A View of Santhigiri Ashram

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

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Experience of the Unimaginable Glory of Guru

Mukundan P.R.

I was a picture of despair, confusion and instability before I met Guru. I feel endless gratitude to Guru, for He has given me an inner calm and filled my heart with rare spiritual satisfaction. Born to a Havildar Major in the Indian Army as the third son out of seven children, my childhood was scarred with domestic tension arising out of poverty, sickness and parental fights. A good setting for God realization! At the age of 17-18, I wandered alone in the lonely hills and temple yards in my village in Thrissur district of Kerala. There was a long forgotten rock cave only a few yards away from my house in Mullassery, near the big Parambanthally Siva temple. I sat there in the evenings on the black level rock that gave a feeling of bygone ages, staring at the western sky, watching the colours and curious pictures that the setting sun used to draw on the horizon. What I specially cherished in my deepest heart were the full moon nights with their soft and milky rays inspiring a celestial joy and the star studded sky which had an unusual depth and calm.

My first spiritual experience occurred during one such twilight sitting under the lively divine celebration that was the sky above, with stars shining like bright diamonds and the moon wafting rays of celestial joy. It was a momentary experience and realization. A flash of the divine that struck me so suddenly and deeply, that I became overwhelmed by its spurting joy. I became a little imbalanced after this experience. Now, some 34 years later, I would say that it was like a meteor hitting on my consciousness screen. If my memory is correct, it happened in the year 1973, the year of the spiritual completion of Guru. It is not that I had known about Santhigiri Ashram or Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru when it happened. In fact I heard about Guru and Santhigiri Ashram for the first time only in the year 1994 from Sahadevan, an office colleague in Bangalore. The experience in 1973, which I got sitting on the rocky ground gazing at the sky, was perhaps an inner inkling of the Brahman, the Supreme. It had nothing to do with any clairvision, clairvoyance or the like. It was an inner feeling of sudden enlightenment about the truth of God before which the significance of all worldly pursuits and struggles paled.

I was on a swing of joy after this experience and did not consider anything greater than it. However, it also marked the beginning of a long period of tribulation in my life. My heart thirsted for that ‘experience’ again. I walked as if in a dream to get reconnected to that experience. My soul wandered and it took me off to the 'ghats' and temples of Varanasi from my life in Mumbai. I was drifting alone aimlessly. I watched the flow of the Ganges umpteen times. The river seemed to flow down from a cave in another world, spitting dead bodies in its long course. I watched the pyres on the 'ghats', the fiery flames devouring hundreds of human bodies incessantly. The spirit world is strongly licking the human mind in Varanasi. Once I watched dawn break over the Ganges. I could virtually see celestial beings descend on its banks from the heavens. It was a hazy picture and might have been a hallucination. Whatever it may be, yet my hunger, my thirst, never was satiated, for, the big ‘experience’ never returned and I felt disturbed and a misfit in the world in which I lived. Then I faltered, rather it would be correct to say that I was caught up by my 'karma'. The karma of a life lived carelessly. It was through Guru that I later realized about the 'karmic baggage' and the role played by inseparable ancestral bonds. This knot of karmic dirt in fact is the cause of my birth in this fashion. I had erred thus in several births, I suppose, distancing myself from that Light – Guru. I had disgracefully fallen from the protection and guidance of Guru due to bad karmic and spiritual practices.

Without having a chance to know the truth, I suffered. Somewhere in a lonely and murky alley of life, I was wed to a woman, whom I had never known or met before. A child was born to us. After nearly 10 years of life in Varanasi, in a sudden twist of fate divine, I came back to my parents’ house, now with two extra mouths to feed. By the time, I felt like a man with a millstone around my neck. I then moved to Bangalore and settled down in a most boring vocation. But my prayers never stopped. The meditations, the silent thoughts and questions ever remained agile in the mind. My soul and heart silently sobbed for the experience of the divine light.

