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  Journeys of a yogi  
  The quest for truth  
  Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master: A Yogi's Autobiography
Sri M
Magenta Press, Cauvery Towers, College Road-Madikeri, Kodagu, Karnataka – 571 201
Pages 329; Price: Rs. 500

The book reads like an electrifying fantasy travelogue through the depths of the Himalayas in the company of celestial beings and mysterious ageless masters, who are more spirit than flesh. There's not a dull moment in this unreal world.

The author Mumtaz Ali, better known as 'Sri M', claims to have met the 'deathless' saint Mahavatar Babaji about whom the world knows best through the "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Yogananda Paramahansa. The author claims the Mahavatar, referred to as Sri Guru in the book, as his master in a previous life. Sri M's own Himalayan guru Maheshwarnath (Babaji to Sri M) --who is said to possess the capacity to materialise and dematerialise, and assume any form on earth and beyond -- is described as a direct disciple of Sri Guru.

Sri M's first meeting with his Babaji was no less mystical. The then nine-year-old Mumtaz met his future guru in the form of an apparition that disappeared after promising to meet him again. This life-altering experience, which he could not even share with his mother due to some mysterious blockade in his vocal cord, led the young boy towards a secret internal life of quietude and an increasing interest in metaphysical matters.

As a teenager, he learnt Yoga, the Vedas and the Kerala martial art form "Kalaripayattu" from acclaimed teachers. This early life-sketch makes for fascinating reading as we follow a youngster who willfully seeks out seemingly insane persons who turn out to be spiritually exalted beings. In a way, he spent his adolescence and early adulthood preparing himself for the magnificent mystical experiences awaiting him in the Himalayas.

By the time, Mumtaz Ali was 19, he could no longer ignore the call of the Himalayas and so ran away from home. After much wandering, he met with his master once again, this time in Vyasa Guha. Babaji addressed Mumtaz as 'Madhu' and trained him in the transcendental way of life and to become a spiritual guide to many. In the years that follow, the master—who watches over Sri M like a "doting mother" --kept appearing to pronounce precisely designed assignments for his disciple.

Sitting on the serene banks of the river Bhagirathi, the master reveals to the young man the disturbing story of his previous life which had to end as a penance. He let go of his life through the practice of the final kechari mudra, thus letting the "prana exit through the ajna centre".

Sri M's higher learning session with his master begins at the Vyasa Guha as they sat facing the Dhuni, the sacred fire lit by the followers of the Nath tradition. "Fire," said Babaji, "has been sacred to all ancient civilisations. Agni, the God of fire, was invoked daily in Vedic times. Fire, before it manifested was always hidden in the wood and needed the right conditions to manifest. So, fire became a symbol of the spirit, all-pervading, yet manifesting only under certain conditions.

"...The sacred fire of love and compassion burns all self-centredness to ashes...It is not only the visible fire which is called Agni. All forms of combustion are Agni. Even the catabolic and anabolic processes that sustain the human body are called the digestive fires; as also, the fire of desire, higher or lower...

"The inner fire, the Kundalini, which is actually part of the universal power of combustion, identifies itself with the outer fire and manifests in the Dhuni. Flames burst forth from it and reach the thousand-petalled lotus and man becomes God. Vast dimensions of consciousness can now be accessed and tapped."

Babaji then looked at the fire with intense attention and said, "O Flame of my heart who dances in the Dhuni, go higher and higher and reveal your majesty." One of the tongues of the fire began to grow tall. Sri M recounts, "My skeptical mind was about to attribute this to the cold wind that had begun to blow when I realised that only one flame was growing. The flame went up like a swaying pillar of fire, almost as tall as the Deodhar tree that stood some distance away."

Babaji called upon that single tongue of flame to touch the boy's navel, saying "May Madhu's inner fire be awakened with your blessings!" Sri M remembers trembling with awe as the tall tongue of fire curved towards him and “in a flash licked my navel, setting my whole body on fire. The fire moved upwards burning all obstacles to ashes till it reached my brain and exploded into a many-splendoured, multi-coloured flash that surprisingly radiated a cool, pleasant feeling down my spine. A link had been established between the lower and the higher. The way was clear and I had to traverse it patiently with Babaji's kind encouragement."

This is but a glimpse of the indescribable and adventurous path through which Sri M was guided by his master. Besides thoroughly training Madhu in the Upanishads, Yoga and other ancient knowledge, Babaji sent him to other masters, including great Buddhist and Sufi masters, for further training. Sri M learned from a Tibetan Yogi the art of living bare-bodied in icy regions using internal heat to keep him warm. Babaji acquainted his disciple with mysterious things in a demystifying way. He told him that miracles are the working of certain laws of nature. The book, in fact, deals with the topic of miracles a great deal -- perhaps a bit more than in Yogananda's book.

Though Sri M would have loved to lead a wandering life in perpetual bliss in the Himalayas, his master asked him to go back and get acquainted with various spiritual institutions and told him that the last of his engagements towards this will be the one with the well-known philosopher J Krishnamurthi. The association Sri M had with him was the longest and he also found his life-mate Sunanda at the Krishnamurthy Foundation in Chennai. He has given a touching account of J Krishnamurthi's dissociation with the organisation bearing his name, its dissolution and his last days. It was when M was with the Krishnamurthi Foundation that he was called by his master to witness his entering Samadhi in the presence of Sri Guru and a celestial being. He was instructed to dig a grave himself and bury his master’s body. He was also instructed not to leave any mark over the grave.
Before entering Samadhi, 80 per cent of Babaji's mystical powers were transferred to his disciple, for whom the most difficult task now was to conceal this and appear 'normal'.

Sri M gives us three compelling reasons to explain his decision to publish these stories. One, it was "unfair to the majority of readers, by hesitating to tell my story for fear of the (skeptical) minority". Two, there are no authentic spiritual biographies after Yogananda Paramahansa's (and he did not spend as much time in the Himalayas).
Besides, the author is a living master willing to be grilled by any skeptic reader, and three, he wanted to "prove the point that great teachers like Babaji and Sri Guru influence the spiritual evolution silently, even though very few know of their existence."

In these perplexing accounts, all of which he is willing to discuss further, there is perhaps a clue to the limitations of vision. The celestial vision he had of Jesus, Padmasambhava, Rinpoche, etc., during his Kailash Yatra was not visible to others who accompanied him. Is it the limitations of the eyes of the gross body? Is there a subtle body or spirit that a camera eye cannot capture? Or, is there a subtle vision capable of penetrating subtle realms? Or is it all a mere delusion?

Whether or not you are a skeptic, this beautifully produced book makes for compelling reading. And, hey, the author's around, if you want to grill him about the harder to believe elements in the book.
T.N. Sushama was a newscaster with All India Radio and is now based in Bangalore
  By  T.N. Sushama  
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