The limitations of books in Yoga

Ever since I was a child, I have been extremely fond of reading books. They provided information about the nature of things and how they work. They sometimes acted as a catalyst for my imagination and became a window for me through which I could see the world. Books can indeed be extremely helpful as they can sometimes provide effective shortcuts to learning new things. However for most things in life, nothing beats direct personal experience and Yoga is no different .

With an education system which rewards rote learning and information processing ability, books become the central pivot around which knowledge transmission happens. The fact that many a times these books are tampered with by people with ulterior motives is a subject for another time. Anyway, the way children are conditioned by the modern system of education, books become the hallmark of authority. As a corollary that follows from this phenomenon, when that child becomes an adult he tries to find books whenever he wants to learn something new. In addition, if his personal experience diverges from the book, he may even discard his personal experience as false or at the very least become confused due to the dichotomy.

When trying to decipher the secrets of the inner realms, the approach of acquiring requisite knowledge through books has many inherent drawbacks. In fact, it may even sometimes be better to have never read anything at all. This may sound very counterintuitive as after all even spirituality is a form of knowledge. Esoteric though it may be, but it is knowledge nonetheless. I have made the following observations on some of the pitfalls I experienced due to my excessive reliance on books written about spiritual subjects.

1. Intellectual meandering where one may not progress but an illusion of movement is there – There is a tendency in all of us that we want to feel as though we are ‘special’ and ‘unique’. Our brain is always looking for evidence to support this delusion. Books with viewpoints which support our inherent laziness and entitled mindset may firm up the delusion even more. So we may end up seeing confirmation of our delusions and feel that we have become ‘spiritual’ when in reality nothing would have happened. A lot of the so called ‘new age’ stuff revolves around and feeds off of this phenomenon.

2. All books on yogic instruction are incomplete and they leave out a key piece of the puzzle -There is an old rule in Yoga that instruction has to be in person because of the inherent nature of the process. Hence even detailed instruction manuals like the Bihar School of Yoga books would not be giving out the complete information. Someone practicing yoga using books without guidance may end with no discernible movement on the path or even worse.

3. Varying approaches of different books can confuse a seeker further – There are many different routes to the mountaintop. Depending on where a climber is standing, what equipment he has and what his innate capability is, the route to be taken would be different. So reading books by people who have climbed differently may create a confusion as to which is the right route. It is best to find a trustworthy guide to undertake such a journey.

4. Ego can pretend and create a fake spiritual persona based on the books – The danger with books is that it is easy to memorize the terms which represent a seemingly spiritual vocabulary and start identifying with it without direct experience.One can talk to others using the terms from the books and ego gets trapped further from this validation by others of one’s fake spiritual self. A spiritual master however sees through such verbal jugglery as he sees the core of the person rather than the outer accoutrements.

5. When one has taken diksha from a realized Guru then sometimes during the seemingly quiet phases there can be a feeling that one is not making progress. The reality is that there is a lot going under the surface of the conscious mind. However there may be a situation where one can read a book where a contrarian view is given. This can cause further confusion which could have been avoided.

Books do have their merit on the path. In the initial phases they can provide much needed confidence to a seeker. They can (if done with proper discernment) serve as motivator when the seeker is going through the quieter or turbulent phases of the process. Sometimes the Guru can also recommend something specific to read which would help the disciple at their current stage of progress. When one has advanced in Yoga, there is also an ability to access deeper truths in the scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita or the Yoga Sutras.


The true essence of individual freedom

A casual glance at the subversive output from most media outlets today will make you feel that there is a huge threat to individual freedom in the current societal context. Any behaviourist will tell you that fear can be one of the strongest forms of persuasion. The concept of individual freedom is glorified as a western civilisational import and is portrayed as being under threat from the Indic value system. A lack of understanding of the nuances of Indic tradition has led to the sad state where we are unable to even articulate a response to this challenge. Trying to defend our stance using the attacker’s frame of reference is a losing proposition. When the paradigm has been set for decades by ‘liberal’ and left-leaning intellectuals, any defence in the context of the same paradigm would lead to the defenders being painted as fascists. So we would need to essentially change the frame of reference being used by propagating the true Indic concept of freedom as being superlative and richer than its lacklustre western counterpart. That is a real problem for us as most of us are vague about what freedom really is in the Indic view of life. For that, we need to ask questions keeping the Indic frame of reference. What is really the essence of freedom? Is it just to say or do whatever one likes? Or are there deeper dimensions to this which are not explored?