It was in the year 1994, in Bangalore, that I first met a disciple of Navajyothisree Karunkara Guru. His name is Sahadevan. I was working in a steel plant and Sahadevan happened to be my colleague. The opportunity to begin a spiritual conversation with him came once after he came back from a vacation in Kerala. I asked him casually about his holidays. To my pleasant surprise, he said that he visited his Guru in Santhigiri Ashram. I was curious and happy to hear about a Guru and an Ashram after all my days in Varanasi. I could not imagine then that this conversation was going to lead me to that LIGHT for which my heart thirsted always and that I was going to be reconnected to the ‘SOURCE’, the intuition of which I had experienced in my adolescence. But that comes later. I became very close to Sahadevan. While in office, we had plenty of opportunities to meet and talk, though he was in a different section. Once I noted that Sahadevan did not partake of ‘prasadham’ – the offerings made to gods worshipped by Hindus and people of other faiths too. I thought he was a bit foolish and lacked depth in spirituality. I was then a Vedantin and followed a pantheist view of religion. A Vedantin believes that only Brahman exists. But it is a matter of great contradiction how a Vedantin becomes an idolator, a worshipper of deities. I did not even think about this contradiction in those days. The deities for me were different aspects and attributes of the one Supreme Brahman and I believed there was nothing wrong in it. The great exponent of Vedanta Sri Sankaracharya composed hymns in praise of deities.

I had been initiated into mantra chanting by a monk-turned Sanskrit scholar in Varanasi, who had been initiated into sanyasa by a direct disciple of Swami Vivekananda in Sri Ramakrishna Mission. Apart from the mantra he gave me, I started experimenting with other mantras too like Lakshmi Gayatri, Surya Gayatri etc. I felt some pleasure chanting those mantras – nothing more, nothing less, by way of any spiritual experiences.

One day I asked Sahadevan whether his Guru had any mantra. To my pleasant surprise he said yes and gave me an Ashram monthly containing two lines of the mantra of Guru. I began chanting this along with my regular mantras and meditation. On the third day, during my evening prayers, I saw an apparition. It was a broad smiling face. I tried to process this face in my memory but could not come up with anything conclusively. It connected me to a world of masters in some unknown zone and era. While I sat there thus, a few more faces appeared before me. It was a kind of visionary experience, the first ever in my life. With a mind roused with curiosity, I asked Sahadevan for a description of his Guru for I thought the experience I had had something to do with his Guru. Sahadevan just smiled. He said that I should go to the Ashram and see Guru for myself.

It was somewhere in the middle of 1994, within three months of my visionary experience, that I reached Santhigiri Ashram. It was an evening well before sunset. I saw Guru in his thatched hut, which had a small hall attached to it for visitors to have 'darsan' of Guru. Guru, clad in pure white, with a broad smiling face, sat there emitting a tremendous radiance of love, devotion and a feeling of oneness. His form went into the depth of my mind. The experience in Bangalore reconnected me to this form, now a live figure. I announced my experience to some in the Ashram on coming out after meeting Guru.

After my first visit to the Ashram, I felt that I was put back on the spiritual track. With roused enthusiasm, I quickly prepared for another trip to the Ashram. This time Shri R.C. Saraf, a colleague who belonged to Kolkata, (now in London working for the Mittals) also joined me. Both of us reached the ashram travelling by bus from Bangalore. We waited for an audience with Guru. In the meantime, I helped Saraf to prepare a list of questions in Malayalam which he wanted to ask Guru. No philosophical questions, but domestic ones. I had no questions at that time in my mind. My soul only wanted to 'experience'.

Soon someone came and announced that Guru was waiting for us. A current went through me. We went to the small building (kettidam) where Guru was seated on a small wooden couch. There was with Guru a young bright sanyasini in orange clothes. Her face and eyes were bright with spiritual aura. This was Janani Amritha Jnana Thapaswini, the Revered Shishyapoojitha now. We bowed and touched our foreheads on the floor in front of Guru. I felt like an insect before that Divine Presence. I do not know what Saraf had felt. Doubtlessly there was more dirt in me.

Guru looked at me and asked, ‘What for have you come?’

My heart probably stopped for a moment. I could not speak immediately. I struggled to answer.

''I have taken passport and am trying to go abroad. Can I go?''

