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 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.
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.
The 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 encounter with God. Dr Javad Nurbakshsh, master of the Nimatullahi Sufi order, says that the Sufi is a lover of God, and like any other lover, proves his love by constant remembrance of his beloved. This remembrance has an inward and outward effect.
|‘The higher mind is intuitive, and can grasp truth. Drop the lower mind to know more of spirituality.” |
- Sw Sukhabodhananda
Inwardly, it distances him from the domain of ‘I and You’ and takes him to the realm of unity. Outwardly, God’s attributes become the Sufi’s own, and he sees himself in everything and everything in himself. One of the important rituals in Sufism is the zikr. In it, one remembers God through meditation, chanting and movement to become ‘saturated’ with God. As they spin and whirl around for hours, Sufis reach a state of ecstasy and purity where the heart is only conscious of God. The seeker surrenders in total abandonment and becomes empty.
Innumerable other paths of Indian, Oriental and Western origin are available to the sincere seeker, and none of the paths are mutually exclusive. There cannot be selfless service without devotion, and wisdom invariably turns to devotion. The Narada Bhakti Sutra glorifies bhakti as greater than karma, jnana or raja yoga, because bhakti itself is the result of all yogas; it is both the means and the end! Vedic and spiritual scientist, Dr Baskaran Pillai, declares that the impersonal enlightenment experiences of the Buddhists or the Vedantins are quite inferior to the direct experience of God (Siva, Krishna, Yaweh, Allah and others).
Some sadhaks like Ila consider karma as the prime mover. “We may acquire jnana or consider bhakti but our karma or responsibility is to use that jnana for the benefit of mankind, and apply bhakti to inspire others. Nobody can escape karma, it is the only way to live this life to realise the Self.” Some feel that all three are critical for a holistic experience. “My every act is karma yoga because it is to worship God. Reading the Gita and living its principles is my jnana yoga. I am immersed in devotion while listening to bhajans. I am in dhyana yoga when I meditate after japa and pranayama,”
“Each yoga is contained in the other,” echoes Prasanna. “Sincere interest in knowing oneself leads to the question ‘who am I’ – jnana. This sustained interest in self-awareness is true devotion – bhakti. When this self-awareness is present all the time, it is karma!”
And the basic question still remains – how does one zero in on a path and know it’s the one for him without getting lost in this maze?
“The path of spirituality is very subtle, and so one’s search for a path should be open. Human beings have a higher mind which is intuitive, and can grasp truth. A lower mind is filled with imagination and conclusion. Drop the lower mind to know more of it,” says the erudite Swami Sukhabodhananda of Prasanna Trust.
Vasanthi Jayaswal from Petaluma, California, is a teacher of Indian art, culture, religion, and philosophy. Her thirst for spiritual knowledge led her to the study of Vedanta, Tantra and Vajrayana Buddhism under gurus from the East and West. She has also studied the Kabbalistic way of life and has established the Amba house of traditions, where the cherished scriptural traditions of India are brought directly to the sadhaks. Three years ago, she says, she stumbled upon the Sufi movement. When she began to practice the Mevlevi Sema, the mystic religious ceremony of the whirling dervishes, a subconscious block towards the name Allah got totally erased, “and here I am now beautifully sailing in bhakti bhava while singing Turkish ilahees!” exclaims Vasanthi.
Having walked the path she charted for herself, she says, “Declare clearly to yourself the intention to seek and walk the way. Your path has to be exclusively yours eventually. Once you are on your path you will know it,” she adds with great clarity.
Gurumatha Amma of Sridhara Srigudda, Bangalore, says, “A real seeker will never cling to any school or religion. He always seeks subtler, deeper and better ways of learning to attain completeness.”
Dr Pillai considers astrology as an authentic way to direct an individual towards spirituality. “By looking at the positioning of the planet Jupiter in the birth chart, you can find out the spiritual potential of a person and can do remedies for a weak Jupiter. The ninth house is also the indicator of spirituality. As per Nadi (palm leaf) Astrology, the ninth chapter will clearly identify the spiritual life of a person and offer help too,” he says.
Again the question – is there a specific path that I am destined for?
Yes, says Shri Shri Nimishananda, founder of Nimishananda Ashram. “Just like we carry strong impressions like fears and phobias, called vasanas over several lifetimes, we also have a spiritual path deeply etched on our soul in the form of vibrations.” He adds, “You can deliberately set out to find your path by trying out the three major ones – bhakti, jnana and karma. If you want to try out bhakti, for example, visit places of worship over a period of time, spend time in meditation and see if you experience a pull towards it. Then try reading scriptures and assimilating their truths; enroll yourself as a volunteer in a social service organisation and offer your services. To sense some kind of fulfilment, give all these methods time to take root and register within your soul, to develop a liking and awareness to the path.”
