uttered, or mental, in which devotion and emotion predominate. Contemplative prayer is the simple awareness of the Divine devoid of prayers and concepts, as in the ‘prayer of quiet’ taught by St. Teresa of Avila. The need to live in constant awareness of the presence of God may also be seen as the stimulus behind the Islamic call for praying five times a day.
The vast canvas of prayer marked over by humankind can be tentatively divided into the following categories—adorations (prayers of devotion, surrender, love, praise and offering); celebrations (prayers of thanksgiving, initiation, affirmation and blessing); invocations (prayers of petition, supplication, calling forth and healing); and meditations kerning (prayers of reflection, contemplation, being and teaching). Ultimately, whether one prays ritually or spontaneously, it is the state of immersion and connectedness that one is able to achieve that has the potential for triggering self-transformation, and is profound at the personal level.
Sai Baba of Shirdi
The story of Sai Baba is about the miracle of love that is India. He first appeared in Shirdi, a small village near Nashik in Maharashtra, as a radiant fakir of about 19 years, who sat under a neem tree in a yogic asana. He disappeared for a few years, and returned in 1858 to live there until his death in 1918. He dressed as a Muslim fakir, wearing a kafni and a bandana knotted on one side. Sai is a respectful address reserved for God or a venerated person in Sindhi language. Baba stayed in an abandoned, dilapidated mosque, and constantly recited Allah’s name. His ears were pierced, and there was no sign of circumcision on his body. He lit the dhuni in the mosque and freely offered udi or sacred ash to people to relieve them of all kinds of suffering. He begged at noon around the village and shared the alms with dogs who were his companions in the mosque, and later, with devotees also.
‘Allah Malik’ was his constant refrain. Yet he was well-versed in Sanskrit scriptures and practised yoga. He was able to bring devotees from any religion to realisation according to their own path. Eventually, the mosque came to be known as Dwarkamai, meaning the kingdom of Lord Krishna, a mother’s abode! Many gave up their chosen calling and came to live in Shirdi, men and women alike, irrespective of caste, class or creed.
The chief mission of Sai Baba seems to have been to demonstrate within his own person the harmony of all religions, and that the Supreme Being did not treat his creations on different terms. “Sabka Malik Ek,” he would say.
Sai Baba performed many miracles as a means to bring people to acceptance of faith in God. Amazingly, the miracles have continued down the years. Even non-devotees have received the grace of his blessings in unexpected situations. The path of Sai Baba is the path of Kabir, synthesising the best of Islam and Hinduism: compassion for one’s fellow beings, surrender to God, nama japa, and selfless service to humanity.
Contact: Website: www.saibaba.org
Recognising the need to combat the moral rot seeping into society because of various forms of negativity, this organisation seeks to create a major flank of spiritual seekers dedicated to sattvik living. They are exhorted to stand up to evil influences through the development of physical prowess, mental strength, and spiritual resolve or sankalp. This is called Kshatra Dharma Sadhana, or training for spiritual warriorship, and is promoted by Sanatan Sanstha.
Its founder, Dr Jayant Balaji Athavale, is a UK-trained hypnotherapist. Faced with growing awareness that his spiritual work enhanced his healership, he began to delve deeper into the subject until it became obvious that spirituality has immense scope for healing, way beyond the boundaries of conventional medical practice. He found that the patients’ rate of cure grew significantly when they took up spiritual practice. In 1988, he commenced free workshops on spirituality in Mumbai. He started Sanatan Sanstha in 1990 to help spread the message of the science of spirituality, with blessings of his Sadguru, Sant Bhaktaraj of Indore.
Free discourses are arranged at over 1,000 centres, to help clear misconceptions about spirituality and to provide guidence about appropriate forms of spiritual practice. Weekly satsangs are held to motivate individual spiritual practice, clarify doubts, and to help maintain continuity. Special classes are held for children to motivate them to take up spiritual work at an early age. Other work includes stress management workshops in government institutions, industries and corporate houses; rallies to create awareness of spirituality; free training in self-defence to strengthen mind and body to take up the challenge of standing up to evil with conviction; free training for relief measures during calamities, and first aid; campaigns for creating awareness of righteousness (dharma) and nation building; and legal aid is envisaged for the future.
