Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
THE ENCHANTED LAND
The Mother: Yogini Mataji
Since Baba Faqir Chand's death in September of 1981 a number of his disciples serve as gurus. Outstanding among these is a middle-aged woman respectfully called Yogini Mataji who currently lives in a small room on the third floor of the Manavta Mandir ashram in Hoshiarpur.
On my second trip to India in the winter of 1981-82 I was not informed beforehand that Mataji was living within the temple compound. So it was a pleasant surprise when I arrived at Manavta Mandir to learn from Dr. J. L. Jaura, the present administrator of the ashram, that one of Faqir Chand's most advanced disciples was living only a few yards away across the courtyard. I could tell by Jaura's expression that he regarded her as a remarkable woman. Knowing that saints seldom talk about themselves, I asked Jaura to tell me her life story.
I learned that Mataji had shown saintly qualities even as a young child. Although she was married at an early age, as is the custom in India, she did not consummate the relationship because of her singular devotion to God. Nevertheless, as befits a genuinely good person, Mataji personally chose another wife for her husband, who desired to raise a family. When the second wife died several years later, Mataji, not forgetting her responsibility, sought out another wife for her husband.
During all this time Mataji applied herself to intense devotion to God. Her spiritual quest came to fruition when she visited Baba Faqir Chand, the renowned shabd yoga master. At their first meeting Baba Faqir Chand declared that the young woman was already a saint. And on that very day Faqir also appointed her a guru for a number of his women disciples. She has since then been affectionately addressed as Mataji ("Mother dear").
On the night of my arrival at Manavta Mandir, Dr. Jaura invited me to visit Mataji. I readily agreed to the Doctor's kind invitation and was startled when I first saw Mataji as she opened the door to her cloister. I had met her before! Her face also bore an expression of surprised recognition. We had met three years earlier in the home of our mutual friend Swami Yogeshwar, an elderly Christian monk. At that time I had not been informed of Mataji's exalted status but I clearly remembered her exuberant smile and loving eyes. Mataji immediately gave me a strong hug, welcoming me as if I were one of her children.
Mataji exuded a sense of joy and happiness. We talked for more than three hours about a variety of subjects, but I was most intrigued with Mataji's experiences on the inner spiritual planes. I asked her what it was like to leave the body. Mataji responded with a beautiful description of how consciousness can be released from the mortal frame by attaching itself to the stream of celestial music radiating from the top of the head and beyond. To do this, she said, one first must be initiated by a genuine mystic who has gained access to the higher realms. The practice itself, although it may take years to master, sounds relatively simple. The body should be kept perfectly still with one particular posture held for at least three hours. One may choose a cross-legged position (like the yogis in the lotus pose) or a more comfortable, relaxed position in a chair. Keeping the back erect and the mind alert, one continuously repeats God's name as given by his/her guru. This simran, as Mataji termed it, should be done with one's attention centered behind closed eyes. Coupled with this physical stillness and ceaseless repetition of God's name, the next step is to contemplate the light within. At first,
Mataji pointed out, there will be only darkness but eventually light will appear in the form of either small flashes or small star-like points. In any case, one should focus on the radiance, keeping one's simran intact and allowing the light to draw the soul inward. The third and most important step, Mataji said, is to listen to the sound that issues forth from the light. It is this internal music which will numb the body and allow the consciousness to leave its ordinary dwelling. By riding this current of light and sound, like a fish going upstream, the soul will be able to go back to its original home. On the journey within, however, the soul must be guided by a true master so as not to be detained in any of the lower illusory regions. According to Mataji, what near-death patients experience is only the beginning of a vast sojourn into great universes of light, love and beauty.
Personally I was overcome with the profundity of Mataji's account. Although it seemed plausible, especially given the findings of near-death patients who have been resuscitated, the soul's journey in the beginning stages appeared too difficult. How can one sit so still, repeat only holy names and think of God constantly? "By falling in love," Mataji answered serenely. "Because when one is truly in love nothing but the beloved can enter one's mind.
So the secret of surat shabd yoga and of mysticism," she goaded, "is not necessarily practice and more practice, but love. To be so devoted to one's Lord that nothing can stand in the way--this and nothing else is the truth of Sant Mat," Mataji stressed.
It was hard for me to leave Mataji that night after such a peaceful and delightful visit. I did, however, see the "dear mother" one more time before my departure. Early in the morning I was ushered into her room to pay my respects and also to thank her for the previous night's delightful conversation. However, I was a bit surprised when I saw Mataji. She was smoking a small Indian cigarette. Now I must confess that I didn't imagine that yogis, especially female yogis, smoked tobacco. But here was Mataji doing exactly that and puffing away nonchalantly, completely oblivious to my childlike notions of how gurus should behave. But, after a few moments I realized how stupid I was in being surprised by the simple act of Mataji's smoking. In the West we sometimes wrongly assume that masters and sages are non-human, as if they didn't get hungry, didn't get sleepy, or didn't urinate. This is not the case, of course, and every mystic I have met is thoroughly human. Each have their own peculiar tastes and dislikes. Each are very normal in their own way. What makes these individuals distinctive is their steadfast devotion to discover the truth within themselves. Instead of searching outside for peace, these mystics focus the majority of their energy to seek the truth within. Spend any time with such enlightened sages and you will automatically feel the pull to do the same.
I think this is perhaps what impressed me the most about Mataji. She put on absolutely no "airs" about her attainment. She was down to earth, personable, affectionate, and not self-conscious (in the bad sense of that term) in the least. She was simply delightful and I found myself won over by her graceful, natural charm. It was also at that moment when I realized the extent of Mataji's enlightenment. As I bowed my head to say goodbye to the "smoking" mother, Mataji said, with a smile, "You are my maharaj, my guru." At first I was a bit thrown off. I reflected to myself, "What could she possibly mean by that statement. I don't even know how to get train directions from Delhi to Hoshiarpur, much less know the inner secrets of the universe." Then it struck me and I understood her meaning. Instead of seeing God in only one form, Mataji sees God in every form, even in someone as completely ignorant as myself.
To Mataji, the beautiful saint of Manavta Mandir, there isn't just one God and many sinful creatures, or a God of Light and a World of Darkness; rather there is only one God manifesting throughout a myriad of forms.