Book Insights #2: Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master — A Yogi’s Autobiography by Sri M
The Himalayas are nothing less of a wonder. A moment looking at their majesty can make any person fall in love with them and arouse the curiosity to explore. For the Himalayas are not just a range of gargantuan mountain peaks, but a storehouse of sacred knowledge where numerous monks/sadus/munis meditate and their hymns vibrate across the length and breadth of the Himalayas. For a Hindu, it is all the more auspicious as the Himalayas are called Kailash referring to the Lord Shiva, the Adiyogi, the Lord of the Universe.
This book takes us through the spiritual journey of a man, born into a Muslim* household in Tiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India and his inner calling for the Himalayas. This love and strange curiosity is manifested by eerie occurrences in his daily life as a young boy. Be it meeting a stranger near a jackfruit tree at the courtyard of his home at Kerala or seamlessly chanting the Gayathri Mantra. Too many questions pile up, and this strengthens his belief that the Himalayas has an answer to all this
Himalayan Journey and finding his Guru:
Aged nineteen, he begins his journey to the Himalayas. Sri M gets transparent about his struggles. He confesses that at a certain period, he was depressed and confused after a lot of people he meet on the way expressed their concern of sadus and so called monks misleading and looting him since he was a young educated lad. Sri M’s quest for truth were trying times; he had no Guru to guide him and the place was new to him. These experiences demonstrate the importance a Guru plays in a seeker’s life. But luckily for Sri M, this void would not continue for too long, he finds his Guru, Sri Maheshwarnath (later revealed to be the stranger he had met near the jackfruit tree) with whom he would spend three and a half years in the Himalayas and he adopts the name of Shivaprasad until his Guru initiates him with the name Madhukarnath — M and is fondly called Madhu.
With his Guru, he travels to quite a few places in and around the Himalayas. I especially enjoyed reading the vivid descriptions of all these places (none of which I have visited except Kashi). He explores the deep rooted caste system, drug addicted Naga sadus, demotivation faced by a sincere seeker. Himalayas is a place for mysticism; to say the least, Sri M has witnessed many of these mysterious incidents. Like a typical South Indian, he yearns to meet fellow South Indians and finds s lot of comfort conversing in Malayalam and Tamil (not to mention his love for Masala Dosa!).
During the time Sri M spends with his Guru, we are told that he was initiated to the “Nath” lineage and the Kriya Yoga techniques and taught Sanskrit (by another disciple of his Guru) so he could read the original Vedas and Upanishads. During this time, he reveals that he had the darshan of Sri Guru Babaji/Mahavatar Babaji and his sister at different times.
After returning from the Himalayas, he still keeps in touch with his Guru via meditation and other techniques. He gets associated with Ramakrishna Mission and Krishnamurthi Foundation. I was very invested in reading about the interactions between the two (“K” and “M”). Jiddu Krishnamurthi (“K”) was one of the most prominent Indian philosophers who reached the highest levels of contemplation. As I the listen to and read some of K’s works, I’m often left overwhelmed. I enjoy reading debates of highly evolved individuals. Though very brief, I did find the exchange between the two philosophically advanced men highly insightful. Indeed, it was painful to read the details of the passing away of K.
Sri M later marries and leads a rather platonic life. But this is not for long before fame in the form of followers comes behind him. He is called to give talks and seminars. Establishes “Satsang Society” that eventually draws a lot many people. As of this writing Sri M still is among us, available for contemplation or questions. He may be contacted at www.satsang-foundation.org or firstname.lastname@example.org
Insights I draw from this reading:
- The path of a spiritual seeker is arduous without the guidance of a Guru. Philosophers like Krishnamurthi do not believe that a Guru is needed to seek truth but seldom does a seeker gain clarity unless a Guru is found.
- A lot of mysteries happen around the world that Science cannot explain. That cannot debunk the happening of a mystery.
- Absolute detachment (even from the source like the Guru) is needed to seek anything sincerely.
- Unlearning is the only constant.
- Even a person like Sri M was able to find purpose in his life only after meeting his Guru. Extrapolating this to a common man’s life, we can say sometimes the calling, the curiosity cannot be explained until we find “the someone” or “something” who can break it down to us. This is bound to happen, the only effort needed from our side is the endless motivation to seek and the belief in ourselves.
- A lot of spiritually advanced people live the lives of a common man (Raja Rishis); merely to be away from the limelight. There could be someone right among us. This gives us a whole new perspective of viewing and interacting with people.
“Embrace emptiness so you can receive in abundance”
“Yogo Bhoga Yathae: based on the fact that one cannot get rid of an obsession without indulging it”
“Part of the decline of this great civilization is the neglect of pure wisdom”**
“The truth cannot be found except through Viveka (reasoning) “**
Style of writing and the structure of the book
Most of the book is covered in simple short sentences. The chapters are short and laconic. The book follows a chronological order starting from Sri M’s childhood in Kerala, progressing towards his Himalayan adventures and then his later life; and this transition is smooth and easy to read and comprehend.
*His birth name was Mumtaz Ali Khan.
**Quoted by Sri M’s Guru