Inner Quest


CouvertureBeing Blissful

As the Years Pass By

Reflections on Ageing

Post Box 1585
1654, Madarsa Road
Kashmere Gate
Delhi 110006


Old age, alas, is what awaits each and every living creature on Planet Earth. Sooner or later we all have to live through this dreaded winter of our lives. Unfortunately, it cannot be avoided. Those who live long enough will someday have to face the unpleasant fact that they are no longer youthful. Unless a person passes away early in life, he or she is fated to experience the problems that arise from having an ageing body and mind.

Have you met anyone with the extraordinary capacity to wave a magic wand and turn the elderly into lively lads and lovely lasses? I have heard it said in occult circles that some celestial beings are luckier than us in so far as they never age, being always in the springtime of life.

In these essays I have striven to show that growing old does not necessarily mean that you are doomed to suffer. On the contrary, by using their leisure time intelligently and creatively, in the various ways indicated in this book, it is indeed possible for the grey-haired to achieve in this very life a degree of delight and fulfilment never before known or imagined.

Retirees, who are older and presumably wiser than the rest of the community, could and indeed should take an interest in at least the major political, social, economic and environmental questions that affect the whole society. But if their focus of attention is merely confined to matters relating to their special interests – better health benefits or higher pensions, for example – such an attitude savours of selfishness and indifference to the welfare and happiness of other sections of the population. Would a narrow outlook based solely on self-interest endear the elderly to the younger members of the public? The latter, however, are more likely to regard the elderly with a certain reverence once the retirees become genuinely gripped by the problems and difficulties of all. Those who are advanced in years can participate in the public debates of the day, using the local and national media to express their views. They can counsel the community, doing all this and more while remaining seated in their warm and cosy chairs and enjoying the comforts of hearth and home. Armchair critics can contribute a great deal and stimulate thought. Then the world will show senior citizens the respect and deference that they truly deserve.

The aged are under no obligation to do anything for the betterment of the state as a whole: they have the freedom to do nothing. But they can, depending on their natural inclinations, devote the ample time at their disposal to tend their gardens, read over again their favourite books or the tomes that they had never got down to poring over, pursue their own interests and hobbies, contemplate the eternal verities, or do anything else that takes their fancy. Given their long experience and learning, each and every senior citizen is potentially capable of blossoming into a spiritual guide to a world that is shrouded under the dark clouds of ignorance and prejudice. The elderly will be of immense use to the younger generation who are still part of the workforce. No longer will old age pensioners be viewed as a liability to the community. No, quite the contrary, for the retirees will be seen instead as invaluable assets. Their declining years could well turn out to be their best and happiest period, especially when they start feeling wanted, loved and cared for by those who are younger than them.

Imagine a situation where the country, confronted with financial problems, rising prices, mass unemployment and homelessness, is traumatised by social unrest. Strikes and violent demonstrations are the order of the day. With the intention of diverting attention from the prevalent economic chaos, the political leaders plan to wage war on a foreign nation that many people perceive as a threat. The rulers falsely accuse that state of having weapons of mass destruction. The powerful politicians mount a propaganda campaign against that alien nation. The vast majority of citizens, being full of intense hatred, are ready to fight. Many sections of the national media support war and even glorify it. Only very few escape the fever of hostility.

Among the few dissenters is a nonagenarian gentleman, a genuinely gentle man, who has been and still is a lifelong pacifist. He collects the signatures of 150 other nonagenarian retirees from various parts of the country for a petition against the war. Thereafter the petition is printed on the first pages of several leading newspapers. The petition, which makes front-page news, reads as follows:

We, the undersigned, being nonagenarians, are old enough to remember the Second World War and the subsequent armed conflicts with all the attendant barbarism, brutality and bloodshed. We hereby express our total opposition to the forthcoming war. We also strongly protest against the production, distribution and sale of arms. We will have no truck with killers or the killing business.

We maintain that our government should enter into negotiations with our so-called enemies because negotiations, even seemingly endless negotiations, are preferable to military action involving the slaughter of soldiers and the destruction of innocent civilians.

Soon after the anti-war petition is published in the national papers, a septuagenarian preacher, who lives in an old folks’ home, gives a short but poignant speech during prime time television in which he touches upon the pain and suffering caused by bombing. He says, “I shall end this talk by asking you to ponder over two remarkable sayings of Jesus: ‘Put your sword back in its place because all who draw the sword will die by the sword’ and ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: they will be regarded as the sons of God’.”

Much to the surprise of the nonagenarians, their petition does dent the confidence of the warmongering public. There is a noticeable reduction in the enthusiasm of those who support military force for settling international disputes. For example, whereas in the past soldiers used to be cheered and clapped during military parades on the streets, the crowd would rather jeer them now. Needless to say, the soldiers’ morale becomes extremely low. Newspapers report that thousands of servicemen and servicewomen have deserted. An opinion poll shows that 90 % of voters are against the proposal to wage war.

The peace-loving people are grateful to the nonagenarians who took the trouble to show society the absurdity of war. It was they who saved the militaristic millions from themselves.

The chapter The Truth About Meditation highlights the importance of inner purification. If retirees use some of their leisure time for self-examination and self-observation they might eventually come by a state wherein they are at peace with themselves. What a blessing to be free from fear, anger and jealousy! Those who are no longer filled with resentments and have given up the habit of bearing grudges can be likened to sages. Such individuals will surely become instrumental in the moral and spiritual regeneration of humanity.


Being Blissful As the Years Pass By


The following passages have no sequential link. Based on my experience and that of other retirees, they are a collection of random reflections on the art of aging, not with pangs of regret and nostalgic wistfulness, but with feelings of very great happiness.



My career in the world of libraries did not last long. After having got a professional qualification as a librarian, I became a senior member of staff in the London-based British Library and the South Australian Parliamentary Library in Adelaide. Following twenty-five years of full-time employment, I took early retirement at the age of fifty-two. On that occasion my boss stated that he was sorry that I was leaving, especially because I had been responsible for introducing several new improvements to the library system. For years I had worked extremely hard; after returning home from work in the evenings, often I was too tired to eat, walk, read or watch TV. My mental and physical fatigue was compounded by back pains. I realised that I was at the end of my tether; I felt I had had enough. It was not so much a mid-life crisis experienced by those who become anxious about their advancing years as a yearning to quit the rat race – nay, run away from all my worldly responsibilities and grow into a sort of recluse who lives in blissful isolation for evermore. Today, approximately twenty-five years since I had given up working, it is time to make a correct assessment of the situation. I can say in all honesty that, although I have had my ups and downs in the course of a quarter of a century, on the whole, I have been feeling exceptionally cheerful. Therefore I have excellent credentials for writing these recollections, which sometimes extend to my early years as a student.



Thursday is the busiest day of the week for me, it being market day in Les Arcs-sur-Argens, the insignificant little Provençal town where we live. Here earth-shattering events hardly happen. Every few years there are mock medieval celebrations when the sound of medieval music puts men, women and children in a festive mood. Otherwise people would have to lead hundrum lives in this residential commune, where a fair number of retirees have all gone grey. Generally speaking, my pace of life is extremely slow but on Thursdays I feel stressed: I become the victim of forces beyond my control. The need to buy my provisions for a week – nuts, fruits, vegetables, cheese, yoghurt and bread – is never a problem; it is, in fact, quite a pleasure. But having to stomach the oldies’ long litany of complaints can be quite a trial.

“My grandson has given up marijuana,” remarked Madame Sophie, leaning on her walking stick for support. “And now he’s into heroin. All his new cronies are heroin addicts!”

All of a sudden Madame Marie-Louise pushed herself through the crowd of widows who had surrounded me and elbowed Madame Sophie out of the way. Having interrupted my conversation with Madame Sophie, Madame Marie-Louise proceeded to complain, “My arthritic knees make me suffer a million aches and pains. This month the pain has taken a turn for the worse. I simply can’t sleep.”

“Why the hell don’t you take painkillers?” screamed white-haired Madame Celine, cutting in on our conversation, while flaunting her new silken skirt that suited her slim frame. “You really shouldn’t bother others with personal problems, don’t you know?”

“Oh come on Celine, you liar,” countered Madame Marie-Louise, “in the past I’ve heard you troubling him with your private problems.”

“I don’t have personal problems but only international ones,” shouted Madame Celine, looking at me eagerly with a forced smile.

“As the war in the Middle East is a genuine worry, may I visit you this evening?”

