Marianne Williamson, American author and activist, once said,
The goal of spiritual practice is full recovery, and the only thing you need to recover from is a fractured sense of self
If a true Vedantin were to be asked, he/she would say that the fractured sense of self mentioned here is due to the identification of ourselves with our physicality and our worldly existence. The root of all problems, the cause of Dukkha (sorrow), as Gautama Buddha would have said, is due to this mooring. True knowledge and realisation is the dismantling of this false sense of self and understanding the true nature of the Self. It is one thing reading about, a different thing to realise it momentarily, and completely another to live in this experience and consciousness in a sustained manner. Everyone from Sri Krishna to Jesus Christ, Zarathustra to Guru Nanak were those through whom the transcendent truth shone through. My life has had this nuance, albeit with its fair share of obstacles and veils that are so characteristic of this Yuga, and through this post, I shall try to share this. I hope you read and accept this with the gravity and truth that it has.
Before moving forward, I would like to give a little background, a prologue, in a manner of speaking, for the journey I am embarking on, in this post. I was born at the height of the Storm of the Century of 1993 in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, at night 9.15 PM EST (morning, in India, of the 23rd). My birth was associated with a lot of interesting aspects: be it the fatal incident, pre-birth, when my mother hopped on to a train coach and even the doctors were amazed I had survived that or the manner in which the umbilical cord had begun wrapping around my neck in her womb (much like the snake around Shiva’s neck, but more likely in a much more negative and harmful way, as if some negative forces wanted to get rid of me, haha). And survive, I did, and hale and hearty, without deformities, by God’s grace! My father, before knowing my gender, dreamed prior to my birth that my name should be ‘Mrittunjoy’. For those unaware of its meaning, Mrittunjoy is Lord Shiva’s name that literally means ‘victor over death‘. I came to India when I was roughly six months old and been largely in Delhi ever since (except for the last five years, when I had been in Cambridge UK).
I am lucky to come from a highly spiritual family. My mother’s family happens to be Kanyakubja Brahmins and were heads of the famous Barpeta Satra, a Vaishnavite monastic order, till fairly recently. Since some activists mentioned that mentioning this is casteist, in a conversation, let me clarify immediately: I am not mentioning this to say that only Brahmins -in the modern sense of the word (for I clarify who a true Brahmin is, and I believe it has very little to do with birth)- or that a certain kind of Brahmin are spiritually advanced but just that in this case, due to dedicated and rigorous commitment to spiritual pursuits, my ancestors and family had a certain spiritual presence and heritage. I actively stand against and strongly condemn Jaativad or casteism, and shall always do. My father’s side has had its fair share of spiritual heritage, with my grandparents having personally and physically engaged with, and followed, Swami Pranavananda, and my father having taken mantra initiation from Ma Anandmayi Ma herself.
As an individual, I have been sensitive and eerily intuitive, since a young age. Be it people, situations or emotions, I have a knack of latching on to realities and things quickly, often in a few moments! Someone (a Jyotishi) also told me that I had what is called Brahmavakya – that which one says has a tendency to come true, and hence asked me to be careful what I say, especially negative things. I, and you for that matter, may have our apprehensions on that claim, but over time this has been true many-a-times. If there is a point of strong desire or will-ed element or occurrence, it has more often than not come true! And the strange part is: along the lines or terms of references I have thought or willed it to be along! I have also been what can be regarded as very lucky. By God’s grace, very fortunate. Sometimes to the extent where it has seemed like I almost had some invisible guardians looking over me (with the occasional white feather falling in front of my feet, even today, just around the time I am having a tough time or some adversity). Be it the time I could have got lost in the streets of Delhi while following a man I thought was my father from my crèche or the times when I have got things I have needed at the right time (from people walking back into my life just at the right time or more utilitarian and immediate needs such as physical objects and elements), my life has been a story of interesting turns and events on this front!