Sanatan Prabhat is the organisation’s weekly publication in Hindi, Marathi and Kannada. Sanjay Deshmukh, who serves as sadhak in its headquarters in Panvel near Mumbai, says he has achieved considerable progress in sadhana because of his work. Mrinalini Dalvi, a housewife active in the Sanstha for nearly 10 years following widowhood and emigration of sons, is brimming with self-confidence because of her spiritual work. She says she has achieved focus, equanimity and peace of mind through her participation in satsangs and regular sadhana at home.
Contact: Email. firstname.lastname@example.org,
An inner experiment
In May 1992, I came to know Dada Gavand at Yevoor, Thane. Seeing his simplicity and the authentic approach towards life, I fell in love with him. He became my friend, philosopher and guide, and my inner journey gathered momentum.
On the evening of July 13 the same year, I was meditating over a paragraph from his book Towards the Unknown. During the silent period, the watchfulness of the moment was sharp; a profound awareness was present. In that state, one felt the sound of rain shower lashing the earth. Sounds of chirping birds and children playing disappeared. In that sudden silence, exploded a new kind of vibrancy, so intense and overwhelming that it engulfed the entire personality. A new surge of energy washed away all residual thought so that nothing could sustain in that vibrancy. It was a kind of flux, intense and powerful and flames were ablaze to engulf ego-mind-personality completely. In those moments, godliness pervaded with no one to observe or witness. There was a new state of health that I had never experienced before, like drinking from the fountain of life that quenched thirst completely.
Outside, work and life continued but the ‘inner’ had been transformed. The struggle with thought had ended; questions dissolved. Meditation was happening on its own and the ‘vibrant silence’ felt.
On a beautiful morning of August 1993, I was going to work. The road was washed clean with the previous night’s rain. As the motorcycle attained the steady speed of 55 km/hr, every minute vibration of it was felt intensely. There was a sudden surge of expansion. There was no one in the body riding the bike; the bike was in me; the road, the trees and buildings were in me; birds flying up on the mountain, the mountain, itself were in me. This amazing feeling of expansion continued for some time. I reached the factory rejuvenated and in a very quiet mood.
One beautiful evening, standing on the terrace, seeing few openings of deep blue sky, the sun and dark clouds above the hills, made me ponder about how the divine plays hide and seek with a sadhak! In a short while, as awareness deepened, there was an expansion. The magnanimity of a gliding bird was enjoyed. Simultaneously, one felt the pulse of it, as if it was part of oneself. The communion with the bird was felt intensely, the joy of flying high up in the sky, shared. The experience made me understand the meaning of ‘kinship with nature’.
With a series of such experiences, the old was slowly getting washed away with cellular cleansing of the brain, often felt as mild to severe pain. It brought sensitivity and new understanding. The struggle with thought ended. Awareness deepened. The flame of attention reached its new heights. The inner experiment continued.
It was the night of August 27, 1994. The passive awareness was aware of itself while sleep-state of the organism continued. The wishful mind with its subtlest desire was not there. Ego had evaporated. It could not sustain itself without the food of thoughts. There was nobody aware of that state. The observer was not there. Just the state remained. Call it ‘deep-sleep-awareness’ or samadhi or stateless-state. Words are just the pointers; they fail to describe this kind of anubhuti.
The flowering of this experiment left me humble and silent. It took more than five years to come to a point where the expression and sharing started happening in a spontaneous manner with few friends at TAO (Total Approach Organization). The experiment continues…. It is an eternal journey…. There is no end to it. This is an eternal flow of pure love, ever fresh in each moment.
Contact: Ph. (022) 25362118
Email: (Dada Gavand): email@example.com
While many of us today prefer the householder mode, the path of renunciation has always been the traditional route to liberation. All or most religions have their monastic traditions.
In Hinduism, the inspiration for renunciation comes from the authority of the Vedas, which prescribed a four-fold progression for man in his journey from birth to death. The four ashrams are: brahmacharya, the period of studentship, grihastha, the period of householder duties, vanaprastha, handing over charge to the eldest son and going to the forest in preparation for sanyas, pursuit of moksha.
The rule, therefore, was to take sanyas only after fulfilling worldly duties and responsibilities. Occasionally, however, there came a naisthika, who renounced the world directly from the stage of brahmacharya. He was considered to be the highest kind of ascetic, a paramahansa, if he remained faithful to his goal and vows. Lapse into sensuality, though, would condemn him severely.
