Initiation: Spiritual Insights on Life, Art, and Psychology Michael Miovic. (Sri Aurobindo Society, Hyderabad. 2004. xxiii +296 pages. Price Rs.250/- )
You could count the sand particles on earth but not the human beings who have entered this planet and exited from it after a brief stay. Down the ages, those who looked beyond their sustenance and dwelling, what did they think about? What do people who have a minute to spare beyond their food, residence and clothes think of now? Sri Aurobindo gave the answer in the opening sentence of The Life Divine:
“The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thoughts and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation - for it survives the longest periods of skepticism and returns after every banishment, — is also the highest which his thought can envisage. It manifests itself in the divination of Godhead, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure Truth and unmixed Bliss, the sense of a secret immortality. The ancient dawn of human knowledge have left us their witness to this constant aspiration; today we see a humanity satiated but not satisfied by victorious analysis of the externalities of Nature preparing to return to its primeval longings. The earliest formula of Wisdom promises to be its last,
God, Light, Freedom, Immortality.”
Among the westerners who have peregrinated towards the east in search of Pure Truth in the last century and who were visible in the print media, mention may be made of Annie Besant, Sister Nivedita, Mirra Richard and Paul Brunton. Some of them like Sister Nivedita and Mirra Richard have not only scaled the heights of spirituality but have also been acclaimed as gurus. Subramania Bharati, the great poet of Tamil Nadu considered the former as his acharya who showed him the pathway to patriotism and social work. He dedicated his first two publications of patriotic songs to her and has indited a powerful poem about this Irish lady who became a disciple of Swami Vivekananda and dedicated herself for the cause of women’s education and political liberation in India:
“Nivedita, Mother,Thou, Temple consecrated to Love,Thou, Sun dispelling my soul’s darkness. Thou, Rain to the parched land of our lives, Thou, helper of the helpless and lost. Thou, offering to Grace,Thou, divine spark of Truth.My salutations to Thee!”(Tr. Prema Nandakumar)
Buddhism exploded in the western consciousness with The Light of Asia; theosophy created waves with the theory of Mahatmas; the Avatara statement in the Bhagavata has been the source of devotional ecstasy and Vedic ritualism in the west with the coming of Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada who founded the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. Explorations by the westerners satiated with materialism continues and so it did not surprise one to read the pointed review of Michael Miovic’s Initiation in Triveni in an earlier issue. What surprised me when reading the book was the readiness of the author to experiment, to accept, to deny, to draw closer or move away from the varied Paths in India. He has imbibed well the ancient Indian dictum about there being various ways of attaining one’s spiritual goal.
Dr. Miovic being a psychologist is a great help in this adventure in the realms of the spirit. For, it is one’s psyche that turns one towards light, as the sunflower towards the sun. Our author’s psyche has obviously been carefully nurtured from the dangers of pomposity and self-righteousness. Where there is eagerness to learn, sincerity to practice and firmness to go on forward to reach the aim, success is ‘an assured gift of grace. But not before the aspirant is put through the wringer. Both Prof. LV. Chalapati Rao and Prof. M.V. Nadkarni use Sanskrit terms to describe the anabasis of Dr. Miovic. The former speaks of anubhufi and darsana. The latter of shraddha. Initiation is all this and much more, a busy mixing of various emotions of which humour is one. For as Sri Aurobindo said pithily: “Without a sense of humour the world would have gone to blazes long ago!”
What makes Initiation so special is the perfectly circular movement of the aspirant whose journey inwards began when he was still in his teens. He read Sri Aurobindo and the Adventure of Consciousness by Satprem and at one kick-start the staunch atheist had become a pilgrim in search of God. However, the transformation was not so simplistic. What had attracted him first was Sri Aurobindo’s mastery of western poetry and so he decided “to give this most literate of all Indian mystics a chance.” A description that would have annoyed Sri Aurobindo himself. But the Mahayogi would have realized that what Dr. Miovic meant was that he was “the most literate in the English language of all Indian mystics”, and would have enjoyed the joke with his amanuensis.
For Miovic, the spiritual adventure with the Aurobindonian stream had to wait. Still in his teens, Miovic anxiously looked around for a living guru of Indian sadhana. This was how he came to the Kriya Yoga center at Santa Cruz which was headed by the absentee-guru, Yogi S.A.A Ramiah. Based on the tradition of the eighteen spiritual siddhas, the Kriya Yoga is primarily one of breath-control. Miovic dressed and chanted like a Tamilian. Obviously, he followed the systematized programme of the center that included the Ayyappa Sadhana though, according to Miovic, one needs guts to follow the rituals which includes worshipping a coconut bound in cloth: “After thus carrying out the cult of the crucified coconut in this continuous cacophony to clamoring completion, I turned over my much-worshipped nut, which was beginning to rot and stink, to the president of the local ashram.” The coconuts were offered by Yogi Ramiah into a yajna fire. Before long, Miovic found that Kriya Yoga was not his plate of pizza. Nor was the Sai Saba movement his mug of cappuccino. After taking a few of such ballet steps, Miovic wisely completed medical school and entered the widening sphere of Integral Psychology. Since then there has been no distortion of the spiritual mirror for him. He does not deny any of the mysticism he had encountered in the earlier experiments. How do you generalize a land where a Tantric yogi (Oharmananda Swami in this instance) predicts the marriage of an Indian girl to a westerner years and years earlier? Miovic has married the Telugu girl Madhavi and Varun has completed his domestic bliss and given him an assured base to deal with the analyses required for integral psychology.
