I think my spiritual quest started long back. It probably came as a gift from my mother. She has been deeply religious and very disciplined.all her life. While her Guru was a Shiv disciple, my mother was a Krishna-bhaktini. Never in my life I have seen someone so disciplined and so full of energy in the face of heavy and often seemingly insurmountable odds. Her bhakti seemed to triumph all the time.
I took to praying early and saw that it all gave a sense of grounding that I couldn’t feel otherwise. Even when I lost my father at age 14, I still remember very vividly standing outside the Cremation Ground at 4.30 am with my Uncle waiting for the caretaker to open the gates so we could take the ashes and go to Haridwar. That moment standing outside while many pyres were still burning inside and many spirits probably finding their way to the Divine Light, I felt the morning breeze and a sudden sense of peace. It was as if the time had stopped. It wasn’t until 2 pm that I could eat – only after having performed all the rituals in Haridwar. But even then I didn’t feel the urge to eat.
There were some other times, in face of tragedies or difficult times, that I was most at peace in a similar way.
The initial skeptic
Despite all this – very early, like many in my generation, I had started questioning many things that I read or heard. I read Gita and very seriously, like a serial story every morning, and kept thinking about the verses I read. Some made sense some didn’t. As a ritual I also recited Ganpati Stotram every morning. One verse went:
Putrarthi labhte putraan
Moksharthi labhte Moksham.
(One who wants a son, gets a son.
One who wants Moksha (liberation) gets the Liberation) [when you recite the stotram or the prayer]
But Gita was very clear in its message that only when you “come to” Krishna do you get to Liberation… going to any other “Devta” or God/deities would give you all else, but not liberation.
So, how could I reconcile Ganpati Stotram and Gita? I told my mother at that time – either Gita is wrong or the Stotram is wrong.. both couldn’t be right. She smiled and tried to explain using her bhakti but it wouldn’t satisfy me.
But she didn’t put me down. However deeply religious – in her own traditions – she was, she never put my skepticism down. In fact, she often pushed me to find my own answers. I asked that question to some and I never found an answer. So the question was buried deep in my psyche.
As I went on, I went deeper into traditions and asked for everything that Gita had warned against. I often found that what you wish for .. does come true.
But then as I questioned more, I was moving away from traditional religious following into skepticism. Then, one day, I decided to put everything “on the table” and re-evaluate everything!
Picking up threads
I picked up the thread later in life. I met many who followed different spiritual traditions, which has their own merits and it all intrigued me further. I went on my own spiritual journey. I read, heard and contemplated on many Saints and books and traditions. They all helped me. One question came up and it went out into the Universe and someone came and provided a reply.
Walking in Barnes & Noble in Atlanta one day I happened to look at a commentary on Gita by some Swami. Against my wish – I dislike reading someone’s commentary on Gita – I picked up the book and opened a random page. The Swami said – It doesn’t matter what you call the Araadhya (or whom you pray to) – Jesus, Krishna or cockroach – what matters is how you perceive it and what you associate with it. If you associate the qualities of Universal Consciousness then that is what you will get. If you associate wealth, then that is what will be on offer. Names like Ganpati and Krishna were immaterial.
What he was saying basically was if you perceive Krishna as giver of wealth, then that’s what you will get. If you perceive even an elephant as Universal Consciousness, then that’s what you will get. In that sense, one had to understand what Krishna really means? That is a most amazing learning in Chapter 9 of Gita. The little question that I had asked my mother in childhood was finally answered. It took a lot of time and came from an unexpected quarter but it was answered.
Vasistha and Krishnamurti
Thereafter I got my hands on Vasistha’s Yoga – English translation of Yoga Vasistha from another shelf. And that changed my entire life. This one book is a very profound treatise which is unrelenting in its focus on Infinite Consciousness. No matter which ideology or thought falls apart.. no matter which tradition becomes useless .. no matter how blasphemous the conclusion may be, Vasistha’s focus on Infinite Consciousness was clear and unrelenting.
Krishnamurti also came in my life at that time. After summarily dismissing him very early, i later returned and found him to be soul purifying Master. He articulated the way very few had before.
Isha Yoga introduced
One day a friend and my professional mentor – a person whom I greatly admired and respected – called me and asked me to look at Isha Yoga. Isha Yoga completely changed his life and so he wanted to share it with me as well.
But I was steeped in the skepticism for the “Gurus” given the regular diet of J. Krishnamurti and Vasistha and I pushed him off… preferring to go it “alone” without a Guru.
Path on your “own” is rewarding but tough.
