What follows is the story of a listless life looking for the next shiny thing. Something has always been missing. I have trouble relating to a particular culture, a country, a colour, finding them restraining. Always had a great deal of sadness about why humanity can’t get it together. The Rolling Stones’ song said it best, “ I can’t get no, satisfaction”. Yep, I grew up in the sixties.
By turn of the last century , I realised that my life path would never give me that satisfaction. My children had grown up, were at university, leaving quite a bit of time with little to do. I was quite involved in their lives, sports, bands, education until high school. Pouring myself more into growing my business, climbing the material ladder just didn’t interest me. At one point I considered changing my career yet again perhaps into Philosophy or Sanskrit. But that idea seemed fruitless. Fortunately, by then I was financially well enough to “drop out”. Empty stomach interferes a lot in the spiritual process. I intuited that life was far more than that. Even sports which I enjoyed lost their attraction as being too competitive and an unfriendly environment. Losing a game was very unpleasant. Emotions associated with failure, in business or sports bothered me quite a bit. Society had wound me up quite tightly to keep fighting for the next win. Whatever was ailing me was not about to disappear by another game.
I was a religious teenager like most in my family and social circles, with good knowledge of Hindu texts like the Ramayana, the Bhagwat Geeta and the Upanishads. Buddha was kind of a neighbour, having been born in the same foothills of the Himalayas but 2450 years earlier. His influence was ubiquitous. Writing of The Buddha and his disciples can still be found on every corner stalls in Patna, India where I spent much of my early youth. Their words had more of a romantic place in my heart rather than spiritual. Satsangs were quite frequent in my neck of the woods but most sounded preachy to a young student who was spending most of his time lectured at schools. In my late teens, I moved to Canada for a Ph.D. in Science. A rigorous research process is the foundation of a serious Ph.D. Program. It usually attracts people who are already so inclined and trains them with the analytical abilities to dig deep. In spirituality, this can be a boon or a curse depending on the path you follow.
I found that Science and old religions didn’t mix well. Bertrand Russel, Nietzsche and Kant were more congruent. Their words were interesting and in a way an unwinding of my earlier beliefs. My Bhakti (faith) in God which is a central Hindu tenet called by many names, was coming under serious questioning. Faith was getting frayed. I still maintained my daily mantra meditation due to an oath I had taken at my upanayan ( a barmitzvah like event where young boys are given instructions on how to lead a Hindu life). The upanayan or thread ceremony was quite an elaborate affair well designed to imprint spirituality on young minds. My devout parents instilled into me that regular meditation was an essential practice for a good student.
Did regular meditation make me more focused in my studies? Perhaps, but I know a lot of bright scientists who never meditated. It took nearly thirty years before I really understood the significance of meditation. I was more into regular university student stuff, mostly parties, than Transcendental Meditation which was finding its way into North American university life in the seventies. My view of yogis like Mahesh Yogi, Osho or Yogananada was not the hype that seemed to be floating around here. They were trying to commercialize what are the sacred teachings of revered rishis of the Indian past. Making money by transmitting eternal truth was just not appropriate of a serious guru. I would hear similar words from Richard Rose decades later, a message that resonated well.
I made no attempts to dig deep while growing up in India, even though wisdom was all around me . Ironically, I am grateful to the commercial gurus as their work is directly responsible for a greater awareness of spirituality around the world and was critical in my own spiritual progress. Growing up in India, one gets jaded and sceptical about a million different spiritual practices. As a youth, I routinely saw saffron robed sanyasis, begging for food just like in the days of the Buddha. Not knowing or understanding what they were doing, my young mind simply considered a life style of spirituality rather unacceptable, another suffering not salvation.