“Yes, Madame Celine,” I answered with some hesitation. After I had, so to speak, made myself available for public consultation, there was just enough time to do my shopping. That I had to do in a great hurry. I was just in time to catch the minibus for transporting home my shopping trolley with all the fruits and greens. I breathed a sigh of relief when the minibus reached our gates.

“I had to tell a fib,” confessed Madame Celine with a girlish giggle, seating herself on a chair in our sitting room that evening. “By declaring in public that I was interested in international problems, I showed that silly bunch of bitches that I’m intellectually superior to all of them, ha! ha!”

“But aren’t you really keen on discussing world problems?” I asked.

“World problems?” Madame Celine repeated. “I don’t care two hoots whether the world goes to rack and ruin! At my age I only care about myself – my problems, my health, my money and that’s about all.”

“Is this why you wanted to visit me?” I inquired, feeling slightly annoyed.

“The real reason for the visit was quite different,” she explained. “Please tell all your friends that, as I’m dying to sell my villa quickly, I’m offering it for sale at a greatly reduced price. I urgently need the money to get into a first-class old people’s home.”

In the course of growing old I realised that it is possible for all sections of society to console the elderly a great deal. We can do this by giving a patient and compassionate hearing to all their problems, grievances and complaints. We can become good listeners and lend a sympathetic ear. At the same time, be careful never to foist your difficulties and problems on the aged. On the contrary, can we not try to lift their heavy burdens from their aching shoulders, thus providing them with heaps of happiness?



Fifty years ago when I was a dark-haired young man, instead of being a white-haired retiree, I had many friends. Most of my companions of yesteryear have passed away and the few surviving ones have little or no interest whatsoever in meeting me. When I occasionally give two Australian friends a tinkle they are more than pleased; if I ring a pal in London he is overjoyed. The odd thing is that all these three mates are males of Asian origin who no longer work. A few friends, who are considerably younger than me, feel scared to give me their email details or phone numbers. Fortunately, I bear no grudge against them. I respect their wishes to distance themselves from me. These companions are, quite rightly, exercising their right to remain undistrubed, especially by those on the verge of decrepitude and eventual death. On the whole, the truth of the matter is that almost everywhere the elderly are evaded by the young, except in situations where there is a love-based link, such as the bond between spouses or soul mates. Regardless of their age, people who are extremely wealthy, powerful or famous will draw hordes of people like a magnet. The Indian sage and philosopher, J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986), for instance, was continually pestered by admirers for spiritual advice throughout his long life, and even when terminally ill with cancer. It can be a blessing when people leave you alone in certain circumstances, particularly when solitude is infinitely preferable to the state of being surrounded by fans who burn with curiosity.

Several decades ago I used to be indundated with letters. Consequently, each week I had to spend many precious hours answering my correspondents. Nowadays, however, it is rarely that I receive a personal letter. I do get lots of official letters, bank statements and bills for payment. I am indeed happy about the great lack of letters. This enviable situation is excellent in so far as I have additional time for better things. Once again the dearth of letters is further evidence of the fact that, being an oldie, I am of little interest to the world. In truth, I do not in any way feel bitter about the marginalization of the aged. On the contrary, there is in me a certain surge of relief and gladness. It would make me happier to live the life of a hermit than to associate with lots of friends, especially if the latter feign friendship and cleverly conceal their deep dislike of me.

Lest anyone pictures me as a friendless miserable man, it is necessary to dispel that impression by stating that I do have a handful of true friends, but I hardly meet them: they are scattered in different continents. Over the years many friends have come and gone, but these few friendships, which have stood the test of time, continue to flourish. Despite my advanced years none of them has had the heart to abandon me. Among these close friends six Asians – Sunil Wijayawickrame, Sebastian Cavalho, Chandi Scott, Andrew Scott, Upali Salgado and Usula Wijesuriya – stand out since their lives exemplify the virtues of Metta – loving-kindness and Karuna – compassion. Houses of friendship last forever, provided they were built with the bricks of virtue, whereas houses of friendship based on the principle of mutual benefit – symbiotic relationships – crumble away after a time, like dwellings constructed on shifting sand.



Come Christmas, the season of goodwill, we have to give and receive gift-wrapped presents as is the time-honoured custom. I do not mind following this ritual year after year, although I am not a Christian, because any material offering should, strictly speaking, be accompanied by that non-material element called affection. Donations devoid of affection are like flowers bereft of fragrance. The love that activates the giving of a gift, if it is really there, is infinitely more important than the gift itself. Otherwise, making someone a present of something often becomes an empty or meaningless gesture, designed to deceive the recipient of the gift into regarding it as an amity-inspired deed when, in fact, it was driven by animosity. How often is a gift the outcome of pure love? These days, unfortunately, seldom is anything offered with no strings attached.

In my student days I would spend an entire day shopping in the West End, buying suitable books for about two dozen friends. The following day would be taken up with inscribing their names inside the front covers, packing the books and taking them to a post office. A few days after Boxing Day, I would receive handwritten letters of appreciation from all the recipients. Without exception they would all express their thanks. Hearing from these friends was as much a joy as the exciting process of carefully selecting titles for their varied tastes, temperaments and interests.

Several decades later, it being the 21st century now, I still enjoy buying Christmas presents and dispatching them by post in time. If I send a dozen packets, believe it or not, on average, only about two recipients send me written acknowledgements. Interestingly, those who remember to write back invariably belong to my generation.

What am I to do? I never declare war on the thoughtless and the ill-mannered. My deep affection for them never diminishes, for they are also part of the world in which I have to live. I accept them with a sad smile, feeling pity for them sometimes, in the same way that I resign myself to foul weather.



Mr V. Kulkarni, a former colleague of mine from the British Museum library (now called the British Library), who as head of his large family of uncles, aunts, nephews and so forth, would advise family members on many matters. He was a highly respected father figure to all the younger relations. A learned Brahmin with a liberal outlook on life, Kulkarni became a role model not only for his family but also for all his friends like me. Who would not be pleased when the kinsfolk look up to you? My relations, by contrast, have never shown respect and deference to me. I am not disappointed with them. I accept the situation with equanimity.

Gone are the days when young people treated the superannuated with respect. Sometimes, though, it is still possible to see how some children offer their seats to the elderly in trains and buses. Boys and girls who have had a good and strict upbringing try to be helpful to the aged in various ways. They are delighted to carry the luggage or shopping for the retired, particularly if the latter are infirm. But if such assistance is not forthcoming, it would seem somewhat undignified if a person who is advanced in years were to demand it or to make a scene.

Increasingly, nowadays, the young seem to ignore my age and treat me as one of their peers. Why do they do this? I wonder. It is not that I am looking younger and younger with every year that passes, but rather it is the prevailing ethos to treat everyone as an equal. This, I think, is the explanation. C’est l’égalité! That great battle cry of the French Revolution of 1789, which was once expressive of the opposition to absolute monarchy and the system of class privilege of the bumptious Bourbons, is today expressive of the youthful opposition to the condescending ways of their elders. Young persons, in other words, like to be treated as adults. Since I dislike talking down to those who are still in the springtime of their lives, I treat them instead as my younger schoolmates, and so it has become possible to have a harmonious relationship with them.



Painters like to depict wise men as white-haired and bearded. In many societies the aged are venerated as sources of sagacity. This attitude is part of our subconscious. It goes without saying that the old have had more experience of the world than the young. Therefore, if I choose to offer unsolicited advice to the youth of today, doing so in the mistaken belief that the older generation is somehow wiser and superior to the younger one, the latter would surely turn a deaf ear to me. The march of time certainly brings with it experiences of various sorts but not necessarily wisdom and intelligence. At any age a human being can be wise or foolish. The learned and the ignorant can be found in every age group. Similarly, regardless of age, in every society one can meet mortals of good or bad character. Those in their salad days would frown upon men like me, if we were to dole out advice to them merely because we have reached retirement age. Since we are not taken seriously, we can cease using wise words. But if we live in such a way that there is never a fall in our moral standards, can we not thereby set a good example to the younger generation?



I had spent the whole day poring over history textbooks inside an airless room of the Colombo Public Library. Needless to say, I felt the need for some fresh air. So I dashed out into Galle Road to visit one of my favourite haunts along the seashore. How I loved the vast stretch of beach between Dehiwela and Mount Lavinia where the roaring waves would break on the coast! That evening I saw a glorious sunset. As the dark red disc in the distance was slowly sinking into the massive expanse of the Indian ocean the skies took on a crimson glow.

