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!
Enlightenment Intensive workshop
Shivani Shrivastav, Bhopal
When I think with my mind,
I seek answers to my questions.
When I feel from my heart,
questions dissolve into answers.
“Who am I?”
“Why am I here?”
“What is the purpose of my life?”
Such questions had crowded my thoughts for as long as I could remember. They went round and round in my head, darting up unexpectedly and catching me unaware. My very existence was a mystery, making me question the relevance of all my actions and thoughts.
Then I came across the Enlightenment Intensive workshop, which promises: “The Sole Workshop to finish the soul’s unfinished business.” This line touched some unseen chord in me and from that moment on, my life changed forever.
Finally, we reached the resort where the workshop was to be conducted. After refreshing ourselves, we were asked to assemble at the Gompa, the meditation hall. The name sounded familiar; it raised some vague, shadowy images…
When I reached there, it was as if lightning had struck me: I knew the place! The setting, the aura, the ambience—all seemed familiar.
As I went through the workshop, long forgotten images and emotions came up: attachment, guilt, hurt, anger, fear and sadness. I felt caught in a delicate and invisible but strong web, which was largely self-created, and it really hurt. It was as if my life would ebb away if I did not free myself soon. I went crying to Sir (Shri Akhilesh), beseeching him to help me find my way out of the maze. He said: “Just let it go. It’s that simple.” I thought: “So be it!” Instantly, much of the useless baggage I had carried for so long fell away.
Images of the Buddha and Sir came up. I again asked him for clarification, “Is this the embodiment of Enlightenment?” He said: “Let go of everything. Jump into the river. Give your 100 per cent.” His words drove me on and on, deeper still…
Ultimately, bliss descended, joy filled my being. I asked him again: “Is this it?” He smiled and said: “Go beyond the beyond!” I was reminded of the Buddhist sutra:
“Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha…”
His encouragement and enthusiasm led me on, deeper still…
It was the last day of the workshop, a full moon and Guru Nanak Jayanti. During the last session, I suddenly felt as if a vacuum had been created inside me… Suddenly, I was there, one with the existence. I could feel the single heartbeat of the Universe. It was as if existence showered unlimited blessings… I looked up at Sir, and for once, asked nothing. He too said nothing. Just smiled, with his twinkling eyes resembling the stars shining above…
Along the golden sea shores,/Along the narrow mountain paths,/Along the brick road across the meadows,/There is only one path…/Through the mists of existence,/ Through the everyday strife,/Through the sunshine of life,/There shines the path…/It calls out to you again,/It urges you to remember,/It sings the song,/It is the path…
Swami Prayag Giri
Fortunate to have been born into a spiritual family, I grew up listening to stories from Bhagavad and Ramayana. Once my mother’s words, “Everything in this world is unreal, God alone is real”, left a deep impression on my psyche and I decided to renounce the world and become a sannyasin. I left home after taking a master’s degree to join my Guru Paramahansa Yogananda’s ashram at Ranchi.
A divine discontentment gnawed at my heart since childhood. Shying away from crowds and finding identity in Mother Nature, I often thought: “Who am I, from where have I come, where is my real home, parents? If there is indeed a God, why is he not responding or manifesting?” In Ranchi, I soon took my Brahmacharya vow.
In 1980, the great Swami Anandamoy came to the ashram. I was away on the porch of the nuns’ office and he used eye contact to convey his blessings. Later one day, I saw him walking on the grounds by our office and greeted him. Something about my words touched a deep chord of his being and he uttered: “Master bless you.”
The next moment I felt a tremendous bursting in my heart centre as consciousness of the body, world and all duality vanished. I went into a state of complete alertness and entered into a great void of darkless dark and lightless light, into a dimension of nothing, which yet contained everything. When I returned to normal consciousness, Swamiji was still there; seeing that I was normal, he walked away.
