November 2011 Each of us has a custom-made route to the Divine, and we can make progress only once we step on it. Find out yours, says Purnima Yogi We have all been there and done that – experimented with reiki and pranic healing, enrolled for workshops of Art Of Living and Vipassana; dabbled in hypnotherapy, vaastu, feng shui, astrology, numerology and the rest; taken postal lessons of Yogoda Satsanga’s kriya yoga and fervently read Sai Sat Charita in one week and religiously followed Baba Ramdev’s televised pranayama sessions; have danced to Osho’s dynamic meditation, dipped into Deepak Chopra’s innumerable spiritual laws for all issues in life, conversed with God through Neale Donald Walsch and momentarily experienced Tao with Zen teachings. Though we are dragged again and again, kicking and screaming, back to the realities of worldly life, we still eagerly seek to dip into the mysteries of our existence through the experiences of enlightened masters and by experimenting with their methods. It is inevitable, because we are, have always been, and will always be spiritual beings involved in spiritual evolution. The journey of the soul over several lifetimes has been to transform into a deliberate journey of discovery of the spirit after a certain point. When it does, the journey becomes a pilgrimage. The pilgrim, who sets out in search of something sacred, divine and precious, reaches his destination when he finds it in himself, and anchors himself blissfully in that space. The sages refer to this finding as darshana – to have a glimpse of the divinity within oneself. The initiation The religion we are born into is invariably our first initiation into spirituality. Prayers are often self-centric but noble thoughts are reinforced in every family, while humility and character is strengthened in every soul who fasts during Ramadan and Lent. Ancient Vedic hymns and the strains of the Gurbani teach us to pray for the welfare of mankind, inculcating an attitude of gratitude to the Divine.“I remember when I was young I used to engage in evening prayers with my sisters for about an hour and this perhaps was what led me to a realm of enquiry later on in my life,” says 65-year-old Sudhindra Shidleepur, an entrepreneur turned full-time seeker.“I received the initiation of the Gayatri mantra as a young boy from my father,” says Naga Kumar, manager in a civil engineering consultancy firm in Bangalore. “What started out as a ritual has now grown into a sadhana, as I am drawn more and more to enquire into its meaning and purpose.” Journalist Ila Kumar used to accompany her mother as a 10-year-old to their guru’s dera and listen to his discourses, and continues to do so.Prasanna, a software engineer, however, was painfully forced on the path in his 30s by life itself – a relentless teacher. A real seeker will never cling to any school or religion. He always seeks subtler, deeper and better ways of learning to attain completeness.” - Gurumatha Amma “I had everything and was living a dream life in the US. But then one day I experienced deep sadness due to an incident and my mind turned inward spontaneously,” he says.Initiation into spirituality thus happens in various ways, but motivation activates it. “After I developed an interest in spirituality, starting with Swami Vivekananda and practising his teachings, I found great love and peace. And then things started happening quite mysteriously,” says Prasanna, “Total strangers would present me with books by enlightened masters!” Leena Singam, a lawyer in Kaula Lumpur, was hankering for a glimpse of Satya Sai Baba as she had grown up seeing him worshipped as their guru in her house. When the call came, she went to Puttaparthi and came face to face with Baba. “I was spellbound. His eyes were so deep and penetrating,” and soon enough Leena was drawn into a world of spirituality. The visualisation God made man in His image, it is said, and if there are seven billion images of God, the current global population, rest assured there are seven billion ways of finding God. There is no such thing as one-path-fits-all, which is what makes the spiritual quest complicated and confusing at first.