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!
Brahma Vidya is an ancient system of yoga and philosophy, said to have originated in India but relocated in Tibet, from where it was resurrected and presented to the western world (specifically California) under the secular term, Mental Physics. Brought back to India by K.S. Ramanathan who conducted courses in Mumbai after completing a correspondence course in the subject in 1968, Brahma Vidya enjoys popularity among a small gathering of seekers.
It is an elaborate eight-month course that progressively introduces the student to eight breathing exercises, their individual affirmations and guidance in meditation, along with lectures on various aspects of spirituality. These form the crux of the path. Starting with pranayama, the eight breaths are:
1. The Memory-Development Breath
2. The Revitalising Breath
3. The Inspiration Breath
4. The Physical Perfection Breath
5. The Vibro Magnetic Breath
6. The Cleansing Breath
7. The Grand Rejuvenation Breath
8. Your Own Spiritual Breath
The corresponding affirmations, also called the Nine Positives, are: I am whole. I am perfect. I am strong. I am powerful. I am loving. I am harmonious. I am rich. I am young. I am happy.
This is followed by meditation.
Participants claim enhancement of creative potential, increased levels of calmness, attainment of robust health and higher energy levels. However, the potential of the path for sincere aspirants goes all the way to enlightenment. Coming as it does from the Tibetan tradition, the breaths activate the chakras and in some cases generate a Kundalini awakening.
Contact: Justice M.L. Dudhat,
Ph: (022) 22024230
Art of Living
Founded by the charismatic Sri Sri Ravishankar, the Art of Living course is one of the most popular paths today, especially among youngsters and the urban elite. Its core technique is the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful breathing exercise taught over a period of four evenings. A compact package taking not more than half-an-hour, it starts with yogic pranayamas, including the Ujjaya breath, before proceeding to a cycle of three types of breaths done 20 times each, which progresses from slow to medium to fast. This cycle is repeated three times. The exhausted silence into which you slip propels you directly into the thoughtless stage. The course itself has processes and interactive sessions that encourage experiential learning.
The hallmarks of AOL are the 3 S’s, viz, sadhana, seva and satsang. Sadhana refers to the daily spiritual practice of Sudarshan Kriya. Seva (service) is encouraged and the organisation has many projects for social and rural uplift. Satsangs in the presence of Guruji (as he is lovingly called by his devotees), comprising bhajans and question and answer sessions, are a special aspect of the AOL brand of spiritual fun, and account for much of its popularity. Song and dance is the order of the day, allowing youngsters to let their hair down and groove while looking for God!
Discourses from the guru, active interaction within the group and regular practice of the Sudarshan Kriya are practice enough to fuel the aspirant towards enlightenment.
Contact: Ph: (080) 8432274;
Theosophy, with its motto, ‘There is no religion higher than Truth’, claims to be a synthesis of science, religion and philosophy. Followers of Theosophy believe in extrasensory perception, clairvoyant visions, and memories from states of hypnotic regression, as important practices of this movement.
Theosophy has been called the Ancient and Divine Wisdom, claimed to have been received from evolved masters in Tibet by its founder, the Russian mystic Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. The Theosophical Society founded in 1875, by Mme Blavatsky along with Col. H.S. Olcott and W.Q. Judge, was aimed at spreading this knowledge.
Theosophy seeks the formation of a nucleus of humanity without any distinctions. It upholds the universality of truth and advocates the belief that, shorn of external trappings, all the world’s religions and philosophies propound this Universal Truth.
Its philosophy, a blend of oriental religious philosophy with western thought, played a pivotal role in explaining and popularising Hinduism and Buddhism in the West.
Theosophy enjoins its followers to cultivate a lofty moral outlook, that is altruistic and compassionate. Positive qualities such as love, patience, kindness and forgiveness, are to be stringently cultivated and life is to be lived for the good of others. Though it believes in the universality of truth as preached by all religions, the concept of a personal, anthropomorphic God is rejected in favour of a kind of pantheism and Theosophists believe in the presence of spiritual entities, or ‘guides’ who support humans in their spiritual quest. Heavily inclined towards the occult, Theosophy advocates a ‘scientific’ study of the rationale behind psychic phenomena as a means to understanding the secret workings of nature.
