Sri M inaugurates the evening program at Pathways Worldschool - Aravalli Retreat
Kabir's Dohas come alive as 6th graders put their voices together - Pathways Worldschool
Sri M signs his portrait - Pathways Wo`rldschool Aravalli Retreat
From Pathways Worldschool with love to Satsang Vidyalaya
Grand setting for Sri M's satsang - amphitheater at Pathways Worldschool
Walking through the outskirts of New Delhi – along Sohna road – the walk reached SND Public School. There were many new faces and some old, as the Walk of Hope neared the national capital. A delectable breakfast served at SND School lifted everyone’s spirits. Sri M interacted with the children at the school: telling them about the walk, its objectives and even suggested an exchange programme with Peepal Grove – a residential Schoolrun by him, in Sadum, Andhra Pradesh.
After the day's walk, where the students of Pathways School joined in, the padayatris were transported to the school.
The padayatris had the feel of staying in a top-rung public school environment though they had visited quite a few good ones during their yatra. It was a learning experience for the students as well as the yatris to mingle in very informal settings like the cafeteria. The confidence level of the kids is seen to be believed. This is one of the key areas where schools such as Pathways score heavily, exposing students at a very young age itself to elders and people from different backgrounds on a regular basis.
The inauguration of the program was done in a novel way – Sri M and heads of the different sections of the school, belonging to different religions, lit the ceremonial lamp. The school paid tributes to Sri M with a Bharatnatyam number interpretating Sri M's rendition of ‘Akhandamandalaakaram’. They also presented ‘Bhavani tvam daase’. He mentioned that it was the first time that he has seen dance set to his music and voice.
The program was competently compered and presented by students themselves, with minimal assistance from their teachers. The quality of the music, dance and skits were of a tall order.
The Pathways school thoughtfully made donations both to the Walk of Hope and also the Satsang Vidyalaya in Madanapalle. Sri M thankfully received the cheques and was visibly moved by the school's contribution, especially the one made to his school. He also autographed his portrait which was drawn by three students of the school.
Sri M addressed the audience next.
“Let me begin with thanking Sri Sarvesh Naidoo, Pathma Naidoo, Mr Jain who is here with us and all the teachers and all the students and the parents, and, of course, my dear padayatris. I’m very grateful that we have such a wonderful evening arranged by Pathways, so I thank Pathways whole-heartedly. I’m very touched by the gesture that you gave us a helping hand in running our Satsang Vidyalaya.”
“Now, one very interesting thing is that I’ve almost forgotten English because people ask me to speak in Hindi wherever we go. You must understand that I am from the south – from Kerala. But byspeaking to people in Hindi throughout, my Hindi has improved (the audience laughs). When I speak in English, sometimes I shift to Hindi. It’s not a problem, but it’s very interesting to note this. So when I talk to you in English today, I’m relieved in a way that we can talk in English, and if you hear a Hindi word here and there, don’t worry.”
“Children always like to hear stories, so let me start with one. Some are small children and some are grown-up. And I think many grown-ups are children in some way. Everybody likes stories. So let me start with a story. They had a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi before we started. This [story] is about St. Francis of Assisi. He was a great saint, as we all know.”
“Ah! I forgot to thank Pathma and the team of young girls and boys who did the dance. And I’ve never seen a dance rendering of my song. This is the first time I’m seeing this. I’m glad….very very happy. It was excellent! That you can dance so well after 7 years of not dancing is something very spectacular. Great! Thank you very much.”
“Now, the story from St. Francis of Assisi’s life. St. Francis Assisi, I was about to say ‘like me’, but I am like him, he too loved to walk . He walked from place to place. And when he walked, he had his disciples following him everywhere. So, one day, the disciples requested the Master, ‘Sir, can you say something to us? We are walking all the time, can you talk to us? Give us some wisdom?’ The Master said, ‘Well, at the end of the walk I shall talk..’ So the walk ended, they sat down in the evening quietly. The sun was setting and the disciples asked him, ‘Now, what about the talk that you promised?’ St. Francis of Assisi said, ‘My walk is my talk.”’