Almost none of us are ever truly free. Our thoughts, opinions, beliefs are all a by-product of different types of external and internal conditioning. Our views are not really our own. If our views are not our own, then can our actions be our own? And isn’t that the whole argument…that we should be free to do and say what we want. The premise is that ‘you’ are really aware of what you want. Most of the time these wants arise out of biology, immediate emotional triggers and our acquired view of the world. Since we have never really taken the effort and trouble to understand our ‘self’, how can we really know what this ‘self’ truly wants? I will give an example to illustrate my point.

In the meanwhile please do not think of a yellow elephant dancing in the middle of the road. Apologies for using that ancient trope. I suppose you got the point. You know my statement to be a deliberate trigger as it was a ridiculous suggestion in the middle of a supposedly serious essay. Most of the time these inputs are much more subtle and subconscious. It is so easy for us to mistake such external triggers as our own thoughts that we do not even realise that what we claim as our mind is not really our own.

What then is the way to attain true freedom? If the problem is that what we consider as our mind is actually external to us, then it follows that the solution is to know what is truly internal to us. So once we know this true ‘self’, we would be truly free. Hence, if there is a system which has systematic steps which can lead to understanding the internal ‘self’, the logical solution to being free would be to follow the aforementioned system.

In the Vibhooti pada of Rishi Patanjali’s yoga sutras there is a verse –

सत्त्वपुरुषयोः शुद्धिसाम्ये कैवल्यमिति ॥

All of our scriptures have a deeper layers of meaning which requires one to be at a higher level of Shakti to really understand them. So while I am not qualified enough in Shakti terms to comment on the deeper yogic essence of the Yoga sutras, my rudimentary translation of this verse would run as – Kaivalya or Liberation happens when by virtue of purification of one’s mind there remains no difference between it and the Purusha (universal consciousness). Sounds very complicated. I will illustrate this phenomenon with an example.

Assuming that there is a universal source of pure water which represents Consciousness. So all water and liquids derived from this source of water should have the same essential nature as that of the original pure water. Due to the mixing of external impurities, the surface nature of derived forms of water has changed as in the case of most drinks that we consume. Now there is a chemical process which we know that can revert all these to the original state. Depending on the nature of the impurity, there is a valid process for reconversion. Once the respective process is applied and the water reverts to its natural state of pure water, only then is it truly free. An interesting thing to note is that for all these cases the energy needed to clear out impurities is much higher than in the vice versa case.

While distillation, condensation, desalination may work for purification of water, but what of the human mind? For the human mind, there is the discipline of Yoga. The modern interpretation of Yoga is that which helps manage midlife health crises or gets us a shapely figure. It is saddening to think that something of such vast potential has been reduced to this. In my own experience, the asanas and pranayama aspect of yoga is just scratching the surface. It is the preparation for the actual yogaYoga happens and cannot be done. It can only be prepared for. States of yoga require a gradual build-up of tremendous amounts of energyOnce this energy reaches a threshold level, altered states of consciousness can begin to occur in which the deeper purification can take place. Asanas prepare the foundation of the body to remain steady, stable and handle higher states of energy. Pranayama starts building the required energy in the system and clears out the Nadi blockages facilitating the freer flow of energy. Yama and Niyama are the lifestyle guidelines to reduce energy leakages and keep the mind fixed firmly on the path. The most important aspect of Yoga is that of Guru Kripa or Guru’s grace. Without this, there will be next to no progress on the path.

My own path is that of kriya and meditation where even my initial forays have made me realise what grand treasures we have as our heritage and how we have grossly neglected and underestimated them. There is no religion or philosophy in the world which takes individual freedom as seriously as we take it in this land. In fact, if we take a careful look we will find that all Indic religions have a common thread of liberation running through them. Liberation is a much deeper and richer concept than any non-Indic idea of individual freedom.

This essay was first published on Pragyata.