Contact: Ph: (044) 2491 2474;
I write positive now Janaki Ballav Dash,
Spirituality entered my life while at college when I read a book by Swami Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh. Subsequently, having lost touch with it, spirituality reappeared in my life through Sai Baba.
Working in mainstream media, I write on people and issues to expose hard reality, and sometimes to oblige people. I have undergone tremendous experiences such as losing money and relationships, and in the last quarter of 2002, experienced an evolution of my ‘being’. The latter brought to the fore my inner potential as well as distaste for mainstream journalism.
I now understand that no matter how hard you try to avoid it, one is bound to reap the consequences of one’s actions, sooner or later.
Thoughts create reality and means is as important as the end. As the means, so the end. Ethics and values always play a vital role; unethical ways are bound to throw you down sooner or later.
Today, I no longer need to talk or write to please anyone. Strangely, I also find that people and events are moulding me in a most ‘ethical’ way, without my having to resist as I was doing earlier.
I am now free from the cross-currents of mainstream media to find more satisfying and fulfilling careers in holistic and socio-developmental writings. Self-growth is taking me every day to new dimensions in which Sai Baba has played a key role.
I have an unwritten but spiritual collaboration with Baba that I will just do the right thing with faith, and he will do the rest.
Contact: Ph: (06792) 253424
The Power of Now
Eckhart Tolle is a phenomenal modern guru who talks about the collective flowering of human consciousness in present times. His first book, The Power of Now, is an international bestseller, translated into 17 languages. Josh Max, writer and musician in New York City, mentions in his interview for the Omega Institute: “Each encounter brought me closer to the man’s stillness and his wisdom, which I gauged by the stillness I felt within myself as I absorbed what he had to say.”
The essence of his teaching is spiritual awakening. When the mental noise that we call ‘thinking’ subsides, there is a gap in the stream of thought, but there is no loss of consciousness. In that gap there is full and intense consciousness, but it has not taken any form. At this point, consciousness has given up its identification with form, and realises its own nature. This is the ‘self-realisation’ of consciousness. Stillness, according to Tolle, is pure consciousness. By completely surrendering to the present moment, and by accepting rather than resisting whatever happens in the field of now, brings freedom from suffering.
The egoic identity, a manifestation of unconsciousness, is responsible for misery and suffering. The ego needs enemies, and its favourite enemy is the present moment. The only thing that can free you from the past is ‘presence’.
Tolle suggests that to truly inhabit the body is the best way of practising presence. Sense the aliveness that is in the body. This takes your attention away from thoughts. The practice of physical movements such as Tai Chi helps. Sensing the body becomes an anchor for staying present in the Now. Secondly, make it your practice to welcome this moment, no matter what form it takes. Say yes to whatever is ‘now’. There is only one moment, but different forms of it. The secret is not to resist these forms. Surrendering to the forms that arise takes you to the formless in yourself. You then sense a spaciousness in whatever happens in your life. People, events, situations, objects—all come and go. Being in the now moment liberates you from form, from the world. With that liberation comes enormous peace.
Sadhu Vaswani Mission
Founded in 1931 at Hyderabad, now in Pakistan, by Sadhu Vaswani, a brilliant academic and freedom fighter, the Mission relocated to Pune in 1949, where it is presently spearheaded by Sadhu Vaswani’s nephew, Dada Jashan Vaswani.
A primarily Sindhi-based organisation, it is nevertheless secular and inclusive, open to all faiths and communities. The most laudable value of the Mission is its practice of ahimsa, the protection of all forms of life. Since 1986, it has been celebrating the founder’s birthday on November 25, International Meatless Day. The Mission ardently advocates vegetarianism. Indeed, so sacred was life to Sadhu Vaswani that he was averse to even plucking flowers.
The spiritual activities of the organisation revolve around two ideals: simran (meditation) and seva (service). Satsangs thrice a day, an emphasis on silence, prayer and nama japa as well as meditation, address the importance of self-knowledge. But it is seva that burnishes the Mission’s activities with a glowing radiance, for it is everywhere. Early morning food for indigents, aid and food for charitable organisations and the poor wards in hospitals, feeding pigeons and animals, free medical camps and treatment in rural areas, a network of schools and colleges for the girl child, and various other activities keep the Mission’s members busy, happy and godward bound.