While strolling along the beach with my bare feet, leaving short-lived footprints in the sand, I ran into an 80-year-old acquaintance, an arthritic lady called Rita. Beside her on a leash walked a cute little Alsatian puppy called Daisy.

“Rita, are you in good health?” I asked in greeting.

“I’m feeling great,” replied the American lady. “My pains seem to have disappeared ever since a friend gave me Daisy six months ago.”

“So glad to hear the good news,” I said, feeling a trifle surprised.

“I followed the advice of a medical expert,” she remarked. “This doctor asked me to adopt a pet.”

“Why?” I inquired.

“I was told that keeping a pet and caring for it increases endorphins in your body,” she said.

“What are endorphins?” I asked, never having heard that word before.

“I was told that the term endorphin refers to a pain-reducing chemical produced in the body,” Rita explained. “You see, this gives a fillip to my immune system.”

“Lucky you!” I exclaimed, shaking the lady’s hand warmly. I was pleased to see a glow of satisfaction in her shrivelled face. For about five minutes we were quiet as we gazed into the stunning skies which were ablaze with various changing colours. It was then that I said to myself, “I’m of course delighted that Rita no longer suffers the agony of arthritis, still I feel that I can’t bring myself to keep a pet purely for therapeutic reasons. Loving an animal for its own sake should be given priority over the incidental health benefits of keeping it. What a way to find happiness!”



Hyde Park in London was a riot of colour that cold and windy afternoon in October. Wrapped up in a long woollen overcoat from Kashmir, I was strolling along the footpaths, enjoying the autumnal colours, and heading towards Knightsbridge.

“Susu, hello there!” said Professor Stanley at the top of his voice. “I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing your brown face for ages.” Stanley, a retired professor of chemistry, shook my hand warmly, remembering me as a friend to whom he could always confess his misdeeds. Funnily enough, Stanley always regarded me as a priest although I was not wearing a cassock with a dog collar.

“Shall we go for a saunter in Hyde Park?” I asked. “If you unburden yourself to me you’ll feel happier afterwards.”

“Excellent idea!” Stanley exclaimed.

As we walked across the picturesque park Stanley began bringing his worries out into the open.

“During the time I was the head of a department in the university, that was years ago, I used to have an attractive French secretary called Josephine,” he recalled. “To cut a long story short, from the day she started working in my office we both knew that the chemistry was right between us. Josephine became my girlfriend for two decades but we never married. As I’m a loner I can’t stand the thought of living for long with anyone, be it male or female, be it foe or friend.” Stanley stopped talking for awhile and took a puff on his pipe. “Unable to understand that I’m a solitary, Josephine writes me letters once every few weeks, urging me to marry her,” he complained. “I’m so unnerved by every letter that I immediately feel the urgent need to go out and walk this problem off. Walking makes me happy. That’s why I visit Hyde Park from time to time.”

“Stanley,” I advised him, “whenever you walk off an unpleasant feeling, that act can only provide you some temporary relief from suffering. That’s no lasting solution because the problem will keep on cropping up in the future. Why don’t you strive for a permanent solution?”

“Susu, have you any suggestions,” he implored me.

“I think you should meet Josephine soon and be absolutely frank with her,” I remarked. “You can make it abundantly clear to Josephine that, although your love of her will never diminish, marriage is out of the question since you love living alone, like a hermit. Tell her that she must resign herself to that displeasing fact. Josephine might grumble about the matter at first, but sooner or later she will swallow the bitter pill.”

“Yes, I’ll tell her everything,” said Stanley.

“If you do your part, soon you’ll be free of worries,” I observed.

“Please spell out what you mean by that,” he urged.

“Drop your guilt feelings relating to this question,” I explained.

“That will surely happen during my daily meditation session,” observed Stanley as he beamed with confidence.

Stanley hugged me tightly while saying goodbye.



Whenever I go for a walk, it is not so much a means to happiness as the expression of the happiness that is already inherent in me.

Whenever I take a walk I like to be alone; Claudia and I often walk together; it is rarely that we get into prolonged conversations.

“Observe the beauty of that magpie on the wing” or “did you hear a lamb bleating in the field?” she would say. I dislike going on sightseeing tours with people: their noise and constant chatter stand in the way of one’s quiet appreciation of nature, architecture, scenery and everything else.

Petroleum-polluted roads have to be avoided: quiet country lanes and mountain paths are better for hiking. Beware of snakes and dangerous animals; never forget your first-aid kit. On scorching hot days in the south of France, where I live, I wear a hat to protect myself from the sun’s rays.

Of what value are walks if we fail to commune with Mother Nature and appreciate the wondrous beauty of the trees, animals, mountains, skies and other things that has been untouched by the hand of man? Are we capable of drinking in the marvellous wild flowers in a forest, if our minds are cluttered with a thousand worries and anxieties? Happiness is the heavenly hallmark of those who have come by the spiritual realm of creative emptiness.



I decided to look Eva up during my forthcoming visit to Basel, especially to discuss some of her private worries. During my previous trips to Basel I had made the acquaintance of this reclusive writer. I have a vivid recollection of our first meeting. About six years ago at the Goetheanum in Basel, the famous Rudolf Steiner centre, Eva and I had chatted about books over coffee.

I kept phoning Eva up, wanting a rendezvous, but every time she would turn down my offer. I had a gut feeling that Eva was not playing a waiting game.

“I’m not at all keen on meeting anybody, pardon me,” she would say.

Because of my insistence that we should meet for tea, Eva eventually agreed.

“At my age, being an octogenarian, I can’t climb the hill where the Goetheanum is situated,” she said. “Let’s meet at the Migros restaurant near the station at 4 o’clock.” I was overjoyed that my visit to Basel was going to bear fruit.

This plump lady of Austrian origin chose a quiet corner in the restaurant. Because of Eva’s grey permed hair and heavy make-up she looked considerably younger than her actual age.

“I feel very honoured to be interviewed,” she said. “Although I’m the author of several German books hardly anyone writes to me about my works. Please feel free to ask any question.”

“I must confess that I haven’t read any of your books – I don’t know German,” I said. “But I’d like to probe into your life, if you don’t mind.”

“Ask me anything although I’m not a person of importance,” she said with a smile.

“Would you object if I were to call you a misanthrope?” I asked.

“I’m not a hater of mankind,” Eva corrected me. “On principle, I’m prepared to meet any human being who is selfless and caring. Since saintly persons have become an extinct species, I’ve decided to live like a hermit!”

“Does this mean that there is none in this world with whom you can have a close relationship?” I inquired.

“With my husband there was only a physical relationship but no deep bond,” she replied. “Divorce was inevitable. Thereafter the quarrelsome man married a highly strung chain-smoker. Divorce was once again inevitable. He died during an asthmatic attack and she developed cancer. C’est la vie! As regards my children, the first was a boy. Recently my only son died in his sleep at the age of fifty-five; the cause of death remains unknown. I have three daughters. Helen is mentally handicapped: she is incapable of speech. Irene and her unmarried partner live in a different part of the country. All her time is devoted to raising her two daughters. Although she is extremely busy, Irene visits me sometimes; whenever Irene makes a phone call she routinely asks about the state of my health. You see, she never forgets to do her duty. Finally, there is my daughter Clementine who lives in Paris. Her affection for me is genuine. As she lives abroad we rarely meet. Unasked, Clementine sends me health foods, medicinal herbs and even pillows filled with lavender to ensure that I have sound sleep.”

“Eva, I can see that you are cut off and isolated even from the few remaining members of your family,” I observed.

“That’s exactly how it should be!” remarked Eva, her eyes sparkling with joy.

“If you don’t mind, I‘d like to go to the railway station now and renew my annual pass,” said Eva, picking up her bag and slowly rising from her chair. “I’ll be back in thirty minutes.”

“Take your own time,” I said.

I noticed that the feeble lady walked at a snail’s pace. Eva returned an hour later.

“I get the impression that the aged have to fend for themselves,” I remarked.

“How true!” she blurted out, with a rather miserable expression on her wrinkled face.

“Yes, I have to look after myself without help from anyone,” she said. “I’m in two minds about whether to continue living in an independent and self-reliant way or to seek outside assistance. I can’t make up my mind. I don’t know which of the two ways is more conducive to the happiness of the aged. May I discuss this question?”

