A View of Santhigiri Ashram

A View of Santhigiri Ashram
Lotus Parnasala and Sahakarana Mandiram , Santhigiri Ashram, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Sadhu from the Himalayas

Gurucharanam Saranam
The Sadhu from the Himalayas

Babu was a young boy when he left his home in a village in Kerala. Unlike other children, he disliked to be at his home. He visited unknown households and offered his service to the family. As he was only a small boy, the householders would accede to his strange request and allow him to stay. Eventually his whereabouts would be found out and his parents would arrive to take him back home. Once, his outings became serious when he reached Crawford market in far away Mumbai. From there fate whisked him away to a group of spiritually thinking men. And it was serious again.

One fine morning, Sri Babu became a no-nonsense Sadhu in orange cloths with a heavy burden of matted hair and an equally long beard, wandering in the Himalayas in the manner of ascetics. He was in the race for the spiritual trophy like many other ascetics atop the Himalayas. But the trophy never came in his hand leaving him languid and mirthless. Then he took up a seven year long vow of annual visits to Ajmer Darga in Rajasthan. Now his desperation became uncontrollable, for his years long vow has ended, but the doors to spiritual attainment weren’t still opened. He was furious and caught the neck of the Fakir guarding the tomb in Ajmer Darga. ‘Give me the clue’, Babu Swami thundered. ‘I am on this vow for the last seven years’.

The Fakir quietly took him to an inner recess. After offering some drinks, he mentioned that the clue will be available only at another Darga connected with Ajmer Sahib Family nearby. Collecting the information, he set out immediately and reached the Darga a few KMs away. There too a fakir was guarding the tomb. He took permission from the fakir to tell his prayers. He asked the question of his life to the tomb. ‘You will get it at Kanyakumari’. The tomb said. When I asked him how the tomb gave him the clue, he said it was in the manner of soul communication. Unbelievable, but true! I would not have said so, if I had not got such experiences myself. I have had such experiences with Guru.

Babu Swami then headed towards South and took abode at Kanyakumari, but even after three years, the promised spiritual breakthrough still eluded him.
Babu Swami’s brother had a marble show room near Vyttila in Ernakulam town so he decided to visit him once. He reached Vytiila at the predawn hours. After walking a little he decided to wait at the veranda of a shop. While sitting there thus, he saw a vision of Christ. He thought to himself that the vision was significant. He got up and asked somebody the way to Shanthi Marbles, the brother’s marble show room and went in the direction shown and reached at the gate of Santhigiri Ashram, Ernakulam branch near Palarivattam. The person had directed him to Santhigiri Ashram instead of Shanti Marbles. Babu Swami saw a water pipe near the road that went to the Ashram. He bathed sitting under the pipe and felt fresh. The morning was still in its meditative mood and the bustle and hustle of life was yet to begin in the area. Babu Swami entered the Ashram stepping his right foot first. He had felt some genuine spiritual vibration in the place and a tender hope flickered in some roughened corner of his heart.

The Swami in charge welcomed him and offered breakfast. After breakfast the Swami instructed the mother of Sri Balakrishnan (now Swami Vishwabodha Jnana Tapaswi) to talk to the Sanyasi about the ways of the Ashram. They were speaking in Malayalam. But he feigned ignorance as they had already took him as a North Indian Sadhu, who did not know the local language. As instructed, Swami’s mother explained about the Ashram. She told him that the Ashram followed a system different from that of temple worship and that they followed the Guru in all matters concerning life and death. The Ashram even differed radically with the traditional sanyasa concept in some important aspects.

Babu Swami then asked her where their Guru was available. She gave the detail of Santhigiri Ashram, Pothencode. Babu Swami took her leave and fixed up a meeting with his brother in Shanti Marbles. The family members had forgotten him, but his brother recognized him. He called his brother out from the shop. ‘I require some money urgently’, the Swami said to his brother. ‘I shall be hanging around. You may come with the money to Marine Drive. I shall be there in the park. I require the money to go to a place in Thiruvananthapuram ’. As agreed, the brother came and handed over the money to him.

At the serene gateway of Santhigiri Ashram, Pothencode stood a dark looking Sanyasi with heavy matted locks perched on his head and equally long beard flowing down to the chest. His eyes had a fierce expression. His rugged appearance and manners bespoke of the rigor the life of a sanyasi is subjected to living in the wilderness, wandering from places to places. The person at the reception was startled at the sight of the Sadhu. He guided him immediately to the Ashram office.

The Sanyasi was not very communicable. One person by the name Vinayakan came there and asked him, ‘Swamiji, what is your name? Where are you from? What are you doing?’ The Swami ignored his questions and asked him to tell the Guru that one of his devotees had come to see him. The sanyasi waited and waited, but the Guru did not see him. Suddenly the Swami disappeared from the Ashram. Everybody looked for him in the Ashram but all at once he was missing.