Contact: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website:www.sadhuvaswani.org
Sathya Sai Baba
Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh is one of the best recognised godmen of India, with his distinctive halo of frizzy hair and orange robes. He is known for miracles such as materialising vibhuti from thin air, or material objects like watches and jewellery. He has a wide following of people from varied backgrounds all over India and abroad.
Sathya Sai Baba’s message is of righteousness or dharma, universal love and service to humanity. The principle of respect for all religions is enshrined in his ashrams. ‘Love all, Serve all’, is his oft-repeated saying. Devotional activities are conducted in all his ashrams and organisations in India and abroad. Baba underscores the concept of akhand bhajan, a loving surrender to God, which brings immersion in devotion to such an extent that the singing and repitition of the divine name continues in one’s heart at all times, and all actions become an offering to God.
Baba says that God can transform the collectivity in a miraculous way. His seva dal disciples follow a comprehensive humanitarian programme, which involves attending to patients in hospitals, children in remand homes and helping those in distress. He insists that it is the sacred duty of the rich to feed the poor and look after them. Training for right action is given through well-devised courses for children, the youth and women.
The Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust runs educational institutions, hospitals, and social service organisations. Its drinking water project has brought potable water to 700 villages. The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences is a unique super-speciality hospital where free surgeries are performed.
Sathya Sai leads the path of devotion, love, knowledge and service to humanity.
Contact: Prasanti Nilayam
Ph: (08555) 287375
This is the result of one man’s commitment to understanding how the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita could be translated into a practical method for individual transformation and peaceful change at the grassroots. Swadhyaya means ‘to know oneself’; it teaches ego transcendance through bhakti or devotion that is all-encompassing, firmly rooted in the conviction of basic equality of all human beings. As a Parivar, it is completely informal, grounded in values of family and fellowship. Swadhyaya demonstrates cultivation of wisdom through balanced synthesis of knowledge, faith and action.
It has evolved from the lifetime dedication of Pandurang Shastri Athavale or Dadaji (1920-2003), to Lord Krishna’s precepts from the Gita, as a means to realising divinity in self and in others. It practises heartfelt gratitude and love towards God, and seeks non-conflicting transformation of the individual and society. Dadaji teaches that religion is a celebration of human dignity; spiritual quest does not mean ascetic withdrawal from materialistic living, but utilising material gain for individual and social progress; and education implies the cultivation of positive values.
Working with communities to create impersonal wealth—the fruits of which can be shared with those in need—is the very foundation of the Swadhyaya philosophy, demonstrated through various practical experiments. Land is shared between volunteers who take turns in cultivation, and the produce is treated as ‘impersonal wealth’, part of which is shared with the needy and the rest is ploughed back into farming. The fruits of labour are shared as prasad.
There are many projects in other areas, including fishing communities, dairy, wasteland development, and for women’s empowerment. There are 74 Amrutalayams all over the country, temples without idols, where villagers meet to discuss individual or collective problems, making anonymous contribution to the common bank of ‘impersonal wealth’. There are also institutions popularising the message of the Gita at various levels.
Swadhyaya Parivar has gained widespread recognition as a religious movement. Its founder received many prestigious awards, including the Templeton Prize valued at $1.21 million, the Magsaysay Award, and the Mahatma Gandhi Prize. Pushpa Trilokekar, author of Varanasi, describes her amazement at being hailed with great warmth by anonymous boatmen on the River Ganga, upon learning that she was from Mumbai, the home base of Dadaji and the Swadhyaya Parivar! Such spontaneous expression of love for its founder and his work is the true measure of its success.
Contact: Nirmal Niketan.
Ph. (022) 2386 2569, 2386 4919
I chose a path as simple as life itself, or, more correctly, my path chose me.
I was in my teens when I lost my father. I sat for hours next to his body, repeatedly asking: ‘‘What happened? Who was it that had gone away and what is it that lies next to me?’’ Lost in thought, I felt a knock at the door. As I opened it, there was a flash of light and a voice beckoned me: ‘‘Come with me, my child, I will tell you where he has gone.’’
I reserved early mornings for prayers and talking to my light. Often I asked that light to come in human form. Once during prayers, I asked it to manifest itself. The same evening, a swamiji who taught us yoga, rang up to say that his guruji had come. I wanted to go but my older sister restrained me: ‘‘It is midnight, where are you going? It is only a dream.’’ But I knew it was not a dream; its truth was shining out at me like the bright morning sun. And since that day that light has been my abiding reality—which is with me always—guiding me, consoling me, counselling me, listening to me patiently, teaching me the wisdom of right and wrong.
