REENA SINGH recounts the everyday stories of several New Age God men and women she has had occasion to meet
In the almost ten years I spent working for India’s top spiritual newspaper, where I retired as Deputy Editor, I had the good fortune to spend many an afternoon with some top gurus. Watching their glowing countenance, I seemed to be smiling to myself at my good fortune of being part of an exclusive private satsang with them.
It was therefore, an interesting exercise to delve into their backgrounds. Who were they before they discovered their almost God-given gifts to hold sway over crowds, giving spiritual discourses.
Way back in 2011, I met Mother Maya, a calm, serene woman, and a firm believer in Ayurveda who had beaten cancer at a young age by meditating on mantras and eating simple sattvic food in a log cabin in the forest. It was this back-to-nature sojourn that cured her of her ailment and soon, she was a convert, a spiritual leader in her own right. But hold your breath, before she found this path, she was a supermodel in New York, and had appeared on the cover of Vogue. At the time, I met her, she was off on a peace mission to convert people to embrace ahimsa ― in their food habits.
Gurus seem necessary in today’s age, and many of us follow a wise sage simply to cast away our depressive and negative thoughts. It is not as if all this is not written in books and scriptures, but somehow, the anecdotal style that most contemporary gurus adopt of holding satsangs and talking to their disciples quoting scriptures and easy parables, somehow makes the learnings easier.
Medicine may be great to tackle emergencies and life-threatening ailments, but it falls way too short of offering a real, holistic cure that gets rid of a problem from its root. Gurus can change your way of thinking completely and make you sit up and decide to change your ways.
Often, these are gentle sages who live among us or have acquired such a following that they are revered, and so sought after that they are now surrounded by a battery of PR men and women who schedule their appointments and their appearances at grand events.
The New Age guru is often someone who is one among us ― whom we can easily identify with and learn from, and is not someone dressed in strange clothing who lives in the Himalayas. He speaks our language, so the message is conveyed simply and effectively. As Deepak Chopra says, “The term guru is used very loosely these days leading to confusion and I do not consider myself a guru.”
He has often said that he considers himself to be a medical doctor with training in internal medicine and endocrinology who took to Ayurveda and meditation in a big way after experimenting with Transcendental Meditation. He has been heralded as “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine,” by the international press.
The dapper doctor who has a quiet manner of speaking and was wearing a spectacle frame studded with diamonds the time I met him as part of a team from the newspaper I worked for, originally hailed from Delhi and went to school at St Columba’s. He graduated in medicine from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences before moving to the US, where he practised and taught medicine before taking up transcendental meditation. His father was Colonel Krishan Chopra, who at one time headed Moolchand Hospital’s Cardiology wing, post his army service.
Among the more simple gurus I met was 84-year-old Guru Siyag, a major presence in western Rajasthan and Gujarat in the last decade. “In the ’70s, I was a clerk in the railways at Bikaner; “mein roti ke peeche baagta tha; Ram ke liye time nahin tha,” he told me once in an interview. That was before he had a dream in which he received a siddhi and a mantra of Radha-Krishna. Meditating on his image and chanting his mantra has enabled many to awaken their kundalinis and heal themselves.
I never did meet Mata Amritanandamayi, but I was fascinated by her story. She was born to simple fisherfolk in a Kerala coastal village, and is now a patron of schools, engineering colleges, hospitals and other temples of learning. There are many stories of her divine gifts ― one among them is that she can understand what her disciples tell her in any language, although she may have never heard it before. She is often called Hug Ma and is known to embrace people to cure them. Perhaps, I will be lucky enough to have her darshan someday.
ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada’s story is amazing. He was born as Abhay Charan De to a cloth merchant in Calcutta in 1896, and led a pampered existence in childhood, as he closely followed India’s Independence struggle. Then, at 22, as a manager in a chemical firm, he met Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, who taught him that while governments came and went, Krishna consciousness was eternal. That was the turning point, and in one quick stroke, he was transported from his aspirations as a nationalist to being a spiritualist. He married, and was a medical representative before ultimately founding ISKCON. It is now a worldwide movement.
I once had occasion to speak to Yogi Ashwini, another St Columba’s student and Delhi University graduate who became a property broker. He told me that “I haven’t formally studied the scriptures but am trained in the world of experience … Creation was revealed to me, and I finally understood the purpose of my birth.” He teaches yoga “as a sadhana, not a ‘business’ and is well-known for his patented sanatan kriya, which his followers swear by. His book, 51 Miracles, outlines the miracles this kriya brought about in his disciples’ lives.
A whiff of fresh breeze came my way when I had darshan with Om Swami, who was born in Patiala and who went to study in Australia. Then, he actually sold off his multi-million dollar software business and his luxury cars to search for the Divine Mother. He finally found her ― after meditating in the mountains, all of which is chronicled in his bestselling memoirs.
I learnt about him through one of his disciples, a pretty poet with a passion for jogging and penning novels woven around murders. I read one of her popular fiction titles and often wonder how she took to spirituality so completely after meeting her guru. She is now Sadhvi Vrinda Om and is well-known as the author of A Prayer that Never Fails. She has also written on Om Swami.
In the days before she turned to monkhood, she had once gifted me a pretty pink and white suit from Lucknow and to my husband, who was also her friend, a traditional Lucknawi kurta. I still wear her suit that she so loving gifted on special occasions and feel really blessed. Thank you, Sadhviji, for letting us have a glimpse into your life before you renounced the world.
Featured Image: Left to Right, Ismita Tandon (now Sadhvi Vrinda Om); Deepak Chopra
Reena Singh has more than 37 years’ experience in senior editorial positions in The Times of India (TOI) and Genpact. She was Deputy Editor with TOI’s spiritual newspaper, The Speaking Tree, where she spent nine years.