Listlessness of the modern Hindu – A case for revival of Sadhana

The modern Hindu is wafting directionless in a river which leads straight to his cultural extinction. Centuries of living in denial and a pervasive sense of shame and self-hate have led to us being gradually deracinated and bereft of a strong guiding force. I have analysed the causes based on my understanding and experience of this phenomenon. I also feel that a remedy is very much within our reach.

a. Blaming Hinduism for all the social ills of the country – From Macaulay to Marxist historians, the so-called intellectuals have indoctrinated each and every one of us to feel that there was nothing good about the traditions we have. Without understanding the nuances of the traditions, they went into chastising and demonising many of the practices as being evil and the entire religion as regressive. In a very disingenuous and intellectually dishonest manner, this whole subterfuge of colonising the Hindu mind has happened. Whitewashing history when it suits the narrative has been done on a grand scale. It is no wonder that the Hindu after going through the modern education system is contemptuous or at best disinterested in his own traditions. This creates a deep psychological inferiority complex where any idea is judged on the merit of its source rather than the idea itself. This intellectual crippling is actively encouraged by a biased and agenda-driven media who take great pains to fuel this narrative further.

I will now share my own experience. Having grown up in a traditional South Indian family, I was schooled in the nuances of my traditions by my parents & grandparents. All the elders in the family were devout and pious. Even with this type of social support, I felt that at best these traditions were a relic from the past and had no sound justification for being in the life of someone who belonged to the modern age. The West knew how modern life should be lived and the denial of it had resulted in the hard times which our nation now faced. If it was not for my Guru, my eyes would never have opened to the truth.

b. Lack of a unifying rallying force – In modern scientific terms, Hinduism has an open-source architecture where there are several versions for different users and changes and updates are crowdsourced. There is no sole manufacturer giving usage guidelines and terms and conditions. While on one hand this really helped the tradition survive in the face of persecution, this becomes a problem when trying to rally everyone for any important common cause where a show of force is needed. Decisions in modern democracies are based on a show of strength and this is where open source users cannot generate the required impetus to make the drastic changes needed.

Even a perfunctory glance at the way the Hindu temples are treated by the government establishes the clear lack of a unified front. The argument used by the government to control temples is that of better management and controlling corruption. Are we not capable of managing our temples? Is corruption solely a Hindu phenomenon?

c. Lack of mental defence mechanisms – Due to the manner and the circumstances in which the European & Arabic civilisations evolved, the societal and religious values needed to support the conquest of other lands. Theft, when done with divine justification, becomes the work of God. If we study the patterns of the conquest of Abrahamic aggressors, we would find the strong nexus between conquest & agenda of conversions. Whether it was the rulers who used religion as a tool or vice versa is beside the point.

The thought that the war is over is foolishness at best. Aggression is in the nature of these proselytising religions and they will use any means necessary, both overt and covert to establish their dominion. Hinduism did not arise with an intention to subsume other religions. Due to this reason, it also does not have many of the mental defence mechanisms in place to handle such a menace. For instance. Hinduism is not concerned about apostasy and blasphemy. Hence anyone can deride its traditions and get away with it. While this is inherently a noble ideal and a cornerstone for seeking and freethinking, it fails when dealing with bullies.

d. Mistaking rituals to be the essence of Hinduism – Karmkand does have merit in specific situations. However, considering it to be the sole essence of Hinduism is missing the forest for the trees. At its core all the different traditions in Hinduism point towards a striving for  Moksha. Everything was designed keeping in mind whether it supports this ultimate endeavour. One may ask then why are there rituals and deities for wealth & prosperity. Well, the answer is very simple – only when one has experienced the inherent uselessness in wealth & prosperity can one truly move towards liberation. This is a very mature outlook towards life and human nature. Higher ideals cannot be grasped on an empty stomach.

Even to understand and successfully execute rituals, higher awareness and Shakti is needed which is severely lacking. Taken out of context, we only see these rituals and then critically argue based on our ‘modern scientific understanding’ as to their demerits.

e. Unwillingness to do critical thinking – The modern Hindu waxes eloquently about how forward his thinking is and how open he is new ideas. However, the fact is that he has never truly opened his mind to do some strenuous thinking on why he thinks the way he thinks. The blind spot regarding his own limitation to comprehend the full scope of the issue is severely lacking. He is not aware of the biases in his thought process.

He is only concerned with the immediate gratification of the senses or trying to achieve ‘success’ milestones. He is not concerned with whether or not there is a civilisation conflict underway. As long as there is this apathy, it is difficult to change the status quo.

There is only one solution to all these problems. Hindus need to develop ShaktiShakti is not some airy-fairy hogwash – it is a breathing living reality. It is the living force whose paeans have been sung by Rishis and enlightened masters. When the Shakti moves in the system, all the cobwebs of illusion and delusion fall by the wayside. The body becomes truly alive and the mind becomes vibrant to the possibilities of life. The modern Hindu is consuming junk food and junk entertainment in the hope that it will give him the satisfaction he seeks. Instead of becoming sharp, alert and active he is edging towards listlessness and inertia.