“I’m not about to do that, I’m just saying this. One can talk, but it is difficult to do. I’m not saying this about myself, mind you. I’m talking about these padayatris, my friends who are sitting before me. They’ve been walking from Kanyakumari to here. You know how much we have walked. It’s roughly 6000 km, maybe 5800km. I’m not sure of the figure because in the morning when I wake up, I simply ask, ‘When do we start?’ And, then when we have walked for about 15 or 16 km and I feel a little tired, I usually ask, ‘Where are we stopping?’”
“Roughly we have done about 6000, 5900, or 5800 km, it doesn’t matter. And all of them have been walking with me. Sometimes, I’m tempted to say I am walking with them. And this beautiful prayer that your children chanted, your students chanted, is the prayer with which we begin with every morning. We put our hands on our hearts and chant this prayer before we walk. I must not forget to give credit to Dr. Ajai Kumar Singh who is sitting in the front row. With his beard, it’ll be difficult to recognize him. Hewas the Director General of Police of Karnataka. He’s been walking with us. He was the one who actually wrote the prayer, who worked on it…lest you think I did it. He’s the one that did it. I’m trying to say that it’s a joint effort. We’ve all been putting our minds and hearts into it, the organizers, the walkers, everyone. It’s a joint effort with great Hope. So, we started from Kanyakumari, now we are here. We completed one year in Kanpur on the 12th of January 2016 this year because we started on the 12th of January, 2015 from Kanyakumari. One of the reasons for starting the walk in Kanyakumari is because it’s a confluence of three great oceans..Anybody? Three great oceans? (A young boy from the audience answers, ‘Bay of Bengal, Arabian sea and Indian Ocean’. [audience cheers])
“This is where Kanyakumari is, and it’s called our Land’s End. There is only the ocean in front of us. Since it is a walk for bringing people together, we said it’s the best place to start where three oceans come together, plus it was the 12th of January, which as some of the students said is the birth centenary of Swami Vivekananda. I think, personally I believe, that 100 years ago this person called Swami Vivekananda did so much for humanity. His life was a life of service and sacrifice. What he did 100 years ago cannot be duplicated by thousands of people in 100 years. It was great. And if you go to Kanyakumari, stand at the land’s end and look towards the sea, you will see a building and a statue of Swami Vivekananda there. Once upon a time, there was just a big rock out there. When Swami Vivekananda was traveling throughout India – partly by foot, partly by train, partly by boat – he arrived at Kanyakumari. He was an unknown wanderer in those days. And, deliberately, to keep himself unknown, he used to change his name from place to place. When he reached Kanyakumari and saw the rock, normally he should have asked for a boat. Swamiji just took off his robe from the top, tied it on his head so that it doesn’t get wet, and swam across the sea to the rock. He sat on the rock and meditated for many hours. And, it was then that it became clear to him what he should be doing for this country, and for humanity. So we thought it was an ideal time, ideal thought, ideal place to start this yatra, this walk.”
“One year got over on the 12th of January this year, when we reached Kanpur and the walk has continued from there. Now,we have reached Pathways. We are going towards Delhi; we are going to be in Delhi for many days from the 17th to probably the 2nd or 3rd of March. We hope to reach Srinagar and Kashmir in the first week of May. This is what we are thinking of doing. This is our plan, this is our schedule. After all, this is a Walk of Hope. We hope to reach Srinagar in the first week of May. So this has been the walk. Now, there are questions like, ‘Why did you walk?’, ‘What is the root cause of this walk?’, ‘How did you get the inspiration?’ and so on. How many minutes do we have?
