It was the summer of 2003, I and my school friend Sandeep decided to finally leave for the Himalayas. Our intent was to leave this ephemeral world behind, work towards something permanent, achieve something which is independent of Space-Time. I told everyone that I’m going to take admission in JNU for my Masters, Sandeep told he’s going to Delhi with me to join some coaching. The plan was all set, my friends Vinay and Bhaskar, who recently got jobs, were the sponsors. We both reached Delhi, stayed at my friend Pashupati’s place somewhere in North Delhi. It was the second time I came to Delhi, first was in 1999 when I was in BA first year, that time I came to Delhi alone to attend my first 10-day Vipassana Meditation course.
In Delhi, my friend Mahendra joined us. Three of us booked our train tickets to Haridwar for the next day. The train was scheduled to depart at around 4 pm. All 4 of us partied that night and somehow Pashupati Convinced me to at least take the admission in JNU before leaving. I had no intention to join my MA, didn’t know much about JNU, only heard a little about it from my friend Nilesh so wrote the entrance test.
Next morning all 3 of us left for JNU with our bags packed, plan was to complete admission formalities and then leave for the station. All formalities got completed but final signature from some chairperson was still required, and somehow all the chairpersons had left by then. It was already around 2 o’clock & the guy who was helping me asked me to come tomorrow …. We smiled and asked for the way to the bus station. We were waiting for the local bus at the bus station behind JNU’s Admin Block when that guy came running saying one chairperson just arrived. And yes, this way I became the bonafide student of JNU 😀
Our train reached Haridwar next morning. We took autorickshaw and directly went to Rishikesh.
By then I was very well read. For the last 4 years, I was closed in a room almost literally and was reading for on the average 12–15 hours a day. I had already completed all 4 Vedas, all 18 Puranas, most of the Buddhist literature, Complete works of Vivekananda, almost all 400+ books by Osho, all 70+ books by Jiddu Krishnamurti, Some of Jaina literature, few books on western philosophy, most of the works of many other less known spiritual teachers, good amount of Psychology, Mathematics, Physics. My favorite among all of them for many years was ‘I am that’ by Nisargadatta.
I heard a lot about Sivananda, I found his book ‘Mind — its mysteries & its control’ very interesting. He was considered to be one of the most successful teachers, as in, his Institute brags of producing 10–12 Buddhas. Though he was no more by then I was somehow convinced that his successors would be able to satisfy my intellectual curiosity.
We went directly to Sivananda Ashram. They welcomed us and offered us a place to stay and access to mess in turn for 3–4 hours of daily duty of cleaning the Ashram. We were more than excited but when I started asking questions about the technical details of the process, they bluntly refused to entertain. They said they pursue Bhakti Yoga, and asked us to come to the prayer hall in the evening to attend the prayer. We were somehow more interested in knowing how exactly it works and we wanted a rough timeline and some indication of milestones we expect to achieve if we follow this. They said there’s no such thing and you guys just need to have faith and surrender yourself to the lord, he’ll take care of everything and you’ll achieve samadhi whenever the Lord thinks you are ready.
I had some good idea about how Bhakti works, at least theoretically, but somehow I was not ready to play blindly. I was more interested in Gyan Marg and Sivananda’s book somehow gave me the impression that he was a Gyan Yogi. When I mentioned that book to the head of the Ashram, to my surprise he said he hasn’t read it and he has no idea about it. I was pissed. We refused their offer and left the Ashram.
It was still afternoon, we were standing outside our biggest hope which just got crushed. We consoled ourselves by assuming that these guys are good for nothing and somehow they have usurped the administration after Sivananda. We decided to find and meet some of his direct disciples. We crossed the river, started talking to random strangers, mostly monks, and by the evening we found out the whereabouts of our next target, I guess it was Chidananda or some similar sounding name.
We tracked him down to his small hut somewhere near the banks. Almost all of the men we met, were convinced that he was truly an enlightened one. Our expectations were high.
When we met him and told him about our quest, he welcomed us with a smile and gave us something to eat. He was very old and living alone. Everyone who was passing by was greeting him, it seems he was well respected by the locals. He was definitely a minimalist, he had almost nothing in his hut. He was cooking something in a very big pot on an earthen Chulha. When we enquired he said he prepares the meal for kids, who study in a nearby school, every day. He accepts raw materials in donation from people and cooks all of it by himself, he has been doing it for decades.
I asked him about Spiritual Enlightenment, he said ‘Lord resides in selflessly serving others’. And again I was pissed. When I asked about his experience with Sivananda, he refused to comment.
When we expressed our desire to seek spiritual enlightenment and asked him for advice, he said, join me and let’s serve the people together. I was like how can that add value to anything. I’m not good at cooking and if feeding as many people is the only objective, I should get a good job so that I can hire 10 people on my salary who would be better at cooking than I am. He said if you do it yourself it makes you feel good and at peace. I said I feel equally good and peaceful after 3 beers and that’s way more cost effective if you count in time, effort & money. He said it cleanses your soul. I asked if his soul is cleansed, as he’s doing it for decades. He refused to answer, he said its a useless question, I wouldn’t understand if he speaks about himself so I shouldn’t ask.
