An Inward Journey
A fledgling sadhak - tremendously sincere, alert and with an intuitive ability to grasp even unspoken instruction, goes on an eye-opener walk with a wise Master…... A touching tribute paid with deep reverence to Parama Pujya Iswarananda Giriji Maharaj -an erudite Sage who could shower ‘motherlove’ and also set exacting standards – by our Beloved Mathadhipati -Parama Pujya Sadyojat Shankarashram Swamiji ( January 2018 )
Just step for a few minutes into the life of a young sadhak, a new initiate who is being taken for a walk by his Master. The world has suddenly turned into a living classroom for this raw spiritual aspirant. The hermitage is situated on rugged terrain and the dense jungle towards which the Master is taking him is just a few hundred meters away. The crisp evening breeze, the mellowing sunlight, the volcanic rock of these ancient hills, the eagerness of the disciple and the smiling, but silent countenance of the Master – all combine to charge the air with a rare intensity. The sensitive student, quick to sense the power of these vibrations, is eagle-eyed and all ears to grasp the tiniest wisp of wisdom that will come forth from the Master.
As they walk towards the woods the disciple starts reporting all that he has done or seen during the day. The Master is a good listener. He never interrupts and rarely comments on what he hears. He just listens. Today too the young sadhak has a lot to tell him. A visitor to the ashram has upset him greatly by his argumentative chatter. “But I did not retort or say anything rude,” he tells the Master proudly. But soon, the agitated young man begins to pass judgment on the visitor’s behavior. As he over-analyzes someone who is of little consequence to himself, the fresh initiate begins to feel a bit smug about the ‘profundity’ he is spouting. What he does not realize is that, sub-consciously, he has begun to enjoy the debunking that he is indulging in.
Once they enter the forest he is supposed to keep totally mum. Those are the Master’s orders. So the excited youngster has to finish all that he has to say right now! But even before they have reached the woods and even before his outburst is over the Master turns, looks the shishya squarely in the eye and points out, “The most contaminating thing in this world is dwelling upon other people’s faults.” As he grapples with the enormity of the lesson he has just learnt, the sadhak realizes that the Master has already reached the edge of the ‘silence zone’. Wordlessly, both enter the forest.
For the first few seconds, there seems to be only a deafening quiet. The senses, which were swimming in multiple impressions before entering this green cavern, are forced to yield to the natural alertness one experiences when flung into an unexpected situation. Now that very silence which had seemed devoid of all sound gets punctuated by little signature tunes, as it were, of the different forms of life around. The shishya has been told that there are hungry and therefore angry bears in this forest. So the first reaction to the slightest sound is tinged with fear. But then he realizes that he is in the company of an Adept who knows the lay of the land and his relaxed mind begins to register – the crunch of dry leaves underfoot, the scampering away of a squirrel, the swish of foliage as a bird takes wing, the gurgle of a distant mountain spring…all the noises that draw you in and make you feel in tune with the environment.
The utter solitude seems to reduce the need for inane dialogue. The watchful sadhak realizes this walk is as much a test of physical stamina as it is an educational tour to sharpen the powers of perception and alertness. At one point the sadhak playfully flings a tiny twig over his shoulder and in that very instant sees the Master go still and turn with lightning speed to check on his ward. The message goes home without a word. Now on, the student has to sharpen his focus and response to outer phenomena. As they continue walking, the sadhak realizes that his normal fear of probable danger is reducing, thoughts are fading off, his inner silence is deepening almost in response to the quiet without. A mother bear may still charge at them but now the apprehension has been replaced by a keen alertness that is positive, strengthened, focused. This is how the student learns to tackle the external world – with preparation and precision, not brooding or clinging to past conditioning or compulsions.
On another evening the Master is busy and he is asked to take that walk alone. The joy the sadhak normally feels is replaced by an acute awareness that today he has no guide, he is not being led. So the student learns to create his own little signposts so that he does not get lost. But barely half-way into the forest he suddenly loses his nerve. He cannot take even one step forward. Somehow he manages to stem the ugly anxiety and gallops back to the ashram.
The Master says nothing. But the disciple is intuitive enough to understand that this aborted walk is a test he still has to pass! Today too, the Master has other things to do, so the student has to take the walk all by himself. But this time he is more prepared. He is carrying a water bottle and a matchbox. His resolve to go to the end of the forest and back has deepened. This infuses both courage and a steadiness of mind making him adopt a confident stride down the route which is beginning to look a bit familiar.
When he reaches the rocky clearing the forest opens into, the elated disciple takes a slow, deliberate look around. He sees a flat rock at the very edge beyond which there is a sheer drop into the valley below. Taking measured steps he goes and sits on it. He tries to rock it, it does not budge. Its solidity and stability echo the balance and equipoise he is feeling within. As his joyous glance takes in the vast sweep of space above, the majestic ring of hills, the rich crimson of the dipping sun and finally the picture-book hamlet below, he is reminded of the first evening when he sat at this very spot beside his Master. The Master had gently pointed out that the village looks so beautiful only because it is so far away. Today, richer by his victory over crippling fear, the disciple is able to decipher that message. It is distance that lends enchantment to the view. Everything which seems perfect and desirable shows up its warts and spots when viewed from closer quarters. The student understands that without conscious distancing he will not be able to arrive at that state of objectivity, that detachment which is crucial for spiritual growth.
For a brief but immortal moment, he feels as if his name and form, his concerns have all been swept away making him one with the all-pervasive energy that surrounds him. This ‘taathastya’- this total stillness that the Master has been repeatedly advocating brings in its wake an unshakeable calm. This is when the disciple experiences ‘tanmayataa’ - a sense of total absorption, merging with the natural glory and vitality all around, of which he too is an indelible part. In that lightning flash of recognition of the all-encompassing Presence or Manifestation of the One Divine there remain no divisions, no borders, no walls. There is only rejoicing over the beauty and perfection that forever was, is and will be – in the perceiver, in that which is perceived, plus the act of perception as well. It is, in other words, a moment of perfect ‘being’ rather than ‘becoming’.
The young sadhak has now truly begun his inward journey.
(Photo credit: Kishan Kallianpur)