Someone from another tradition (where the Guru embeds a seed Mantra or “Naam” in the seeker) once asked me to look for a Guru, but my longing was strange and seemingly impossible:
“Naam (Mantra) dene waale to Guru bahut hain, main wo Guru dhoond raha hun jo mera naam (name/ID) mujhse lele” [There are many Gurus giving out Mantra, I am looking for that Guru who can take away my own name from me].
I was sure that my spiritual journey was a lonely one. No Guru had done this but that’s the Guru I wanted.
Isha Yoga…. finally!
One day, when I had time, I found that Isha Yoga’s ‘Inner Engineering” program was coming to Houston. I had some personal time to myself so i signed up. I thought it was a basic program for general well being. I did not even know that one day I will be initiated as a shishya. But it happened. The initiation started and I did not even realize. I went in believing against being a follower to any Guru… and came out being a shishya of one. Being a shishya is an important responsibility. You promise the Guru to take care of his seed and cannot but follow up on it.
I have followed up on what I was told. But there are somethings that are not told. For example, the longing cannot stop. The questioning of the Universe that carried you to the Guru has to continue after you meet with Him/Her. If you just sit content, then you have stopped and put the onus on the Guru for the rest of the progress, then it can all be of no use. Many have come across Enlightened Masters but not every one changes. The evolution stops simply because we continue our lives as they were before putting the onus on a Guru and washing our hands off the our own wel being!
Now, this point is a little difficult to get, because it is said again and again by Gurus that “we will take care of you” – which people take as a blind cheque – often termed as Grace. Now, Grace is not a “gift”. It is earned. The root cause for Grace (Guru’s or the Divine) is one’s longing and seeking. It is no more than the fulfillment of an intention. The Grace so earned helps you go through the journey and let Guru’s Light enter and manifest in you.
Often the actions to earn the Grace are supposed to be to “please” the Guru by either repeating his name or fighting for him or doing something for him. But that has nothing to do with Spirituality. That is a framework that a small mind ports to the Spiritual realm. Enlightened Masters do not need praise or eulogies to work for the benefit of the seekers. The depth of burning of a soul for seeking the liberation is critical – whether that soul UNDERSTANDS the direction, the nitty-gritties or the requisites of the process and journey or not is hardly a deciding factor in the end! What is crucial is the all-consuming intention and longing. That hunger. It creates its own Grace and lightens one’s path!
So all consuming and burning nature is an internal quality that comes out in many ways. Some who do not have that inherent longing are very prone to “faking” the outer characteristics. That is why sometimes it is not unusual to see people cry, shout or go wild – sometimes superficially – at the congregations. Wild reactions is not a measure of longing. One can go completely quiet and have the highest intensity of seeking.
I got hold of an amazing book titled “Midnights with the Mystics” – which is compilation of the discussions that Cheryl Simone had with Sadguru Vasudev Jaggi (my Guru). Now, Cheryl Simone had an interesting life and was in many ways, despite her unease with the Gurus, a – what I call – “Spiritual Tourist”. Trying to test out and visit every Spiritual Tradition with the intent of anchoring to some but not really with the intent of moving on. However, her intensity for seeking and longing was strong through out her life. Grace, was a natural result that she would have manifested. And she did!
Cheryl met Sadguru and it changed her life. Sadguru came to her lakehouse for a special week of meditation in Atlanta. During the day, Sadguru would meditate, and in the evenings they – Sadguru, his assitant Leela and Cheryl – would speed boat to a private island and light up bonfire and then discuss. Cheryl had loads of questions which she would pose to Sadguru and he would answer. Each question goes to the heart of Spiritual quest and the answers follow no set template. They are unique and distillation of the thousands of years of philosophical underpinnings of Vedantic/Yogic tradition.
There were many questions from Cheryl that I had asked on my own journey from the “Universe” and would sometimes “receive” an answer. To my surprise, the answers from Sadguru completely resonated with those answers / conclusion that “I” seemed to have come to. Some answers from Sadhguru were truly unique which seemed to be very similar to the my own answers. Had I been marked and fed by the Guru even before I had met Him?
The questions that I hadn’t asked until now in my quest were also asked by Cheryl and that has enriched my journey. Her questions and answers by Sadguru were like “Grace” for me.
The entity that the book unveiled as “Sadguru” is a dream come true for a seeker. The Enlightened are in a hurry to leave the world for some reason. Here was an Enlightened Master who left the world to come back to fulfill a higher purpose.
So, what about my intention of finding a Guru who could take my “Naam” (identity) away? Well, I had come to realize that there is another way to Liberation – Integration or Expansion. Instead of becoming a Zero Ego, we could go to the other side – Infinite Ego. That is the way of Isha. Expansion to the Infinite. It is really the same point in the end.