Talks with Rampuri Baba

“…The idea about the existence of some religion called Hinduism was created by western imperialists from a desire to describe the world according to the system of their values”

Rampuri-Baba

Talks with Rampuri Baba

We bring to your attention some fragments from conversations with an interesting teacher – Rampuri Baba. American by origin, for the first time he went to India for spiritual searches in 1968. In 1970 he met his Guru — Hari Puri Baba, and received initiation into Juna Akhara spiritual order, one of the well-known communities of vagrant sadhus — ascetics or babas («father», stress on the last syllable) as they are called in India. He has spent most of his life in India, being deeply involved in its oral traditions and secret world of yogi and ascetics. Recently, his book “Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Yogi” (Moscow, Gayatri Publishing House, 2006) was published in Russian, a fascinating and sincere story that slightly opens a curtain to a severe world of sadhu – an unusual spiritual “state within a state”, a dimension where many traditions remain unchanged for centuries if not for milleniums.
In 1984 he became the one of the Council of Elders of Juna Akhara, the one from a few “white men” recognised by Hindu spiritual authorities. We have met him in the South of India, in Goa, a small state known to the many as a beach resort. But in sacral Indian geography it has a different meaning: Goa and neighboring Maharashtra are patronized by Dattatreya (the Divinity that unites Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the teacher of yogis and aghoris) and his disciple Parashurama, one of the immortal, an awesome warrior and later a yogi, mentioned in ancient eposes of Mahabharata and Ramayana. We have spent some warm evenings together talking about Hindu spiritual culture, great teachers, extreme ascetics and many other things…

Questions and Interview: Tim Rakin, Ilya Zhuravlev.
November, 27th, 2006. Free Flow Yoga Center, Arambol, Goa, India

Yogamagazine: Well known spiritual orders of sannyasins (“renounciated”) Saraswati, Giri, Puri and others have been established by a famous teacher — Shankaracharya. Different versions exist concerning the dates of Shankaracharya’s life and his mission. On the one hand, western orientalists classify him as a founder of Advaita Vedanta, a religious philosophical doctrine that, as encyclopaedias say, denies ritualism and worshiping different forms of the Dieties, except for the impersonal Absolute. On the other hand, Indian sources say that Shankaracharya was worshiping Shiva, practising Sri Vidya, a Shaktist tantric tradition, and wrote a pathetic hymn about Krishna bhakti… Sadhu of your order worship Dattatreya…

