What is Hinduism? What forms its essence and what are its teaching? How does one best practice its various cultural externals?
With its vast, ancient literature and deep metaphysics, at the core of which lie the Vedanta Sutras of Vyasa, the Bhagvad Gita and the Upanishads known toghter as prasthana traya, Hinduism strives to explore truth and the true nature of reality. Yet the question remains; how does one practice Hinduism today under the neon glare of modernity? And are there any contradiction in the practice of Hinduism and our roles in modern life?
Like the lotus that grown in water whose leaves and petals remain dry, the yogi derives nourishment form the material world but remains undefiled and untouched by its seductions. In this way, one who wishes to lead a spiritual life can simultaneously perform the role of a responsible member of modern society; neither necessarily compromises the other. With care, practice and knowledge one can reap the benefits of both worlds-to be spiritual you do not have to run away from the world. This book examines the philosophy, spiritual teaching, metaphysics and cultural practices of Hinduism- known collectively as the Sanatana Dharma- and attempts to give one a grasp of its true essence.
Sri M was born in Trivandrum, Kerala. At the age of nineteen and a half, attracted by a strange and irresistible urge to go to the Himalayas, he left home.
At the Vyasa Cave, beyond the Himayan shrine of Badrinath, he met his master and lived with him for three and a half years, wandering freely, the length and breadth of the snow clad Himalayan region. What he learnt from his Master Maheshwarnth Babaji, transformed his consciousness totally.
Back in the plains, he, as instructed by his Master, lived a normal life, working for a living, fulfilling his social commitments and at the same time preparing himself ot tech all that he had learnt and experienced. At a signal from his Master he entered the teaching phase of his life. Today, he travels all over the world ot share his experiences and knowledge.
Equally at home in the religious teaching of most major religious, Sri M, born as Mumtaz Ali Khan, Often says “Go to the core. Theories are of no use.”
Sri M is married and has two children. He leads a simple life- teaching and heading the satsang Foundation, a charitable concern promoting excellence education. At present he lives in Madanpalle, Andhra Pardesh, just three hours from Bangalore.
Hinduism is a many-splendoured and multi-faceted edifice, containing and reflecting an endless array of possibilities for spiritual growth and integration. Based essentially upon the sublime teachings of the Upanishads, the secret of Hinduism’s continued vitality down through the long and tortuous corridors of time, despite repeated invasions the long and tortuous corridors of time, despite repeated invasions and repression, lies in its capacity for creative reinterpretation. Indeed, the whole history of Hinduism can be viewed as a series of challenges and creative responses, a process which continues down to the present day. In the emerging global society it is my conviction that the universal principles of Hinduism are becoming increasingly relevant as we hurtle headlong into the third millennium A.D. astride the irreversible arrow of time.
Theoretical formulations apart, Hinduism involves treading a spiritual path, and there are many. It is these individual pathways involving a creative interaction between the Guru and the disciple that provide the circulatory life-blood of Hinduism, making it a powerful vehicle for inner growth and spiritual realisation. In this context, the experience of individuals who have trodden the path of a great value. The present book Jewel in the Lotus revolves around the life experience and teachings of Mumtaz Ali, better known as ‘M’. Some may find it surprising that a person born a Muslim should have such a deep insight into and experience with the Hindu tradition, but the real spiritual path knows no boundary of race or religion, sex or creed, languages or nationality. And the mystics of all the world’s great religions- the Rishis, the Siddhas, the Tirthankaras, the Bodhisattvas, the Sufis, the Gurus and the saints have all illuminated one or other facets of the immeasurable resplendence of the Divine.
I have had occasion to know ’M’ over the last few years, and we have spoken together on several occasions including a three-day workshop on the Kena Upanishad over which I presided. He combines an excellent grasp of the Upanishads teachings with deep insight into the heart of the spiritual tradition, based on his own remarkable experiences. This book in which he has dealt with some of the deeper aspects of Hinduism will, I am sure, be of great interest to students of contemporary religion, as well as seekers of truth around the world.