It was since a very young age that I have had certain very strong epiphanies and moments of spirituality. I remember that as a very young boy, probably in nursery or primary school, I used to have these flashes when I would be able look at myself from beyond: as if I was seeing myself from beyond my body, looking back at my body, sans body-consciousness or attachment. These experiences came with the realisation that I was just another human being and yet not, and this experience would lead me to ponder on who I truly am. While the experiences were direct and strong, given my development mentally and emotionally, the reflection often would not reach beyond a certain point. By middle school, I had a phase when Mrityu – death and ‘mortality‘ became a point of interest, both in terms of some strange, spiritual experiences, and subsequent reflections/meditations. There were times when I would seem to zoom through life (without quite seeing what happens during this) and then stop abruptly at the point of death, and the enormity, the abyss of death would stare at me, and I would simply experience (for a lack of a better word for this) this in its entirety. It was scary and yet strangely blissful. This singularity fascinated me, and became the anchor to experience nuances of the meaning of life from there. This was around when I was 11 years old and for such a young boy, it was unusual to think about death, as my one of my teachers would say. What they probably never understood was that I never came it from a nihilistic, fatalistic or negative side whatsoever but just as a point of realisation, a profound moment of reflection. This was also the phase when I became very silent and grew inwards. I grew increasingly detached from life around in many ways and remember looking from the top corridor of Montfort School down at nursery kids playing below, pondering on the way in which life and the Universe moves, coordinates and evolves over time.
However, over the next few years, I increasingly grew in myriad ways, becoming more sociable, and this was not only from a general blossoming with age but also from an urge to communicate, to convey some experienced facets and truths. The change of my way of conducting myself (and apparently personality types from INFP to ENFP, albeit I:E::49:51 roughly) did not happen after elaborate thinking but by itself in a very organic and experiential way. I grew more convivial and started appreciating newer dimensions of life, albeit never leaving my core of reflection and existence. Even in this phase, long and sustained meditation would keep my true self anchored in my Self, my spirituality and my reflections. I remember going with Baba and Ma to Kankhal, Rishikesh and Haridwar every now and again. I felt such peace and equilibrium, sitting next to the small stream of the Ganga at Kankhal, that words cannot describe the experience. I would feel like I am flowing with the stream, running over pebbles on the river bed, eddying and gurgling. Often this would come out in the form of poetry, and over time poetry would often be my preferred mode of expressing. This has ever-since been the case, for such experiences. It can sometimes be on something as simple as a cob-web and a transcendent reality and feeling (relating to ‘entanglements in life‘) that relates to it! Here is the poem Coppe-Webs, for reference:
A hint of crimson on pitch-black limbs
that, like the Stygian night-sky
hit by the first sunrays at dawn,
in a curious confusion
of the dark and the darker still,
seem to dissolve
into a gossamer-blanket,
full of light and warmth,
brightened by purpose
and the softer shades of life.
some proteinacious chaos
of silken memories,
escaping the spinnerets of the mind-
each spiral, like reality eddying
into the void beyond.
in its own creation
of stategically woven strands
in a web of relations and reality therein
Relations of hearts,
Relations of timelines,
Relations of realities,
criss-cross, in a masterpiece
unmatched, even by the Zygiella;
a flurry of neat knittings
with a blatant forgetfulness seeping in!
Hey, master weavers! Forget not…
the impermanence of this coppe-web,
this fine architecture in silk,
with its tensile strength
taunted by the whistling winds
as the Great Void remains,
swallowing the remains of the coppe-web.
These were spontaneous and so self-evident in that moment that it would be exhilarating to experience it! During this time, I began discussing these topics with friends and all, and during this period, many asked me if I followed any school of philosophy or religion? Well, there never was nor is a fixed school of philosophy or form of reflection that I preferred or prefer. Yoga, Vedanta, Jainism, Buddhism and even Christianity influenced me. My primary experiences, being experiences, were completely unguided by any of these formal systems, while the reflections and practices (meditation being a primary element, through and through) were based on a mixture of all and yet beyond just these. While I used to look at mantra meditation earlier and thereafter form-based meditation, by the time I graduated from college, I was quite at ease with formless meditation. In fact, this was so spontaneous a thing that I could go into a trance-like, focussed state even leaving my eyes open, like in the London tube (of all places!). For me, my spirituality guided my perspectives and views. My life. Therefore my liberalism and idea of secularism was not guided as much by reading tomes of philosophers and political thinkers as much as by reflection and meditation. Whenever faced with conundrums in life or working with society, this was my go-to resource. In my first year in Cambridge, I also had a very special relationship with the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, and slowly and gradually my understanding of Sanskrit helped me become acquainted with ancient Indian texts. Be it the Mandalas of the Rig Veda or the contents of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, this realm of these ancient texts was enthralling and safekept the seed of such profound truths. There were times when the literal meaning of the texts would make little sense (sometimes due to the tradition of interpretation having been lost, and sometimes due to semantic labyrinths) and that is when reflection and meditation would again come to the rescue. There was the time when, in a moment of spontaneity, I told a friend (Sriprasad, in Cambridge) that the Rig Veda is not telling us things as much as it is the embodiment, the manifestation of the Ultimate Reality itself. Only if one could unlock the hidden layer, which I have had the pleasure of realising. That it is like a living being. God itself, in all its forms. These were never relayed in any secondary texts or discussion by others but simply came out of meditation.