Rampuri Baba: I will explain it. In 1972 in India I’ve met Fritz Stoll, a Dutch professor, a remarkable orientalist educated in the sphere of Vedic religion, rituals, Sanskrit grammar and philosophy. He suggested me to visit the department of East Studies in California University in Berkeley, USA, he was the head of this department. By that time I have already got initiation into Puri order and was living in India for five years, wandered together with Babas, spoke Hindi fluently, and was learning Sanskrit. I was 24 years old, I looked at my stocks of money – there were only few paisas in my bag – not enough even for tea. And I thought: what am I going to do when I’m grown up, how would I earn money? Nowdays I could be a yoga teacher, as they call it in the west, but that time if you’d say that lots of common people will start practising yoga, you would be taken away to a mental asylum. In the West they thought that yoga is for crazy people, hippies who getting psychedelics and so on. And then I thought: may be I should become a professor of oriental studies. And I decided to come back to the States. I came to the professor Stoll and told him – I’m getting old, I’m 24, I’m thinking about my future. He said that I can attend any of his courses for free and to take part in his dissertation. It was very interesting to me as all the knowledge that I’ve got in India was transferred traditionally by word of mouth, and it was not systematised in my head. I knew mantras, I could tell traditional stories and I knew how to make a dhuni (ritual fire place). In India I had no classes or lectures, I was getting oracles from the pandit and then telling him back what I’ve learnt, I had to learn everything by heart. Those were the same words that had been said thousand of years ago somewhere in Varanasi. In Berkeley I’ve been amazed by a systematic approach the knowledge was presented with — here is the library, here is one course, the second, here are professors-experts. I was studying for a whole year for 18 hours a day, I thought — now I have real tools for India. Now, I have all the information, I know a historical context, I know about the Aryan invasion, etc. And one year later I came back, ready to conquer India. But I was a locomotive that ran into a brick wall. I have returned to Baba, my Guru, and told him about Aryan invasion and historical perspective. They asked me who told me those strange stories. None of my tools worked.
I have realized that there are two types of knowledge — local, Indian knowledge, and the academic knowledge about India that appeared outside its borders. They exist parallel and are never crossed. It is the same story with Shankaracharya. When I was writing the book, I had a choice — what date of Shankara’s life to put — 780, as in academic books, or 500 BC as it is considered by Indian tradition. How does this date come out? First of all, there is the text “Shankara Digvijaya” – “Great victory in four directions”. This text contains full information about the sky map of that time, from planets’ position it is possible to define the dates. The second, there are records of succession lines in mathas — the main monasteries of this line. One of the most important is Sringeri matha in the south of India, it is Shankara’s home matha with a continuous line of succession which begins about 700 BC. All dates are fixed there, because there are manuscripts of temple offerings: who has offered money and when, and the name of Мahant (head) of the monastery. This tradition is still alive — to do similar records. Buddha times’ events are dated the same way, etc.
In general, ideas of “Hinduism” or “Buddhism” appeared no more than 100 years ago. The idea about the existence of some religion called “Hinduism” was created by western imperialists from a desire to describe the world according to the system of their values. It is impossible to estimate the ancient world from the point of view of the modern one. If you look a couple of hundreds years back, borders between Buddhism and Hinduism disappear. There is a concept of Dharma, a spiritual doctrine. If you look at Tibet with its tantric lamas and yogis, they are much closer to Indian babas, rather than, for instance, to the monks of Sri Lanka or Thailand.

Tibetians have yogis – nagpa, who wear earrings, long hair, and also worship Mahakala. In Nepal I saw Tibetan baba with dreadlocks who lived in Gorakhanath’s ashram, he answered my question: there is no difference – it is Guru Rinpoche.

I will tell to you why. In Juna Akhara order there are 52 lines. 16 lines of Puri, 14 of Giri and 13 of Giri — they make together 43 lines. 4 of Bharati, 4 of Saraswati — it is fifty one. And the fifty second line is called Lama. There was a teacher named Kamal Baba who lived in the territory of modern Pakistan, around Peshawar, near to the Afghani border. This place is still called Uddiyana. Kamal Baba has visited Tibet and had disciples there. He was named there Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava, and his line is called Lama. Inside our Akhara we recognise Tibetan lamas from Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche’s line. Many tibetians may not know about it, because Padmasambhava just appeared in Tibet, but for us he was one of babas who have left for Tibet. He is even depicted with trishul (trident) as a sadhu. Many years ago I’ve visited Ladakh together with my close friend Bir Giri Baba with whom I’ve supervised the ashram in Haridwar, it was a big man with big jata (dreadlocks). Everywhere, where we appeared, locals called him “Guru-lama”. So, many academic books that carefully give this division are written by whose thinkers who never had a contact with the real state of things.
Several years ago I talked to David Frowley about the Aryan invasion, and I told him that we should not prove an inaccuracy of this theory as he does, but we have to show that an attempt to get into the history of India with this theory is absurd in principle. Show me at least one traditional community in India that would adhere to this point of view, show me at least a small echo of this theory in any tradition… There is nothing.

Does it mean that the history was created during the last 150 years, during the invasion of India? Even the name India was created by the British, in Mahabharata there is a name Bharata Varsha.

Yes, it was done for the greater control over the invaded country and its culture, for the attempt to unify it. People from empires like to put everuthing in order — one God, one sacred book… “My God is true; it means that your God is false. Take my religion”. So, such books are interesting to people who do not know the real state of things.

