What is Enlightenment?
I am sure this question must have crossed the minds of many people around the world, especially seekers. By seekers, I mean those who are on the journey of self-discovery.
Mukti Guru Shri Krishnaji of Oneness or Ekam has a simple explanation for Enlightenment which totally blew my mind. He says, “Enlightenment is Freedom from all kinds of suffering”.
While the explanation might be simple, getting rid of suffering is not an easy task is what I discovered during my recent sojourn at the Ekam Tapas, a spiritual retreat which I choose to call the School for Enlightenment. One thing I am sure of though: this is a one-of-its-kind school which methodically helps people attain enlightenment during the 5 levels (conducted over 6 weeks) they offer.
I am blessed to have attended the first four levels (over 4 weeks) from October 27 to November 23, 2022. I would also like to mention here that the fifth and final level will be held over 2 weeks and this is to be opened to the public for the first time in October 2023.
Living and studying at Turiya Campus
Turiya Campus is one of the many campuses owned and run by Ekam (Oneness University). It is huge, with multiple dormitories, both AC and non-AC. There are several gardens, teeming with flowering plants, bushes and trees, surrounded by lush grass.
There were seekers from around the world—from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in India; from Italy, Belgium, Ukraine, Russia, Portugal, Canada, USA, Japan, China, South Africa and a couple of other countries which I fail to recall—making for an eclectic mix.
The weather was simply amazing; the skies such gorgeous shades of blue at different times of the day. I have not seen so many stars at night in such a long time. The best part was that I could see the moon throughout all its phases from the full moon to the night before new moon. Exquisite!
The dining hall was at one end, while the classroom was in the middle, with my dorm at the opposite end. One needed to walk at least 6000-8000 steps a day to reach the different places; which was one of the best parts of my stay there. I loved walking freely in the not-so-crowded area without a single pothole. And no vehicles either! Imagine that! Well, there were 400-450 people (the numbers changed after the first 2 weeks) attending the programme, but it was not crowded despite that.
While I was introduced to the dormitory way of life only through the Oneness University, I was returning to it after many years. Though I was determined to attend the 4-week programme, I was wary of going back to school at 61 years.
How tough can it be...?
Let me be truthful: It wasn’t easy, especially considering that I am not really fit physically. But then again, it wasn’t difficult either. Class began at 5.30 am sharp. Oh yes! You read that right. For one who wakes up after 9 am, well, it was a different way of living. But I took to it like duck to water. After a couple of early mornings, standing in queue to have a shower, I made it a point to have a bath at 2-2.30 am and went back to sleep, only to get up at 5 am and ready myself for class. It was novel and fun!
The day started with meditation and yoga, followed by breakfast. We had ample breaks while the day winded down by around 8 pm.
Phones were a complete no-no! And we were asked to keep ‘mouna’ or silence. While there were rules, there was no one to monitor us as they don’t believe in moral policing. Well, I managed to maintain silence 90% of the time. With no TV, laptop or phone, imagine the kind of time we had on our hands. It was simply incredible!
Food was simple and delicious. I ate frugally as a lot of running around was required. They request us to avoid coffee and do not serve it on the campus. People who were keen brought their own. I decided to give up coffee (my most favourite beverage. While I don’t have too much of it, I drink two large cups of it every day at home). I stopped having coffee four days before I left for Ekam Tapas as I thought I might undergo ‘withdrawal symptoms’. Luckily, there was no such symptom and I amazed myself by not having coffee for all of 32 days, until the last day of class.
Classes were also conducted at Ekam Temple on 3-4 days in a week; while we went for walks along gentle slopes once a week. We travelled around in buses organised by Ekam.
Another part of the programme which I truly enjoyed was ‘Ashtachala’ or communing with nature. We did this twice in a day, around sunrise and sunset. It was simply AWESOME. It took me back to the time when I was barely a teen. I used to spend hours on my terrace, simply staring at the sky, the sun, the moon and the stars.
The Journey to Enlightenment
There was a lot of teaching and contemplation to be done. I loved the way the teaching was conducted. We were not allowed to take notes during class, and this is exactly how we used to study when I was in school all those decades ago. The teaching was meant to be absorbed by our consciousness and it did not really matter if we didn’t understand every single word, but needed to assimilate the content. Brilliant!
The teachers, beginning with Mukti Guru Krishnaji, followed by Acharya Ananda Giriji, and the many Dasajis, were each one of them, not only compassionate, but exactly knew what they were speaking about.
The four weeks were set aside for the different kinds of ‘mind play’ which happens within us, including the Ego Self, the Mind Self, the Duality Self and the Craving Self. These had many bifurcations and I will not go into the details here. It is just that ‘suffering’ is created within us because of the different ways in which our thoughts play out.
‘Suffering’ is created, not because of the people around us. Ananda Giriji categorically says, “It is not created by him, her, them, or it,” but by our own “thinking”. He further qualifies it by saying, “it’s not just thinking,” but “obsessive self-centric thinking” which is the cause of all “suffering” within us.
By the end of the four weeks, this is totally etched within our consciousness. And with the powerful forces of Mukti Sutra, Mukti Deeksha and Mukti Tapas—all 3 of these happen once a week at a special space surrounded by the 1.5-billion-year-old Nirvana Hills—the ‘obsessive self-centric thinking’ loses its death grip on our consciousness, freeing us from all our ‘suffering’.
What do we achieve at the end of it all?
The state of STHITAPRAGNYA! This is a Sanskrit term which means ‘absolute calm’ under all circumstances. Shri Krishnaji makes it clear that this state does not guarantee that problems do not occur, as they are a part and parcel of our daily lives. What he says is that nothing shakes our inner self and we will be able to deal with anything which is thrown our way, all in a state of ‘absolute calmness’ as the obsessive self-centric thinking has lost its grip on our beings.
Yes! That is what has happened to me. I find that my racing thoughts have slowed down and I am better focussed on everything. I don’t obsess over something which needs to be done two weeks later, and I am able to retain my mind in the ‘present’. This lets me live my life with a lot of energy and freedom. And to know that this is just the beginning is something that only amazes me… as the journey goes on…
Pic copyright: Sundari Venkatraman