Around the second year of my PhD, I gave even more emphasis on experiential aspects of the meditation rather than the philosophical ones. And it was then that lo and behold, the first instances of things that had been described by others, some known to be accomplished practitioners of spirituality and even spiritual leaders, came forth. In my own lived experiences. Be it energy centres (chakras) or the instances of pain and joy experienced for people in visions (such as the one where I saw a lot of violence in what seemed to be a war, with a lot of killing, and I cried; cried, that too in a public place – the Grad Cafe in Cambridge!), things were becoming more direct and felt. Around this time strange things like apparently spooking a co-traveller (on a train) out by ‘speaking’ to them without speaking (telepathy, for a lack of a better word) and feeling the first sensations of the multi-petalled Sahasrara on my head were experienced! Earlier during my time at Cambridge, my eyesight had got corrected by itself, when after 10 years of wearing glasses, it went to perfect vision (actually in a few months between May 2014 to July 2014). These were all things that were extremely eerie and even scary at times but gradually I came to calmly accept them as they came.
And then one fine day, at the age of 24, I had the experience of all experiences. The first instance of experiencing Unity Consciousness. While meditating near the River Cam, I had the moment of realisation when the River, the grass, the cows munching away nearby and everything around was one, in essence. It was experienced in as real a manner as anything I had ever felt. As natural as breathing and living. The state was so peaceful that I did not seek to come out of it, and I distinctly remember hours passing by before I came out of the stupor, albeit my eyes were open throughout.
It was around that point onwards that this underlying current of palpable energy and consciousness all around and within myself was felt, and has never switched off, per se, since then.
This was the time when I first had the desire to discuss and share these experiences with someone. To talk to someone who would understand. To seek a master, a Guru. Having read about the famed Mahavatar Babaji, a mystical and almost mythical being who had apparently guided many, I sought him at the beginning. I would meditate on him, whenever I could, during my busy schedule. It was when I visited Bella aunty, a close friend of my mother’s and someone I consider like my aunt, in London, that I understood that I had attained the grace of his presence. Just before leaving her place, after a sumptuous meal and chat, in the afternoon (I so distinctly remember everything), she stopped me and said, “Mrittunjoy, I have something for you” and ran up to her bedroom above. She soon came back with a framed picture and said, “this is for you“. It was a picture of Mahavatar Babaji! I do not remember ever discussing about him with her and yet here she was giving me this picture. I was humbly accepted and went my way. Babaji is and always will be my first teacher, in spirit.
