A towering figure, his voice boomed in the darkened hall. His huge feet, like gnarled roots of a great oak, marched to the beat of his voice as he chanted mantras, walking amongst his shishyas who too were chanting. Every once in a while, he would check if the throng was pronouncing the mantras correctly, and when satisfied, walk to another corner of the hall… As he came closer, our eyes met. The intense gaze softened and he smiled… then he pointed towards his eyes and closed them slowly… I did the same. I heard his feet march away…. I closed my eyes and wondered, ‘Is he for real?’
A week ago, my cousin and I were driving back together and our conversation meandered from shore to shore until… looking straight ahead at the heat haze that shadowed the burnt brown landscape of an Indian summer, he asked, “Would I know a miracle if I saw one?” Now cousin’s a bit of a romantic, so I assumed that he was speaking in metaphors, as men in love often do… “Em (a friend of his) lost six kgs in three days…” Cousin was always talking workouts...“What did she do?” I asked. “She meditated as she looked upon her guru,” was my cousin’s response. “Heard of Yogi Ashwini?” my cousin asked. I hadn’t… I usually dismissed such ‘yogis’ as wannabes in the Great Indian Yoga Bazaar…. “What’s he about, Cousin?” I asked.
“Yogi Ashwini is Em’s guru… She lost weight, and her insecurities and addictions… At Yogiji’s discourse the other day, I met this lady whose four-year-old niece had been diagnosed with a fatal renal disease… She was rushed to Apollo where the doctors immediately put her on dialysis. This girl, employed with a big consulting firm, turned to Yogiji for help. Yogiji told her that her niece would be out of the hospital in 21 days but she should get the child off the dialysis machine. When she spoke to the doctors at Apollo about Yogiji’s instructions, they were appalled… they said the child would die without the machine. The machine wasn’t removed… Then this sophisticated and usually reliable dialysis machine stopped working. The doctors panicked and started making frantic arrangements for another machine. It would take a while… The doctors went to check on the child, and inexplicably, her kidneys had kicked back into gear and were functioning normally… “It’s a miracle!” they exclaimed. Twenty one days after she had first entered the hospital, the little girl was back home, happy and healthy… But if you ask Yogiji, he says there are no miracles, nor coincidences… just subtle workings of the universal energy which our unrefined sensibilities find impossible to comprehend…”
Intrigued, I called up Yogiji’s foundation, sought an appointment and was graciously granted an audience.
“You’re lucky” said the kindly voice on the other side… “He is indeed a very special being…” I thanked the voice and returned the receiver to its bracket.
On the day, my cousin and I showed up at Yogiji’s elegantly appointed abode in south Delhi. He was sitting on a low couch - a broad shouldered man draped in saffron robes and rudraksha beads. He smiled, and his eyes smiled with him. His first few lines revealed to me that he knew what thoughts and actions kept me occupied during most of my days. I was impressed but “he must’ve read my aura”, I told myself. “Pranic healers do that… an intuitive and acquirable skill… nothing miraculous about that” I insisted. Tall glasses of homemade ginger-ale accompanied Yogiji’s account of the evolution of yoga and how it pulled the strings of creation… Then his voice took on a strident note…
“Yog isn’t for the sick… Yog is a gift from ancient masters, to help us become stronger, spiritually, intellectually and physically… to be free of ailment and disease, not so that we may devote ourselves to sensual indulgences but so that we may be of service to mankind and ‘creation’, unhindered by infirmity. Yog is not a product meant to be bought and sold, and the guy who teaches you how to stand on two hands on a rubber mat isn’t a yogi… mere asana isn’t yoga… it’s acrobatics. Yoga is the quest for stillness and spiritual strength. Physical strength and beauty are mere by products of this quest, but should never be confused with the goal. Those who sell the by product alone betray the noble purpose of yog. Equally mistaken are those who claim to heal hundreds with a few breathing exercises. Every ailing body’s needs are different and it needs the guru’s healing touch. I challenge any yogi who claims he can heal in the aforesaid fashion to heal just 10 terminally ill patients. I could… it would leave me half dead but I’ll do it, just to prove that yog works, but only if we stay true to the path shown by the great sage Patanjali… I don’t have countless students… just a few, but I take care of the ones I have.”
“How does one find one’s guru?” I asked. “You don’t… your guru will find you and your karmas would lead him to you. Our karmas are the cause, and destiny, the effect. Even the day of our death is written as soon as we are born… that too is a function of our past karmas…”
“But if our fate is inevitable and unalterable, what good is a guru?” I wondered. Yogiji nodded, “ Your guru can make a difference… Your karmas are like an arrow, and the bow-string of time will send that arrow on its course… that’s inevitable, but what the guru can do is deflect the arrow… or act like an armour… it affects the guru, but if he has the requisite spiritual strength, he’ll manage to stave off the inevitable…”
“When your shishyas fall ill…?” Yogiji waved his massive right arm… “No one suffers… my students are never harmed” His disciples rattled off cases of patients who doctors had given up on but had been brought back to life by Yogiji. One of them had been shot from point blank range by a robber and yet he survived…
But Yogi Ashwini insists that he is a regular guy, just like you and me, a mere instrument of his guru. When I asked him if he was a perfect yogi, he replied “If I was, I wouldn’t have been trapped in this body. I made money in the real estate business. You know the nature of that industry. Then my guru took me under his wing and the experience cleansed my soul. I followed my guru on the path of service. Only 18 months ago, my guru asked me to step out with the sole purpose of revealing the true nature and power of yog…”
“Do you ever give in to your baser emotions?” I asked. “If I’m in a body, I’ll also have its weaknesses. When I heal people, at times, their words of praise and gratitude feed the ego… But that is when I learn my lessons. I have a few dogs, German Shepherds. One of the bitches gave birth to a litter. We were to give most of the pups away but my daughter picked one for herself (yes, he’s a householder). Unfortunately, it was the weakest, and was dying. But it isn’t often that my daughter asks for something so I started working on saving that pup… I expended all my energy and yet, nothing happened. The little creature died in my arms. My daughter couldn’t believe her father had failed her. “You heal everybody. They all say you can heal anybody… and you couldn’t heal that little puppy… why didn’t you, papa? Why didn’t you?” She was inconsolable. The truth is, I had tried my best and failed. You can ask my students, I’ve never failed them. But with that little puppy, my powers deserted me. It was my guru’s way of reminding me that I am nothing on my own… nothing but a mere channel for his powers. I had learnt my lesson.” Not many would own up to something like that… I wanted to believe in this man…
So, is he for real? Well, anecdotal evidence suggests that short of raising the dead, Yogi Ashwini has healed bodies, souls and lives in various states of disrepair. Indeed, if you talk to those who’ve known him, you’d think they were talking about Jesus. So what’s in it for him? It isn’t fame or a horde of disciples… I’ve heard him refuse people who want him to be their guru. “It’ll take years for you and me to get to know each other and then we’ll see if I can be your guru” And it surely isn’t money. Yogiji and his foundation members teach yogic kriyas, feed the hungry, and run schools for the poor, all for free…
I’ve never been in such a dilemma on this platform before. There is great peril in recommending a guru for this search for a guiding light is such a private affair. And we’re conditioned to disbelieve anything that seems too good to be true. Yet, it is pertinent that we don’t miss the woods for the trees… This piece isn’t without bias for I too want to believe… this journey promises a lot but I don’t know if this is our destination. But we won’t find out unless we step out… are you coming?