The sanyasi’s rigorous vows included the following:
• No personal property save a bowl, a cup, two sets of clothes.
• No contact with women.
• No eating for pleasure.
• No possession or even handling of money.
• Detachment from personal relationships.
Today, however, the rules are considerably relaxed, and so has the nature of sanyas, with the creation of many spiritual organisations where people often lead comfortable, though service-oriented lives. Perhaps the sanyasi living closest to the ancient ideal is the wandering mendicant, who must depend on charity for survival and can stay nowhere for long. Such total surrender to the will of God, if genuine, can bring about rapid enlightenment.
Christian monasticism came into being in the 4th Century Egypt, and has grown vigorously, open to both men and women. Monks and nuns are inspired by the ideal of the religious life as spelled out by Jesus Christ in his admonition: “Be ye perfect like your heavenly Father is perfect.” In addition to following the commandments of Christ, they also adhere to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Buddhism has subscribed to the monastic ideal since its inception by the Buddha, who created the concept of the sangha. Male monks are called bhikkus and women bhikkunis. They eat one vegetarian meal at noon, and practise celibacy, scripture study, chanting and meditation.
Monasticism among Jains is a longstanding tradition. There are two kinds of Jain monks, the Digambars or sky-clad who wear no clothes, own nothing and collect donated food with their hands; and the Svetambara or white-clad monks and nuns who carry bowls for collecting food. The Jain ideal is non-activity and absolute non-violence.
GururBrahma GururVishnu Gurur DevoMaheshwarah
Gurusakshat Parabrahma Tasmay Shriguravenamah The living Guru tradition in India is the foundation of this land’s spiritual culture. Its origins lie in the legend of Dattatreya, manifesting the trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh. The dhuni, burning fire of the wandering mendicant, producing sacred ash or vibhuti, and the paduka, symbol of surrender at the Guru’s feet, are central to it. Often it is Shiva who gains precedence as simply the primordial Adiguru and Adinath, first Master of the Navnaths. In Vaishnav tradition, Krishna and Arjun become powerful manifestations
of Guru and Disciple. Dattatreya’s principle shrine as the Formless Guru is at Girnar, Gujarat, and another major centre of pilgrimage is at Ganagapur (Karnataka), which has a mountain of sacred ashes from the dhuni burning ceaselessly over thousands of years.
The guru is one who dispels darkness from the disciple’s consciousness, awakening the bright flame of Self-realisation. It is possible to have more than one guru, and often the gurus, after imparting all that they knew, give blessings to disciples to find others who awaited them. Dattatreya himself admits to 24 gurus. Yet there is just one Sadguru, true master, who, with infinite patience, guides the disciple’s progress through many different lives. Implicit in this is the dictum that when the disciple is ready, the guru arrives. It is he who has the responsibility to see the disciple through vicissitudes of karma and reincarnation towards ultimate moksha.
Swami Ram Baba, born in the royal family of Dewas, belonged to Mahavatar Babaji’s entourage in the Himalayas for several years. He had returned to India after completing studies in Cambridge, and had even appeared for the ICS exam, before taking formal sanyas. He took samadhi in Mumbai in 1989 at the age of 129. His picture appears in Yogananda’s autobiography. Ram Baba, in his own book, sweetly describes his first encounter with his Sadguru in 1914. This was none other than Sai Baba of Shirdi, who was eating roti and onion at the time, and the wandering sadhu thought that he had been misdirected to this uncouth person. Sai Baba, having read his mind, said: “See, this dog has arrived! Only he eats onions who can digest them.”
Ram Baba describes how he was enslaved by the Master from that moment onwards, overtaken by sheer ecstasy. Love permeated his entire being, and it stayed with him throughout his subsequent wanderings until the time of his final samadhi, when his gaze was fixed on a picture of Sai Baba for three days until the soul took flight.
Chanting the name of God
I was born into an orthodox Brahmin family in Andhra Pradesh. At 25, I got acquainted with the teachings of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh. I read his books avidly, went to his ashram in the Himalayas and endeavored to implement his philosophy. He said: The whole of true spirituality lies in two words: detach (from worldliness) and attach (to godliness). He also stressed the need for vairagya (detachment) so as to make sustained progress in spiritual life.