Developing Shakti requires doing Sadhana in a Parampara. Separating spiritual processes from their Hindu spiritual core will result in only a breathing exercise and at best a reduced blood pressure. For astonishing results, there has to be Shraddha and Bhava. Each will feed into the other and create a virtuous cycle of self-transformation. I am arguing for a revival of Sadhana as a way to transform our very being.

This essay was first published on Pragyata.


Our social conditioning being what it is, the most prevalent understanding of love’s expression is that of romantic love. Due to the interplay of hormones , two people who barely know each other profess eternal undying love for one another. When things turn sour or boring after some time, both start seeing the endless flaws in each other. That is just nature using a biological mechanism to fulfil its purpose of procreation. The fact that there are intense emotions created, tough lessons learnt and sometimes lives destroyed is acceptable collateral damage.

We all see love as a happening between two people. Our experience of love has always been that of something which is born as a result of separation. I am arguing here that there can never be love where there is separation. When there is separation there can only be attachment or dependency. Only a business of give and take can happen when there is separation. Love is spontaneous outpouring of an emotion which can only come when the other is not separate from self. An intellectual understanding that we are all part of the same whole and actually experiencing this are two entirely different things. That is why in the kinds of love that exist among human beings, the love of a mother for her child is among the closest to the genuine expression because the mother has literally experienced the child as a part of herself.

A parent’s love for a child is a higher expression but it is still not the ultimate. Biological programming implies that we will feel a strong sense of attachment to our offspring. Deep down though even this form of love is conditional as there is a give and take involved in this relationship. Even the most noble of parents have expectations of their children. They want their children to live a particular type of life, marry someone of their choice and be a support for them in their old age. There is nothing wrong with these things and they are make absolute pragmatic sense. However a genuine expression of love is beyond pragmatic sense and conditions. Where there are conditions there can be only be contracts & obligations.

What is true love then? In my experience the highest manifestation of love among human beings is that of a Guru for his disciples. The disciples cannot give anything to the Guru except possibly their ego. Yet the Guru showers grace on the most unworthy of his disciples leading them out from their limited self. A Guru’s compassion can melt the most stone hearted amongst us. The old adage that true love can transform someone is absolutely true in this case.

The experience of the Source

What is the source of all that which exists? Some call it God, some call it the divine, and others call it the ultimate reality. In essence, this is the most fundamental question that human beings have asked themselves since the dawn of time. We have made many attempts at trying to understand and resolve this question. One of the ways in which we have articulated this understanding is in the form of religion. Religions came into being as man tried to grasp that which is beyond the intellect and tried to codify it into a system of limited beliefs. Every culture across the world evolved its own religious traditions based on how it understood this source. However, most traditions ended up as just exercises to codify the subjective experience of some individuals into a uniform doctrine. Over a period of time, these traditions got crystallised into religious beliefs and in many cases became rigid orthodox systems.

In this land, religion was never a subject of belief. It was a subject of a live & direct experience, ever-evolving & ever dynamic. We have valued and respected self-realised masters and their experiences over the second-hand definitions of God & the written word. This land was/is the greatest laboratory of human spiritual endeavour where masters created customised methods to enable others to experience the source. That is the fundamental difference between spirituality & religion. One is a matter of personal experience & the other a written set of instructions.

“Why should we even bother with trying to experience this ultimate reality?” I hear you asking this question. You can always argue “There are so many things which need to get done in life. Doesn’t it make practical sense to just adhere to the religion that one is born into? After all, resolving my physical, emotional & psychological needs & wants seem to present a more pressing problem for me. All this spiritual experience stuff is for when I am done with other things.”  The issue is that we are fighting wars on several fronts inside and outside ourselves trying to satisfy all these needs & wants. These needs are like the heads of the Hydra monster from Greek mythology. Satisfy one need and two others take its place. It is a futile endeavour. What we often overlook is the fundamental reason why these needs or wants arise in the first place. It is because of our misalignment with the source. We are trying to satisfy our thirst using soft drinks. While it seems logical that since soft drinks contain water they should be able to quench our thirst, we all know from experience that it doesn’t work. 