I was becoming obsessed with a quest to find something that will alleviate my dukha (dissatisfaction). As many seekers, my first stop was Krishnamurti. I got involved, translated some of his tapes and read many of his books. But the best thing that happened because of my interest in Krishnamurti is that I showed up on the newly formed spiritual emailing lists. Internet was here. An email from TAT foundation in 2005, about a seminar on “beyond mind, beyond death” got my attention, so my wife and I headed to West Virginia for a weekend. That meeting lit a fire under me and was a turning point. I am not sure I could see it then but I had just met people like me who had no idea of what they wanted except they did want something. Also here were real people who said that this something was available. Their claims were outrageous. Do you not have to seek for so many years or lives to get moksha or nirvana? Here was a group who thought you could do it in this life time like the Buddha. There are fakirs and sadhus in the Himalayas who claim to touch you for your salvation but a lot of them are hoaxes. I found TAT and Richard Rose, believable. I never met him but his words and energy were palpable at the old farm house.
Satsangs at TAT are pleasant and friendly, like Buddha’s meta bhaavna, compassion without attachment. After a few years of attending the meetings, my quest got even stronger. I wanted to explore as many spiritual practices as available, all looked enticing and helpful in my quest. After losing the original farmhouse, TAT meetings were a lot farther for me to attend frequently. Instead, I learnt yoga, kundalini, oneness deeksha, Qi gong and even Reiki and zen meditation, went on a few retreats to Chennai, Rishikesh and Viapssana. I became a guide on the forum, liberationunleashed.Com, a site that helped me a great deal in seeing through the veil of individuality.
Moved by yoga teachings like Shiva’s Vigyan Bhairava, the Bhagwat Gita and Patanjali, I started to teach yoga and meditation at local yoga groups. Wisdom of these masters helped me design a meditation course which has helped a few of my friends and yogis. As the pandemic hit and my body got a little older still, my interest in teaching yoga and meditation has started to cool off. I had nothing new to teach. I started to see very little new in any teaching or wisdom which come to my attention. My social media presence is exclusively in spiritual groups. My interest there has also dropped, I rarely find anything that is worth pursuing. I do keep in touch with my students and am available to them if and when they wish to connect. I belong to several local meditation groups where I participate to the fullest, sharing whatever I do know. Did I fail once again, this time as a spiritual guide or yoga teacher? Curiously of the many hats I have tried, this was the most comfortable. For many, this is a profession? I have already had a few professions with scars from each. Taking on another seemed fruitless. I felt that would be yet another ego building activity, I am trying to avoid. I could see a desire within me to be seen as a good teacher.
I wrote a book of spiritual poems, “The dead end up here” but found no enthusiasm in marketing or promoting it. That too felt egotistical. But sharing what I do know to be true still feels important, we never know which words may strike a bell creating an opening.
So, here we are in 2022, nearly two decades after I started a search for satisfaction. Am I still searching? I would say more like browsing to see if there is anything new. Whether that is because of the spiritual work I have done or because I am older and settled into a groove, I do not know. Hindu Vedic scriptures divide life into four quarters, child, student, grihastha or householder and sanyas or renunciation. Whether my ancestors prescribed this or described it, I don’t know. But it does ring true.
Yogis call it pratyahara also known as vairagya and sanyas, meaning desirelessness. My needs are few, getting fewer, ambition much less tormenting as are the worries. Turmoils happen like what we have experienced last year and continuing but I do not fret much. I meditate often now in a way that is more zen than Vedic mantra prayers. Insights bubble up, many I find resonant with what great teachers have said. I write them down in a tweet or Facebook. Sometimes I go back to my earlier scribbles and find my words or views haven’t changed much, but confidence grows in them. There is the ultimate indescribable but experienceable truth but the process to get it, are many.
It sounds simple enough but looking within is hard work. Previous programming, heritage and experience all fight to keep you in their fold. This is not weird at all. Most of what we do is based on certain basic assumptions of life we adopt. When we get to the assumptions and challenge them, the house of cards starts to collapse. Some may get it in a flash but that is rare. Evolutionary biology, a fascinating emerging science may have an answer to why it is rare. Yet this special flash is in the back of most seeker’s mind, akin to an Olympic athlete’s desire for a gold medal and a graduate student’s wish to win a Nobel Prize. And this desire is a major hurdle.