With this my stay at Ranchi drew to a close as I requested leave. Later, the ashram encouraged me to go on a pilgrimage. I decided to settle at Benares to fulfill my long cherished desire to study Sanskrit and Sankara’s commentaries on the Prasthana Treya (Gita, Upanishads and Brahma Sutras). Our teacher took off on a tour and I reached Vrindavan, where the lord kept me for 15 years. At that time I went to Allahabad to attend a Kumbh Mela and also took my sanyas vow.
Then, in 2001, Life Positive entered into my life. Thanks to it, the ’lost child’ and ‘lone ranger’ found her true dimension and moorings, coming home to a practical, spiritual community who dared to be different. People who, refusing to follow the herd mentality, move forward as original pioneers of the ‘New Age’, on the brink of which we stand poised today.
If you want to experiment with meditation, TM is your best bet. It is easy to learn and practise. You can learn it in six sessions of an hour each from a TM teacher. Afterwards you can practise it twice daily for about 20 minutes each.
Learning TM involves two things: a mantra (monosyllabic sound, or beej mantra), and how to use the mantra. TM is not a technique of concentration, nor is it japa. You start saying the mantra mentally. If thoughts come, don’t resist them.
TM gradually and spontaneously reduces the mental chatter, leading occasionally to a state of no thought. That state is called pure consciousness, because you are conscious, but not of anything in particular.
The diminished mental activity brings down the metabolic rate in the body, giving you deep rest twice as deep as the rest you get during deep sleep. This is instrumental in dissolving accumulated stress in the nervous system. All other benefits accrue from there and have been validated by hundreds of scientific studies on TM. Scientific research has been carried out both on TM’s effects during meditation and the positive results it brings on the practitioner’s behaviour, physical and psychological health, mental development, and parameters of self-actualisation.
TM was introduced to the world by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1958. A science graduate from Jabalpur, Mahesh Yogi was a close disciple of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath, Badrinath. Maharishi’s unique contribution is that instead of teaching himself he trained an army of TM teachers, who took the technique to four corners of the world. Initially, his popularity soared when the Beatles stayed with him in his ashram in Rishikesh.
Later, Maharishi introduced the TM-Sidhi programme for long-time practitioners, using Patanjali’s system of developing sidhis or supernatural powers such as levitation.
Today, the TM organisation runs universities (the main one being Maharishi International University in Iowa, USA), educational institutions, Ayurveda treatment centres and Sthapatya Veda (the origin of vaastu shastra) consultancy. There is also at least one city inhabited by TM meditators alone.
Power of cosmic healing
Dr N.D. Qazi, Jammu Tawi
Since my childhood, I had the inclination towards religious studies and practices. I also learnt the philosophies of different religions and sects in India. I realised that deep meditation is the only way for self-realisation and to know the existence of God.
As God is the creator of the cosmos, the quest to know his system, which human eye cannot see, led me to search about the cosmic energies, I found vaastu as a correct knowledge for realisation of cosmic energies.
I studied vaastu extensively and started my practice as vaastu consultant. With the help of my own studies and practices, I was successful in contacting famous souls with the medium of ‘Soulplan-chette’. It was a wonderful experience to call the souls of personalities like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Hitler, Ghalib and get the answers to the queries of my clients. More and more people started pouring in with their problems.
I believe children can feel cosmic powers. These powers can give any information of the past, present and future. They help solve the problems when requested.
I feel that most of the tensions are created by us. To overcome them, I constructed a pyramid with a base of 18×18 feet. My healing touch pyramid is now working as an alternative therapies hospital. Treatments done inside the pyramid work better.
Since my childhood, I have observed pirs, darveshes, sadhus, and spiritual practitioners and wanted to have a guru. But I could not find anyone. I now believe that “God is the light of skies and earth” and that great light guides me in all my endeavours.
Surrender to the moment
Ajay Kalra, Mumbai
January 13, 1998. That is the day I began my spiritual journey. I was 24 and had just qualified as a Chartered Accountant the previous day. The Art of Living (AoL) course which began that day marked the arrival of spirituality in my life. The Sudarshan Kriya instantaneously introduced me to a higher dimension of awareness. “Live in the present moment” struck me as profound wisdom. This also marked the arrival of a guru in my life.