The boy was a little more than 9 years old when he saw the strange being. He was the son of a Deccani Muslim family, settled in Trivandrem, the beautiful capital of Kerala. Having heard stories of angles coming down to bless Mohammed and other prophets and saints from his devout grandmother, he thought at first that it was an angel.
One evening, the boy was wandering around the courtyard of his house in Vanchiyoor, doing nothing in particular. At the far end of the courtyard, he saw someone standing under the jackfruit tree. The stranger gestured to the boy to come forward. The boy felt no fear whatsoever, but was eager to go closer to the stranger.
The stranger was tall, fair and well-built and was bare-bodied except for a piece of loin cloth worn around his waist. He put his right hand on the boy’s head and asked with kindness, “Do you remember anything?” in Hindi. To the boy’s answer that he didn’t the stranger said in Deccani, “You will understand later. You will not meet me for many years after this, but you will have to finish the studies that you have left incomplete. You will not be allowed to tell anyone about me until the time is ripe. Go home now”. With that he vanished.
That was the first initiation. Two years, while playing hide and seek, the boy experienced what may be described in yogic terms as Keval Kumbhak- the suspension of inhalation and exhalation. Bliss filled his heart. The breathing resumed in a few minutes.
Soon he could get into it at will with a deep sigh. The bliss that he experienced convinced him that a greater world existed within his being-a world of spiritual bliss.
In his outward appearance he was just like any other boy except that he loved religious scriptures and philosophy- no mater of which religion, devotional songs and discussions on God, saints and sages.
When he was eleven, he used to go in the evenings to a certain house which belonged to one Mr. Pillai, whose nephew and son-in-low tutored him in mathematics. One evening he entered Pillai’s house as usual and found himself face to face with a veneranle, sturdy man to about sixty, clean shaven and with closely cropped silver grey hair, wearing a half sleeved shirt and loin cloth, sitting cross-legged on a bench. The room smelled of incense.
“Hello!” said the old man in Malayalam,” Come, come. Don’t be afraid.”
‘M’ walked up to him. The man patted his back and caressed his neck and head and said,” Umm. Good! Everything will be all right in good time.”
Again the breathless condition and greater bliss. ‘M’ stood up and went straight home. The guidance had begun. He was the first of the great souls ‘M’ was to meet in the course of his spiritual journey.
Much later ’M’ came to know that the man was a great self-realized soul who lived in ‘Atma Bhava’ and was simply called Pujapura Swami since he lived in Pujapura. He was unmarried but not a formal monk. In his youth he had been initiated into yogic practices by a great teacher and ever since had lived a model life, his heart absorbed in the blissful, Supreme Brahman while he performed his duties like an ordinary mortal.
‘M’ also learnt that the Swami used to hold midnight Satsangs on certain days, which a great sanyasin, who had renounced even his loin-cloth, would sometimes attend. Pujapura Swami was not known outside a small circle because he forbade propaganda.
When ‘M’ was seventeen, the sanyasin was no more, but a friend handed over a compilation of his teachings to ‘M’ which was privately circulated. It contained the essence of vedanta in very simple language.
By then, the knowledge that ‘M’ needed from time to time a he progressed on the path began to come to his automatically. His father borrowed B.K.S Iyengar’s Light on Yoga from a friend of his (his father was never an orthodox Muslim). ‘M’ read it through. A Yoga teacher, Sri Sharma, gave him his initial lessons on yogasanas and Surya Namaskaras.
‘M’ met Swami Tapasyananda of the Ramakrisha Mission, a direct disciple of Sarada Devi. He was ten the head of Ramakrishna Mission at Trivandrum. The librarian at the Trivandrum Public Library kept ‘M’ well supplied with the works of vivekananda. He chanced to read Swami Chinmayananda’s Japa Yoga and Gayatri and he began to chant the Gayatri Mantra. A Tantric instructed him in certain Mantras and lent him Sir John Woodroffe’s Serpent Power. He read many other books- the Upanishads, the Gita, Yogic texts and vedanta included. He discovered that Sanskrit was not too difficult to understand.