So, you think that Shankaracharya lived so long ago?

It is not the matter of my personal opinion. I say what is given by my tradition. Whether he lived this many years ago, or that, whether he lived at the same time with Christ… Who knows, and who really cares? He has reorganised the tradition, but he was not a founder of it.

So, did the tradition of naga babas exist before him?

Certainly, yes, long time before him. In my book I wrote about our main Guru — Dattatreya. Dattatreya lived in Treta Yuga. Do you wish to know, when exactly he lived? He was Parashurama’s contemporary, they met many times. Naga babas are Guru Dattatreya’s disciples.

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Ilya Zhuravlev, Rampuri Baba, Tim Rakin

Talks with Rampuri Baba — part 2

We continue to publish the text of our conversation with Rampuri Baba, one of the Elders of Puri order, an Indian Sadhu of American origin, the author of the book “Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Yogi” (Russian translation: Moscow, 2006). Oral tradition of vagrant ascetics, that Rampuri was trying to comprehend for many years, is full of interesting stories and hagiographies that can not be found in western oriental literature. We discuss many questions, something finds response, something intertwines with other themes, something escapes… This is the way of knowledge transfer when sadhus sit around the fire and conversation flows easily, not like a thematic lecture.

Rampuri Baba: How do you know the term Bharata?

Yogamagazibe: We read in Mahabharata. Stories about rishi, apsaras…

Do you know what the word apsara means? Aab — means “water”, and sara — means “to flow”. Sara-sara-sara is the sound of flowing river water. So, primarily apsara is a nymph of water, a goddess from the river. I often advise European people to try and feel the divine in their own rivers, to come back in touch with spirits of their land.

Once I’ve been living alone on a river bank in the mountains for one month, and one moment I’ve very clearly heard a singing from the river and felt someone’s presence there.

So, you understand then the difference between reading someone’s ideas in books (what is certainly not bad, and there are books available) and having your own experience.

Another question: Sadhus’ culture is concentrated around dhuni (the ritual fire spot). It seems that they do nothing but just sit around the dhuni. All their activity is connected with the fire: how to support it, how to keep it alive, and if you are not able to do it, you are not recognised as sadhu.

And the smoke always goes into your face… At first, the smoke always goes into your face whereever you sit (laughs). As I’ve mentioned in the book when you live at dhuni, and someone comes to visit you, the smoke goes into the person’s face. It’s like having a dog who rushes out to sniff a newcomer (laughs).

Speaking about Dattatreya again: he is depicted with three faces — of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Is this iconography ancient or not? I’ve read about other versions of his image.

You should be attentive. Very often versions are written by young orientalists, who have gained their degrees at twenty something years old, but their information can be fabricated or based on their own interpretation of books of their predecessors. There is a story that Dattatreya was one of three brothers, they were three rishis — Soma, Dattatreya and Durvasa. Probably, artists presented the three brothers by this image.

What does the oral tradition say about the form of Dattatreya’s murti (temple sculpturing)? We have a small temple of Dattatreya in Arambol.

Yes, and there is Parashurama temple nearby.

Do you hide Dattatreya’s padukas there (ancient sandals giving to the owner a mystical power)?