“Please do so,” I said.

“Rabbits and foxes use their burrows as residences, refuges and retreats. I, likewise, use my little flat for the same purposes,” explained Eva. “With every month that passes my body becomes weaker and weaker. I don’t have the stamina to do any shopping; I exhaust myself cleaning the floors and dusting the bookshelves and washing my clothes. I’ve no choice in this matter.”

“Can’t you employ a cleaner?” I asked.

“I can’t afford it,” she said tearfully in a tired voice. “You don’t seem to know that our pensions are inadequate – woefully inadequate.”

“Have you seriously considered the possibility of entering an old folks’ home?” I said, hoping that Eva would not take offence at my proposal.

“I don’t stand a ghost of a chance of getting into one,” she commented. “Unless you’re very wealthy you won’t be accepted. The West is supposed to be prosperous. We waste our money on wars, luxury cars, useless things like expensive clothes, jewellery and whatnot but neither the state nor the private corporations have the compassion to look after persons in my age group who are now in the evening of their lives. How scandalous! People have no pangs of conscience; they have become heartless. If we were living, not in a profit-orientated world, but in one characterised by respect and affection for the elderly, nursing homes for them would be available wherein there is only a nominal charge or no charge whatsoever. What I suggest might seem like a dream. We have the means to implement such a plan. But what we lack is not the money but the moral motivation and the heart to do it – these things are sadly missing.” Suddenly Eva became pensive; she temporarily forgot my presence there and stared out of the window. Was she watching the heavy traffic outside? Was she looking at the behaviour of the excited tourists along the crowded street? I was puzzled by her conduct. “Sir, I have a solution!” she exclaimed, an exultant smile spreading over Eva’s face, for no longer did she have a mournful expression. “Yes, I do have a positive solution! Instead of grumbling about the desperate plight of the aged I’ll throw light on the long forgotten art of growing old gracefully. From this very moment I will start practising that art.”

“Hip, hip, hooray!” I exclaimed with joy.

“It is because we are given to complaining all the time that the elderly have created the impression of being in their second childhood with reduced mental capacities,” observed Eva. “Just because we have become somewhat weak in body does it necessarily follow that some of our mental faculties have diminished or disappeared altogether? As far as my mind is concerned, never before in my life has it been as alert as it is right now. I must confess that there is in me, quite rightly, a tinge of pride in my grey matter! I’m so glad that my intellect continues to evolve, thanks to the fact that I’m a voracious reader.”

I asked, “In practical terms, what changes will take place in your lifestyle?”

“I will tighten my belt and never again want to lead a life of luxury,” answered Eva. “I’ll opt for a life of austerity. I remember pretty well those dark days of great severity during the Second World War. Because I ate little my body became healthy. How some well-to-do retired people gorge themselves on unnecessary foods and thereby become prone to heart attacks, diabetes and many other diseases!”

“Wonderful!” I exclaimed.

“My modest pension will be sufficient,” she opined. “How humiliating to depend on handouts from the government! I can’t bear the thought of becoming an aged beggar. I can’t pester society for money or anything else. Surely I can make do with what little I have. I’ve had after all an entire lifetime to save for a rainy day, hadn’t I? If I expect society to provide me with the basic necessities I’ll surely be branded as a parasite or a scrounger. If we cease expecting any special favours from society, won’t the younger generation show at least some respect and deference to us? Well, for one thing they’ll stop regarding us as a burden on their shoulders, which, in turn, will usher in a lasting peace between the old generation and the new.”

“Eva, would you care for a slice of chocolate cake?” I said.

“Oh, no thanks, I don’t eat between meals,” replied Eva. “But I’d love a cuppa.”

We stopped our conversation for ten minutes for refreshments.


“I won’t need the services of a cleaning lady, let alone the help of a housemaid, since I can tidy up the flat myself, although I’ll be working at an extremely slow speed,” remarked Eva. “That doesn’t matter because I have a lot of time at my disposal. Not only will I be saving large sums of money, but I’ll be able to do the work according to my own specific requirements. Believe me, I’ll be so happy in my housework!”

“Are those the only advantages?” I inquired.

“No, there will be other benefits,” replied Eva. “As a consequence of doing some work my health will improve. In order to prevent my muscles from atrophying, it’s necessary to move and exercise the entire body, including the limbs. Even doing a small amount of work is better than not doing any. Many retirees, alas, stay in one place and do nothing. I’d hate to vegetate, degenerate and eventually die!”

“Is there any particular message that you would like to send to your fellow octogenarians?” I asked.

Eva declared, “My message is as follows: ‘Dear friend, during your childhood you were well looked after. That was many moons ago. Afterwards, you have had a lifetime to learn the art of looking after yourself. Now, during your advanced years, when you have become a senior citizen, if you care to practise what you have learnt, there will be an abundant supply of happiness in your declining years.’”

“If you are confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your life after an accident, or a fatal illness, or if you are unable to look after yourself because of a massive stroke, what will happen to you?” I asked with loving concern for Eva.

“This is a hypothetical question,” said Eva, shrugging her shoulders in a rather dismissive gesture. “Happily, I am not in such a helpless situation. However, if I were ever beset with a problem of such magnitude, I’ll simply try my best to gain admission to an old people’s home. If admission is refused because I won’t be able to pay my medical expenses, I think the solution is self-treatment. What will happen to me if I become a vegetable? Frankly, I don’t know the answer. But as long as possible, with various medicinal herbs and yoga I will   try to cure myself. If my condition is beyond remedy, I will fast, chant, meditate and live in silence, hoping for a miraculous cure. If I should die, will anyone shed any tears?”


“The restaurant is so stuffy – shouldn’t we go out?” Eva urged.

We decided to take a breather. Holding on to her walking stick, Eva staggered towards the door. Every step she took was an effort. While sitting on a bench in the shade of a huge beech, a white-haired gentleman greeted me warmly. He was Gottlieb, a wealthy Swiss mathematician whom I used to meet at the London-based British Library. The pale-faced man looked troubled. The corners of his mouth drooped as though he was about to break down in tears. I introduced Gottlieb to Eva; they shook hands.

“Are you all right?” I inquired.

“No, not at all,” he snapped. “My worries are fourfold: first, my lady friend has walked out on me after she found a younger man; second, Karin, my only daughter and offspring, didn’t bother to send me a card on my 70th birthday last week; third, my purse has been stolen; and fourth, for the umpteenth time my new novel has been turned down by a publisher.”

“Throw away all your worries, including your fourfold ones,” cut in Eva. “All these trivial things belong to the rubbish bin. Sir, count your blessings and be glad right now. Don’t deprive yourself of happiness which is your birthright!”

Without taking his leave of us, and without uttering a word, Gottlieb hurried down the road.

“I don’t think the elderly realise how much they bore others with all their talk about health matters and psychological problems – difficult situations relating to their fear of death and their conflicts with annoying relations,” Eva observed. “The aged never tire of chattering about how much society in general, and their kith and kin in particular, are neglectful of them. Since self-centredness is part and parcel of human nature, the old must not expect from others complete or total dedication. As regards me, I am more than thankful to receive some assistance. Obtaining some help from the world is far better than not getting anything. As I have a grateful attitude, rarely do I complain. Actually, I take a greater interest in what services I can render to society than in what services people can provide me. It is more important to give than to receive.”

“Would you please elaborate on what you have just mentioned,” I said.

“There is a certain spiritual dimension to my life that is probably unknown to you. This is an important contributory factor to my happiness. My happiness springs from the fact that most of my time, money and energy is channelled into looking after my mentally incapacitated daughter called Helen. Frequently I visit the special institution near Berne where she lives. I take her out for walks, discuss questions relating to her health with doctors and experts and I check the records about the sums of money spent on her welfare. Helen has never been able to speak in all her life but the non-verbal communication between Helen and I is truly extraordinary. My complete commitment to my daughter manifests itself not so much through a sense of duty as pure love. Because my life is inspired by this noble end I have a deep sense of fulfilment that is sadly lacking in the lives of many a retired person. Sir, now you know the secret source of the refreshing waters of my happiness.”

“Will those wonderful waters dry up if Helen predeceases you?” I asked. “That’s a painful question to ask, pardon me.”

Eva gazed at the ceiling pensively. “In a situation of that kind I think I’ll increase my devotion to my literary work. Various readers of  my writings have remarked that they are full of psychological insights. In my own way I shall continue making my modest contribution to the spiritual enlightenment of mankind.”