The Swami went straight to the nearby town and entered a barber shop. He asked the barber to shave off his matted hair and beard. The barber was taken aback. He was afraid to cut his locks and therefore asked the Swami few times for confirmation. Then he proceeded with his solemn job and transformed the Swami beyond recognition. The Swami now was clean shaven with short thick disobedient hair. He bought a white dhoti and shirt too and wore it discarding the sanyasi dress. Now he looked like any other youth on the road. He was now Sri Babu from Kottayam, not any Babu Swami from the Himalayas.

At Santhigiri Ashram, the youth was welcomed as any one of the people visiting the Ashram daily. After little waiting, the meeting with Guru also took place. He prostrated before Guru in full length. Guru asked him to tell him in brief about his life. He told his story in brief. Guru then advised him to join his family at Kottayam. Understandably it was a difficult option for Babu and a totally unexpected advice. He was reluctant to go back home. Guru called him in his room. With folded hands, Guru requested him to go back to his house. It was a begging. Sri Babu could not bear this sight. A great soul begging a wretched soul like him! He immediately fell on the feet of Guru and said, ‘Guro, I will go to my house immediately’.

Thus Sri Babu went home at Kottayam and lived with his family for a few years during which period he lost all his spiritual charisma. Petty quarrels and fights at home dragged him cruelly to a world highly detested by the Himalayan sadhus. The sadhus had only one bond, the bond with the Supreme. Babu endured all troubles of family living and mellowed down to become a normal worldly person.

Year 1995. Spirited preparations to receive Navajyoti Sri Karunakara Guru at Kanyakumari were going on at Vivekananada Kendram and at the Travancore palace adjacent to the seashore in Kanyakumari. The rooms earmarked for Guru both at the Palace and Vivekananda Kendram were being thoroughly cleaned, wiped, fumed and perfumed with all other paraphernalia in place. Three persons were also instructed to offer ‘thattam’ (a platter with offerings) to Guru on his arrival.

Guru and his entourage came in thousands at the destined hour. The ‘thattam’ was offered to Guru by the three persons in an atmosphere charged with devotion and the chanting of Guru Mantra. Guru, after accepting the thattam, offered ‘prasadam’ to them. One among those three persons was Sri Kottayam Babu, the erstwhile Babu Swami.

While he offered the thattam to Guru and prostrated, the oracle he heard from the Darga near Ajmer came running to his mind in a flash. ‘You will receive it at Kanyakumari’. The experience was so striking. Guru benignly smiled and gave him the prasadam, which he received with both hands. Somewhere in the depth of his heart, a turbulent ocean became calm, very calm like a divine milky ocean.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Dark Trials of Disciples

Gurucharanam Saranam

The Dark Trials of Disciples
Mukundan P.R.

You are stripped of your clothes at a busy junction in your town or village. You are shocked beyond words. But you are allowed the freedom to feel mad, mad to any point. You are stripped of your inner clothes in the thick of life in the society. Your inner clothes are your ‘self’, your self esteem, your pride, your freedom, your mind, intelligence and whatever other things you possess. You are shocked and stricken beyond words. You get terribly mad and angry, but you are not to become mad and angry. You are pulverized and made to feel that you are unwanted and ignored. Yet you are unable to protest. How is the deal? Yes, you like it or not, this is the deal, the test what a Guru sometime offers to a disciple. If you succeed to swim across this risky swiveling current, well, you may reach the bund of spiritual flood light. This exactly was what had happened to two of the disciples once.

A young man with tremendous enthusiasm gets inspired by Guru and becomes a follower. Once he went to see Guru in the ashram. When he was about to enter the ashram gate, he saw Guru coming out with a group of disciples. He immediately took position outside the gate to have a glimpse of Guru. Hundreds of people lined both sides of the pathway with folded hands. Guru, radiating divine love greets people with folded hands on his chest in the manner of greeting, walked ahead. This disciple also stood there. Guru moved smiling at every single face raising their soul to unexplainable joy. Guru approached the next man beside this disciple and smiled at him with compassion and overwhelming joy. But when the turn of this disciple came, Guru’s expression changed. Guru looked at him with extreme hatred and anger. The disciple became pale with utter shock. He looked around to see if others saw this. Guru went ahead and smiled at the next person with extreme joy as ever before. This disciple, who was ignored by Guru with such viciousness was heart broken. He became dumb with shock. But somehow he decided to wait again for Guru’s return as if to make sure that what had happened just now was real.