A question arises then as to why do we need methods to experience the source; if the source is all-pervading then isn’t it logical that we should not need methods to become aware of it. I will attempt to explain my understanding through a scientific analogy. There are thousands of radio waves that are criss-crossing the earth at any given time. However unless one uses a device which can capture the radio waves, one may not even know they are present. We are like radios which are switched off and unable to capture the signal from the source. Our bodies and minds are not in a state of adequate preparation to be able to withstand the grand & powerful spiritual experiences which would happen once we become aligned to the source.

So there is a need for preparation and there comes the discipline of Yoga. Nowadays physical asanas are commonly understood as the ultimate aim of Yoga which is actually not correct. Asanas are to prepare the physical body for the periods of stillness when the Yoga actually takes place. Yoga cannot be done, it happens either by the grace of the divine or by grace from a realised master. One can just prepare the mind and body and wait for it to happen.

How can we increase the probability of Yoga happening? While asanas can help in ensuring physical health, by themselves they are not enough. If we look at the human anatomy, the nervous system is the central unit for all the experiences of the body. So our experience of the source will depend to a large extent on the state of the nervous system. If the signals from the source have to flow properly in the circuitry of the nervous system, it implies that there is a need for the nervous system to be strong and free of blockages. Therein lies the importance of sadhana. Sadhana is the spiritual practice or method which enables in preparation for yoga. Usually, sadhana includes a meditative practice given by a realised Guru along with discipline in everything from food & sleep to speech in order to enable the purification of one’s nervous system. If proper purification and preparation of the body and mind have been done, then when grace descends, the system is able to withstand its intensity and assimilate the energies for further spiritual growth.  

One key aspect of Yoga is the need for a realised Guru. In my personal experience, this is sine qua non on the path of self-realisation. The greatest event of my life has been meeting my Guru. I used to be an atheist and refused to believe in the divine or in God. I was a staunch proponent of science and rationality & rejected anything which did not fit into this paradigm. However, the grace of my Guru and regularity in sadhana shattered my rigid worldview completely. A Guru’s kripa or grace can dissolve many an impossible obstacle in the path of the disciple. There are many pitfalls & distractions which can waylay the best of us on this path. It is in such cases that a Guru can guide and course correct. 

Seeking this source for oneself if the greatest endeavour which can be undertaken by a human being. Logical reasoning & intellectual acrobatics can only go so far in knowing the Source. To know the Source there has to be direct experience & the different methods of Yoga can enable this direct experience.

This essay was first published on Pragyata.

Discipline vs Motivation

It is important to analyze and understand the things which are effective on the path of Yoga. There are things that we think are effective and others which are actually effective. One such important distinction which should be made is between discipline and motivation. I am sure all of us remember listening to someone give a passionate speech or watching a motivational video on youtube and then getting fired up to transform our lives. We get charged up for grand goals like becoming the next millionaire or a virtuoso musician or even mundane ones like shedding those extra kilos. There is an elaborate plan which we then chalk out to achieve these goals. However when the time comes to follow through on our plans we end up procrastinating. It is a very natural state of affairs. The law of inertia applies universally and human beings are no exception.

Continuing from my previous post, this has to do with how emotions work. Motivation works at the level of creating a short term emotional spike. It provides an outlet for the potent cocktail of regret, guilt and anxiety in us which helps us remind us of what we should be doing with our lives. Emotions are by their very nature transient and it is difficult to sustain their highs and lows. So when the time comes to follow through on the motivation that we felt earlier, usually the same emotional state is not there and hence inertia takes over. In my experience, for any worthwhile goal motivation is usually not very effective unless it rests on a firm foundation of discipline.

Discipline is not very glamorous to talk about in today’s world. It is not a comfortable thought for most of us. It reminds us of the actual nature of success which requires a certain iron will to follow through with things day in and day out ceaselessly. We all admire people who seem to effortlessly attain grand things in life. Usually though there is a very strong work ethic & discipline at work in almost all of these cases. Even in nature change is always very slow and gradual. We only see the beauty of the butterfly emerging out of the cocoon. The real beauty however lies in the tireless struggle of the caterpillar against its very nature which transforms it into a butterfly.