The argument went on for hours, finally, neither I was convinced with his arguments nor he bought my point. Again, we left, disappointed. It was almost night and we didn’t have the budget for the hotel.
We kept walking along the banks away from civilization, after about an hour we found a nice place at the turn of the river. They had built these elevated cemented beds at the banks and there was no one nearby. We had a good night’s sleep. Next morning we realized, it was a burial ground.
We spotted a man sitting nearby, looking towards us. He was wearing a black robe and he had a full-size human skull for his locket. Behind him was sitting his Assistant. Mahendra said hi, they reciprocated. And the conversation started …. I remember from a point where his assistant opened his mouth, he said, It’s been 6 years since I died.
What? Pz come again. And he said it again. And he continued … the baba created a soul and infused it in my body, since then I’m with baba and serving him, I left my past life behind.
Plz note, baba didn’t summon any other soul, he didn’t steal it from somewhere, he just created a fresh new soul artificially out of thin air. Later he told me the soul is nothing but a featureless lump of pure energy.
It seems baba had no respect for laws of Physics, he blatantly defied Dalton’s Law of Conservation.
Well cool. Congratulations on your second life.
We told about ourselves, about our intention, he seemed to be liking us. Baba took us somewhere and treated us with tea and biscuits. Baba told us that there are 10 kinds of Vidyas and Aghora sits at the top of them. I didn’t know anything about Aghor, and never even cared to verify it. Baba even gave a brief introduction to all 10 of them. No doubt baba was knowledgeable. I distinctly remember one conversation when we were discussing the metaphysics …. He said you guys somehow take physical reality as absolute truth. He said we know about physical reality only through its features which somehow we are able to measure. Take for example Mass, what do u know about it except that you can measure it somehow. What makes u think it exists … how do u define this word — ‘exists’.
I was speechless. And I and Sandeep both were damn impressed.
We started contemplating the possibility of us taking the initiation and joining him to follow Aghora. Baba was overly nice to us.
But then in the evening, his assistant said something which made us run as fast as we could, without ever looking back.
He said Baba took on a project a couple of years back where he was supposed to sacrifice 300 human kids. Once he completes the requirements, he’ll be awarded complete Shivahood, he himself will turn into Shiva … and he has already sacrificed 297.
We looked at one another … We were three.
I don’t remember where we spent the night, next morning in the jungle we spotted a small group of monks sitting silently, enjoying marijuana. We approached, the conversation started, they offered us the puff, I refused. I tried it a few times in the past and it never went well with me, it was always a bad trip. We were comfortable as they were in saffron. We made it a point to avoid Men in Black from now on.
The leader told me he was from some village in UP and he is a part-time monk, every year he comes here for 3 months. I don’t remember the conversation but somehow we took him as a reasonable man. He didn’t answer our queries but he pointed us towards some Ashram in Haridwar and he was confident we’ll get all our answers if we can meet his teacher there.
We went to Haridwar, tracked down that Ashram, got entry, it was a sprawling campus. We told about our purpose. It was already evening, they allotted us a room. It was luxurious, we took shower for hours :) We were allotted a guide, he took us to their massive mess, we had a good meal.
After dinner that guide took us out for a walk. He made us sit under some historical tree, and the conversation started. He told us he was working as some field officer in some government department, and one fine day he heard the calling and left everything for good. He held a good sway over the administration there.
I asked him what is he seeking, he said ‘pragya’, I asked who’s she :) He explained how it is a kind of knowledge which sets you free from the cycle of rebirth. I asked what makes u think ur current life and some next life belong to the same person, what’s the common thread which binds them together in any way. He said the same soul. I asked how do u know it’s same, what are the features of the soul. He said the soul is featureless. I said how would you differentiate it from other souls. He said from their history, the bodies they inhabited. I asked so these souls store past data, they have a memory. He said they have access to memory but it’s not stored in them, it’s stored with some supreme soul.
I didn’t know back then that he was talking about cloud storage and accessing it through wifi :), and it was in 2003.
I asked why is he so worried about getting next birth, he said life is always a pain. If he achieves pragya he won’t have to be born again and he’ll be saved all this pain. I asked whether he has solved all his problems in his current life, as he’s now focussing on problems which will arise in next birth. He said yes he’s at peace. I asked whether his wife and kids whom he had left behind are at peace. He said it’s their karma … I said, so you have somehow selectively destroyed the neurons in your brain which are responsible for creating empathy?
By now he was irritated :) he asked us to meet his head teacher, he assured us his teacher would better be able to address our queries. He told us his teacher was capable of doing Śaktipāta — the thing which Ramkrishna did with Vivekananda on their first meet. If he deems us fit and we are lucky he may offer to do it. We agreed, he booked the appointment with him for the next morning. We went to sleep, it was a cozy bed :)
We had a good night’s sleep, they served us a great breakfast. Now it was time to meet their head teacher. We entered the room, he was clad in saffron, sitting on a regular chair. It appeared he had already been briefed about us. He said, it’s great that you guys have chosen this path — We run an NGO where we do all kinds of social work, you guys join it, we already have thousands of people working there. And after one year I’ll evaluate and induct you to the service of God.