(Laughs) Yes, after all nobody will guess, that they are hidden in Arambol. As for different forms of murti, it is actually the difference between the western, imperial approach (that aspires to unify everything in order to manage the world easier) and Dharma.
Western people often say — «my God is true, it means yours is false. Accept mine if you want to be saved». But nobody in India is worried by a number of Gods, lots of murti, and, besides, Gods often «reside» in certain places. One place is considered to belong to Mahalakshmi, the other one to Shiva. Dattartreya is Maharashtra’s God, his place is Girnar mount, in Gujarat state, in antiquity it was a part of Maharashtra. It in the west, and in the north his palce is Muhugrad, in the south his place is Kollapur. Shayadri mounts is also Dattatreya’s home. And Parashuram is the patron of Goa. After he has killed several generations of kshatras and was discouraged by war, he became Dattatreya’s disciple and a great yogi. In Muhugrad (it is considered to be Dattatreya’s birthplace) there are some mounts similar to shivalingams. On one of the mounts there is a dhuni (the ritual fire spot) symbolising a place of his birth, and on another one there are temples of Renuka (Parashurama’s mother) and Anusuya (Dattatreya’s mother). If you want to know something about the real Tantra, know that it has only two sources — Dattatreya and Renuka.
Do you know a horrible story about rishi Jamadagni who has called his seven sons and asked them who his true disciple was? They told him – “We are your true disciples, father”. Parashuram was the youngest son. Then Jamadagni said: “If you are true disciples, go and chop off the head of your mother”. Everyone refused, and when it was turn for Parashuram he took an axe and immediately chopped off his mother’s head. Jamadagni said: “You are my true disciple, you undoubtedly followed my order, now ask for anything you want, I will make it come true.” Parashuram asked him to revive his mother again. Rishi took his wife’s head and by a mystical power put it back again. In this simple story that has many variants in oral tradition there are the seeds that later on grew into Tantra.
When speaking about Tantra they usually mention three terms — tantra, mantra, yantra. Yantra is a haven for the Deity, a prepared throne. We offer the Goddess a prepared seat in order to express our respect.

Does it mean that yantra is more ancient than sculptures of Deities, and primarily there were dhuni and yantra used?

I would not underestimate murti (sculptures) because often murti are put directly on yantra, besides very often sculptures serve as special signs located on the ground. It is worth visiting Mahalakshmi temple in Kollapur and seeing Her body… Usually, when you visit the temple during puja time, murti is difficult to be observed; it is all covered with flowers, fabrics, etc. But when I was conducting puja for her, was pouring milk, ghi on Her head, it was bared, it is just a stone. But a very interesting stone, I do not know its name, it is very strange. It is not similar to any of the stones that you can get in a store. So, murti can be a sign on the ground, as though a signature of the Goddess which She puts in places of Power. That is why we strive for these places.

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Dhuni (ritual fireplace) in Datta Akhara ashram — Ujjain.

Speaking about Dattatreya again, we’ve read some of his texts: Tripura Rahasya, Yoga Rahasya, Avadhuta Gita…

Unfortunately, very often translations are not quite good, any of them: English, Russian or even Hindi. You have to listen to the original Sanskrit text. Avadhuta Gita is written in a form of a song (sings one rhymed shloka in Sanskrit). Avadhuta Gita is not the book on philosophy; it is the book of secret language and mantras. It is one of the most powerful tantric texts, but it is difficult to understand through the translation, secret language gets lost, that is why it is important to keep this text in Sanskrit.

Do you know Goa Gil (DJ), he lives in Goa too?

He is one of my close friends.

He visited Russia for several times with his concerts collecting around twelve thousands people.

Gil and I once came together to India; he is one of my oldest friends. He also belongs to Juna Akhara; we will hold a dhuni together on Kumbh Mela. He is from Giri order, but at first he was Saraswati, in 70s he was studying yoga in the mountains in Rishikesh, in Niketan Yoga, Yogeshvarananda’s ashram.

Interesting, when you get to the family, to Akhara, you usually have several Guru, diksha, shiksha and so on.

I had eleven. Two years ago the eleventh one, Arjun Puri, has died at the age of 150.

I have a question: how can sadhus — people living in a mythological world, keeping the ancient culture — survive in modern society?