Yoga is no different. Patanjali’s famous yoga sutras start with the verse ‘atha yoga anushasanam‘ which literally means ‘and now the discipline of yoga’. While there are several dimensions to this sutra and several interpretations of it, at a very rudimentary level it indicates that yoga needs discipline as a prerequisite. Even before there is a teaching given, discipline is asked for from the aspiring student. There is usually some confusion caused by the word discipline in the context of yoga. In the path of yoga, discipline doesn’t imply strict penance and asceticism. There is a lot of merit in moderation of sensory pleasures but a complete withdrawal from them is going to the other extreme. This is again our emotions at work. We must rise above the cloud of emotions to see the objective reality.

It took me time to understand the nuances of discipline in yoga. In the beginning there was a tendency for me to go overboard with things like fasting and pranayama. Over time I have realized that moderation in addition to being steady and regular makes for reliable progress. For a shishya initiated in a parampara, discipline is in following the rules of the path as laid down by the Guru. My Guru is a householder himself and he believes in moderation of everything in life. This ensures that slowly but steadily the disciple advances towards realization. As Lahiri Mahasaya used to say ‘Banat banat ban jai.’

Role of bhava or emotion

In our lives, whether we like it or not most of our decisions are based on emotion rather than logic. We may be able to rationalize a decision once its taken but the triggers for it are usually rooted in our emotional states. The more intense the emotions the stronger the inclination towards a certain decision. This can be true for even the small preferences that we have. For instance, the craving for a certain kind of food is usually because of certain happy memories of childhood associated with it. In Yoga we should make use of all possible opportunities & tools for evolution. Hence it makes sense for a yogi to be able to effectively utilize emotion as a tool for growth.

What should then be the emotion which helps in spiritual evolution? The Bhakti traditions talk about the bhava that human beings need to inculcate towards the divine. The bhakta celebrates both the joy & sorrow in the separation from God and revels in it. The joy is because bhakti can only happen in duality where both God and bhakta are separate. The sorrow is because there is also an intense longing to merge into the divine. This counterplay creates a strong emotional bond with the chosen deity. There are accounts of Bhakti saints who start to see their ishta in everything. Many a times their absorption in their ishta is so intense that they forget everything else around them. When someone reaches a stage like this, it is obvious that an enormous transformation has happened in their being.

There are a lot of schools of yoga who differ from each other in their approach. However they almost all agree that cultivation of bhakti is very important if one is desirous of accessing the divine. Bhakti can only happen with purification of bhava. In my experience, among the most important things that the practice of kriya under the guidance of Guru enables is this purification of bhava. There are so many experiences both good and bad that I have had throughout my life that it was difficult to create a certain purity in bhava. Hence it was important to unlearn that conditioning before I could feel a deep longing for the divine. The energy from kriya along with Guru kripa helped burn these unproductive thought patterns at the neurological level.

It is important to always keep in mind that Kriya is a tool and not the goal. Many a times we end up mixing the two. I myself have done this where I felt that I should learn the best type of yogic practice and went after finding the best techniques. This thought process is a lingering remnant of the ‘doer’ mindset where we feel the need to do something to get something. While there is something to be said for discipline in sadhana & rightful actions, in the spiritual realm things work a little differently.At my current state of evolution I feel it is best to live in a bhava of devotion to Guru & the divine and let transformation happen at its own pace.

The Feet of the Guru

शरीरं सुरुपं तथा वा कलत्रं
यशश्चारू चित्रं धनं मेरुतुल्यम् |
मनश्चेन्न लग्नं गुरोरंघ्रिपद्मे
ततः किं ततः किं ततः किं ततः किम् ||

One may have physical beauty, a beautiful spouse, fame & renown and wealth as high as the mount Meru. However if the mind is not fixed upon the lotus like feet of the Guru, there is no use for all the other attainments. This verse is the opening of the Guru Ashtakam, hymn in praise of the Guru composed by Adi Shankaracharya, a towering figure in the spiritual history of this land.

In this country, we have spent thousands of years trying to find ways to accelerate the evolution of human consciousness. Every small and big act was designed to shift the consciousness upward towards the divine. However due to recurring invasions and foreign occupations over the last few hundred years, this cultural link was broken leading to only symbolic remnants of a powerful way of life. One of these remnants is the act of touching the feet of elders. We do this as a symbolic gesture of our respect for age & seniority. There is actually a very esoteric reason for this practice which is not known to most of us now.