Give More Time to Leisurely Pastimes

Let’s Help the Down-and-Outs

Why Be Upset When Treated with Indifference?

Continue Being Helpful to the Ungrateful

When Loving-Kindness Blossoms

Recite Inspired Poems

Speak Out Against Injustice

Find Joy in Letter Writing

Be Kind to Animals

Books Are the Best Friends

Reading Brings Its Own Rewards

The Truth About Meditation


Take Delight in Detachment

Why Take Your Own Life?

Reflections on Happiness

Gardening Gladdens the Heart

Being Blissful As the Years Pass By





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Enrich Your Inner Life

Post Box 1585
1654, Madarsa Road
Kashmere Gate
Delhi 110006

All the leading religious traditions and scriptures of the world have been a rich source of inspiration throughout my lifelong spiritual quest. The search entailed a lot of hard work. I travelled extensively, read widely and gained much knowledge. I also had the chance to get to know quite a number of gurus, yogis, sages, mystics, Sufi saints and philosophers. I have drawn heavily on what I had found out first-hand from these remarkable personalities. These essays are peppered with descriptions of spiritual practices and my personal observations on them. Fortunately, I had profitably studied these practices and experimented with them at various times. In this book, I have blended together the age-old wisdom with useful hints and practical suggestions. The net result is a work that informs, instructs, delights and even entertains the spiritual aspirant.

Although I regard myself as being a liberal person with an open-minded attitude to all religions, I find it difficult to accept any religion lock, stock and barrel. Mine is an eclectic approach to religion in the sense that I choose and accept only those aspects of religion that are good, reasonable and conducive to spiritual progress. When reading religious writings I like to ignore and leave aside any passage that somehow seems foreign to the spirit of true religion with its emphasis on absolute truth and compassion. There is of course an element of subjectivity in such an approach.

To illustrate various points, it became necessary to use apt quotations from the sacred writings of different faiths. These chapters therefore have a certain universal appeal. Every right- thinking reader realises the importance of world peace. That ideal will always remain a dream unless we first of all promote religious harmony and mutual understanding between different creeds. The appreciation of what is best in each religion is the way to achieve that goal.

A rainbow is beautiful to behold because it is a congenial combination of different colours. It is difficult to imagine a single-coloured rainbow. The charm of civilisation consists in its cultural and religious diversity. Like a sweet-scented garland of flowers in a wide range of colours, our world is all the richer and a much more colourful place because of the emergence of countless creeds in the course of human history. Needless to say, we enjoy having exotic foods from foreign lands. In the same way, if we only try, it would become possible to read with relish the religious writings of other societies.

In this book I have examined the question of spiritual development from the vantage points of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Jainism—these being the major religions of the world in terms of numbers. Solely for the purpose of quickly, efficiently and strainlessly enriching our inner lives, I have selected several religious practices.

Paradoxically, climbing up the stony footpath that leads to the summit of spirituality is not difficult so long as the spiritual aspirant has diligence and devotion. The mountaineer’s rucksack must not be heavy. If the bag is empty and extremely light, one may rapidly reach the top and see the light. The greatest obstacle on the path to the peak is the tremendous weight of the psychological baggage that travellers bring along with them.

It is crucial that we must divest ourselves of our psychological baggage, as we are burdened at present with suitcases that overflow with resentments, fears, vanities, various cravings and a thousand other headaches. What is the best way to get rid of them? This is a highly controversial issue. It is up to the reader to decide.

The essays in this book fall into two categories: essays concerned with the theistic ways of moral self-purification and essays that deal with the non-theistic means to reach the supreme state of stainlessness. Spiritual aspirants can try a method or a combination of methods, depending on their natural inclinations and interests.


  • Why Be Possessed by Possessions ?
  • The Ideal of Selfless Service
  • Plunging into the Spiritual Heart
  • The Benefits of Fasting
  • Reading Enriches the Mind
  • Religious Writings Are Only Guides
  • Draw Inspiration from the Lives of Saints
  • Listen to Sacred Music
  • The Inner Sound
  • How Devotion Helps
  • How Buddhists Express Their Devotion
  • Sri Pada — the Sacred Interfaith Mountain
  • The Religious and Recreational Value of Pilgrimages
  • Spiritual Renewal Through Pilgrimages
  • Pilgrimage to Mecca
  • Impressions of a Pilgrimage to India
  • The Reward for Renunciation
  • Science and Spirituality
  • Ponderings on Prayer
  • The Kingdom Is Within
  • Surrender Oneself to the Most High
  • Be Aware of the Mysterious Presence Everywhere
  • The Vedantic View of Jesus
  • The Significance of May
  • Our Kinship With Other Animals
  • Uncover Your Past
  • Sorting Out Stage Fright
  • Living in the Eternal Now
  • Unwind the Mind
  • The Relaxed Mind
  • The Taboo on Idolatry
  • Living With Suffering
  • What Happens During Meditation?

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Major Religions of India

New insights into Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism

New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass



Religion should heighten the intelligence of man instead of reducing it to servility, where he is prepared to accept any dogma with an attitude of unquestioning acquiescence. Is a mind given to blind believing a religious mind? Surely only the mind intent on critical investigation deserves to be looked upon as being truly religious. What is the use of religion, if it does not elevate the mind, so that it becomes a fine instrument that is highly sceptical, alert and ever-watchful? The illumined mind, constantly awake, naturally becomes a light to the world.

Let us hearken to the words of the Buddha:


“Watchfulness is the road of immortality:

Unwatchfulness is the road of death.

The watchful ones never die:

Those who fail to watch are already as dead.”




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Divine Messengers of Our Time

(Mahatma Gandhi, Yogaswami, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Ramdas, Swami Sivananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, Srila Prabhupada, Peace Pilgrim and Bishrul Hafi)

Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications


The Strange Saint of Sri Lanka

Very little information is available about the early life of Yogaswami (1872 -1964), the famous mystic and spiritual master of Sri Lanka. His mother passed away when he was still an infant. Then he was sent to live with an uncle in Columbuthurai where most of his life was spent. He was raised in the Hindu faith by his aunt. The boy was first educated in a Tamil school and later in a Christian institution called St Patrick's College where he was probably introduced to Christianity. Although at school he did not study beyond the seventh or eighth standard, he became proficient in Tamil and English.

We know that he was employed as a storekeeper in the Irrigation Department at Kilinochi where he worked efficiently and punctiliously. His leisure was devoted to practising meditation and memorising hymns in Tamil and Sanskrit. Even later in life he loved reciting them with religious fervour. It is said that in 1897 the youthful Yogaswami attended a public meeting in Jaffna that was addressed by Swami Vivekananda, the celebrated exponent of Hinduism in the West. When Vivekananda, who had a busy schedule, began his talk by saying that “The time is short but the subject is vast”, Yogaswami left the meeting immediately after understanding Vivekananda's words in an esoteric way. He had suddenly realised that the subject of God is immense whereas even an entire lifetime can be too short for God-realisation.


Yogaswami's guru was a swami called Chellappa who wore dirty rags and lived by begging in the manner of a traditional sannyasin. Many regarded Chellappa as a curious mixture of extreme eccentricity and holiness because, among his other personal peculiarities, he pelted his admirers with stones and used obscene language. Only a few ardent devotees had the guts to go near him. It is not difficult to understand why Chellappa acquired a reputation as a mad man. But he was in fact a spiritually advanced soul.


Chellappa put to the test Yogaswami's sincerity, sense of purpose and patience by subjecting him to rigorous trials. Both of them used to cook and eat together. Sometimes, just before eating, Chellappa used to dash to pieces the cooking pot containing the food. That was not all. In the scorching heat Chellappa would take out Yogaswami, promising him a refreshing bath, and after walking for miles they would return without having had a bath. In the immediate presence of Chellappa, his disciple Yogaswami had to practise spiritual austerities continuously for a period of forty days. Some of Chellappa's traits, as we shall see, rubbed off onto Yogaswami.