The word enlightenment or it’s equivalent appears in most culture and means pretty much what it says, to shine a light on darkness. We can and do argue about the flavours forever. The most popular mantra in Vedic culture is the Gayatri which is essentially a prayer to the Self to enlighten (…prachodayat om). Fourth noble truth of the Buddha is an achievable Nirvana which translates— “blowing out the flame of ignorance”.
That materiality is totally divorced from spirituality, was one of my first assumptions that fell apart. Giving up a lifestyle so that you can know the secret truth seemed pretty hollow. Patanjali taught that if you follow the first four of his eightfold path, you arrive at a state called pratyahara which is detachment from mental formations: pretty much all your wants and cravings. This was appealing. This was different from renunciation. After a decade of yoga, pratyahara is something I do understand. In a word it captures what Buddha also describes as cessation of suffering. It is logical and practical. One can indeed let go of not just the desires but even the five sensations in meditation. It is a happy place. By this stage you are indeed ready to go deep. This is Samadhi amidst materiality.
I also did QiGong and found Falun Dofa which is banned in China useful to train my energy flow. My search for energy (or chakra) work led me to Reiki, the Oneness Deeksha and Kundalini yoga, all aimed at enhancing awareness of a mysterious energy force, the Chinese call “chi” . After practice, awareness of the internal energy does happen. In some cases the energy manifests in wild physical reaction. I have seen strong men shake like a leaf and rolling in the isles, in complete rapture. This energy meditation is happening all around the world. There are spiritual energy groups everywhere, enjoying a wonderful healthy and ecstatic experience.
Energy work can also be a distraction. Buddha warned of this as jhanas, or fireworks (my translation) may happen in samadhi. Patanjali followers initiated cults based on what he called vibhuti as yogis practiced walking on water, nails, fire, disappearing and other superhuman feats. You hear such stories in the forests of Rishikesh, India. I spent some time there also. A Mooji Baba of Portugal has quite a following. There’s a presence of love in these gatherings, energy seems to originate in a mysterious process. I loved my time but I was accumulating more stuff for the ego.
I was convinced of the validity of both schools I found in spirituality. One is monastic (fully or partially) which is in most religions, yoga, meditation, Buddhism and zen. Here the key phrase is renunciation of material things, emotions, all. Deeper you go, you are assured peace and joy.
The other was a model proposed by Vedic teachers and popularised in the Gita. Here actions you take in life, be it as a saint or a sinner, a fakir or a king, need not to be abandoned. Geeta was delivered and enlightened Arjuna while he was preparing to kill thousands and perhaps get himself killed along with his entire family. This was an unlikely environment for spiritual teaching. This was experiencing moksha (liberation) in a battle.
This path appealed to me. Giving up the battles of life is a hard internal battle for the ego. Death is not something one voluntarily accepts in hopes of achieving an unknown source of bliss. Not knowing where you are going, your best guide is yourself. I found yoga and studies of related spiritual texts support this view. It is indeed possible to live a life without attachment. You don’t have to pack your bags and go on a retreat abandoning your career, business or family. You can create the choice less awareness where you are. My search ended not because of some fireworks but because I ran out of questions except for one, who am I? The best answer so far is, of course I know who I am, I just have no way to describe it in a form that anyone can understand. Many have tried to explain, model, test and even induce one through mind machines. I think it is inherently impossible, it is beyond description. That isn’t surprising because in life we are unable to truly describe much including the very sensations that is known as living. How do you describe colour or touch, seeing and hearing? How do you describe zero?
To the question have I awakened, the answer comes back, does it matter? Will this change anything? I may see more ignorance within but that’s happening to all of us, we just have to be mindful of them.
Need for enlightenment often is a desire for cessation of suffering. End of the path is recognition that can never be. Ergo, there is no need for enlightenment, never was.
Our nature is meta bhaavna, attributed to the Buddha, which literally means friendly emotions.This is the feeling you get when you see a long lost friend, hear a familiar music or sound. It is the feeling you get when you touch something precious like another life, human or not. Consider yourself lucky if you feel love. Find out urgently why if you do not.
Much in our routine and the global noise interferes with our ability to experience this love unless you get your house in order. I have a routine of daily yoga, meditation and time for reflection especially on love. It’s a wonderful way to live.