Free Spirits

I read this article on about a year ago and could immediately relate to the Author (Arundhati Bhanot) and her experiences. I’m posting it here for this website’s readers.

BY Arundhati Bhanot

Once in a while, one comes across a soul who has let go of the world. And when such a deep meditative being speaks its truth, one can but listen in silence.

There are places that bring out the meditative spirit in you. There are places where you meet those who are in the meditative spirit. Rishikesh combines both. Located on the banks of the river Ganga (Ganges), this quaint and bustling town sees religious seekers from all over the world congregating at its doorstep in search of the meaning of life and sometimes, just sometimes, some even seem to find it.

This is where my journey leads me when I decide to seek out sages who wander in the Himalayan wilderness and rarely come down amongst mere mortals.

Meeting a true sadhu (ascetic), seekers believe, is like opening the doors of perception. It is like being in the presence of an inexplicable power that defies the laws of this world.

After a day’s search amidst the narrow by-lanes and the bustling spiritual fervour, I chance upon one such sadhu, Baba Mahesh Das, on the Rishikesh-Dehradun highway walking by himself, bare-feet, knotted hair, a single saffron cloth wrapped around his waist. He walks so fast that he disappears as quickly as he had appeared. Then I see him again at a distance and run towards him.

“What do you want?” he says curtly. I want to speak to a holy man, I insist, referring to his garb of a sadhu. He is quick to respond: This is just a persona. What you see is not the truth but an illusion.

For the past five years Baba has lived in a jungle near Rishikesh, in the company of wild elephants. So, I feel that at a time when Meditation is becoming a household word, a recluse such as he might have a different perspective on the subject. What is sadhana (meditation)? I ask. He closes his eyes and speaks with urgency: Can a deaf person describe sound? Can you define the taste of sweetness or happiness? Name and form are the illusions of God. Both are beyond expression. The only self-existence of the supreme sovereign is atma (Self). This is the only reality.

But how does one realise the existence of the supreme sovereign? It can be realised by going beyond the non-conscious realm, Baba continues. “There are four non-conscious realms” sthula (gross, the everyday experience), sukshma (subtle, astral plane), karana (causal) and mahakarana (supra-causal). It is important to gain control over our five senses and desires, intellect, emotions and our ego to attain perfect knowledge of the self.

Baba believes in the tradition of Guru bhakti (devotion towards the teacher) and avers that only a sadguru (true master) can show the way. Your destiny and previous karmas bring you to this path of self-discovery, he explains. For beginners, he suggests mantra jap (recital of mantras). The mantra should be short and simple. He describes three stages in japa – vachik, speaking it aloud; upanshu, to speak and hear oneself; and manasa, that which you recite mentally.

The recitation of mantras allows for concentration of the heart and mind and leads to the first stage called dhyana (contemplation). A prolonged state of internal focus is called samadhi (complete concentration of mind). At this point you may see the image of a God or a Guru smiling at you. Your strength lies in maintaining internal focus till you see the emergence of a bindu (dot). One attains one-pointedness by uniting the rays of both eyes on the locus and gazing on it with a steady mind. Your vision begins to precede your mind till there is a pervading sense of calm. This is the starting point of your journey.”

When all devotional practices are completed, only then does one reach the nameless state and attain moksha, he says. While I close my eyes to contemplate on the subject, Baba departs for Tapovan in the Himalayas for his final quest. It does not matter what happens to my body, it’s knowledge of the ultimate truth that I seek, he states.

As the sun departs and the moon makes an appearance amidst the beautifully lit night sky, I meet a beaming Bodhi Chitananda strolling leisurely in the market area. His orange dhoti-kurta and shawl defy the darkness. When I stop him in his tracks and ask him about his life, he smiles and tells me that he left the USA about 25 years ago to lead an ascetic life. I ask him about his past – his earlier name and profession. An ascetic must leave his past behind to make a fresh start, he explains. He has spent many years understanding the spiritual texts and will be residing in a hut in a forest sometime soon.

We sit in a small, extended verandah of a temple in Rishikesh on the roadside with the moon shining above. There begins the discourse. He says: Mind is supported by prana (vital air), pranas control the mind. He prescribes internal prana yoga, withdrawing the consciousness up the spine into higher centres, purifying the nadis (nerves). We need to go beyond the states of mind and direct our energy within into the stillness of the self. There will be brief moments when the breath and mind stop altogether. Make the space between the thoughts longer. Stay in that silence. Identify who you are, reside in yourself, he adds.

God can be realized only by leading a simple life, hence the need to take the retreat, Chitananda clarifies. One may use any of the yoga techniques or a combination of all, depending on your temperament – be it karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga or jnana yoga, it is the intention which has to be pure.

Swami Hariharan shoulders his wisdom like a child, unaware. He has done penance for 15 years in the forests of Tarkeshwar. I meet him at one of the ashrams where he has taken abode. I ask him about the correct meditation technique. He merely laughs and says: What you do is work, not dhyana. Thoughtlessness and full consciousness is meditation. He who has attained shanti (peace of mind) is a saint.

What made you renounce the world and live in the jungles? I ask. Your destiny, your circumstances lead you to search for peace, but there is no technique to get there, he believes.

What is meditation? Desireless desire is dhyana, complete knowledge of oneself and the supreme external force is dhyana, he simplifies. We meditate every day, but are simply not aware of it. You sleep well but do you watch yourself sleep? When you begin to perceive that you were asleep and someone was watching you go to sleep, you will have reached a state of contemplation, he says.

Perhaps that’s where the truth lies. To know that you don’t know. Because, it is only when you are aware of your slumber that you can wake up. I leave with a sense of wonder. All journeys begin with an element of exploration and end with a destination. I pack my bags for another cycle of departure and arrival.

Arundhati Bhanot

Original article at:

Comments So Far..
  • raju 23 January, 2014 at 10:15 am

    HI Gautam,
    Thanks for this great article. After reading, it seems to me that every one has different way of thinking of Yog. It can be Mansa, Vacha or Karmana Yog, where Yogi can be a teacher(vacha),or keep him/her self in Dhyana(mansa) , or help others in humanity work(Karmana). It’s up to the person which road they prefer and at the same time their Karma will help to choose that road of life. Mother Teresa, born in Macedonia and help to all mankind in the world, Shree Mataji of Aurobindo Ashram Mirra Alfassa, born in Paris and spend most of her life in India, Dr.Kuppaswami became Physician in India,worked in Malaya(Malaysia)and came back on the path of humanity work as Swami Sivananda and Mahatma Gandhi became Lawyer and fight for Aachhut people in Africa, Britain and in India. To me,all these great philosopher did not run away from real world, also they lived with people and helped them, which was their best way of Yogi life. If I am wrong, please forgive me……….Om

  • Vinay Jaswal 20 June, 2018 at 7:54 pm


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