It was not always easy to find a qualified meditation teacher. A few weeks back, while travelling here in India, I was given a sense of just how difficult it once was to be exposed to a spiritual tradition, much less study directly under an enlightened teacher.
My partner Michael and I were trekking high up in the Himalayas and we heard about a very special rock and temple perched on the top of an extremely steep mountain. One side of the rock is believed to be the face of Kaali – an incarnation of the divine mother aspect in creation. Something about it seemed charming and so we made the grueling climb – this was no easy place to get to which made it even more interesting to us.
When we got to the summit we met a young German woman who told us her story of how she had got to be living there for the last fifteen years. It went like this:
She was in her early twenties when she left her home to travel to India in search of a master. She flew thousands of miles to New Delhi and then travelled by bus for twelve hours to get to the foothills of the mountains. Then another long bus ride to get up closer to the mountain peaks. From there she decided to begin her pilgrimage in the traditional way – she decided to travel only on foot from then on – walking hundreds of miles up and down mountainous terrain through dense forests. Her aim was to visit all the major holy sites that were nestled high up in the Himalayan range in search of a worthy teacher, or as they say in India, a guru. Someone, who having attained the supreme knowledge of life, full enlightenment, was also able to guide a student.
She travelled alone, carrying her food and supplies, often sleeping outside in caves or under the stars. She studied Hindi in order to be able to connect with the people. After many months she arrived at the rock on the top of the mountain. There she found a guru and she asked him if she could stay and study as his student. He informed her that she could stay however he was not taking any new students. So she stayed and she worked for him every day – cleaning, cooking and gardening to earn her keep. She learnt the mountain language and memorised many hundreds of ancient Sanskrit texts. Finally after eight years he agreed to take her on as his disciple. Eight years! In that time she left behind her family and friends, she surrendered all comforts and any ideas of romantic relationships. She changed her name and wore orange robes.
This is was the way it was done in decades gone by. Leave your life, your loved ones and possessions behind you, trek deep into the mountains and after many months and years, maybe you meet the person who could give you the techniques for Self Realisation. Maybe.
There were many reasons why the knowledge was not so accessible. Firstly, it is the nature of all great knowledge that it goes through periods of loss and revival. It is natural that it ebbs and flows depending on the collective consciousness in the world. It was a reflection of the age of the time.
Secondly, it was a way of protecting the knowledge and keeping it pure. India, the home of the Vedic knowledge, was a country that had undergone successive invasions over time. In order to retain the essence of the teaching and protect it from those who were determined to undermine the society, it was kept within a very limited group – typically those in the monastic community. This meant it was no longer available to the ordinary man with work and family responsibilities, as it had been in previous centuries.
However around the time that India regained its right to self govern from the British, and as the world was rushing headlong into the mass destruction of WWII, the wheel turned. It was time for more people to have access to this wisdom in a way they had not for many thousands of years. It was time for India to regain independence in all areas, including the rich spiritual tradition at its core.
And so around the early 1940’s one of the greatest masters of the Vedic tradition Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, (affectionately known as Guru Dev) came out of 30 years of silence to lead the revival. For thirteen years Guru Dev held the most holy of positions at the pinnacle of the Vedic tradition – Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math. He could see the suffering of mankind had reached such a saturation point that the time had come for the knowledge to again be shared with the householders of the world. One of the most significant outcomes to emerge from this period was the revival of Vedic meditation and yoga techniques for householders from the 1960’s onwards.
As Guru Dev taught, it is a mistake to think that one has to be a monk in order to experience higher states of consciousness. He taught that suffering is not the natural condition of life. Man is made to live in bliss. It was the knowledge and techniques of how to dive within and contact the inner state of fulfilment and Being and that were missing.
So it is our great good fortune that today there are teachers all over the world who have been trained by masters of the pure Vedic knowledge to teach others the skills to develop their full potential. Millions of westerners are practising these practical techniques daily as they go about their normal, modern lives. No longer is it necessary to let go of all worldly attachments and run away to India in order to develop spiritually.
For this we can be very grateful. Jai Guru Dev.