What however lacked still was a physical guru. And as if God was listening, in a whirlwind trajectory, I met Swami Sarvasthanandaji Maharaj of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre – UK at a Vivekananda Festival and thereafter at a social function. Swamiji is a Gaud Saraswat, a community having had an association with Parasurama himself, and has been a dynamic spiritual leader of the order in the UK. His guru was Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji Maharaj, the 10th President of the Ramakrishna Order, and a direct disciple of Ma Sarada Devi (the Spiritual Consort of Sri Ramakrishna – whom He Himself worshipped as the Divine Mother, an incident which is unparalleled in the spiritual history of India). So it is this Guru Parampara (third down the line from Sri Ma Sarada Devi Herself) that Swami Sarvasthanandaji is privileged to belong to. Swami Sarvasthananda just seemingly waltzed into my life, figuratively speaking, and then we connected so well and deeply that it seemed like we knew each other since ages. He invited me to the beautiful Ashram, the Vedanta Centre in Bourne End. The Centre is located in the house that had been Edgar Wallace’s back in the day. Slowly and gradually, I started visiting them fairly often. Discussing late into the night with Swamiji (went up to 2 am a few times), sensing the spiritual energy in the prayer room, reflecting on the core message of Vijnana Vedanta of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, sharing the higher sense of association with the swan (hansa), meeting some admirable associates and feeling a sense of belonging in the message that the Ashram stood for. And all this is what made me take diksha with Sri Ramakrishna as my isht-guru. The interplay of Vedanta and tantra, the acceptance of disparate strands of spirituality, the universally acknowledged influence and effect of Ramakrishna, the experienced spiritual energy, all made this initiation reflective of my life’s journey and innate principles and abilities, in the spiritual realm.
For me, all my life, I have always tried to orient my pursuits along Truth, be it Physics (which I consider as another way of exploring the relative truths and Truth, in the physical domain) or politics (a way of looking at the same Truth in a social context) or poetry and philosophy (looking at the relative truths and Truth in a more direct, albeit somewhat abstract, sense, oxymoronic as that is). The acceptance of Vedanta in such an intimate way was just a step to acknowledge this higher truth of my life and establish a tradition that believes in the dissolution of all traditions, identities and constructs into the pure consciousness that Brahman is.
A veil on reality further fell away in my life, and I was all the more myself, for it!
For the next few months, my experiences and moments have stabilised into a constant state of Unity consciousness, even without meditating or praying per se, and slowly it has also dawned that this has always been my natural state. This inner spiritual power is what has kept me as strong as I have thankfully been, even in the face of near insurmountable odds and faces. This was the time when opponents of India and Dharma did a lot to affect and harm me, but I came through not only fine but stronger and firmer in my state of Unity consciousness, haha! This was also the time when strange (often very eerie things kept on happening), for instance –
Presences need not always be physical.
That flower near the altar is a gift from Thakur. A gift that I received at 10 PM on 26 December, while meditating in the prayer hall, with Gaurav (Gajjar), at the Vedanta Centre – UK. The most beautiful part? I saw it drop, in the pin-drop silence of the otherwise-vacant hall, from a fairly fresh bouquet, and immediately made Gaurav (Gajjar) take notice! It gives me goosebumps even recounting this. It was one moment and a sight, whose aftermath my own Diksha Guru Swami Sarvasthananda saw and attested to, when we called him!
This was also the time when I naturally started moving towards expressing, writing and speaking on Dharmic subjects; subjects that in some occassions had suffered centuries of corruptions and misunderstanding. And the clarification for each that sprang forth was not primarily based on any scriptural or philosophical ideation but my own experience, my own realisation. It was like there was a fountain-spring of awareness that had just been unleashed. I wrote on the true meaning of Varnasrama, on a new politics of truth and balance and Dharma, on Sunyata and how Buddha was neither negating nor asserting anything about the true nature of the Ultimate Reality, the Dharmic way of ‘being’ and not ‘becoming’, Satyatva and how there are resonances across religions on the realisation and conception of the Absolute Truth, to seek and not blindly believe, and Satyaniti and Swaraj and how a decentralised model worked best for realisation of a Dharmic society, Ānṛśaṃsya or non-cruelty, comprehensive democracy or Dharmocracy, Satyavad, the real battles being battles within and Dharmic Universalism. I have had the privilege of having had my श्वेताश्व(‘Shvet-ashva’ or ‘White Horse’) and a sword of Jñana to break the bonds and constraints of Ajñana and the low-elements of this Kaliyuga.
Finally, I will end with a highly enigmatic but important point – recalibrations are important, spiritually most of all, in the world and there are forces larger than just one person in the fray. These include the lockdown with COVID, and there will be further such incidents. Some people are supposed to pick up the scraps and rebuild thereafter. The plinth that this is on must be firm, and the most important step in this direction is one of spiritualisation. Let us embark on this! With this I end this Pratyāhāra Bhāṣya (प्रत्याहार भाष्य) – a descant on sense-subjugation and Self-realisation.