The next month I visited the AoL ashram in Bangalore with a group of AoL teachers for Shivratri. Experiencing Sri Sri Ravishankar and the ashram evoked tremendous love and joy and the energy of the Shivratri celebrations left me awestruck.
I went for my first AoL advanced course in Bangalore in December 1998. We were returning by train to Mumbai and I got into a conversation with Sharad Thakkar, a CA from Pune, who had just become an AoL instructor. He mentioned that he had been wondering for some time what surrender was all about and had finally come to the personal realisation that it meant surrender to the present moment. That’s when it happened!! The Experience!
Tears came to my eyes and my mind stopped. I was fully conscious but there were no more thoughts. There was an intense feeling of bliss. Orgasmic bliss. All that mattered in life was this present moment. It was so simple. Everything suddenly seemed alive and new. It was as if I was seeing the world as a newborn child. My sensory perception became so sharp that I could now hear and see minute things that I would miss earlier due to my pre-occupation with thoughts.
My responses no longer stemmed from a need for social approval. They seemed to be governed by a deeper intelligence. I instinctively knew what to eat and what to avoid. The simple act of shaving the next morning was such a pleasure.
Compassion for human suffering came so spontaneously that I didn’t think twice before giving Rs 100 to two young girls asking for donations at a railway station. I could have happily given away all that I ever possessed and never felt more complete. I was aware that something profoundly significant had happened to me, even though I had no idea how long it would last.
The experience in its highest intensity, by which I mean a state of no thought, lasted about two days. After that it diminished in intensity and thoughts started creeping up but I was instantaneously aware of each one of them. I continued to function from present moment awareness for about a period of three months.
Gradually, however, after a few months I returned to my normal (or rather abnormal) state of functioning through thoughts and the mind. Yet I knew that I would never be the same again. I have come a long way in the past seven years since I began my journey and somewhere along the way I have learnt the two most valuable lessons in life. To trust my experience and to love myself just the way I am.
Rachna Bhushan, Mumbai
I lost all faith in God after the untimely death of my dear father. His death came as a rude jolt, which shattered me to pieces. Daddy was my ideal, a pillar of strength. I had always thought he was immortal.
Totally paralysed, bitter realities dawned upon me one by one. I had to run the house and take responsibility for my inconsolable mother.
I managed to get a temporary job in a semi-government office and life started limping back to normalcy. The job was only for a year, after which I couldn’t even think beyond. I didn’t tell Ma but would only stare vacantly at my Dad’s photo.
Days passed into months and the year came to an end. Rumours were afloat in the office that my termination was imminent, as the assistant secretary was interested in obliging someone else.
Then I heard that a new president had taken over. Everyday, I was the target of a mixed bag of sympathetic as well as sarcastic looks and was at my wit’s end. What next? The only way I could remember Him was by inflicting curses and abuses on Him.
Then came the day when I was to be served the termination notice. The whole day, the president was busy in meetings and in the end, the assistant secretary got my termination letter typed. My heart stopped… And then I saw him rushing out hurriedly, calling the typist and getting another letter typed.
I was called in, and whom do I find! My former head of the department looking calmly at my personal file. He looked at me, recognised me and started chatting most animatedly. I knew that the professor had played a great role in stopping scientific brain drain. How could he leave out his own student in this crusade by substituting a simple graduate in place of an M.Sc?
I was handed the appointment letter—the post was permanent and I would be the president’s secretary during his visits to the Academy.
In disbelief, I came out, and was warmly greeted by my colleagues. On reaching home, I confided my secret ordeal to Ma, whose lips curled into a small smile amidst tearful eyes. I again stared for a few moments at my Dad’s photo, then went to my puja room (perhaps the first time after his death), bowed my head and started sobbing.
