This is Saurabh, one of the founders of Imageryworks, the company behind the Mindbody Mastery online meditation program. I recently had an unexpected spiritual encounter that I thought would be of interest to readers of this blog.
“Would I know if had met an enlightened person?”. This is a question I have often asked myself (Note: I define “enlightened” as someone who lives in the continuous experience of being spirit and not the body – an experience called Nirvikalpa Samadhi in sanskrit). In fact just two days ago I was having a long chat with a young man who is living in self-imposed seclusion up in the remote Himalayan valley of Kedarnath as part of his spiritual practice. I had asked him the same question. In particular I was interested in whether there were any enlightened men and women still living in Haridwar and Rishikesh, two small towns by the holy Ganga river right at the foothills of the Himalayas (about 200 km north of Delhi), that have been historically the epicentre of India’s great, timeless spiritual tradition. Although normally based in Melbourne Australia, I happen to be living in Haridwar this year in a quest to reacquaint myself with my country of birth and also give my three children some exposure of living in an entirely different culture. The young man said he hadn’t met anyone recently that he thought was enlightened in Haridwar or Rishikesh, but that he had certainly met some around where he was in Kedarnath – wholly self-realised yogis who wandered the snowy mountains with disdain and nary a warm cloth on their body, resplendent in their “other-worldliness”, meditating continuously for months and sometimes years in secluded caves. Yogis who have indeed mastered their bodies and minds, and much else besides.
So imagine my surprise when I entered my 4-person compartment on the train from Haridwar to Delhi last night to find that my fellow passenger was someone who certainly looked the part of a venerable spiritual master. He was an old sanyasi (a renunciate) dressed in a simple loincloth and a white cotton shawl. He had a beatific smile and deep, knowing eyes. After the train took off sans the hordes of well wishers who had come to see him off, we talked. At first it was small pieces of conversation mostly on my part, telling him who I was and why I was there. He was lying down on the berth across from me, and would ask a question here and there that showed me he was listening intently. Every now and then his eyes would turn upwards and close, and then there would be silence. Not an awkward silence, but a comfortable silence where nothing had to be said or done. I started taking his cue, sitting up in the right posture (back and neck straight), closing my eyes and meditating during those silences. I would emerge in a few minutes and he would be either looking at me smiling, or still absorbed in his own meditation. I found myself becoming increasingly convinced that this was indeed a wholly self-realised, enlightened master. It wasn’t any one thing, and certainly nothing extraordinary that he did or said (no, he didn’t levitate or dematerialise himself!). It was rather a gradual inner conviction on my part. I found myself inspired in his presence. Meditation came easily. The silences were to be treasured.
And then finally he said something. In fact he said very many things that went to the core of my own questions, questions that I hadn’t yet asked him. I happened to be reading quite an excellent biography of Swami Vivekananda, a revered 19th century Hindu monk who made immense contributions in reviving spiritual thirst and knowledge in the colonial India of that time. He was India’s chosen delegate to the first World Congress of Religions in Chicago in 1893, where he delivered a soul stirring speech that is widely regarded to have introduced Hindu spirituality and meditation to the West (as covered by one of our early Mindbody Mastery blogs). In fact you can actually hear the original recording of this exceptional speech here. The venerable sanyasi pointed to the book and said “son, you know if you weren’t reading that book, I wouldn’t have been talking to you. I don’t usually talk to very many people. I convey my blessings with my eyes and that is sufficient for their needs. But I feel that your faith is deep and so I must tell you that you don’t need to read any more books. No book contains any more knowledge than that which you already know. Meditate and search for the soul within you, and then you will find all your answers”. He then instructed me in a specific form of meditation and asked me to try it for some time. He went on to make some further suggestions of what I would have to do to be successful in this soul-quest. I thanked him deeply and fairly convinced now that I had the real McCoy in front of me, I asked him two questions – first, the question that I had asked my friend in Kedarnath over the phone just the day before – “are there self-realised enlightened masters still living in Haridwar and Rishikesh?” His answer – “Yes. But recognise yourself as spirit first. Once you do, you will recognise these others”. My second question – “lots of people must come and ask you questions. But what is a question that you would like to ask”? His reply? “Nothing. All my questions have been answered”. He then bestowed a blessing upon me and curled up to go to sleep.
As I was still reeling from all this, I was joined by one of his attendants who was another sanyasi. I asked him just who the saintly sanyasi was. He told me no one knew his name or where he had come from. Apparently the oldest monk amongst them (who looked to be in his eighties) claimed that the saintly sanyasi was already around and revered as a venerable Guru when he himself joined the group as a young monk! As things were, I would have quite happily believed the young monk if he had told me the Guru’s age was 50 rather than close to 100 or perhaps even more! He had that timeless face and bearing – another clear aspect of mind body mastery. The young monk went on to tell me that I was indeed very fortunate. Back at their main Ashram in Shirdi (near Mumbai in the Indian state of Maharashtra), people queued for hours just to get a glimpse of the Guru, and he rarely spoke, let alone to one person for best part of 4 hours!
So I have had my opening question answered – yes, you can recognise an enlightened master of mind and body when you meet one. But do you know what is truly wonderful about this story? I wasn’t even supposed to be on that train! I was supposed to be back in Melbourne a week ago but due to a series of inexplicable and unexpected events, had to push my trip back. Or is it rather, THAT was the train I was always supposed to be on….?