“Guruji, what is the relationship between you and Baba?” I asked him. 

Guruji has a standard smile format. When he smiles, his heart and mind also smile in perfect coordination.  Many times, his smile will answer my questions.  His smile is in sharp contrast to those who often smile artificially.  This is the difference between lip smile and soul smile.

“He is also my guru.  I learned everything from him.  Can you guess his age?”

“Should be around seventy” I said.

“No, he is 116 years.  Nobody knows his age and I am the only exception. It is not a secret, but people never bothered to know.  You should have interest to know everything.  Nobody, including you and me, does know his full powers.  He is not in any way different from Shiva. He is a Self realized soul.  Shiva and Shakti prevail all over his body.  He does not take anyone as his disciples unless he gets divine instructions.  Till now I am his only disciple and probably you may be the second.  Though he does not take as disciples, he teaches a few students.  Many of them have not risen to his expectations. He clearly draws line between a student and a disciple. I am with him for the past twenty six years.  I came to him at the age of forty four.  My story is a long one.  I was married and have two kids.  We were leading a normal life.  I was a district collector.  I always stood first in my class.  I lost my family in a gruesome train accident; all the three of them died together.  I became depressed.  I resigned my job.  I went to Tiruvannamalai, a famous Shiva shrine in Tamil Nadu, India. There are too many pseudo saints there and unfortunately many of them are mendicants.  They have turned as mendicants only due to their laziness.  I was very particular that none should treat me on par with them.  Almost all the money I had brought with me was spent away in a few months.  I went back to my place.  I sold my house there and bought a small house at Tiruvannmalai.  I learnt to cook myself and spent most of my time around the mountains.  There is a fourteen kilometre road around the mountain and I used to walk through the stretch around three in the morning.  There are eight Shiva Lingas in the fourteen kilometre roundabout and each Linga represents a god presiding over the eight cardinal compass points of the earth. 

“For the first few years, I never mingled with anyone and I was all alone.  The thought of my deceased family used to haunt me frequently.  Usually a saint of my age also walks through the roundabout at the same time and we became friends.  He also more or less leads a life like me.  I did not want to know more details nor did he volunteered himself.  We began to walk together.  We never spoke anything except talking about Divinity.  We always chant Om Namashivaya when we walk through the roundabout.  After we finish our walk, we go to the temple, worship Shiva and Shakti.  It is a massive temple.  Ramana Maharishi meditated here.  After worshipping at the temple we used to go to Ramana Ashram and used to meditate near his tomb. In the initial stages I struggled to control my thoughts and focus my consciousness. But with persistent practice, I was able to master my mind.  When you put one step towards God, He moves several steps towards you.  When I was meditating deeply, a kid of about five years awakened me up and told me to go to Haridwar to pursue my spiritual path.  His speech was not like that of a kid, but that of a grown up man.  When he left me, I saw him going to his dad who was sitting a few feet away from me.  He did not know that he had spoken to me nor his parents were aware that he had come to me.  I considered it as my spiritual message.  I told this to my friend.  He wanted to accompany me. 

“We left for Haridwar and came to an ashram.  There are many men like us.  They allow strangers to use their premises for a few days and also serve food twice daily, all for free.  I had some money at that time.  Days were passing by and I did not get further direction. We took bath in Ganges regularly and went to various temples nearby.  Almost a week had passed away. 

“One day, when we were sitting ideally outside the ashram, the same boy who woke me up in Ramana Ashram, again came in person and told me that I should go and meet our Baba the next day.  The message was conveyed to me alone.  I did not want to leave behind my friend.  Both of us came to this ashram together.  At that time there was only one person in the ground floor.  I told him that we have been asked to meet Baba.  He informed Baba immediately.  He asked both of us to come.  He asked me to stay with him and asked my friend to proceed to Rishikesh directly.  That was the day when I joined Baba.  I told Baba that I will return back after seeing him off.  But Baba did not permit me to see him off.  I bid him farewell and returned to the ashram.  Half an hour after his departure, I was told that the bus in which he was travelling skidded near river Ganges and fell down into the river.  Nobody survived.  In the same evening Baba told me that he knew that he is going to die and that is why he had prevented me to see him off.

“Then Baba personally trained me in every aspect. He took lots of pain.  I came to him at the age forty four.  Forty four is on the higher side to begin spiritual life.  You should start around twenty to thirty.  You need to have a lot of adaptability, patience and perseverance.  More than everything, you should have dedication and faith.  Sometimes, the progress is quick and sometimes it will be sluggish.  The progress purely depends upon our mental status. You can explain spirituality as your ability to control and conquer your mind.  Though so many words are used, they all come down to the single word ‘mind’.

“Baba has taught me whatever is possible. You would have observed that I go out in seclusion in your place.  Those times I stand connected to Baba directly.  I receive his instructions only through astral plane. You can also travel through astral plane and there is no limitation of time and distance.  But only your astral body travels and not the physical body.  Astral body is almost weightless and weighs only around 40 grams.  When your astral body leaves your physical body, it always stands connected to your physical body through an invisible cord. Your astral body can see your physical body.  Astral travel was also taught to me by Baba. 

“He spends a lot of time with his pupils.  He watches their every movement and if he is satisfied, he is willing to take them as his disciples. But nobody has satisfied him.  A few students that you had met in his mutt are not disciples.  They will be here for some time and will leave him.  They cannot understand him beyond a point.  They will leave him after knowing that they cannot catch up Baba and leave him and start their own ashrams and make money.  Though, Baba can identify these kinds of men, still he takes them as his students to ward off their karmic account.  Baba said that he would identify someone to succeed him before he leaves his body.” guruji almost completed his story.

“Why is he having a fire pit before him?” I asked.  I was curious to know that. 