At the surface level the act of touching the Guru’s feet symbolises the giving up of one’s ego and seeking refuge. In reality the deep yogic reason is that shakti flows outward from the feet of the Guru and the disciple can access this by touching them. However just like the mouth of pot needs to be open to be receptive to rain, the disciple needs to be ready to accept the flow of energy from the Guru. I have had personal experience of this with my Guru. When I first met him, I did a sashtanga namaskara and touched his feet. Afterwards the next day, I had an intense experience which to this day is etched in my memory.

The term sharanagati is often talked about as essential for spiritual progress. The word sharan can be loosely translated as refuge. However if we look deeper sharan is actually charan which means feet in Hindi. Gati means movement or speed. So speed in spiritual growth happens through feet of the Guru. Even our scriptures state that all the pilgrimages and divine beings reside in the Guru’s feet.

To the modern mind conditioned with reason & logic all this may seem airy fairy hogwash. I myself refused to have anything to do with religion and spirituality till a couple of years back. However, now that I have experienced a glimpse of the divine bliss firsthand, I will be the first one to acknowledge the limitations of the way of the intellect. Sharanagati cannot happen if doubt is there. It is a catch-22. To have experiences one needs to have faith and to develop faith one needs to have experiences.

Ananda Yatra – A Near Miss & Srirangam

The time was 5:30pm. We were almost running through the world’s largest functioning Hindu temple worried that we would miss the darshan as it was almost closing time.It would be a pity to miss it now having travelled so far. Just a couple of hours earlier we had been saved from a massive catastrophe. We missed a gruesome accident on the highway, a 7 car pile up by 5 minutes. Before that incident, Guruji had sensed something and had been repeatedly telling our driver to stop the car and take a break. The driver thought to stop after some time as we had a lot of ground to cover. Then Guruji deliberately stalled and delayed at a refueling station when the driver stopped to fill diesel. That saved our lives on that day. Even seeing something like that can change and shift one’s perspective on life. We all know we are mortals, but we live as if we have forever.

We had planned to go from Rameshwaram to Chidambaram that day. Midway through the drive we felt that we should go to Srirangam. It would mean an additional 2 hours on the road which would mean we would possibly reach Chidambaram only by 11 pm. Srirangam has the famous Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple dedicated to a form of Lord Vishnu. It is a large and beautiful temple and the place is replete with the vibrational quality of centuries of worship. We arrived at 5:25pm and the darshan timings would get over in 5 minutes. We went in the temple wondering if we would find the door of the garbha griha shut. Although in hindsight we should have known that something like this will not happen since one is in the company of such a master. We were almost the last ones in to see Ranganatha, the reclining form of Maha Vishnu. It was a wonderful experience of feeling thankful in the presence of Guru & God; the gratitude magnified by the close shave a while ago.

Ananda Yatra – Sharanagati at Rameshwaram

As I moved forward in the queue to see the deity, an inexplicable surge of emotion overwhelmed me. I was at the Kothandaramar Temple at Rameshwaram where Vibheeshana had come to Lord Rama seeking refuge. Incidentally it was also the temple Swami Vivekananda had visited after his historic trip to Chicago. The whole environment of the temple was soaked in the vibe of sharanagati. The desolate surroundings of Dhanushkodi gave it an otherworldly feeling. There was a very distinct vibrational quality to the place. It was possibly one of the most profound experiences of my life. One may even call it life changing. In a sense it was fitting that I was with my Guru and fellow disciples at a place of such significance.

Recently I along with a few of my fellow disciples embarked on a journey with our Guru where we visited a few important pilgrimages in south India. It was a transformative experience for all of us which I am sure we will remember for a very long time. More than the powerful energy of these ancient temples, it was the presence of an enlightened master which was the highlight of the trip. There were many things which happened during the course of this trip; some of them so outlandish that the rational mind would really not be able to grasp.

The temples in south India are really something else. They are designed for specific spiritual purposes. It is an amalgamation of ancient technology and art to create something which is awe inspiring to say the least. Centuries of invasions have left this land bereft of many of these ancient marvels. South India and Tamil Nadu in particular has been fortunate to still retain some of the magnificent powerhouses where traditions of worship have continued unbroken for thousands of years. If one is receptive enough and is able to access the shakti that flows through these kshetrams, they will be blown away by what is on offer. Travelling with a master is like a shortcut hack for this access. I don’t know what happened, but visiting temples had never felt like this earlier. Although to really confess, I don’t know how much was the impact of these places and how much was of being in presence of the Guru. Even our scriptures repeatedly say that all the pilgrimages are to be found at the feet of the master.