I felt very silly. No big questions about spirituality or philosophy fit for discussion with a sage.
Like a foolish person curious only to know the future, I asked that embodiment of Supreme Consciousness this inane question. However, this apparently foolish question was to have a deep ramification in my life afterwards. It was a question which fixed that I be with Guru than in a different place. It was my moment of initiation. The answer which Guru immediately gave was, ''If you go, you will neither be here nor there.'' I listened. How intimate were the words of Guru.

I sat there, ironically, like a numb mountain of questions. Guru further said that my life was influenced by the tradition of Devi worship in our family as well as by the good and bad karma of the ancestors and of my own self. I listened but could not decipher the depth of His words then. Now on reflection, I know that His answer had meant that, ''O disciple! You be with me. Why do you want to waste another life? Work out your salvation here and now.''

Prostrations O’ Guru! I could not realize your nectarine kindness. But like an obedient child I had listened to your words then. I feel greatly blessed by that. O Saviour of my life, O Supreme Guru! My turn was over and now Guru turned to Saraf. I do not remember what all things he asked Guru, though I was the one who translated his queries. While I sat there in the holy presence of Guru, I could feel a divine fragrance wafting in the room. My heart throbbed and soon a strong spiritual vibration hit my soul. A blissful current possessed my heart transporting me to a transcendental state of consciousness and tranquility.

I sat there wondering, ''Guru, who are you? I cannot understand anything. You are indeed a great Rishi.'' I did not know then that Guru could be God. So my infant spiritual mind pictured Him as a great Rishi exuding Brahmic bliss and joy. The meeting ended and we came out from that unforgettable Divine Presence, Guru.

Once out of that Presence, ignorance returned to me in the form of a doubt. How can a human be God? My idea of God was something formless; it was an internal thought, a consciousness of something unimaginable. I had not known that my concept of God would be proved wrong in the next few years I spent with Guru.

After stepping away from Guru’s presence, I stood a few yards away from the building where Guru sat. My mind was torn and the dark cloud of doubt suffocated me. It was a moment of torment. Then suddenly my eyes fell on a Light above the building where Guru sat. A White Light was getting formed above the building. It became very vivid to my eyes and looked like a big hemisphere, like an umbrella. As I concentrated on the Light, I wondered where it was emanating from. In a flash, the form of Guru appeared in a state of yogic sleep. The White Light was emerging from the Guru's navel; a thin thread like a lotus stem at the beginning and then spreading above like a vast umbrella of light. The sand under my feet began to loosen. I was losing balance as the vision gripped my being. I wanted now to wriggle my mind out of this strange experience. I slowly walked away from the place where I stood and a few moments later, the vision ceased, leaving me with an inward silence. I did not know then that I was entering a different dimension in spirituality. How can that grace be explained?

Though I experienced spiritual visions and the divinity of Guru many times over, sometimes I would try to think rationally. Once when my mind was thus clouded, I approached Guru and said, ''Guru, my mind gets disturbed sometimes by doubts''. Guru looked at me and then replied. ''You only should think over it.'' And I thought. I thought hard about my experiences with Guru and the visions that clearly showed the supremacy of Guru, in whom all living beings and the universe merged. Now I wanted to experience the Godliness of Guru in its truest measure. If Guru indeed were God, I should have that experience. My desire grew stronger and stronger. But how could I express my desire to Guru!

Guru was once giving darsan to devotees in the ashram. Occasionally he smeared vibhuti on the forehead of devotees. I too eagerly waited for my chance for the touch of vibhuti by Guru. When my turn came, He touched my forehead with vibhuti. I felt the softness of Guru’s finger. I came out and stood awhile. Suddenly I felt the whole world whirling. The planets, the stars, and the sky, everything was in a whirl. For the first time, I experienced everything merging together in a different dimension of experience. I was unable to stand this. I cried out to Guru in prayer that I should be brought back to my normal state. Within moments, the experience stopped, but I was in a dazed state and was unable to speak. An inner sense of bliss and quiet continued till I returned to Bangalore. I thought how foolish I was to hope for the experience of God. Even a fraction of that experience, I was unable to endure. How can human beings ever experience God with their body-mind mechanism? What they can hope to experience is only a minutest ray of the Unimaginable Light of God. Anyway, after this, I abandoned my desire to experience God anymore, at least for the time being. I only wanted to surrender to Him and His Unimaginable Glory.
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