“Over a few months I asked every yoga teacher, acupuncturist and Indian friend I had to give me their best recommendations,” shares a writer from the New York Post who deliberately set out to find her own spiritual guide. “From a list of dozens of names, I decided to investigate three possibilities: Mata Amritanandamayi, Dada Vaswani and Swami Parthasarathy.” And that’s how nine out of 10 seekers end up trying out whatever has been consistently available in the spiritual supermarket – leaving many of us like bewildered infants trying to spell ‘God’ with the wrong blocks! A rudimentary knowledge of the many paths laid down by the scriptures, practiced by different cultures, across different regions of the world and handed down traditionally through the ages may therefore help individuals set off on their quest better equipped. ‘Yoga’ which means ‘to yoke’ is the broad term that can be associated with all spiritual practices and paths that have the same purpose – an ascent into the purity and perfection that is the essential state of an embodied soul as a human. Scriptures talk of three major paths to realise the self: Jnana yoga, the path of wisdom, Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion and Karma yoga, the path of selfless service. Jnana yoga is to see God within oneself. “Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahman!” exclaimed Adi Shankara, when his limited self dissolved into the universal self within himself. When jnana, the knowledge from scriptures and writings of enlightened masters is used to comprehend and experience the mysticism of existence, it becomes a yoga – a spiritual path. It converts the mind and intellect, barriers to self-realisation, into the very tools that take the seeker towards the goal. This path appeals to most in this day and age when the mind of man is highly developed and questioning comes naturally to him. The quest leads to annihilation of the identification with body and mind and leads towards realisation of the oneness and eternity of existence. Bhakti yoga is to see God outside of oneself. “Please let me remain your bhakta, O Rama,” prayed Hanuman, “let me be separate from you so that I may adore you and sing your glory at all times.” Thus a bhakti yogi revels in his devotion and unconditional love for God. ‘His relationship with God is like a taila-dhara, smooth and unbroken like a steady stream of oil when poured; all his senses are attuned towards seeking God. Nourished by the nectar of bhakti, he will have no desire for anything else and his love flows selfless and pure,” says Satya Sai Baba. “To experience the presence of the Divine, you should regard the Divine as the One who pervades everything. See God in every object in the cosmos and firmly believe that all names and forms are derived from God,” says Bhagwan. This path appeals to those whose feeling capacities are deep and strong. Women, and artists of all persuasions, are particularly drawn to bhakti yoga. It is said that in these days of kalyug, the bhatki path is the fastest route to enlightenment. Karma yoga is to see God in others. The miracle is not that we do some work, but that we are happy to do it, said Mother Teresa, and thus her selfless service to mankind was a loving and devotional offering to God. Work is Worship is the credo of a Karma yogi; ‘Karmanyevaadhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana’ is his mantra. He executes all his duties and roles without expecting praise or rewards for the same, seeing himself as a tool to undertake God’s work. Karma yoga is thus about selfless service, in which the ego is subdued entirely to serve the divinity in the whole of God’s creation. Lord Krishna describes this as desireless action – Nishkaama karma. Karma yoga is a natural avenue for doers, for it appeals to their active dispositions while enabling them to purify their motives.Several other paths have been divined, followed and bestowed on mankind by enlightened masters through the ages but these major yogas remain the foundation on which the spiritual edifice is built. Kundalini yoga is an ancient path to arouse the latent energy at the base of the spine and draw it up to activate the seven chakras. Kundalini kriyas or practices systematically concentrate on each chakra along the spine by combining yogasanas, pranayama, chanting and meditation. The Kundalini path draws those who are attuned to the play of energy in the universe and can experience its movement within their being. Numberless pathsThe Buddha advocated the noble eight-fold path as a manifesto to search for and transcend the suffering of embodied existence. Among the techniques he suggests are being mindful of thoughts, words and actions in order to get out of the cycle of birth and death, and to develop wisdom and understanding through the four noble truths and the middle way. The basis of Buddhism is compassion towards all of God’s creation; the main teaching is that desire is the root cause of misery. One of the spiritual practices in Buddhism is Vipassana – being mindful of the breath, the thoughts that arise in the mind and the sensations that arise in the body. Through this process one becomes a ‘witness’, realises the ‘impermanence’ of all phenomenon and moves towards ‘shunyata’ or nothingness. Sufism is considered a mystical practice that emphasises certain unique rituals for guiding spiritual seekers into a direct encount
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