Thursday, March 26, 2009


The marble mart runs along a busy, dusty, no-man’s land between Delhi and Gurgaon, where ochre winds blow and the sun shines low… Yesterday, I went there looking for a shade for the floor, and as I walked past row upon row of marble slabs of varied hues, I saw something move… I stopped, stepped back and looked again… it was one of the oddest things I’d ever seen… On the floor, sat a man; bespectacled, in his 20s, reading from a piece of paper… that isn’t very odd you’d say… but what if I told you that the man was buck naked… And he wasn’t alone. Next to him sat three other men, all of them without a stitch on them… Hoping they wouldn’t notice, I inched forward, past a corridor of neatly stacked slabs and even without meaning to, stared… Next to those nudes in repose sat a throng of women, some in white saris and the rest in everyday clothes… One of the naked men was much older than the one I had first seen… he must’ve been in his 70s; he waved towards me and signaled for me to come forward… I wondered if I’d upset him but his serene expression told me that he had endured such nosy parkers before… I sat down in front of him…

“Maharaj Bahubaliji is a living god. He’s a Digamber (sky clad) Jain saint”, whispered a devotee in my ear. Sitting next to me, hunched over his knee, he smiled at me and then prostrated himself in front of the naked old man. “He has renounced all worldly possessions and therefore has nothing, not even a piece of cloth to cover him. He and his disciples don’t wear clothes (the women cover themselves with a single piece of coarse cloth), eat strictly vegetarian food, and only once a day, don’t ever use medicines, are strict celibates, never use any form of transport other than their own two feet, don’t use any form of modern communication, never accept any monetary or any other offering other than their food for the day, pull their hair out strand by strand each time it grows and don’t have any form of permanent residence… the world indeed is their home.” Bahubali Maharaj smiled and nodded. “But we don’t eat at all if at the time we’re about to eat, we hear the sound of another creature in distress. How can I eat when another soul is suffering? The whole objective of living the way we do is to ensure that we live our life without ever hurting any creature, through words, actions or even thoughts”, he said.

Now, I don’t know if I’m echoing your own thoughts dear readers, but while I can find inspiration in every aspect of such an ascetic’s life, I find it impossible to understand the vow of celibacy. Why choose not to love? “Kyunki isse moh badtha hai…,” said Sugyani Mata, a female disciple. “It increases attachment, and non-attachment is the only way to conquer sorrow…” Then what of the attachment between a guru and disciple, between fellow disciples… “That is shudha, pure, because it does not add to the sansara, and because it isn’t exclusionary and such love, therefore, does not have the potential to add to one’s sorrows”. So, if the nature of love does not add numbers to the world’s population and is inclusive, is it ok? I wondered… for that ushered in a whole host of questions, which I didn’t have the courage to ask. There was such a strong aura of calm benevolence around the saint that I knew he would happily answer any question I asked of him, but I wasn’t too sure about the devotees around him, and that brought me to my next question… What did he think about the extreme religious intolerance of our times? “My faith is mine alone”, he said “and even if you kill me, you can’t take my faith away from me. But what good is a non-violent faith if I choose to use violence for the right to practice my faith of non-violence. My relationship with my God is mine alone and since it is an internal bond, no one can stop me from practicing it. What is the point of losing the essence of a faith, by fighting over its symbols.” I felt humbled in his presence…

“Those aren’t mere words”, said one of his disciples, incidentally the same naked figure that had first drawn my attention. “Guruji was leading a band of 30 disciples through a forest near Gaya in Bihar some years back. It was dusk and we still had about three kilometres to go when a band of dacoits ambushed us. They beat up some of the disciples and then aimed their handguns at them. Guruji walked up and stood between the guns and his disciples and asked why we’d been stopped. The dacoits wanted our belongings and a ransom of five lakh rupees. Guruji smiled and said that they had nothing and no one... The dacoits wanted to detain us. So Guruji told us to take a vow of silence and sit down. After hours of waiting, the dacoits got tired of us and told us to turn back but Guruji said that there was no question of us turning back… we would only move forward, to which the dacoits said that they would shoot and kill us if we refused to turn back. Guruji said that they could kill us if they wanted to but we would only move forward. Stunned and humbled by his calm strength, the dacoits grew penitent and apologised for their sins. Then they themselves escorted us for the remaining three kilometres and asked for forgiveness again and again before they left.” I looked up at Guruji who just smiled and said “Tyaag mein shakti hai… there is great strength in surrender and sacrifice.”