So I’ll keep it not too long. So the essence of this walk is an expression of what has happened in my mind. Basically it’s a physical and social response to my inner spiritual experience. Let me introduce myself to start with. Our ancestry is from the North of India, I would say almost across the border. And, 100 years ago, our ancestors went to Kerala in the service of the Maharaja of Travancore who didn’t trust his own bodyguards (he had to hire them from outside). We continued living in Kerala, I think my ancestors found it a lovely place – being ‘God’s own country’ – and didn’t want to go back. Even now, it’s difficult to go back to where we came from. And they continued to live in Kerala, inter-married with Hyderabad and other places. So, naturally when I was born, my parents named me Mumtaz Ali Khan. I was like any one of you, a normal child. Generally, in Kerala also, when we go out to school, when we go out to colleges, when we play, nobody asks you what religion you come from. I grew up like that with an open mind. My mother used to go to all religious functions, in any place, of any religion, and so did we.”
“At the age of 8, I had a remarkable experience of meeting a great Yogi in the backyard of our house, but that was just for 10 minutes, maybe. He just touched my head and said everything would be fine when the time comes and walked away. At the age of 20, not even 20, at the age of 19, when people think of various careers, what to do next, to write the GATE or not to write the GATE, to go to the IIT or write for the various exams – you know we think so in many ways – I decided that I would go to the Himalayas. The reason is, somehow I felt that I was constrained like a bird in a cage. I can’t tell you the exact reason, but many reasons. I always sat in classrooms and wondered why I was sitting inside four walls, please don’t imitate me [audience laughs]. Aahh, I felt I was trapped in a cage, in general. The cage was of course a beautiful cage, it was a golden cage. I never lacked for my pocket money. But it was a cage. You know cages, whether made of wood or copper or gold, they are still cages. So, one day, the bird soared and came out of the cage. I was 19, quite a young age. I never missed a meal in my life until then. And then I went off to the Himalayas. I got into trains, buses, walked. After trudging along, painfully, for many days I finally reached Badrinath and there is still that cave of Vyasa in Badri. There I saw someone whom I immediately recognized as the man who met me when I was 8 years old. His name was Maheshwarnath Babaji, eventually I found out. And I bowed down to him and said ‘Babaji I won’t leave you, forever’ ‘Hum apko kabi nahe chodenge’. Babaji laughed and said ‘Dekha jayega’.”
“That was his favorite expression, ‘Dekha jayega’. He was from the Nath Sampradaya of Goraknath, but that didn’t make him a sectarian. I lived with him for 2 and a half to 3 years, wandering all over the Himalayas with him – he in front, and me following him. Once Babaji asked me, ‘What do you think of yourself in relationship to me?’. I said Babaji, ‘Mein apne aap ko aapka kutha samajhta hoon.’. Babaji gave a very good response. He said, ‘Dum zyada math hilana.’ I’ve listened to that all my life. Don’t shake your tail too much. So, Babaji in front and the dog following behind – unlike the present generation where the dog goes in front and you go behind – was how it was.”
“So, after 2.5 to 3 years, Babaji said to me, ‘Go back. Live in the world like anybody else. Eventually I’ll find somebody for you, get married, live a normal life and then when the time comes, talk to people about your experiences.‘ He said - when the time comes.”
“I think some children have to go back at 8 pm, right? Yes. So, I practiced exactly what he said. I got married at the age of 37 after successfully avoiding it for many years. I have 2 kids who are now married, so I am free once again. Now, when Babaji initiated me into the Nath Sampradaya, one is given a Nath name so he named me Madukarnath. He always used to call me Madhu, very sweetly just like Madhu. So when people ask me what does Sri M mean, the first letter of my name with which I was born, Mumtaz, is M,the first letter of Madukarnath is M, but more than anything else, I consider myself a human being which in Hindi is Manav and in Sanskrit is Manushya. The first letter is M therefore I call myself ‘M’, and I am very happy when people call me ‘M’. You don’t even have to have ‘Sri’. Does Sri M sound better than Mister M? M is the secret boss of James Bond. And, there is only 1 Sri, I don’t have all 108.”