As a wandering ascetic Yogaswami walked the length and breadth of the palm-fringed tropical island, visited many Sri Lankan temples and holy places, and eventually returned to Jaffna. He made a pilgrimage to India during the years 1934 to 1940. Once he visited the renowned saint of Tiruvannamalai --- Ramana Maharshi. Yogaswami remarked that he did not go to this sage with any desire but he simply went and stayed for about an hour in the presence of Ramana who did not speak at all. Yogaswami remarked that Ramana was a “great hero” (maha viran). The teachings of Yogaswami and Ramana have got a lot in common, especially the spiritual instruction “summa iru” which means “simply be”, “let be” or “just be”. It denotes the tranquil state of sahaja samadhi of an enlightened person --- the state of awareness that is choiceless and effortless. Translated differently, “summa iru” means “Be still!” To illustrate this instruction or teaching, both Yogaswami and Ramana were fond of quoting the Bible: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46: 10).



Yogaswami had a set of favourite aphorisms that he loved to repeat when devotees or strangers called on him. It was from his guru Chellappa that Yogaswami had first learnt these lines. These are called the Great Sayings (Mahavakyas). It is generally accepted that these four spiritual truths, which are often quoted nowadays, contain the essence of Yogaswami's teachings:

  1. Oru pollappum illai : There is no evil at all, nothing is wrong. “Good” and “evil” are man-made distinctions. From the standpoint of the Absolute there is neither good nor bad. What we call “evil” is part of the Leela or play of the Lord. One cannot understand His ways or decisions. What one considers to be bad or objectionable may in fact have a Divine purpose and may even be a blessing in disguise.

  2. Muludum unmai: All is Truth (the whole thing is true). The sage who is fully realised sees the entire universe as a manifestation of God. He is not separate from the universe for He is Himself the universe. What we see as the created universe, the manifest and the unmanifest, are in fact, extensions of the Creator Himself. So the jivanmukta sees God in every tree, in every grain of sand, in every living creature and in every inanimate object. God is not separate from what He created.

  1. Naam Ariyom: We do not know. We know nothing. With our narrow conditioned minds we are incapable of knowing the Unborn, the Uncreated and the Unconditioned. Our minds are limited instruments that can only comprehend things of a mundane nature. But the mind cannot know God. Besides, we are incapable of understanding the ways of God.

  2. Eppavo Mudintha Karyam: The event was completed long ago. It was all over long ago. Everything has been pre-ordained. Man may like to think that he can determine the course of his life and in a general sense even shape the course of human affairs. It feeds the vanity of man to think that he can shape the future. But man is a mere instrument in the hands of God. It is God alone who controls the past, present and future. Ego-centred man prides in the belief that he has free will when in actuality he is a mere puppet in the hands of an unseen power. One had better accept this fact and surrender oneself to God.

In 1970, a few years after the death of Yogaswami, a booklet of mine was published called Homage to Yogaswami. The following is a revised version of my memorable interview with this extraordinary spiritual master:

Even when Yogaswami was alive he had a considerable reputation in Sri Lanka and India as a truly enlightened sage. His devotees naturally tended to exaggerate his spiritual accomplishments. He had been hailed as the greatest seer the world had known since Shankara who was born in the eighth century A.D. There were sceptics who dismissed Yogaswami as just another yogi with psychic powers. Even those who questioned whether he had been fundamentally transformed in the spiritual sense did nevertheless readily concede that he had extraordinary powers. Yogaswami was reputed to have been remarkably clairvoyant. He was known to disappear from one place in space and reappear at several places at the same time. Three of his devotees claimed to have met him at the same moment in time in places as far distant as Jaffna (Sri Lanka), Madras and London. One of his close friends recalled incidents which illustrated that anything wished by Yogaswami immediately materialised. For instance, this person once accompanied Yogaswami on a long walk in the country across many miles of rice fields. Having experienced the pangs of hunger and fatigue, Yogaswami had casually wished for a car ride back to town. No sooner had he uttered this wish than there were several cars on the scene. The drivers of the cars were all requesting Yogaswami to step into their cars. The drivers were vying with each other for the privilege of being of some assistance to a holy man. On this occasion Yogaswami had raised his hands and exclaimed how dangerous it was to wish! Spiritually liberated persons, I was told, were incapable of wishing in the psychological sense as their egos had dissolved but their wishes were confined to purely physical needs. On another occasion, at the end of one of Yogaswami's rare visits to Colombo, a large crowd of admirers had thronged a railway station in Colombo to see his departure. Some devotees were chanting hymns in Sanskrit and Tamil while a few others were offering him garlands of flowers. It was getting late and one of Yogaswami's friends had alerted him to the importance of catching his train in time. “Don't worry,” replied Yogaswami with assurance, “the train cannot leave without me.” That evening there had been engine trouble and the train failed to start at the right time. After leisurely greeting all his friends Yogaswami finally decided to enter his railway compartment and the train thereupon started to move.

Although I had heard of Yogaswami there were several reasons why I had never felt a compelling urge to visit him up to the time of my interview. First, at that time, I could not afford the train fare to Jaffna which is in the far north of Sri Lanka; second, it seemed to me then, as it does now, that one must discover God or Truth oneself and that no external agency could really help one in this matter; third, Yogaswami chased away most of his visitors. Many persons unfortunately regarded Yogaswami as a mere fortune-teller with the gift of making accurate forecasts. At one time Yogaswami had a stream of visitors every day from dawn to dusk. They came to him with various personal and other problems. Those who were privileged enough to be received by him usually regarded themselves as doubly blessed. Some of those who were rebuked by Yogaswami regarded themselves as spiritually chastised. If Yogaswami wished to avoid a visitor he was known either to disappear or to make himself invisible for long periods of time. An interesting explanation of Yogaswami's behaviour is the following. The minds of human beings who are in bondage are in a state of animation --- animated by karma in the Hindu-Buddhist sense. This karma is no other than the sum total of the innumerable psychological influences that have conditioned the mind and hence stand in the way of liberation. These psychological factors coalesce to create the delusion of the “I” or the ego. Liberated persons, however, experience a state of pure consciousness owing to their transcending this shell of the self. It would be correct to describe the state of liberation as one of non-animation since a liberated mind would not be animated by karma. As a liberated mind is therefore comparable to inanimate matter, it could be animated or given momentum by a non-liberated mind which would necessarily be characterized by animation or karma. Besides, a liberated mind has the advantage of being a mirror in which a non-liberated mind can see itself as it truly is. Now, if Yogaswami seemed to lack an unchanging personality it was presumably because his “personality” temporarily acquired the characteristics of his visitors. Not surprisingly, therefore, proud persons invariably found Yogaswami behaving arrogantly towards them. To those who were haunted by fears Yogaswami's manner seemed timid. A South Indian sannyasin (recluse) had recited a stanza from the Bhagavad Gita to Yogaswami. Thereupon Yogaswami had repeated the stanza with alterations and clever puns on certain words so that the sacred lines acquired an erotic significance. Yogaswami could not help doing that for he was merely reacting to the hidden sexual imagery in the unconscious mind of that recluse. Consequently, this ascetic, like many other of Yogaswami's visitors, was not only irritated but also embarrassed. In a sense Yogaswami was a Zen master who awakened people from their psychological slumber by shocking them without deliberately wishing to do so. The people of Jaffna regarded Yogaswami with a curious mixture of veneration, affection and fear. Some of his ardent admirers seemed more to fear than love him. To be received by Yogaswami it was necessary to approach him without any ulterior motive whatsoever. That motiveless state of pure being seemed the unattainable, the zenith of spirituality: indeed, if only one could attain that purified state of consciousness would not one be oneself a Yogaswami? Now, the lack of confidence in my ability to face Yogaswami without any recognisable motive was also an important reason why I had been curbing the desire to see him.