Yes, nowdays it is very difficult. On the one hand, this mythological epoch has come to an end. Sadhus are urged to contact the modern world in a way they did not used to. Earlier, we were wandering across India and could come to some place, visit a temple and gather many people – mainly men, less women (they sit at home, it is a tradition) and all the children that live around – they come, sit close to each other and listen to us with their mouths open. They listened to stories about sadhus from other places, about Rama, Krishna, Shiva… But recently, we came to some village, came to a temple, sat down, and very few people came, there were no children at all. We asked them: “Where are the children?” One of the locals explained, that they watch TV, American cartoons in Hindi. The authority of a sadhu, a story-teller, has gone. For many centuries the aged man, baba, was an authority, and now the attention is directed to TV — in India, in USA, in Russia, everywhere…
The Knowledge is not transferred from mouth of one person to ears of another one any more, that was the basis of sadhu tradition. Nowdays people get information from TV or the Internet. So, some religious authorities began to act and preach on TV, they address people as advertisers address customers because we live during the epoch of customers. In the past, people asked babas passing through their village for blessings and advices — how to do solve problems in life, etc. They were given vibhuti (ashes from the ritual fire place) and blessing touches. Nowdays the middle class ideology dominates — they expect the product to be presented to them, then they will consider it, and take it if they like it, and if they don’t like it they will choose another product. They wish to know what Guru «can offer», Guru, they think, should make an advertising and then they would probably get his «product» and become his followers. It is the opposite of what traditional babas did. Some babas got prepared for the epoch of customers — they have got the land, built big ashrams, and now make products — from books to beads – offering them to people, because people want to get something from religious authorities, then they feel satisfaction.

Wasn’t it the same before? People were coming to babas, bringing offerings, products, to get their blessings. The materialistic approach, even the simpliest one, was always closer to people…

It was. The difference is that many modern Gurus cannot give the real blessing, mystically influencing your life; they do not possess such spiritual power. You can get the information from them: lectures, books, aromas, probably, some feeling of happiness which they would call «enlightenment». But baba does not distribute «enlightenment» or teach doctrines at all, if only you are his direct disciple. Baba just touches you and as he is a yogi (mystically connected with the Mother Earth) he acts as a tube which transfers the Mother’s Earth blessing for prosperity through his hand to a person who asks for it. He does it irrespective of the caste and without any payment. You may give dakshina (offering) to a saint person, it is a tradition. But now it is a business, people buy aromas, disks and books in ashram, they buy even prasad. Ashrams prosper, but babas living as ascetics in caves may only have a pair of disciples, they transfer a thousand-year’s knowledge, and lose possibilities to survive in the modern world. They do not have much money and they experience financial pressure that did not exist earlier. Even food became much more expensive. Earlier when an ascetic took a train, conductors realised who he is and did not ask for money, now it is changed. Many babas become more materialistic, it is a survival process. But conversations with popular Gurus, I do not mean that all of them are bad, but it is different from getting the blessing of a baba.

What is the difference between the titles Swami and Baba?

Swami means «Master». It is the term of respect. If you say «Swamiji» this is more specific, and concerns religious activity. Baba is a closer polite reference — he can be your father or grandfather. Sadhu orginates from a Sanskrit word «a good person». It also means a person who has accepted renunciation from the world.

I’ve heard that Swami is like an analogue of monkhood in the western tradition, the person accepts certain vratyas (vows) similar to monastic then he is called Swami. Swami should belong to some spiritual order, he cannot become Swami by himself. But Baba is not obligatory the monk, is he?

For example, in Dashanami Sannyasa, the meta-organisation of ten sannyasi orders, there are different types of yogis and monks. Some shave their heads and carry crooks. Their basic practice is studying and reciting the Vedas, they are called Danda Swami, a sovereign of the crook. Ones should address them «Swamiji», instead of «Babaji». But they also part Juna Akhara.

What is the difference between different orders of Dashanami Sannyasa — Puri, Giri, Saraswati? Is there a difference in practice, philosophy or the main Deity?