Sufficiently divorced from all that is frivolous, Initiation gives us an idea to get back to our own first impressions of peoples and places. Pondicherry, for instance. What do we expect to find in an Ashram in India? Footpaths through wooded land, silently murmuring streams, palm-frond cottages, bearded sages with kamandalus in hand, chanting, the homa fire ... We do have an excellent first view of Ppndicherry in 1939 from a Punjabi of the N0l1h West Frontier, Surendranath Jauhaf. In his essay,
‘My Supreme Discovery’ he .speaks of his first impressions: “We saw no such distinctive feature in the design and architecture of the building which could even faintly suggest that it was an Ashram. When we got into the building, we saw a number of people, all in simple and neat dresses, and some even in pants, coats and neck-ties but no saints or sannyasis, no monks or mahants, no shaven heads or jafadharis, no bare-bodied bhaktas or saffron-robed sadhus, no tilak dharis or kan-phatas. Neither did we spot any temple, moortis or granfhs (scriptures).”
Jauhar proceeds further till he sits in the meditation hall and watches the Mother coming down the stairs. In those moments an extraordinary change comes over him, this Divine Mother being his Supreme Discovery, “the miracle of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, where I lost my heart and won the soul and the real life.” A like change comes over Miovic as he sits in meditation near the Samadhi: “The vibration in the area was overwhelmingly powerful, almost unbearable; it felt as heavy as lead, a buzz in my very bones that blotted out my mind, emotions, bodily sensations, everything. Only that crushing vibration existed.” For the rest it remains a chatty day for him as he goes round the Ashram and Auroville with the Gujarati couple, Kartick and Deval. At the same time the friendship with the Ashramite Ashesh reveals to him the right approach to the Mother and his own spiritual progression, for Ashesh rejected Satprem’s works on the Mother as too mental and western.
“It was a simple observation, yet profound. Ashesh was right. I had mentalized Mother, jumped to the idea of some grand bodily transformation without developing the rudimentary sense of devotion to the Divine upon which the entire superstructure of Sri Aurobindo’s supramental yoga is based. In that instant I felt liberated from my past, as if a great burden of spiritual failure had been lifted from my shoulders.”
However, if Pondicherry is here for Miovic, can Ramanashram be far behind? He goes to Tiruvannamalai, “the Indian India, the real thing.” It is of course sparkling fun to watch him eat his first meal off a plantain frond and equally sobering to learn of the supra-physical pull Mount Arunachala exercises on Miovic. He circumambulates the hill, salutes the cow Lakshmi”s samadhi and helps Valli. The next expected stop is Puttaparthi. Unspecified miracles are in the air but they leave Miovic unimpressed. Was there more experimental running around? Whatever that, with the Matrimandir experience of 1997, the wheel of Belier had come full circle for him:
“Since that initiation to Auroville, the supramental force has never returned to me so physically, however, there have been little reminders along the way of the great, Solar living into which we must all eventually emerge ... Progress is often painfully slow, but now I have no doubt that the Supermind is real and that everything Sri Aurobindo has said about the evolution of consciousness is in fact, true.”
The rest of Initiation is a clustering and chirrupy flight as of sparrows, essays and poems that give us a glimpse or the Delight of Existence. Setting foot in the Howing waters of the Ganges at Dhakshineshvvar dissolves all tension, and everything becomes an “undulating vastness and peace, perfect clarity”~ of Cezanne who suffered from psychological complexes reaching an exalting mood akin to “theme in his last Ste. Victoire; overmind’s global sweep of a\Vareness”~ of Jefferson’s Monticello which is shaded by “a glow from some realm of the Ideal”, in keeping with his visionary character that was “touched by the promise of a New Creation”~ of Sunil “whose unschooled but highly intuitive use of the electronic synthesiszer to set Savitri to music explores new vistas of consciousness.” Miovic can find good in Hollywood too, and why not? When he finds Pleasantville to be “a symbol of the manifestation of the psychic being on a collective scale”, his arguments are perfectly ratiocinative.
When such a fine gazer of the skies above and the earth below enters the grove of creative writing, he remains as interesting and star-spangled as ever. A bit of archaeological exploration in the Mayan Palenque that ought to set our nerves a-tingle~ reciting passages from Ilion in Apollo’s temple at Basses during an imaginary travel to Greece would certainly make us reach out for this unfinished epic in hexameters by Sri Aurobindo; giggles a-plenty through the adventure of a boy acting as a Kelly girl~ and all of such stories garnished with a bit of Japan in conclusion. There are also poems of Aurobindonian inspiration. A charming sonnet to Madhavi. Ever since the ancient Tamil poet wondered about the different paths he and his wife had taken only to meet and merge now as the rains from above and the red earth below, the miracle has been recurring all the time.
Somewhere in the middle of Initiation is the solid chunk of essays on integral psychology which bring us to a better understanding of therapies and miracles, of memories cutting across birth and death and of faith as a power by itself. Allopathy stands revealed now as a cure that only creates new complications. The time is come for exploring alternative medicines in a big way and practitioners like Michael Miovic surely hold the key to the secret cave where the East and the West meet as a creative helix. Not mere anllbhllli, darsalla and shraddha then: Initiation is adhula and ananda as well.