Selfless service has been one of my main tools of sadhana. I have treated hundreds of patients suffering from various ailments with homoeopathy over the past 25 years, and have derived from it immense mental solace. I am also fond of giving alms and distributing food to the poor whenever possible, and like to offer contributions within my means to spiritual organisations. I am also a firm believer in prayer. Daily I study spiritual books and love to reflect on the teachings According to Swami Sivananda, this habit can lead to a lower form of samadhi
For 30 years, I practised Japa zealously. I selected a mantra of my choice and started reciting it. During this period, the fervour to be in touch with my soul increased manifold and I pondered over questions like, ‘Who is God?, ‘What is the origin of creation’? and ‘Who am I’?
Finally, after years of struggling on the path, I got a break in March 1999, when I read two books, In Quest of God and In the Vision of God, authored by Papa Ramdas of Anandashram, Kerala. Highly inspired, I made my way to Kerala where my guru, Swami Satchidananda, initiated me into the holy Ram Nam mantra saying: “Ram Nam now is stamped on your heart. Repeat it non-stop, through all your activities!”
My quest thus led me to my sadguru, whose instruction I have tried to follow verbatim. My penchant for Japa backing me up, I have started repeating my guru mantra constantly, and am now left with a firm conviction that Ram Nam alone will transport me one day to my goal of self-realisation.
This practice, though simple, has the potency to ultimately subdue and silence the mind by virtue of its ceaseless repetition. The mantra has made clear-cut grooves in my subconscious mind, sinking into its bottom.
Now, deeply entrenched and firmly established in my practice, I experience a high degree of calmness and peace, even in the wake of ups and downs I have had to face over the past three decades. Importantly, during my practice sessions, emotional tears often well up in my eyes and I tend to sob inconsolably.
My guru, at a certain point of his own sadhana, after several months of constant chanting of Ram Nam, sat one day in a cave, having lost body consciousness—remaining in this state for a number of blissful hours! What happened to my guru can happen to me too, if I keep emulating his example in right earnest! I have sown my seeds on the right soil that will fructify sooner or later—my turn now is to wait.
When my sadhana ripens, Grace may happen in just an instant!
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Bhajan Sampradaya
The roots of bhakti are in the Sanskrit word bhaj. Bhajan is an emotional expression of surrender to God through devotional songs. Immersion in songs suffused with love of God, singing His praises, repeating the nama over and over again are the means by which the devotee casts off the veil of separation to merge with the Ideal in complete surrender. Participating in Bhajan Sampradaya involves sankirtan, or singing of devotional songs in a group.
Devotional singing and dancing generates a sweetly melodious flow of sublime energy. Moving with this harmonious current, finding submergence in a larger stream of ecstasy with other devotees, is a simple transformative experience on the evolutionary path. Sathya Sai Baba talks about this harmonious energy coursing along its own path in the ether as a sound wave with everlasting effects, purifying the atmosphere and returning to bring serenity to the devotees.
The Bhajan Sampradaya has historically evolved as a special vehicle for spiritual and social transformation, by dissolving gender, caste, class and regional barriers. It has a pan-Indian character, with numerous saints like Kabir, Surdas, Sri Chaitanya, Tukaram, Namdev and Sri Bodhendra Swamigal composing simple compositions or nama renditions that lend themselves beautifully to group devotional singing.
The Vaishnav tradition has made the greatest contribution to the spread of Bhajan Sampradayas all over India, especially through organisation of Bhagavats, which involve reading of scriptures containing legends of Vishnu and his avatars, and the singing of bhajans. However, bhajans of Shiva, Devi and other deities are also common. The Varkari movement in Maharashtra, cutting across all panthic and caste barriers to converge on the Pandurang (Vishnu) temple in Pandharpur, presents a rich tradition rooted in the sampradaya.
For many with strong family or work commitments, the rigours of pilgrimage and asceticism are pipe-dreams. Yet the love of God beckons insistently, and the neighbourhood Bhajan Sampradaya, which makes few demands, is the chief avenue of spiritual expression. Artisans, housewives and children find emotional release in bhajans that liberate them from the daily grind, bringing profoundly transformational moments. Osho calls bhajan a dancing, singing prayer. The experience of spiritual ecstasy cannot be contained within, and has to be distributed, shared in the singing of bhajans.
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