The goal of all spiritual paths is to get to the present moment in full awareness, unhindered by the web of fears, regrets, hopes, wishes, fantasies and desires that bind us. This goal has been converted by many teachers into the path itself. By practising being in the moment, they say, we can slowly inch our way towards making it a permanent state of being.
One of the most illustrious and venerated of these advocates is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, poet, scholar and peace activist, who led one of the great non-violent movements of the century, preaching a peaceful resolution to the Vietnam War. Exiled by the Vietnamese government for his peace efforts, he established a retreat centre in France, called Plum Village, from where he presently operates.
Teaching of Thay (Vietnamese for teacher), as he is called, revolves around the concept of mindfulness. Living mindfully moment to moment, by being conscious of all the little acts of the day, from waking to walking to smiling to sipping a cup of tea, he says, can give us access to the abundant happiness and peace that is always and eternally present.
He says, ‘‘…we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.’’
The crux of the approach is the practice of conscious breathing. He helps facilitate this through a number of gentle little affirmations and techniques. The basic one goes thus: As you breathe in, say to yourself: ‘‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.’’ And as you breathe out, say: ‘‘Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.’’ Or simply, ‘‘In, Out’’.
When in sorrow, anger, confusion or haste, he advises us to practise this form of breathing to bring us back to the moment. He also suggests the use of bells as reminders to practise mindfulness—church bells, school bells, alarms, and in today’s times, even the many-toned ring of the mobile!
Thay also emphasises the importance of eating mindfully, for it brings alive the realisation that the whole universe has contributed to bringing the food to the table, making us conscious of the interconnection of life; and of putting mindfulness into the most mundane of modern rituals from dish-washing to speaking on the phone and driving. When we do so, even the smallest act or event like a smile or a breath, can open for us the joy of the present moment.
Contact: Email: MF-Office@plumvillage.org;
At the heart of the Moral Re-Armament movement is the idea that every person can be a powerful agent of change in the world. This process, however, begins with the transformation of the individual himself. Stress is laid on the cultivation and strengthening of one’s character and spiritual roots.
The MRA is today a global network of people who believe in translating their vision of a better world into reality by starting with themselves and living selflessly according to the dictates of their conscience. Thus, if you really want world peace, a good place to start would be your relationships with family and friends.
The movement was started by Frank Buchman, born in 1878 in Pennsylvania, USA, who, while coping with a life of conflicting fortunes, got an insight into the role of man in society. Depressed after having broken up his involvement with a hospice for destitute young men in Philadelphia, he was bitterly resentful towards the other members of the board. Holidaying in England, he had a change of heart while hearing a sermon in a chapel. Realising how distant from God the ill feelings he was nursing had made him, he wrote to them asking forgiveness and this act brought him immense relief. Convinced that moral values were crucial to lay the foundation for a better society, he started the Moral Re-Armament Movement in 1878.
By working to bring about change in their own lives, according to MRA, individuals not only gain experience, but also develop compassion for others, especially those who are unable to change. Transformation of society, then, is a natural outcome of these individuals who would set an example to others by inspiring them rather than imposing rules.
Examining and facing the realities of our lives by looking inwards can affect the desired self-transformation. MRA advocates the practice of introspection or ‘quiet time’ to be in touch with our conscience. The comprehension of our role in the world brings with it a sense of responsibility, which can no longer be shirked by blaming others.
MRA prescribes a selfless life lived in consonance with the four moral precepts of Purity, Honesty, Unselfishness and Love; these are to be adhered to as absolute standards, and provide a framework for one’s self-transformation.
Contact: Asia Plateau.
Ph: (02168) 240 241, 240 004
Journey of Transformation with Meher Baba
Meher Castelino, Mumbai
There have been many highs and lows in my life. But it was only since 1996 that I have been able to handle them. Seventeen years ago I suddenly lost my husband, Bruno, one evening. I was angry with God because he had taken away our most precious possession.
I decided to deal with this blow by exhausting myself physically and emotionally in my work. I also wanted to make sure my children lacked nothing and in my endeavors to be father and mother, my own healing process was at a standstill. As a result I cried all too easily, and the emotions I kept suppressed often came out as misdirected anger towards other people or events. In 1995, my mother passed away and my world totally collapsed.