Later, as I grew up, I expressed to my mother my desire of not marrying for my sadhana. She explained the importance of all four stages of life and how one must experience them all. It is a blessing to be a girl and have the privilege of becoming a mother. The world around, including relationships and society, were not hurdles to sadhana, but could be viewed as one’s biggest help, she explained. Only by staying in the world will one understand it and learn to be in the world and yet, not of it. My mother was my first guru.
Time passed, I married, had children and met good people. And through the humdrum of everyday living, I once got the opportunity to pay homage to a revered Guruji. In that moment, I lost all sense of existence. I saw only my light taking a form, a shape—the rest of the world had just disappeared. I ran straight to him and touched his feet. And with a rude blow, the real world asserted itself. There was a cry: ‘‘Who is this lady? Does she not know that nobody is supposed to touch his feet? Take her away.’’ All around me there was disapproval. I was in shock, both from bliss and the blow of having committed a sin. But that light now in a human form had gone deep down in my heart to stay forever.
I came home and wept, unable to reconcile the joy and the misery I was feeling. I wrote to Swamiji, asking for pardon, explaining my ignorance of their system. At the same time, I requested him to ask Guruji why he was denying the bliss I had experienced to other devotees?
Some days later I received a letter inviting us to a satsang where we could meet Gurudev. I went with my husband and after the satsang, he sat and spoke to us. It was as if time had stopped, air had lost its flow, there was no ground under me, and I was floating. The whole environment was charged with Divine Bliss, Anandam, that no words can express.
I feel super-blessed to have a guru who is a sacred and constant presence in my heart, who is light of lights, who is God-manifest to me. I wish everybody who decides to walk on the spiritual path gets a sadguru like I have found in Swami Chidananda of Rishikesh.
As I look back upon my journey towards Self-realisation, I would like to share a simple lesson with everybody: If we can keep a spark of love for the divine always lit in our innermost being, that spark will light up our path before us miraculously.
Ph: (011) 24334795
Raja Yoga, the royal path, is another term for ashtanga yoga (eight-limbed yoga) made renowned by the sage Patanjali around 200 B.C. The great guru codified the practice of yoga in his Yoga Sutras, which is the main text for this path.
Raja yoga is a complete and comprehensive itinerary to reach God. Its eight limbs are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
Yama and niyama constitute a moral code for ethical behaviour, so necessary to develop the character and nobility mandatory for spiritual growth.
The five yamas, or restraints, are ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness) asteya (nonstealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparagriha (nonpossessiveness). The five niyamas or observances are saucha (cleanliness; internal and external), santosha (contentment), tapas (self-purification), swadhyaya (self-study) and ishwara pranidhana (surrender to the higher power).
Pranayama, the third limb, teaches awareness and control of the breath, the main source of prana in the body, and the link between the body and the mind. Regulation of the breath leads to regulation of the mind.
The fourth limb is asana, the physical postures that are often mistaken for yoga. Some asanas induce a stable meditative posture to stabilise the mind. Others generate health and suppleness in the body.
Then comes pratyahara, or sense withdrawal. The individual must cultivate sufficient discipline and self-control to withstand the constant pull of the senses towards material pleasures, and remain rooted within himself.
Dharana is the sixth limb and stands for focus or concentration. The diffused mind is focused on one particular object or concept and made penetrating and powerful, until it becomes one-pointed.
This state ushers in the seventh step, dhyana, where the stilled and focused mind naturally becomes meditative. Prolonged meditation pierces the layers of the subconscious and conscious mind and expands it into the superconscious state, which is the eighth limb, samadhi. Here, one is in union with the ultimate reality, experiencing a state of sat-chit-ananda (existence, consciousness, bliss). The state of samadhi is also considered to be the fourth step of sleepless sleep (turiyavastha), beyond the waking, dreaming and dreamless states.
Prolonged and repeated immersion in samadhi leads to the ultimate step: Kaivalya or liberation.
Although the path seems progressive, the trick is to work on all limbs simultaneously, for they each support and strengthen the others. A time-honoured path in the Indian tradition, Raja yoga is one of the most scientific and exact routes to self-realisation.
Contact: The Yoga Institute, Mumbai. Tel: (022) 26110506/26122185;
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