There are two basic sannyasa directions. According to my experience, Guru Dattatreya — the guru of yoga and tantra, the teacher of Naga baba, naked ascetics with long jata (dreadlocks), he was the first naga baba, and his tradition was always more shamanistic, more connected with the Mother Earth. Then Adi Shankaracharya has appeared, academicians give one date but sadhu tradition says it was 5th century B.C. Noone will tell precisely, what date is correct, and it is not important. The important thing is that he came from a strong bramin’s tradition — Nambudri, he perfectly knew Sanskrit, the Vedas from early age and he was a person of high culture who has accepted renunciation of the world. There were some additions, besides Dattatreya tradition. Adi Shankara has introduced more philosophical Sanskrit culture and has acted as the organizer of Baba movement, he gave it a structure and established four main monasteries (Matha) for all Babas of India — Shringeri in the South (in Rameshvaram, cape Kanjakumari), Joshi in the North (in Badrinath), Dvarka in the West (in Gujarat state), and Puri Math in the East (in Jaganth Puri, Orissa state). It has directed four his main disciples to supervise these Mathas. On the other hand there still were sadhus connected with Dattatreya’s tradition who have practised that we call yoga and tantra — different methods of mystical contact with the Mother Earth, more shamanic. To control these energies orders or Akharas were established. The ancient name for Juna Akhara was Datta Akhara. Then there were other Akharas. The difference between them was that every Akhara, consisting of different lines of knowledge transfer, had its own “main” Deity. In Juna Akhara it is Dattatreya. And each disciple in Juna Akhara should have five Gurus, but besides there is a mystical, the main Guru — He. For example Agni Akhara worships Surya, the God of the Sun. The oral tradition is not eclectic; it does not take the information from whatever sources. Information sources are only the Guru and members of a line.

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Rampuri Baba with Pir (head) of Datta Akhara ashram in Ujjain

How is that sadhus of Juna Akhara are considered to be shaivists, wear rudraksha, but their Deity is Dattatreya who is Vishnu’s avatar?

Good question. We are called shaivists but we greet each with the mantra «Om Namo Narayana», and who is Narayan? It is Vishnu. And our main Guru is Dattatreya. Look on different babas — one supervises the Hanuman temple, another — Krishna temple, the third one – Durga temple, and practises Shaktist rituals. You will ask, and where is Shiva? In the west we have got used to put everything into categories, we often consider such phenomena from the point of view of Christianity, but it is not Christianity.
The western person can think, if he is Vaishnava and worships to Rama or Krishna he has to agitate others: «Why do you worship Shiva? My Worshiping is higher, come with me, you will become happier «. But it does not work in India. This is missionary work characteristic to Christianity or Islam. It is the politics which does not anything in common with a spiritual path. In India you are shaivit or Vaishnava because your father and your grandfather were that. You do not search the Internet for your direction as customer in an online shop. You use that is right in from of you, and at any case it appears to be an ancient way. So, does it really matter — Shaiva or Shakta?

But if you accept the Guru, you start to wear certain attributes that are weraed by him, join certain rituals and worship the way he does. You have rudraksha mala, instead tulsi, you put a certain tilak on your forehead (a symbol of spiritual school), the same as your Guru has.

Right, you look at your father or your Guru since childhood or since the moment of initiation and copy him. You study holy texts that your Guru reads. All our lines are described as shaivists, but we do not greet each other with Shiva mantra, and we do not carry a traditional Shaivist tilak — three horizontal strips though we certainly worship in shaivist temples and we wear rudraksha mala. It confuses the minds of those who are based on knowledge from books.

Does it mean that the division for vaishnavas and shaivists was thought up by academicians?