It was the season of Christmas 1996 when I read a book on Meher Baba written by a lady whose son had passed away; it was a Christmas present from my children. In 24 hours I read The Sounds of Silence by Nan Umrigar.
I cried, laughed, cheered and lived through the trials and tribulations of the people she wrote about, her experiences with Meher Baba and communications with her son Karl.
I have read thousands of books, but Sounds of Silence had the most profound impact on my life. I have never ever written to an author but I dashed off a letter to Nan Umrigar. We met and from then on my bond with Meher Baba grew.
I visited Meherabad for Baba’s birthday in February 1997. For me, Meherabad is what heaven will be like. Such peace and tranquillity, such love, such hard work and yet, no strings attached. It is an experience each person has to go through to know it.
After Meherabad, I read more books on Baba’s teachings and each book opened the inner doors of my heart and mind. I now wanted to share Baba’s love with my friends. My favourite gift now is Nan’s book. I take it abroad, give it to people who I feel need to be bathed in Baba’s love and each recipient’s reactions has been exactly like mine. They have not been able to put the book down and they want to go to Meherabad to sit at Baba’s Samadhi.
What have I learnt from Meher Baba? I am now a more tranquil and peaceful person. I have learnt to work hard, be true to myself and leave the rest to Him. I have learnt that honesty is the only way, and, that love begets love. I have learnt to go with the flow and not get frustrated if things don’t happen my way. There is a reason for every good and bad happening in one’s life. I have learnt about life here and on the other side. I have learnt a little about birth and death. I have learnt why loved ones cannot be with us all our lives. I have learnt to cope with the highs and lows of life with Baba by my side.
My only regret is that I didn’t meet or know about Baba earlier in my life. But then as Baba says, there is a time and place for everything and when the student is ready, the master will appear.
The Ramakrishna Mission owes its name to one of India’s great saints whose life was spent in unremitting contemplation of God. Born in 1836, Sri Ramakrishna, through his life of unremitting contemplation and devotion to God, became an irresistible force, attracting a circle of young spiritual aspirants around him.
Amongst his students was Narendranath, who later become famous as Swami Vivekananda; after Ramakrishna’s demise, he organised his master’s disciples to form the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897, to spread the gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Besides Sri Ramakrishna, the mission owed its spiritual heritage to Swami Vivekananda and Sri Sarada Devi, the wife and spiritual consort of Sri Ramakrishna.
Sri Ramakrishna was egalitarian in his approach to religion, affirming that all faiths were valid ways to God, which he confirmed through his practice of many paths including Christianity and Islam. In his own words: ‘‘All religions are true—as many faiths, so many paths.’’ His God-intoxicated life was a demonstration of the fact that religion was not about preaching or reading scriptures, but about realisation. He believed in a life of action, but with calm withdrawal. He believed in material well-being along with spiritual development and used to say: ‘‘Religion cannot be taught on an empty stomach.’’
Swami Vivekananda extended the idea of action taught by his master to the concept of selfless service to humanity as a path to self-liberation, as encapsulated in his dictum ‘‘Serve jiva as Shiva.’’ Vivekananda also advocated a healthy blend of Eastern religion with Western science. While Ramakrishna formally renounced the world, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi continued living a householder’s life, teaching that everything was impermanent except God realisation. After Ramakrishna, she continued guiding disciples with her pure motherly love that did not distinguish between saint and sinner.
Members of the Ramakrishna Mission follow the teachings of Vedanta, mostly as interpreted by Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. They believe in all religions, accepting the various deities of all faiths as many manifestations of the same Truth—the One God. Instead of ritual, the emphasis is on knowing God, as to know Him is to be Him. The Divine spirit is to be experienced by the seeker in his heart.
Contact: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture.
Ph: (033) 464 1303, 466 1235
Website: www.sriramakrishna.org Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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