Side by side with gaining theoretical knowledge, he meditated for long hours, especially at midnight. He had merely to shut his eyes and concentrate on the lotus of the heart to enter into Keval Kumbhak and experience tremendous bliss and extraordinary visions of divine lights and voices. Sometimes terrifying visions would flit across his mind but they would pass and he would once again be filled with ecstasy.
Then he met a great person known as Chempazanthi Swami. The jesuits had started their first Loyola Juniot College at Sreekaryam in Trivandrum and ‘M’ was among the first batch of pre-degree students, a few kilometers away was the remote village of Chempazanthi which is the birth place of Sri Narayana Guru, the great reformer-saint. Close to Chempazanthi is Chenkotkonam where the Swami lived.
He was a tea-shop owner turned saint. A great bhakta of Rama, he was known to have lived like Hanuman for a long time, eating nuts and climbing trees. He was fond of bhajans and kirtans. When ‘M’ met him in his hut he was thin and frail and very delicate looking. Crowing his ever-smiling face was a great chunk of wound-up matted hair and he smelled of Vibhuti. Taking a pinch of ash, he touched M’s forehead with it, popped a couple of grapes into his mouth and said, ‘Umm, needs to ripen, will ripen. Do bhajans’. ‘M’ meditated for a few minutes, prostrated and left the place.
Those days ‘M’ had a close Brahmin friend whose father worshipped Sai Baba of Shirdi. The moment ‘M’ saw Baba’s picture, an irresistible desire to know about Baba’s life rose in him. The next day Mr. Subramanya Iyar, an advocate, who was his friend’s land-lord, gave him a copy of the Life of Sai Baba of Shirdi by Narasimha Swamiji.’ Then he lent ‘M’ Sai Sat Charita. He fell in love with the great Faqir.
At this time ‘M’ heard from a friend of his who was a medical student (he is now a neuro-surgeon) about a lady Avadhuta called Mai Ma, who lived on the Kanyakumari beach. She was reputed to be over a hundred years old and no one could say where she came from or what language she spoke. The few words she said sounded very much like Bengali.
‘M’ went to see her alone. Kanyakumari is close to Trivandrum. He reached Kanyakumari a little before noon. He walked from the bus stand and came to the entrance of the Devi Temple. He casually walked across the rocky beach and there she was. A woman who looked to be in her sixties, she wore absolutely no clothes, her face a typically Bengali face, glowing, ageless eyes, smiling. She sat on one of the rocks with a circle of street dogs around her forming a security ring. The dogs snarled when they saw ’M’
Mai Ma scolded the dogs using peculiar sounds and they dispersed and sat at a distance. She motioned to ‘M’ to sit down. He sat down on a rock. She pointed to the dosas that he had with him and said something. He gave her the dosas. She fed the dogs some, ate two herself and returned a few to him. He closed his eyes and tried to tune in with her vibrations. After a long time he opened his eyes. She was still there. Giving a broad smile she said, “ Jao ,Jao,thik..” the last word could not be made out.
He was made aware of the significance of Mai Ma’s darshan the following morning. Tired after meditating for a long time in the night, he could not bring himself to be up at dawn. As he slept deeply he had a wonderful and vivid dream. In the dream he was a mendicant with matted hair and wearing only a ‘Kaupin’, sitting in padmasana and meditating under a Banyan tree which stood in the middle of a junction where four paths crossed each other. The jungle all around was thick.
A faint sound made him open his eyes, and from one of the path he saw Mai approaching with a stick in her hand. She was huge, much larger than life-size. Reaching the place where he sat she touched his chin and said,’ Give me something to eat.’
She said, “Give me.”
Without hesitation he gave the rice to her. She said to him, “Are you hungry?” He said “Yes, but you eat it Ma.” She ate with great relish and turning to him said, “Your hunger is for a different thing. Close your eyes.”