I had been walking a great distance along the sea shore in Colombo. The fishermen were hurriedly pushing their boats on the sand before sunset at Dehiwala. Their cries and their baskets of fish disturbed the peacefulness of that quiet evening. So I walked away from them and chose an isolated spot on a rock facing the sea at Bambalapitiya. The skies were gradually getting lit with many colours by the setting sun. The evening was pleasantly cool and the refreshing sea breeze had an exhilarating effect on one's nerves. The ceaseless roar of the sea and the sight of the waves breaking against the rocks seemed an appropriate subject for contemplation. Those tireless waves must have dashed against those rocks for millions of years but the rocks remained unyielding. Was not the spiritual quest of man throughout the ages also like that? Man endlessly searched and struggled to find Truth or God which seemingly remained unknown and mysterious. The sea is comparable to universal consciousness out of which waves or little egos spring. These waves dash against Truth and dissolve but only to become transformed again into other waves. These were my thoughts when suddenly a very dark and elderly man approached me and almost demanded that I should listen to him. I was rather taken aback. His manner was mildly aggressive but his attitude was on the whole kindly and sympathetic as I soon discovered. “Young man?” he said, “why idle away your time?” Our acquaintance quickly developed into a warm friendship. This person introduced himself as a retired government official who lived in Tellippallai (a village close to Jaffna) with his wife and family. Within minutes of my getting to know this person he was telling me about Yogaswami with great enthusiasm. “It is disgraceful,” he observed, “that you haven't bothered to visit our sage who lives in this island.” This gentleman very kindly offered to pay my train fare to Jaffna and also invited me to live in his home as long as I wished. We spent several eventful weeks together in Jaffna. He took me to all the famous Hindu temples in that part of the country including the sacred Nallur temple. Being a devout Hindu, he sincerely believed that it was necessary to purify me as a preparation for the forthcoming visit to Yogaswami. In the mornings before sunrise his wife would recite hymns from the Hindu scriptures. Frequently I had to dress in a white dhoti with sandalwood paste and holy ash applied liberally on my body as a necessary requirement before entering certain temples. I did not quite see the religious or spiritual significance of these rituals but perhaps they added a certain colour to these otherwise drab and solemn occasions. As the weeks passed by, much though I was enjoying the hospitality of my generous host, I was nevertheless beginning to feel rather impatient that we had not yet visited Yogaswami. I even wondered whether my friend was subtly trying to convert me to the Hindu way of life. In any case, such a course seemed pointless as I was already rather sympathetic to Vedanta philosophy. Later I realised that my friend was sincere in his assurance that a preliminary period of preparation was absolutely essential before having an interview with Yogaswami. Nearly a month had passed and I was longing to return home to Colombo. As I was fast losing my earlier interest in Yogaswami, I finally decided to leave Jaffna without visiting him. When I broke the news of this decision to my friend he gleamed triumphantly. “Ah, I think the right moment has come. Now that you are losing interest in him you are in a fit state to see him. We shall go tomorrow.” After he had spoken I was convinced for the first time as to the real purpose underlying this long period of waiting and preparation. We decided to meet Yogaswami the following morning at sunrise which was supposed to be the best time for such a meeting.

It was a cool and peaceful morning except for the rattling noises caused by the gentle breeze that swayed the tall and graceful palmyra palms. We walked silently through the narrow and dusty roads. The city was still asleep. Yogaswami lived in a tiny hut that had been specially constructed for him in the garden of a home in the Jaffna suburb of Columbuthurai. The hut had a thatched roof and was on the whole characterised by the simplicity of a peasant dwelling. Yogaswami appeared exactly as I had imagined him to be. He looked very old and frail. He was of medium height and his long grey hair fell over his shoulders. When we first saw Yogaswami he was sweeping the garden with a long broom. He slowly walked towards us and opened the gates. “I am doing a coolie's job,” he said. “Why have you come to see a coolie?” He chuckled with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. I noticed that he spoke good English with an impeccable accent. As there is usually an esoteric meaning to all his statements, I interpreted his words to mean: “I am a spiritual cleaner of human beings. Why, do you want to be cleansed?” He gently beckoned us into his hut. Yogaswami sat cross-legged on a slightly elevated platform and we sat on the floor facing him. We had not yet spoken a single word. That morning we hardly spoke for he did all the talking. Talking to him was unnecessary for one had only to think of something and he replied instantaneously. I did not have to formulate my questions in words for Yogaswami was aware of my thoughts all the time. After we had comfortably seated ourselves on the floor, Yogaswami closed his eyes and remained motionless for nearly half an hour. He seemed to live in another dimension of his being during that time. One wondered whether the serenity of his facial expression was attributable to the joy of his inner life of meditation. Was he sleeping or resting? Was he trying to probe our minds? My friend indicated with a nervous smile that we were really lucky to have been received by him. Yogaswami suddenly opened his eyes. Those luminous eyes brightened the darkness of the entire hut. His eyes were as mellow as they were luminous --- with the mellowness of compassion. I was beginning to feel hungry and tired and thereupon Yogaswami asked “What will you have for breakfast?” At that moment I would have accepted anything that was offered but I thought of idli (rice cakes) and bananas which were popular items of food in Jaffna. In a flash there appeared a stranger in the hut who respectfully bowed and offered us these very items of food from a tray that he was holding. A little later my friend wished for coffee but before he could express his request in words the same man reappeared on the scene and served us with coffee. After breakfast Yogaswami asked us not to throw away the banana skins, which were for the cow. He spoke loudly to the cow that was grazing in the garden. The cow clumsily walked right into the hut. He fed her with the banana skins. She licked his hand gratefully and tried to sit on the floor. Yogaswami held out the last remaining banana skin to the cow and said “No leave us alone. Don't disturb us, Valli. I'm having some visitors.” The cow nodded her head in obeisance and faithfully carried out his instructions. After the cow had left us Yogaswami closed his eyes again and he seemed once more to be lost in a world of his own. I was indeed curious to know what exactly Yogaswami did on these occasions by closing his eyes. I wondered whether he was meditating. It was an apposite moment to broach the subject but before I could ask any questions he suddenly started speaking. “Look at those trees. The trees are meditating. Meditation is silence. If you realise that you really know nothing then you would be truly meditating. Such truthfulness is the right soil for silence. Silence is meditation.” Yogaswami bent forward eagerly. “You must be simple. You must be utterly naked in your consciousness. When you have reduced yourself to nothing --- when your 'self' has disappeared --- when you have become nothing then you are yourself God. The man who is nothing knows God for God is nothing. Nothing is everything. Because I am nothing, you see, because I am a beggar --- I own everything. So nothing means everything. Understand?”

“Tell us about this stare of nothingness,” requested my friend with eager anticipation.

“It means that you genuinely desire nothing. It means that you can honestly say that you know nothing. It also means that you are not interested in doing anything about this state of nothingness.”

What, I speculated, did he mean by “know nothing” --- the state of “pure being” in contrast to “becoming”?

“You think you know but in fact you are ignorant. When you see that you know nothing about yourself then you are yourself God.”

Yogaswami frequently alluded to this state of silence. He spoke of it as though it were his very life. To one who has not experienced this state of samadhi any description of it will necessarily remain an abstraction. In his presence one caught a fleeting glimpse of that bliss. Whether Yogaswami's consciousness expanded to include those in his immediate presence or whether this feeling of indescribable elation or peaceful bliss or samadhi was based on self-deception are matters that cannot be easily decided. Almost everything that Yogaswami said seemed so amazingly simple that one could not help becoming temporarily oblivious to the practical implications of his statements. Then for a moment, as though to assert the independence of my mind, I tried to scrutinise his sayings in my mind without asking any questions. Is this state of silence an act of divine grace? Is it possible to induce this state in oneself? Does one come by this state accidentally without any exertion of will? Would not any attempt to induce silence inevitably activate the the ego? Yogaswami who was evidently aware of these doubts and difficulties came to my assistance with an unforgettable pithy remark: “There is silence when you realise that there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose.”

Our conversation, which was taking an interesting turn, was interrupted by a man who walked into the hut. This person was apparently an ardent devotee of Yogaswami. He lit a candle, placed a few jasmine flowers on the floor and finally prostrated himself on the cold cement floor before kissing Yogaswami's feet. “Bloody fool!” yelled Yogaswami, “this is not an altar! Are you worshipping me or are you worshipping yourself? Why worship another?” The poor man withdrew into a corner of the hut with reverence and trembling.

“Do you think,” went on Yogaswami, “that you can find God by worshipping another? You do such silly, stupid things --- offering flowers and lighting candles! Do you think that you can find God by giving bribes?”

In situations of this kind Yogaswami's strictures did not appear to originate from his pedagogic role of a guru or spiritual teacher as many of his disciples would probably have supposed but were rather the casual and incidental remarks of someone who was deeply moved by human folly. Indeed, Yogaswami discouraged the recording of his sayings which he likened to rubbish that did not deserve preservation. He apparently considered that the significance of a spontaneously uttered statement depended on the unique and unrepeatable circumstances that gave rise to it.

Yogaswami waved his hands with disapproval at the man who had just worshipped him. He then pressed his quivering hands against his heart in an eloquent gesture and exclaimed loudly “Look! It is here! God is here! It is here!”

For a few brief moments he closed his eyes again. These interludes were probably intended to allow the meaning of his pronouncements to sink gradually into the minds of his listeners. There was a strange, majestic and Buddha-like dignity whenever Yogaswami closed his eyes in meditation --- the erect spine and the cross-legged posture together with the face that was apparently asleep but yet supremely awake.