And I got pissed, again.
I asked, why do u run the NGO — u r a spiritual organization, I guess?
He said Service to nation is a pre-requisite to service to God.
I asked, ok so where do u get funds from? … he said, our followers donate.
I said, so your followers work somewhere, generate money, pay their taxes to the government, and then the money they are left with, which they would’ve spent on something raising the liquidity in the market, they give it to you. And obviously you won’t need to pay tax on this sum, and you spend it on something else. In a way, you are just redistributing the money wasting the labor of thousands of us. How is this the service to the Nation?
Better if you release these thousands of people, make them find some work, they’ll generate the money which was not already there in the system, they’ll pay taxes to the Government and the Government, in turn, will do your social work.
He said, Government alone can’t do it and it’s not efficient, they are corrupt, our organization is spotless.
Me — So you generate zero money with 100% efficiency and Government generates significant amount, even if the machinery steals 90% of it, Still, they do some work with 10%. This way it seems Government is the most Efficient Non-Government Organization :)
He seemed pissed as his tone changed a bit, but he maintained his calm. He said it’s not about money, relieving someone’s pain is doing God’s will and the first step towards serving him.
I was like; how can it be God’s Will. Your God has created the Lion and the Rabbit — by design he has eliminated all possibilities of painless non-violent co-existence. And you are trying to minimize the global pain — don’t you think you are going headlong against God’s Will?
Now it was his turn — he got completely pissed :)
He said, I’ve returned yesterday only after giving lectures on spirituality in six countries and you are telling me how to serve God. You are a person with very negative energy, but you are young, you’ll understand with time.
I couldn’t say anything.
He continued — a student should be like Vivekananda, with iron faith in the teacher.
Me — That requires a teacher like Ramkrishna … :)
He shouted — I was thinking of giving you Saktipat even before a year had you performed well in your duties. But I was wrong, you are not ready and probably you don’t even deserve it.
He asked his associate to show us out. We were given an hour to vacate the room and leave the premises.
It was afternoon, and we again were on road :)
We again came back to Rishikesh. In our quest to find someone from other than Bhakti/Seva Marg, we stumbled upon a teacher who taught Kriya Yoga … I remembered this word from Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. We went to meet him. He told us he practices Patanjali’s Yog Sutra.
I had already read this book in original, along with commentaries by Osho and Vivekananda. We had some discussion on the steps.
I asked him, are you enlightened. He tried to avoid answering directly, but I persisted in getting the answer in binary. Finally, he said, Yes.
So how do you know u r not in illusion, I asked. He said, direct experience is his source of knowledge — perception, testimony etc, all can be wrong but direct experience is like knowing reality as it is, without getting tainted by senses. He touched his chair and continued — the way you can touch this chair and know that it exists, the same way I know the true reality which exists.
I asked, how do u know this chair exists — there are schools of thought which maintain that this chair is just ur imagination — it’s illusion created by your mind, and if I’m not wrong even your Advait Vedanta says so.
He said, there are things and knowledge beyond the realm of Time-Space-Reason, I have been there and I know them … you can’t experience things which lie outside this dome using the sources of knowledge which lie inside this dome u live in. And since there’s no language to communicate between outside and inside, I won’t be able to convince you exactly how it looks like outside of it … but yeah I can take your hand and guide you till u urself break out of your dome.
What do you mean by I, when u say ‘I live outside the dome’, I asked. He said, this I is the universal consciousness. I asked what happened to your Individual Consciousness, he said it merged with the Universal and lost its limited identity. I said, so u say the I which was there inside the dome is not the same I which goes beyond dome — they both are different. He said, Yes.
I said, so, by all means, u r saying if I go outside of this dome, essentially ‘I’ will die and someone else will go there and no one around me will notice it as that new “I” will have access to my body and my memories?
He laughed and said, In a way, you can say that !
The conversation was going in the direction I was not comfortable with, this was an age-old trick, u take the case to the realm of non-measurable and make whatever claim u wish, its veracity can’t be checked, you won’t get falsified. You only need to fulfill the necessary condition of being logically consistent.
I asked, ok but this Chakra System u were talking about, it was taken originally from ShatChakraNirupan if I remember correctly and it also talked about powers over the material world. Do u have any such super-normal powers?
He said we don’t pursue powers as they’ll distract you from the path. Though it’s easy to gain them but we discourage our students. I said, ‘again, do u have any such powers, please answer in yes/no’. He said, no.
Then he told us if we want to get initiated we are required to come with 5 fruits and 5 flowers in the evening. We said, we’ll see and we took the leave.
We were not very convinced.
It was almost evening. We decided to give up on our quest.
We came back to Delhi and I joined JNU for my Masters in Politics.
NOTE: But it was not the end. I was to go back to the Himalayas again after 2 years, this time I would be alone and the journey would last for 4 years.