He closed eyes. She pressed the middle of his forehead hard with what seemed to be her thumb. An ocean of bliss filled his whole being with its centre in the forehead. Every cell of his being was suffused with it. He lost his body consciousness. Only the other existed.
Then he woke up. The dream vanished, but O! How fortunate! The bliss remained. He was like a drunken man who had had his fill. Slowly he sat up and stretched his legs and carefully went to the bathroom, afraid that he would fall. In a few minutes he got full control over his body and mind but the stream of bliss continued in the core of his being. It has since remained with him. At times low, at times high, but always there.
Already acquainted with the teachings of the Sufis by attending meeting of local Sufi groups and meeting some of the Amir’s of the different Tariqats, he went at last to a gem among Sufis.
That was Kaladi Mastan who lived naked on the beach near Bimapalli in Trivandrum. He was drinking a cup of tea given by a follower when ‘M’ first saw him. He smiled and gave ‘M’ the rest of the rest. Then he said, “Big thief came to steal the treasure. Take it legitimately.” Then he lit a cigarette and said, “Smoke.’ ‘M’ smoked. Then he took it back. ‘M’ sat and meditated before him. He covered M’s head with sand and further cleared the conduits. He behaved like a mad man and many even thought he was man, but he was a priceless gem and the few who were serious, knew. Hs is physically no more now. Many visit his tomb.
Not very far from there lived poontharasmi, another God-in-toxicated person with matted hair, who too was mistaken by many to be a madman. When ‘M’ visited him, he suddenly stood up and kicked ‘M’ on his chest. That was a timely kick. It cleared the passage through which the mighty energy travels.
When ‘M’ went to thank him a month later, he had vanished, nobody knew where. An impressive looking fraud, who claimed to have been his closest disciple tried to influence ‘M’. The poor chap did not realize that ‘M’ could read him like an open book.
When he was nineteen, ‘M’ made up his mind to go to the Himalayas. First he went to Madras by train, spent sometime in the Theosphical Society, then took a train to Delhi. From Delhi he went to Hardwar he decided to walk.
All the money was finished. He has no intention of writing back home for help or even to let them know where he was. He knew he would be looked after, that the minimum needs of the body would be taken care of by great powers that run the universe, and he was right. Of course, at certain, he was tested thoroughly but in the end everything was fine. On foot he coverd the entire journey from Rishikesh to Uttarkashi, to Gangotri , yamunotri, from batwari to Kedar via Buda Kedar , then to Badrinath.
At Rishikesh ,he decided to stay in the Divine Life Society and continue his Studies and meditation . It is a lovely place for sadhaks.
The Ganges flows nearby. Yoga is taught in the Ashram. The senior swamis are a great help and when one has time, one can wander around and meet sadhus of various sects. Satsang is most important for a sadhak.
That pilgrim-season found ‘M’ walking again to Badrinath sometime on the common pilgrim routes, sometime through forests, staying in roadside dharmashalas and chattis and many a time in forest hermitages beside the river. On his way to badrinath, he visited Vasista Guha and Arundhati Cave. He gathered much food for the soul.
Reaching Badrinth after many days’ journey, he fitst slept in the choultry. It was quit cold and his single blanket was insufficient, but he was in no mood to seek help. Those were the days when the fire of spirituality burned so bright that everything else, even the bare necessities-food, clothes and shelter- melted into insignificance. A highly intoxicating, ecstatic mood came over him in the great Himalayas. He attributed this, as also his intense sadhana to the presence of highly evolved beings in these regions. He hoped to meet some to them.
His physical difficulties were solved by the arrival of a Brahmachari whom he had met earlier in the Divine Life Society. He was an experienced pilgrim who had travelled many times. Quickly he found ’M’ an independent kutri and persuaded him to stay there. He also got ‘M’ a couple of blankets and a wooden plank to sleep on; he also arranged with the Nepali Dharmashla for his food. He introducted ‘M’ to the Rawalji, the chief priest of Badrinath, and took him on s sort of conducted tour on most evenings.