“Now, this is my life, and this is my walk, and this is a walk of humanity for hope. Babaji was, as I said, a Nath Panthi but he was very catholic in his outlook. He taught me, of course, the Upanishads, the Gita, the Nath Sampradaya textbooks which I don’t want to name, they sound like Greek and Latin. One, for example, Siddha Siddanta Paddhathi and so on. But he was a universal man. He took me to Ajmer and introduced me to a great Sufi teacher and said to him, using English along with Hindi, Unko ek ‘crash course’ de dena'. So, I got a crash course in Sufi teachings from him. I also went to a Jesuit college called Loyola which first started the pre-degree course in Trivandrum, the plus 2 as we know it now. And, seeing my interest in religious and spiritual matters, the Father Superior— Father Varkey (he is no more, you can’t ask him) – said to me, ‘Very good material, why don’t you go to the seminary and become a priest?’ But I did study a lot about Christianity there. In fact, I remember very fondly Father Anthony giving me a copy of a beautiful book called ‘The Imitation of Christ’ by Thomas A. Kempis. And then, I studied the Sikh religion, met many Sikh gurus and so on and the Buddhist teachings. And finally, according to my experience, I realised these are different paths to the same Truth. When there is something so great as the Supreme Being, there necessarily must be different ways to reach there. There can’t be only one way.”
“There’s an old story from the Jain tradition – it comes originally from the Jain tradition, it was adopted by a great Sufi called Jalaluddin Rumi , who found the order of the Whirling Dervishes. See Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was very fond of this story. This story is about 3 blind men who went to explore what an elephant is. One of the blind men touched the foot – the leg of the elephant – and concluded that an elephant is a pillar. It shakessometimes. And somebody had warned him, ‘Don’t go too close because if you go under the pillar, you’ll die'. The second man touched the tail of the elephant and declared that the elephant was like a broom. I think in those days there were no bathroom brushes so he said like a broom. And it keeps moving, if you go too close you might get a good slap. The third blind man touched the trunk of the elephant and decided that the elephant is like a rubber hose which keeps moving very often almost non-stop and occasionally makes ‘phus phus’ sounds, this was his definition of an elephant. A big argument took place after that, a big fight between the three about the correct definition of an elephant. It came to fist cuffs so one was down and the other was sitting up trying to strangle him and so on. What was the question? Elephant is like a broom. No, elephant is like a trunk. No, elephant is like a pillar. It was at this point that someone came there who was not blind. Not like us. Many of us have eyes but we are blind, unfortunately. This man was one who was sighted, he was also not blind. So he came in and he said ‘What’s the matter? Why are you guys fighting?’. They said the elephant is this, elephant is that. He said’ Look, listen, now please stand up. Let’s talk about this. You are right; yes, an elephant is like a pillar; you are right, elephant is like a broom; you are right too, elephant is like a rubber hose! But you are right and yet you are all wrong because an elephant is much more than all your descriptions. You see only what you know and you define it. And you are fighting with somebody who has seen another part of the elephant and the elephant as a whole is much beyond all these things.”
“Therefore, the concept of truth cannot be easily defined by our limited brains and we can grasp only as much as our brains can allow us to grasp. And the fights are about these definitions.”
“Three thousand years ago, the Rig Veda said ‘Ekam sat viprah bahuda vadanti'… ‘There is only one truth but the wise men call it by different names.’ I think, much before the story of the elephant came about, this is an ancient land where this culture – what we call today Sanatana Dharma – the Hindu system of thought has survived centuries in spite of occupation, in spite of English education, has survived. Why? Because we are rooted in this unity that there is one truth that can be interpreted in different ways. However, sometimes this unity seems to break in the name of religion. In the name of communal politics, people start fighting. I believe that it is not because of religion, but in the name of religion. Religion is a facade used to bring this about because the old British policy of divide and rule has not disappeared yet. But they did a good thing. They taught us English which is great. So therefore, we believe, ‘We’ meaning all of us, (I’m sure you agree with me on this) that this unity should survive, it should be protected. Once a disunity happens and there is, what you call a inter-communal conflagration, then the fire burns, the flames catch up. It’s even difficult to get it off, to put it out even with water.