Partly yes, partly not. Historically it has developed in India, that Vishnu’s devoters lived mainly in cities and basically represented the middle class. Very often it was a trading estate. Shaivits have been more focused on the Vedas if they were bramins, and on magic traditions, if they were not bramins. But many sacred texts and wise men say that no human being can define who is greater — Shiva or Vishnu. It would be an inexcusable impudence for a small human mind to assert that someone from the Gods is greater. You should not put your own ideas as a sacred knowledge. The majority of naga babas, who I know, never build a hierarchy of Gods, do not assert that any of the Gods is greater, or any of the ways is «unique to get free nowdays». Once Adi Shankara, a nambudri bramin from a high caste, was going along a narrow small street of Benares and met a person of a very low caste, and said to him «stand aside», when bramin goes, low castes should not impede. And then the person answered: «Who should stand aside, this body, or an immortal soul? Does a high or a low caste mean anything to Atman?» When Shankaracharya heard these words from a mouth of a dirty tramp, he has thought — probably he is a realised being, touched his feet and that very moment he realised, that that was the Lord Shiva. So, sectarian divisions are useless. I could visit any temple with naga babas.

On the one of Kumbh Melas, I think, 150 years ago, there was even a bloody fight between sadhus-shaivas and sadhus-vaishnavas, for the right to enter into Ganges first for the main ablution. Shaivas have won, probably because they had big tridents…

Yes, there was. Well, in general those sadhus who are called shaivists are usually more wild and anarchical. Vaishnavas are more «civil», they keep peace, as Vishnu, while Shiva’s mission is destruction, and sadhus sometimes act as a reflection of these energies.

We’ve already asked this question, but I would like to come back to it. Shankaracharya is described in books as a founder of Advaita Vedanta whose followers meditate on «impersonal Brahman» that is why critics name them «impersonalists”. Gaudiya-vajshnavas say that Shankara’s followers are «mayavadi who want to get dissolved in the Absolute» unlike people who worship certain forms of the God. But in reality we see that all traditions of dashanami sannyasa orders are connected with worshiping personalised images of the God — Shiva, Dattatreya, Vishnu…

And also worshipping Adi Shankara!

Then who was worshipping «impersonal Brahma», wanted «to take out Gods from temples», whois the real follower of Advaita in this sense?

The main text of Advaita is Shankara’s comments on Brahma sutra. Modern advaitists often think that anyone can take the basic text and interpret it as he likes. But it differs from oral tradition. In India the teacher from the given tradition gives the interpretation. It is impossible to «take the cream» and say that «this is the essence of milk, we will take milk out as a lower substance». Then the sense is lost. Look Adi Shankara’s life. He was not a university professor, he din not write anything. He was sitting near dhuni or wandering across India. People were going behind him, looking for his blessing, expecting a miracle. Sometimes he was telling something interesting, and his disciples remembered it. Those times all texts were as songs, had a rhyme, and disciples remembered them. Then they wandered across the country and shared with others. Do you know, what was one of the most interesting missions of Adi Shankara? He was finding out across all India places of power of Mother Goddess and marking them. He followed Shri Vidya tradition which is also connected with Goddess, Lalita Tripurasundari. And next to many temples of Dattatreya there are temples of Mahalakshmi or other forms of the Goddess. It is interesting, that naga baba, a naked person covered with ashes who does not possess anything material, can give a blessing for prosperity. Because he is connected with Mother. His body is like a contact, he does not give an enlightenment or shaktipat (transfer of spiritual power) with his blessings, he gives prosperity which is a synonym of Mother Earth, health, well-being and life improvement.
Though Adi Shankara adhered to a slightly different style rather than naga baba, he also searched for and based Shakti-Pithas — places that radiate blessings of the Mother Earth. This is what he spent his short mortal life, and he knew, for how long he was supposed to live. I met professors, experts on Adi Shankara’s philosophy, at the universities in USA. I think that they have missed the most important thing. They did not have any idea who this person was and what he was actually doing. But you can still see in baba a reflexion of his life. It has nothing in common with mental masturbation of modern academicians. They told me about the superiority of Adi Shankara’s philosophy over the other religious traditions and proved it by his quotations. But I, being in the very heart of dashanami sannyasa, and having dialogues with sadhu and sannyasins for many years, have never heard such a thing. In my opinion, «demonisation» of advaita by some vaishnavas as well as pathos of academic advaitists are both a phenomenon of Christianity in its spirit, with the idea that «my God is true, and yours is false or at the best is a weak reflexion of the true one». It just cultivates an ego of authors of similar concepts.