He elaborates, “Our sages have clearly said that any sadhana should be undertaken for a minimum of 48 days – a mandala – to bear fruit. Then wait for another 48 days, because this is the time taken for your negativity and impurity to get erased and results to germinate. This happens systematically over periods of 12 days.”
Shri Nimishananda spells out the experiences we will have over the second set of 48 days:
The first 12 days, our entrenched vasanas or tendencies get erased.
In the second set of 12 days, we become mildly conscious of some good things happening to us.
In the third set of 12 days, we will feel a pull towards that particular path and start developing a liking to it – we want to spend more and more time on it.
In the final 12 days of the mandala, small miracles start happening in our life that we might even miss if we don’t look out – we need to be very aware of how life starts favouring us in little ways.
“If none of the above happen, this is not the path for you – try another one and follow the same procedure for another mandala,” he says.
If we do not give enough time for an experiment to show results, logic, reason and analysis will continue to prevail, but only when logic ends does Divinity begin! “Divinity is very subtle and can be felt only through the vibrations of the soul. This systematic process of refining and defining your path removes the hard crust of mindsets and doubts, likes and dislikes that envelop the mind, and you become receptive to those subtle vibrations.”
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa went through 64 major tantric sadhanas under Bhairavi Brahmani, a female ascetic. He was initiated into sanyasa and trained in Advaita by Tota Puri, and later he tried Islam and Christianity. Ramakrishna plunged himself totally into all the paths and with each and every one, merged with the Supreme. Thus irrespective of the path, it is our intensity and involvement that makes the difference. Once we are sure of our path we need to stop shopping and start adapting it very seriously, because we will never strike water if we keep digging little holes in different places forever.
Deep eyes full of love and compassion beckon me. “Are you sure you want the mantra deeksha?” asks my guru. I nod eagerly. “Will you undertake this sadhana in all sincerity and make it your life’s mission?” I am unsure. “I know you will, don’t worry,” I am assured with great kindness, “just do your sadhana and leave the rest to me.”
By following their heart, many seekers have dropped anchor, dug deep and have struck water too, to find fulfillment and joy in their chosen path. Satish Suri, a spiritual guide from Bangalore, believes that everything is a pattern of energy and is very subtle. Allowing the subtle to function is simple, like mixing water – which is subtle, in ice, which is gross. This quest led Satish to the once-in-a-lifetime initiation called the Kyudo ceremony to connect to one’s Higher Self. Kyudo means the true way. The Laughing Buddha is the representative figure for the ceremony and it is performed by the Maitreya Buddha Missionary Trust in India.
|‘The positioning of the planet Jupiter in the birth chart, can reveal the spiritual potential of a person; one can do remedies for a weak Jupiter. ‘ |
- Dr Bhaskaran Pillai
“The path is devoid of any teaching and preaching, and anyone from a three-month-old baby to one on his death bed can receive it through the means of an introducer. Kyudo is purely a process of being aware of your Higher Self, using it in your daily life to come to terms with the law of causation; understanding the true purpose of your birth and lead a life devoid of conflicts,” he concludes.
“I don’t teach perfection, I teach wholeness”. These words of Osho inspired Karan and Aradhana, a young couple to simply let go. To these souls who neither understood nor accepted organised religion, rites and rituals, Osho came as a balm. “We have learnt to let go and surrender,” says the couple. “We just live each day as it unfolds and have no demands from anybody or anything, because the Master tells us that Existence understands only let-go! If there is anything the Master insists on, it is just two small things: meditation and let-go. “Meditation will take you in, and surrender will take you into the whole. And this is the whole of religion”. Karan and Aradhana therefore participate enthusiastically in the Osho workshops conducted by disciples who come down from the Pune commune, and regularly undertake their sadhana of Osho’s trademark dynamic and kundalini meditations among others. They also run a Osho library in Mysore and undertake translation of his works into different languages.