So our idea is, the idea of this walk, let us not allow this to happen. We will not allow this to happen, because prevention is better than cure always. No, if you're sick, you go to a doctor, he’ll treat you, you may survive or you may die. But if you prevent the disease from coming at all, then we are safe. And believe me, I’m sincerely saying this to you, this responsibility of holding the unity of this country and the world of course, lies in the youngsters here, the young people. Our generation is greyed, we don’t know how long we are going to walk . We might have committed mistakes, I confess, but you, if you have the seeds of harmony, peace and oneness in your hearts, then there is hope that the future of India will be bright. So, my job is to sow these seeds of harmony, to sow these seeds of hope, to sow these seeds of peace and well-being.
“You say in Hindi, ‘Manav Ekata, Shanti aur Sadbhavana’. And it’s your responsibility. When we were young, there was a song in the Hindi movies – ‘Nanhe munne bachhe tere mutti mein kya hai’. The child says, 'Mutti mein hai takdeer humari'. So, please allow me to plant the seeds in your heart. I’m sure Pathways is already working on this. I’m glad, even the name is Pathways. So let's join our paths together and walk towards the fulfilment of this hope – that we, in this country, will live together no matter what happens. We will not succumb to any temptation and break the unity of this country.”
“I don’t want to go on because we have some interactive session. I wanted to actually quote different religions and show you how they all speak about basically the same thing. The difference is because religions are born under certain circumstances, in certain geographical locations and among a certain set of people so some difference has to be there. But, the basic thing about peace, well-being, service to humanity is there in all religions and I hope you will maintain it in future and make this country still greater. This is a great country. You will not find a country like this anywhere in the world. Where people speak about 25 languages, different dialects, so many religions, so many sampradayas, even inside the religion and yet you ask the average citizen, ‘Who are you?’, they’ll say ‘Hindustani’. Where else can you find this? You can find it in a country where there is only one language, no wonder. But still we are united. Let us hold this together. Let’s not allow this to slip and break into pieces. And the responsibility lies with you and your parents who talk to you and make you understand that this is very very important for us, for the future of this country, and the future of the world. Why future of the world? Because I believe that India is the spiritual teacher of the world. The world is looking at us. Someday, like in ancient times, people from all over the world will come here to learn the truths of spiritualism and well-being.”
“Thank you very much.”
There was an interactive session where there was an exchange of questions and answers from the students and their parents with Sri M:
Q. What were the most memorable moments of your journey?
A: The most memorable moments of our journey? Beautiful question! Thank you. I was about to say that I’ll be able to answer the questions only after I hear the question but this is a good question. You know, one among the most memorable moments of our yatra was when we go to a small village where there are hardly a thousand people all put together, and in the evening, they gather under the peepal tree. You know the peepal trees are sacred trees in the village. As long as trees are sacred, nobody can cut them. Can you understand this? It is so environmentally important that we worship trees because you will not cut things that you worship. So, we have in every village a peepal tree; thank God that they consider it a holy tree. And there they gather together, and then they tell you, ‘Sir, what you are saying is what we think, but we have been afraid to speak out for various reasons. We are so glad that you are walking and talking openly about these matters to all of us.’
The other, there are many, but I’ll just pick out a few. Once we were walking through Kerala, and an auto-rickshaw man came and stopped me. So, I have a security man with me walking all the time. It’s the anti-thesis to a peace walk but he is there. The government wanted him. So, the security man stopped him. This guy came near me, he said nothing, no harm and he took out 100 rupees from his pocket and gave it to me. He said, ‘Sir, this is half my day’s earnings that I am giving to you.’ So I said to him, ‘Do you want to join the walk?’. He said ‘Sir, if I join the walk the rest of the half day, I wouldn’t be able to work to earn my living, so I can’t. If I know where you are meeting people in the evening, I would certainly come there. ‘You know what. I felt that 100 rupee note was worth 1 million rupees given to me because here was a man who worked so hard, and was willing to give away his half a day’s earning for the cause of peace.