In Badrinath as in other palgrim centres, there were beggars wearing saffron, others wearing the holy robes to make living even sadhus who stole kamandalus and blankets from each other.
Genuine yogis and paramahamsas also existed side by side, mingling with the common crowd and often deliberately pretending to be one of them.
Eager to see more of such and learning that they lived beyond Badrinath and on the other side of Narayan Parvat, ‘M’ decided to travel further. Without informing anyone, one morning he started off with his kamandalu, staff and blanket.
He had earlier explored about a kilometer of that road on his previous visit to Badrinath but beyond that the territory was unknown. After about six or seven kilometers of not easy climbing, he reached the confluence of the Saraswati and the Alaknanda, called Keshav Prayag. Close to this was the cave, which an old sanyasin had once told him, was the Vyasa Guha.
‘M’ walked beyond the Vyasa Guha to explore the other caves in the vicinity. He had walked through the rocky terrain for a long time when he realized that it would soon grow dark. Filled with doubt, fear and hunger, and disappointed about not finding any mahatmas, ‘M’ began to walk down towards the Mana village. On the way back, when he reached the Vyasa Guha, he found that a dhuni was brightly burning at the mouth of the cave. A strange force seemed to make hes feet heavy. His heart overflowed with bliss but his legs would not move away from the cave. He took this as a signal and walked towards the cave. From inside the cave comes a voice calling him by the name “Madhu”. Seeing this young man, the long-haired, bare-bodied, tall man patted on his left shoulder with great affection and asked him to sit. At that instant, ‘M’ recognized the person whom he had once met in the backyard of his house under the jackfruit tree. He had found his guru, his father, his mother, all in one.
‘M’ spent three and a half years with his master travelling all over the Himalayas. The Master advised him to go back to the plains and lead a normal life and begin teaching when commanded to do so. The Master promised to keep in touch. The Master had thoroughly over-hauled his thought- process and brought a lasting change in his consciousness.
According to the Master’s advice, ‘M’ went back to the plains, met many spiritual teachers and godmen, travelled all over India, and took up difficult jobs to earn a living and to “see the world at close quarters,” as the Master put it. He also lived for a short while like a very materialistic-minded person, and found that compared to the spiritual life and its greater vistas, the life of the worldly man is almost nothing. The joys of the spirit are much superior and it is the worldly man who renounces real happiness that springs from the heart.
But all that experience was necessary to tackle the worldly-wise who would say, ‘Oh! What do you know of the bliss of sensory experiences? You have not had any.’
Now ‘M’ feels that he can say with confidence, “Friend, I Know, and there is nothing to go ga ga about.
Off and on he had attended the talks of J.Krishnamurti in Madras and elsewhere and read most of his literature. Finally he met him and had a private discussion for forty-minutes after which he decided to stay on in the krishnamurti Foundation for some time. The master had said that Krishnamurti would be the last of the important persons that ‘M’ would meet as part of his education and had instructed him to pay particular attention to everything that ‘K’ did and how the organization would function when he lived and after his death .’M’ had close contact with J.Krishnamurti during the last two years of his life and was made a Trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation, which position he resigned after five years.
After K.’s death ‘M’ married Sunanda whom he had met in Vasant Vihar, the headquarters of the Krishnamurti Foundation, and became a householder.
He now feels that no one can say to him, “Well, brother, it is alright for you to say, ‘lead a spiritual life and live in the world etc., because you are unmarried…’ and so on.” ‘M’ lives with his wife and two children.’ In fact, it is the best thing to do in this period of the earth’s existence, for, Sanyasa is only for the rarest of the rare,’ says ‘m’ with the blessings of his Himalayan Master and by strenuous sadhana ‘M’ has transcended theories and scholarship and is established is higher consciousness.
The Master had said to ‘M’ Do not advise people if you cannot follow the same advice. Do not talk on something if you have no personal experience.” Wonderful teaching indeed! If only teachers follow this teaching what a lovely world this would be!
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