Guru had gone to the Ashram hospital complex nearby and was expected back within a short while. So he waited, this time just in front of the ashram gate where Guru’s car would stop. He took such a position that when Guru got down from the vehicle, he would be face to face with Guru. There was no way Guru could avoid seeing him. He stood there impatiently as he had lost all his senses. He tried to compose himself and waited there with a flicker of hope. The vehicle of Guru arrived. The door of the vehicle opened and Guru alighted. This disciple stood just in front. Then the unimaginable happened. Guru turned his back to the door and swung around blessing devotees lining the pathway. What a benign smile Guru had! Then he turned his gaze at this disciple. Suddenly, again, the same indescribable face of hatred, anger and disownment stared at him. The disciple was frightened out of his wits. He melted like wasp and burnt like a peace of meat. He could not imagine what mistake he might have committed, however hard he tried to think.

He walked away slowly, lifeless and terribly lost. The path of life was closed and there was darkness all around. He was unwanted in the portal of light. In a fog of utter dismay and disillusionment this disciple reached the Thampanoor railway station. The night had already fallen. He found out a platform bench and sat there fully fazed. The world around him disappeared dimly as a dream leaving the night to tick away in burning silence. When he opened his eyes, he saw Swami Jyotirmaya Jnana Tapaswi (now expired) standing in front of him. The disciple jumped to his feet in surprise and folded his hands seeing the revered Swami. The Swami asked him where he was going. He had no time to think about his nameless destination, so he said abruptly that he was going to Kanyakumari. In the same abrupt manner, the Kanyakumari Express was then screeching to a halt in the platform. The train appeared from nowhere as if to make his impromptu statement to a holy person not become untrue. So they departed; the Swami to his own destination and the disciple to Kanyakumari, the destination providence chose for him then.

The disciple touched the long shore of Kanyakumari. He had waited in the station to ensure that all people went out and the ticket collector was not in prowling distance; for he had not purchased a ticket. He walked out of the station and soon reached in front of a small chapel. He went inside and knocked the door. A priest opened the door. This disciple then mentioned to the priest that he was there as he had some doubts to clarify. The priest looked at the disciple with sharp eyes for a moment. It was early morning. The priest asked him to get in. As he stepped inside and waited, the priest came back with a towel and toothpaste and asked him to get fresh showing the direction of a bathroom inside. This disciple meekly went and took bath. When he came back freshened up, he saw the arrangement of breakfast on the table. There were four plates and three men sitting on the table. The priest invited him to occupy the vacant chair. It was a heavy and sumptuous breakfast for him with eggs and chapattis.

After the breakfast, the priest asked him what doubt he wanted to get clarified. The disciple informed the priest that he had a question to ask him when he came in, but now the question slipped by him. He forgot what he wanted to ask. The priest got up and went inside and came back quickly. Handing over a few rupee notes to the disciple he ordered, ‘you should go back immediately from wherever you came’. The disciple came out from the chapel and began to walk. After some distance he enquired with some passerby whether there was any ashram nearby. He was then directed to an ashram about six or eight kilometers away from the town.

The ashram looked like a small house. A person with a bright face and in ochre clothes was sitting in the verandah. He self confessed that he was not a guru and his house was not an ashram in actual sense. He was serving in Vivekananda Kendra as an engineer and now quietly spending his days after retirement. The Swami asked the disciple from where he came. He hesitated a moment and then told him that he had come from Santhigiri Ashram. The Swami became enthused and told the disciple that it was a place of ‘experience’. The disciple thought to himself. Yes, I have experienced it. He reflected on the experience of the previous day with Guru.

He now tried to reflect on the words of the priest at Kanyakumari and of this Swami. The priest had asked him to go back from where he came. And from where did he come to Kanyakumari? From Santhigiri. Now this Swami also confirms that Santhigiri is a place of ‘experience’. The disciple’s heart began to loosen a little. He felt that he should sleep right down there in the ashram of the Swami. The Swami agreed to his request for taking a nap in his premises. The disciple found matted coconut leaves to sleep on in the open ground. He slept. When he got up the Swami asked him to have lunch, but he politely refused. He got back to the railway station. The Kanyakumari Express was parked ready to proceed on its whistling journey. He boarded the train and reached Thiruvananthapuram and from there went straight to Santhigiri Ashram.

In the Ashram, it was time for Guru darshan. People were queuing to have a vision of Guru. When his turn came, Guru looked at him. He began to laugh with unbound compassion and love. Guru asked him, ‘So, you have come back’. The disciple, his eyes filled with tears, fell on the feet of Guru. The sluices of his heart were blown away in that flood of joy, for he was back to Guru, in the bosom of that eternal love. May be the trial was for obtaining this boundless joy thousand times magnified and embedding it in the soul permanently. May be it was to demolish some demon in the soul. May be it was the expiation for a dirty sin. May be it was a phase in the spiritual growth of the disciple.

Listening this unusual experience of Sreekumar Kottarakara, who shared it with us the other day, I felt that all disciples including me undergo such experiences in varying degrees, contexts and circumstances. Another story is of Sri Babu, Kottayam, which is more pathetic. At the same time it shows how a disciple should possess firm will power and determination to earn the grace of Guru.