“It is his way of doing something.  Great men like Baba do have some strange behaviours for which there will be no logic or reasoning. I asked him once and he simply said that he liked that.”

The bus reached the bus station of Rishikesh. The scenic beauty of Himalayan mountain range was stunning with lush greenery half covered with mist.  There were a couple of water streaks appearing like molten silver.  There were many men wandering, wearing saffron robes and unkempt hair.  Invariably all of them carried bags like the one I have. Most of them were alone, though a few of them walked briskly in groups of three or four.  I followed guruji.  The time could be around ten in the morning.  The weather was cool with occasional drizzle. I was so happy to be in Rishikesh.  We walked for about twenty minutes away from the bus station.  As we walked, the crowd became thinner.  Then we took a narrow road.  There were some houses here and there.  Like Haridwar, there were many saints whiling away their time in some of the places.  When we reached the end of the sand road, we took a right turn.  There were few ashrams.  All of them were well maintained and were very spacious.  The distance between any two ashrams could be not less than at least quarter kilometre. They had compound walls with iron gates.  All the gates were open.  At the end of the road we again took a right turn.  There was an ashram and opposite to that, river Ganges was flowing with swirling sound.  For the first time, I could hear the sound of water loudly, even making the conversation inaudible.  We entered the ashram. This ashram was very small.

The whole ashram was vibrating.  It was not a big one like what Baba had at Haridwar. There was a hall, an adjacent room, a kitchen and an open back yard.  The whole place will hardly have about five hundred sq ft. The door was open and an old man was sleeping on a long wooden plank.  The difference between a bench and a plank is that the former is at least one and half to two feet high from the ground, whereas a plank is just about three to four inches high from the ground level.  Plank is generally used to avoid sleeping on a cold floor.  There was nobody else in the whole building.  Guruji kept his bag in a corner of the hall and I followed suit.  Nowadays guruji never tells me what to do.  I thought he had developed confidence in me.  We were about to move out of the hall, I heard someone calling my name. I turned back and the old man was sitting now. I was wondering how he knew my name.  For a moment I thought he was also a saint. Guruji turned back and walked towards him. 

“When did you come with Shankaran?” the old man asked my guruji.

He has changed my name from Shankara to Shankaran!

“Just now Maharaj.  We saw you taking rest.  We thought of sitting outside till you get up” said guruji. I was wondering why guruji is calling Maharaj. Maharaj means emperor. 

“Baba sent Shankara to you” said guruji.

“Yes, he told me” said the old man. How Baba could have communicated to him.  I have not seen any mobile phones with them.  How then they could have communicated to each other. Then only it struck to me what guruji had told me about astral travel. Yes, they could have talked to each other via astral plane.

“Are you ready for your final stages of your spiritual transformation?  It will be tough, both mentally and physically” Maharaj said.

“I am ready Maharaj.  In fact, I am looking forward to that moment Maharaj”

I was not too sure that what I had said is right.  I don’t know whether I talked too much. 

“Go and take your bath in the Ganges and return.  Let us begin” said Maharaj. 

I looked at guruji and he in turn looked at Maharaj.  Maharaj nodded his head. It appeared to me that guruji had taken permission from Maharaj to accompany me. We left for our Ganges bath at Rishikesh. Of course, this is going to be my maiden bath in Ganges at Rishikesh.  Ganges has got the power to heal differently in different places and Rishikesh is considered as the best place to have real spiritual bath.  It is said that bathing in Ganges here infuses a lot of spiritual power.  Ganges is also worshipped as another wife of Lord Shiva.  Shiva carries her on His head.  Shiva lives in everyone’s head, whereas, Ganges lives on His head.  You can understand Her power from this. 

Though the Ganges is flowing just behind this ashram, we have no choice except to walk around a mile so as to reach the nearest bathing ghats. The Ganges is deep and forceful in other places where bathing is not allowed.  Everyone chooses to walk as the climate is always pleasant.  Roads are also comparatively clean.  While walking one can come across a number of saintly men and only a few of them are genuine.  For a commoner, it is difficult to identify the true ones from the deceptive ones, as externally there will be no difference.  The true ones can be distinguished by the power of eyes.  The genuine ones will have naturally formed marks in their foreheads.  They conceal it by applying sandalwood paste and sacred ashes.  In spite of their concealments, as the time pass by sandal and ashes go away and the natural marks become visible.  The energy of kundalini is retained by them in their foreheads and the heat of kundalini leaves such marks. While we walked, a lot of such sages bowed their head to guruji.  Guruji is pinkish in complexion, close to the colour of rose flower.  Fairly tall, should be around 5.9’. His white beard and uncombed hair touching his shoulders add a divine sheen to his body.  His pure white dhoti, a pure white towel on his left shoulder, brisk walk and powerful and bright eyes made him to command respect.  He does not apply anything on his forehead like sacred ash or sandal paste.  The kind of respect that he commands here was not seen in Haridwar.  He could be living in Rishikesh for a long time, who knows?  He had not told me the later part of his story. 

We reached the bathing section of Ganges.  It was not crowded like Haridwar.  Here also iron railings were erected to protect the bathers. I entered the river Ganges.  The water was colder than Haridwar, an indication that glaciers had melted into the waters of Ganges in the upper portion of Himalayas.  The water has a bluish and greenish tinge.  You cannot converse in hushed up voice as the water flows with force.  After all, She is falling from the head of Shiva and Her force can be only visualized! I spent more time in the river than I normally used to.  The water was so refreshing.  It has the fragrance of Himalayan forests.  My entire body has been thoroughly rejuvenated.  My eye sight appeared to be bright.  I left the place only out of compulsion of time. Left to me, I would have loved to stay in the water for some more time.

We reached the ashram.  Maharaj was waiting for us. 

(to be continued)