It was almost dusk and Guruji requested that he be excused. He takes a vow of silence after sun-set. But I still had many unanswered questions and so I approached two of his disciples. One, about 65-years-old, was prostrating himself in front of another who seemed to be in his 20s. The younger man apparently had become a monk when he was merely 14-years-old. I wanted to know why… He’s called Sidha Sain today but his name was Ashok Tarunappa once, he said. And he was your regular teenaged lad who loved playing kabaddi and cricket and driving the tractor in his village near Hubli in Karnataka. Then one day, Bahubali Maharaj arrived at his village and stayed there for four months under a tree… the little boy was fascinated by the simplicity and serenity of the saint and did not realise when he was transformed from a happy-go-lucky kid into a passionate believer in the path of sanyaas. The day Bahubali Maharaj left the village, young Ashok ran after him and begged him to accept him as his disciple. Guruji refused saying the path is very difficult but the boy persisted. His parents, hurt and saddened, couldn’t stop crying, but they did not want to stand in the way of their child’s divine destiny… so when Guruji accepted him, little Ashok became Sidha Sain. “But you’re so young… don’t you feel tempted by the world,” I asked. “Sometimes… (he hesitated) sometimes I get dreams… but then I do penance and practice austerities… the idea is to conquer the mind”. “And death…,” I asked. “Death doesn’t need conquering… it is liberation… whether mine or that of someone one loves, remember ‘tis only a gateway…” I learnt that the older man had only been a monk for six months and therefore was the lowest ranked disciple. Though he’d tried joining Guruji earlier, his moh for his parents, wife or his children pulled him back… but this time he had made up his mind. “Doesn’t your wife feel you are running away from your responsibilities,” I asked. “I’m almost 70”, he said in fluent English… “and I’ve spent my whole life living for others. Now I want to spend all that remains of it communing with the Almighty. I have a business which’ll take care of their material needs and most of my children are married and well settled… so this time, I’m not going back.”

I had been talking to them for a while and I started getting frantic calls from my wife, inquiring if I too was “planning to run away with them?”. So I paid my respects and left, called my wife and told her to relax, because this path wasn’t for me, but my mind kept going back to the one thing that Guru Bahubali Maharaj had said and something I’d always believed and hoped was true… that “human beings were born to be God-like, to have power over our destinies, with a clear understanding of joy and sorrow, of birth and death, and the nature of it too” and while he might feel that the renunciate’s path is the way to godliness, I for now don’t know for sure… Guess we’ll all find the path as long as we believe in the possibility… all the best to you in your quest for godliness…



  1. I think God is the impossible to find. From thousands of years people are searching for him, those who found, could not be understood by ordinary people but became religious, and those who saw god abandoned the materialistic world. Religion itself is nothing but a passion for the impossible, the passion for the impossible.

  2. Talk of renunciation on the part of those who have no wealth is ridiculous. What would they renounce? Buddha could talk of renunciation because he was born in an affluent family. Buddha could afford to leave Yashodhara, his wife, behind, and move to the forest to live the life of an ascetic, because he knew that Yashodhara had a palace and every other means of security that one needs. But if a Buddha of the present times leaves his Yashodara a for twelve years, then at the end of twelve years he will find Yashodhara in some brothel and not in her home. Buddha could leave his son. Rahul, behind. because on his return he would find him in his own home.
    But it a present-day Buddha leaves his son and goes to the forest, the son will be found either in some orphanage or begging on the streets of Delhi\ Bombay. It would even be difficult to locate him. Buddha had abundant wealth, and men like him can very well talk of sacrifice because they have plenty to sacrifice.
    But the irony is that people who had nothing chose to follow those who had plenty. All the wise men of this country came from affluent families, while the rest of the people lived in poverty and misery. I wonder how the people accepted their teaching and agreed to follow them. But there is a logic behind it, a reason for it. The poor derived some pleasure, some satisfaction from their acceptance of the Buddhas. They now said to themselves, "What is there in wealth? Buddha had so much and he is begging in the streets. We are already Buddhas; we are already beggars." The mind of India, that had suffered so much poverty, felt consoled and gratified. We were pleased to see Buddha and Mahavira begging. He bowed down to them not because of them, but because of the consolation we derived from them. We thought that we were blessed in our misery.
    But, it is one thing to live in a palace and then leave it and beg, and quite another never to have lived in a palace and be a beggar on the streets. Buddha was not an ordinary beggar; even as a beggar he moved with the dignity and grace of a lord.

  3. I liked the article ,good ,keep it up....