I want to start this blog with the plea that those people who visit ashrams or have a spiritual bent of mind should not be condemned or termed different. I’ve been trying very hard to stand up to the prejudice that an ashram is a sad place where sad things happen. This is just not true. An ashram is a hygienic place, where you get good, healthy food and the hospitality is great and you get to meet some of the most independent, intellectual and knowledgeable people. It is also the only place where you can do some self analysis and dig deeper into the philosophical aspect of things. If you’re scholarly, this is the only place that you will get your satisfaction, and the quest for knowledge will be attained only here.
Please realize that when Parveen Babi was diagnosed with schizophrenia, when she lived at UG Krishnamurti’s ashram, she got cured, but she returned to movies and slid further into chaos, away from her true self.
The most severe of the human condition’s problems can be treated and cured here. Hinduism has a formula and cure for everything, and if you’ve not been to these haloed places for spiritual retreats, you have not seen anything. If your heart skips a beat at the site of the Hoysala temples; if you gape in wonder at the architectural marvels of Mount Abu; if your spirit just soars in Ajanta and Ellora then you know that you are predisposed towards a spiritual way of life. In fact these buildings and monuments have fulfilled their purpose in bringing you to the right place for further enquiry, and that too, not only about the outer aspects of the world but also the inner engineering of an individual’s constitution.
I have been associated with the Chinmaya movement since 20 odd years, and I must confess, it has been the most rewarding experience. As a student, I have matured into a scholar, with a deep interest for scholarship and books, and it all started here. Also, from being an extremely emotional and fragile teenager, I have grown into an independent and thinking person in the pursuit of excellence all because of Saraswati’s blessings from here. So, if you have questions about the unfairness of poverty; if you want to know the workings of karma; or simply if you want to love an idol in devotion, then you can do it here.
Yesterday, out of gratitude for my mum’s healing and also because Swami Tejomayanandaji came in my dream, I resolved to meet some people I consider gifted in my very long list of respected illuminaries from the Chinmaya family.
The first person I met and I was absolutely thrilled at her great form and health even at the ripe, old age of 88 was Nishthananda Amma. She was a doctor in her pre sannyas days, an honest and diligent student of Vedanta under our very revered gurudev. When I met her, not only her persona, but her entire surroundings enchanted me; from the plants on the patio outside, to her decoratively done up altars; I had the opportunity to talk to a straightforward and committed Vedantin, and I came back with some fond memories of old times and some great wisdom.
She told me, from the doctor’s standpoint, that disease is constitutional and is unmanifest in the person’s being before it comes up, and when it does, it is not so so much because of external factors, but because of a disconnect between the mind and body balance of the person himself.
She also told me that the practice of neti, neti may contribute to the negativity in a person, and some of the highest texts in Vedant are negative, and that I was not yet qualified for the study of Ashtavakra Geeta, the pinnacle of negation, although 2 IITians were.
Amma spends her time looking after her really peaceful and pretty garden and she takes classes in her room for IIT students, setting up an authentic student teacher dialogue like they used to in Dakshinamurthy’s and Tapovan Swami’s days. I was thrilled but thankfully not envious.
I was then just in time to meet the dynamic and fiery Vimlananda whose progression into a spiritual giant happened right in front of our eyes. From a sadhak in yellow, to an authority on the Upanishads, I saw yet another saint in all her relaxed glory, in full bloom.
The best thing about these visits is that not a moment is spent gossiping or thinking unwise things, or worst, getting influenced by yet another negative force.
Whenever you enter a saint’s room, you are just struck by the minimalism of the décor, the simplicity of the furniture, and the no nonsense messages it evokes. I must add here, whenever I enter Swamiji’s kutia, I just feel all thought evaporating from my mind, and a tranquil and comfortable silence filled with bird calls fills the air. Sometimes, had it not been for the crowds, I could spend an entire day in silent witness of a great soul.
From Vimlananda’s chats I could gather that she has kept up with the times and is a modern yet authentic yogi, an oxymoron for most others, from her references to the Narmada tapas she endured and her praise of a sadhak in the Himalayas. She has no pretence, no cleverness or ulterior motive, and another thing I noticed was that she was extremely attentive to every action in the room, every thought, every movement and every sound. She never dropped any question of mine, and answered with agility and full focus. I think it’s an immense adjustment to make that if you’re generally an introvert, creative, natural, nature loving person but you have to work with machines; practice a traditional theory, and still adapt with modern technology, and she looked mighty comfortable in both.
I came back impressed with her restrained diet and even more restrained talk and also her commitment to her daily regimen of exercise.
And take it from me, it can’t be random that every time I visit these divine people, I come back feeling more and more wise, satisfied with this world and in utter awe of Jagadeeshwara up there.