“The time is short but the subject is vast,” he whispered with extreme gravity. This enigmatic statement may mean that the subject of understanding God or reality is vast whereas the time at one's disposal is so limited that it should not be wasted in unessentials such as perhaps rituals and ceremonies.

There was a question that I had hesitated to ask but it was an important one for me at that time: how does one overcome depression? No sooner had I formulated this question in my mind than Yogaswami answered it instantaneously. “Now, what is depression? You mean pessimism, don't you? Pessimism and optimism are the same. They are two sides of the same coin. You are no better off when you are pessimistic than when you are optimistic and you are also no better off when you are optimistic than when you are pessimistic. Optimism and pessimism as reflected in joy and sorrow are different angles from which you view life. But life is neither one nor the other. If you look at life exactly as it is and not from either of these angles, free from this duality, then life is neither pessimistic nor optimistic.” As he was discoursing there walked in an elderly American lady who quickly removed her sandals and joined our company on the floor. The familiar manner in which she smiled at everyone present and the affectionate way in which she greeted Yogaswami indicated that she was probably a frequent visitor to the hut. “What have you been up to?” Yogaswami asked her rather playfully.

“I've been to the Hindu temple in the neighbourhood. It was so peaceful there.”

“You mean that stone temple?” asked Yogaswami laughingly.

“You went to worship the stone gods in the stone temple!

There is only one temple and that is the temple in yourself.

And to find God you have to know this temple.

There is no other temple. No one can save you!”

“What about Christ and Buddha? Can they not help us?” interjected the American lady. From her demeanour it was clear that her question was not motivated by a desire to elicit information but was rather the reaction of her wounded religious susceptibilities arising from Yogaswami's remarks.

“The Buddha and Christ saved themselves through their own efforts. Afterwards the priests got hold of the rubbish and propagated it. The priests played the fool. Each man for himself --- in this spiritual business. Don't believe anyone who promises to help you. No one will help because no one can. Another may point the way but you have to do the walking.”

As Yogaswami continued to talk we listened to him with rapt attention, devouring every word and treasuring every moment spent in that dingy hut. Several persons were now standing at the narrow entrance to the hut which was fast becoming crowded.

“Why do you all come to see me?”

It was a question that was addressed to everyone present and not merely to the latest visitors.

“I am just as much a fool as any of you. I am searching, groping in the dark, trying to understand. I really cannot help you. There is nothing that I can give you. There is nothing that you can take away from here. Nobody believes that I am a fool. I am a fool.”

“But you are not,” snapped the American lady with impatience as though to expose his false modesty. “Perhaps,” observed Yogaswami, “I'm a different sort of fool --- a fool who willingly admits the fact of my foolishness.”

Yogaswami died in 1964 but what he imparted in his characteristically casual manner will always remain living truths and a source of inspiration to all who met him. The experience of conversing with a living master in a remarkable interview was far more instructive than reading many books expounding the ageless spiritual and philosophical wisdom.

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The Pure in Heart

Saluting Seven Saintly Women

(Virgin Mary, Marie-Eustelle, Bernadette Soubirous, Thérèse of Lisieux, Maria Goretti, Peace Pilgrim and Mother Teresa)


Delhi: ISPCK


In Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary


The fact that Mary bore Jesus and brought him up well, makes her a person of immense historical interest. Yet the maternal bond that tied her to Jesus is not the only reason for our bestowing upon her the quality of sacredness. Our Lady is worthy of worship in her own right, even if she had never been the mother of Christ, precisely on account of the inner purity and divinity of the Divine Mother who still reappears on earth in the form of the Blessed Virgin.

There is an almost universal belief in the invisible existence and merciful benevolence of the Divine Mother ... Many are the names by which she is called in diverse parts of the world, but they all refer to the same celestial Queen of Heaven. The Chinese, for instance, adore the Divine Mother in the form of Kuan Yin, the celestial Bodhisatva of Compassion who has not only divine love but also miraculous powers. Thousands of Mahayana Buddhists aspire to attain the spiritually illuminated state of freedom from sorrow just by reverentially reciting the holy name of Kuan Yin or by contemplating her beautiful form with a heart overflowing with devotion.





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Miraculous Waters of Lourdes

Calcutta: Writers Workshop



I feel that I am fortunate to be living in the South of France because it is not only easy and convenient but also intensely joyful to visit the beautiful town of Lourdes that is situated aloft in the green and picturesque mountains of the French Pyrenees. The enchanting appearance of the snow-capped hills in winter is so symbolic of the purity and holiness of this celestial place of pilgrimage. It is good to go there from time to time to replenish one's spiritual resources.

Once I was greatly distressed when I heard that my dear friend Mr Sudhakar Dikshit (the publisher and founder of Chetana) was critically ill. He was under intensive care in a Bombay hospital. His worried relatives believed that his death was imminent. My wife Claudia and I rushed to Lourdes and prayed at the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There in front of the sacred Grotto, where Bernadette Soubirous had had visions of the Holy Mother, we interceded for Mr Dikshit with Our Lady. I desperately begged her for a new lease of life for my friend, whom I regarded as my own brother. Thanks to the Virgin, Mr Dikshit's health was miraculously restored. I received a letter from Mr Dikshit dated 13-3-93 in which he referred to his grave illness and sudden recovery. “I suffered from brain fever,” he wrote, “and there was no hope of my survival. But I did survive.” The literature on Lourdes is replete with numerous instances of extraordinary cures of this kind. Sometimes patients are partially cured or they return to good health over a long period. We are given divine grace in the form of Lourdes water which often helps to heal the deep wounds within the mind that have been caused perhaps by a thousand resentments or countless cravings. The healing of the mind is a necessary preliminary to the curing of psychosomatic illnesses.


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Servant of God

Sayings of a Self-Realised Sage Swami Ramdas

compiled by

Susunaga Weeraperuma

New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass


This book was republished in the USA as The Essential Swami Ramdas (Bloomington: World Wisdom)

Like a beautiful multicoloured garland of fragrant flowers, Servant of God is a collection of extracts from the writings of Ramdas that are arranged under 101 chapter headings.

Ramdas (1884-1963) was not only an extraordinary spiritual teacher but also a master of the English language. His books are among the leading classics of sacred literature because of their great inspirational value. Profound philosophical insights blend in well with moving devotional passages.

The long chapter titled The Life of Swami Ramdas by Susunaga Weeraperuma is replete with fascinating anecdotes about this saint.

“It was during my student days that I first came across the writings of an interesting Indian spiritual teacher called Swami Ramdas. Reading his articles in various periodicals became one of my favourite pastimes. His lucid explanations, devoid as they are of philosophical and rhetorical hocus-pocus, resulted in my gradually acquiring a new outlook on life, and his direct and devotional approach to the Absolute rekindled my flagging interest in religion.

Great was my joy when I heard in 1954 that the distinguished Swami was going to give some talks in Colombo (Sri Lanka) where I was studying at that time. Naturally I seized this golden opportunity of seeing him in the flesh and savouring the sight of his holy face. I was influenced by the Hindu belief that the darshan or the mere act of seeing a spiritual master and being in his presence is itself a blessing, regardless of whether one actually comprehends his message. Such a Darshan is regarded as a factor that furthers one's spiritual progress. Therefore I attended a crowded meeting in which Ramdas was going to speak. On this occasion I was accompanied by a friend who was an atheist. The tall bald-headed sage was seated on a dais. His upright and noble bearing bespoke confidence and inner peace. His large ears and prominent nose harmonised with his roundish face. Spotlessly dressed in white Indian clothes and clean-shaven, Ramdas radiated love and happiness from the very core of his being. I felt very comfortable and as it were bathed in the affection which emanated from him when I was in his presence. It was an emotion I shared with many others present. His all-embracing love endeared him to his disciples who affectionately addressed him as “Papa”. He was wearing glasses, which subtly enhanced his venerable and professorial appearance. Sometimes he looked serious or solemn but whenever he smiled or laughed, which he frequently did, the eyes of Ramdas sparkled cheerfully and his face assumed an expression of innocence and childlike simplicity. Ramdas was surrounded by numerous disciples and admirers, who were gazing at him with awe. He spoke English so fluently that listening to him was a sheer pleasure. Occasionally he would crack a joke or tell an instructional anecdote.”


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