Another time, we were entering Mysore. No, we were coming out of Mysore towards Bangalore and, on the way, there was a man who sold watermelons on the road. It was summer, very hot. So, usually what happens is that when we walk there is an advance party which goes in front for a recce. So they went and saw this man and they said there is a big group of people coming. He said, ‘How many?’ That time we had about 100 or 200 people coming. So can you provide watermelon for all these people? ‘Yes’. Then they asked the wrong question. They asked how much does it cost? What would you charge us? The man said, ‘If you ask me how much I charge for this.’ – he had read what we were doing – ‘then I’m going to go home, lock my shop and shut off my cell phone so that I’m not reachable because I don’t want to charge for this’. Believe me, this man's life depended on selling this watermelons. Now, what do you think about this? He was a Muslim gentleman. When I came there, he came and shook hands and said ‘Namaskar’. He didn’t know who I was. So, when he said Namaskar, I said Namaskar. Then I said Salaam, then he said Salaam. Of course, he hugged me. These are things that really touch your heart. When you know that even the ordinary common people, who have not gone to colleges or anything, feel that this is a worthy cause and want to help, these are some of our touching moments on the walk. There are many more but we don’t have time. Thank you very much.
Q: My concern was that many of my generation, we are desperate for hope, but sometimes, I mean being in this modern world it doesn’t come naturally to us. So I was wondering if there was any way that hope can become a part of our lives so that we don’t have to work deliberately towards that.
A: Yep, I understand the question. This is why we are also doing the Walk. We are working for you. We are here for you. Believe me, trust me, we are working for you. This hope I’m sure will percolate and enter into all your hearts. The other thing is, that I personally feel, I’m sure that you have something like that in the school, but the parents and the teachers should have something to do with hope and despair and how to handle your life as part of the curriculum in this school. I’m sure you have something, I don’t know. If you don’t, then you must have it because it is so very important. Alright, you can learn literature, you can learn science, you can learn math, ultimately you have to learn the art of actually living in this world, so that, even at the worst point, you have hope.
Believe me, Thomas A. Edison who invented the electric bulb – I think it's all LEDs now, but doesn’t matter – it is because of him we just flick a switch and there is light in the house. He failed a 100 times but didn’t give up. Somebody else would have given up. He didn’t. The 101st time, he made the bulb. So whenever you feel hopeless think of this story that there is hope, even in the last minute, think of us. Sometimes during the walk, we feel like we can’t go another step. I have myself suffered pain in my knees, pain in my thighs, sometimes for 3-4 days it is impossible even to get up from bed. We have not lost hope. And, you are young. You should never lose hope. Please keep the flame of hope burning bright in you as you walk the pathways.
Q: I’d just like to ask, you had a epiphany, a religious epiphany, could you describe to all of us what your epiphany, the sudden realization, was like?
A: Ok, now, this is a very personal thing but since you have asked me, I will talk about it. You don’t have to accept what I am saying. I’m going to say what I felt. You can accept it, reject it, do what you want. It’s a very personal question but I’m going to talk about it because you have asked me this. I have had many spiritual experiences in my spiritual life and practice. But one, which completely overhauled my consciousness, and broke all barriers is when one day I was sitting on the banks of the Ganga in Uttarkashi. Babaji had just described to me something which I couldn’t grasp. He said that there is something which you cannot describe, which you cannot define, which you cannot understand with your senses and your mind. I said to myself, ‘if it can’t even be understood by the mind, how on earth am I ever going to grasp it?’ In that state, for a few seconds I would say, the mind completely settled down and became quiet because I decided that no effort of any kind is going to help and I just gave up. You can call it giving up or surrendering, I don’t know what to call it. I just sat quietly and said OK, this is not possible, let me watch the river. As the river flowed, something happened in me when I felt, I won’t even say I felt. I was me, I was the river, I was the mountains, I was Babaji sitting far away, I was the boat which was going with the boatman in it. There was no difference and when the boatman sang, some Gharwali song, I felt that it was coming from my throat. Never after that could I discriminate against anybody and think that someone is different from me.