We saw photos of sadhus practising severe asceticism — some of them keep their arm up for many years and it dries off. Some take a vow to sleep never laying down, or not to leave one place for many years, naga baba pierce their genitals or reel up a penis on a stick… Why do they act so severe with their body? Is it a way to achieve samadhi or they try to get suddhi through asceticism? In hatha yoga for example it is considered that the body is a temple of the God and it should not be destroyed.

We do not want to destroy a body as it is a temple, but we also do not want to turn it from a temple into the office. I think that asceticism, tapas is a part of yoga, as a communication with God. In most cases if the person does not suffer he cannot get wisdom. There is a link between sufferings and wisdom. Yogin has to make some sacrifice. Someone sacrifices his anger; someone offers meditation in a cave on the snow for twelve years. Tapas comes from a word «heat». We want to burn all dirt and nonsense in just only one life. You can not achieve that by singing and clapping your hands. Sometimes you have to work very hard. But sometimes people practice asceticism to obtain magic powers — many demons did so, you’ve read Ravan’s story, who has achieved God’s favour and immortality by monstrously extreme asceticism, he asked for protection from all beings, except a man whom he considered to be insignificant and was not afraid of. As a result Vishnu took a human incarnation as Rama to kill him. This is also a result of asceticism.

This is asuric type of asceticism when you strongly want something — you sit down and practice, either death or the result. What is the difference between Sattvic and rajastic asceticism when the body gets destroyed? During the last Kumbh Mela I’ve met some very strong naga baba, I could feel that they possess a huge will power, but at the same time I did not feel sattva, purity, you do not expect help from them. You understand that they more likely would easily damn you if got angry or control your mind to make you become their diciple.

It is difficult to define by external signs of who is sattvic and who is tamastic. If someone practices asceticism how can another one with no similiar experience judge him? When sadhu practises asceticism he gets the power. And this power gives him a chance to transfer the tradition through time, by means of his disciples. If the Guru did not suffer, if he did not run risks, if he is weak, what is he going to do with his disciples? Types of tapasya are very individual. Someone really needs a severe ascteticism.
When I travel with lectures around the world, the most common question is: «what practices do you do?» My Guruji, Hari Puri Baba knew for example hatha yoga practices, he did different cleansing procedures during morning his ablution, in addition to teeth brushing. But it was not the important part of his spiritual practice. Then, in 1961, there was a war with China, on the border between India and China. Guruji said that many Chinese do «their local hatha yoga», there is also a work with energy, etc., but it has made them just more effective murderers. Our practice is very simple and difficult at the same time. To perceive everyone as manifestation of the nature, the Goddesses Mother. You respect each cell of the Universe and worship it as the Mother. And when a person feels bad, his life collapses, children or cows are ill, he comes to you for blessings because if you are a real baba, there is no more difference between you and thr Mother. You touch the asking person, and his life becomes better.

Does it mean that you offer yourself to the society helping everyone?

Yes, absolutely. As a rose flower offers itself to the Universe. Baba in our tradition does not put legs behind his head and does not stand on it. He gives blessings. Everything that you do, ascteticism and rituals, are not for your own importance, but for people who have no more hope — you give them some magics.

Can we take a camera to Kumbh Mela? Does it make sense to make pictures secretly?

You can take a camera, but you should not use it secretly. Be noble — first ask for permission, and then take a shot. I will show you Juna Akhara. But in general it is much better to see such things with your two eyes, rather than one artificial. Often people hurry to «shoot» what they do not understand at all. Sometimes it’s better to leave a camera in a safe place, wander for a week and just look at the world with your own eyes.

Russian Yoga Magazine, #4, 2006 (part 1) and #1, 2007 (part 2)