“Hand over your lives to God. He will take complete care of you. Then, everything that happens will always be for the best. Offering everything – our time, skills, talents and possessions – at the feet of God is the state of inner surrender. Since there is no ego, there is no resistance. That is why many mahatmas who live in a state of total surrender are so childlike. They have no inhibitions. They feel an integral sense of oneness with all beings…”
I am suffused with feelings of love, joy and complete surrender at these words. I want to know that oneness. I want to experience that surrender. I start by surrendering to my guru…
‘Acharya Devo Bhava,’ say the scriptures, and thus Indian tradition holds the guru in highest regard, by giving him the exalted status of Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara and Parabrahman himself! Whatever the path, It is said that unless one is guided by the guru in the human form, a seeker cannot progress on the spiritual path beyond a point, when it starts becoming finer and subtler. The guru elevates a disciple just by his thought and grace so that he can access his own soul power within. The relationship between guru and disciple is pure, their love unconditional. This has been the experience of Ila. “I did not know that my guru was a guru or a great man, but when I looked at him, tears used to flow and somewhere inside there used to be an intense feeling to tear open and let myself go. His name brings peace, love and kindness in my life and that is what life is all about,” she says.
Only one who has a guru can understand the depth of this relationship, says Prasanna. When he met his guru Ramesh Balsekar through the book, Consciousness Speaks, his mind suddenly became quiet, no more questions arose and he was neither interested in knowing or seeking anything! “The first and foremost requirement to be able to follow any yoga is the grace of the guru,” he says. “Without it no one will get interested in truth, reality, wisdom in a million years, a million births and million years of effort. Deep and sincere interest in knowing oneself will attract grace. Once grace is there everything else is effortless, the entire universe will help you reach the goal. It is all him and nothing else,” says Prasanna with great passion.
How can one find his guru is a question most often encountered by seekers. “You cannot find a guru. The guru shows up when the
|“Just like we carry fears and phobias over several lifetimes, we also have a spiritual path deeply etched on our soul.” |
- Sw Nimishananda
student is ready. God loves those who love Him. So He will descend into the earth plane as a human guru to facilitate his devotee’s process of spiritual progression.” It is only after the initiation by the guru that the intense spiritual life of a person begins, elaborates Dr Pillai.
“The guru finds you and once he does, you just float in his grace, confident and full of vigour to carry out your sadhana,” says Leena Singam. “Our hearts will just beat in unison and there will be no turning back. We accept that we have been discovered and a whole new life will be in store for us, and so we drop all our intellectual baggage and surrender totally to him.”
Sudhindra Shidleepur is also firmly on the guru path. “My guru has initiated me into various methods of sadhana that have given immediate relief to my life’s situations, instilled a tremendous confidence in me to ward off further karma, and given me a practical path to find answers to the nature of reality. I am learning the way to silence the wandering mind to reach a state of samadhi.” Sudhindra and Leena, both disciples of Shri Shri Nimishananda, are now among the committed ones who are intensely trained in the guru parampara system encompassing the paths of jnana, bhakti and karma, because, “Self-realisation is only half the work accomplished; the other half should be dedicated to society in two ways – through selfless service and by spreading the light of knowledge to other souls on the path,” says the guru.
|Purnima is a freelance writer, |
editor, translator and lecturer
of Mass Communication, now
a full time seeker!
“This is all so complex, I will never be able to do all this,” prompts the mind. It does indeed look like a lot of work at first, but that effort, that momentum, that rajas, that friction is very much needed in the beginning to propel ourselves onto the path until the path takes over. When it does, all expectation and effort will drop away, like a rocket which systematically sheds its baggage once it is launched. This has been asserted over and over again by the masters.
“Do not worry – make your intent as a seeker very clear to yourself, and your soul will lead you to your path!” concludes the Shri Shri Nimishananda.
‘Drop the thought of being a seeker, and half your journey is over,” says Amma. “But the ego is both hard and subtle, this may be the first and the last thing to drop in the spiritual journey.”
“Consistency, sincerity and silent total integration will result in one moving closer, as if drawn by a magnet, towards the core of this divine creation,” says Vasanthi Jayaswal.
‘Howsoever men approach me, even so, do I welcome them, for the path men take from every side is mine, O Partha!’ says Lord Krishna.
Once we gather the momentum, reach the escape velocity and are launched into space, we float free and unfettered, alone but not lonely, thoughtless and pathless. Now we are at the mercy of the Universe – to take us where it will, as it is the very highest authority on everything! It really is just that simple!
I open my eyes after I know not how long – was I doing the japa, or meditating, or sleeping, or in samadhi?! I splash water on my face and look up into the mirror –and I see the face of my guru.
I am not. My guru is, my Self is.
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