Article: An American’s Perspective On Indian Spirituality

This article appeared in the magazine

The Science of Enlightenment and Immortality Vol. 1 Issue 2.

An American’s Perspective

On Indian Spirituality

Why the teachings of Ramalinga Swami are vital for the survival of mankind. 

By Ganganath

For over forty years, I have been studying Eastern wisdom traditions, focusing primarily on the ancient Indian spiritual tradition. I believe that India’s greatest contribution to the world is its spiritual treasure. For thousands of years, India has been producing saints, sages and siddhas. These enlightened masters constitute the pinnacle of human evolution. Humanity needs to understand who these masters are, what their lives were like and how every human being can attain the exalted states of Self-Realization and God-Realization.

Swami Vivekananda

Having been born in this lifetime in America, soon after World War II, and having grown up there during the last half of the 20th century, I’ve had the opportunity to witness and participate in the profound cultural transformation of western civilization that began with Swami Vivekananda’s address at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago on September 11th, 1893. When Swami Vivekananda began his historic address with the words “Brothers and sisters of America,” he received a standing ovation. The following day, newspapers across America proclaimed that the Indian swami had “electrified the crowd” but few, if any, realized then the enduring impact of his appearance that day and the ensuing repercussions that would reshape western civilization for decades to come. Swami Vivekananda was a spiritual giant. In his short life of less than 40 years he set into motion impulses of consciousness that are still radiating throughout the world, impacting and transforming western societies. As the first Indian swami to come to America, Vivekananda opened the door so that the treasure of Indian spirituality could flow into western civilization. Numerous Indian teachers followed him, like Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Satchidananda, J. Krishnamurti, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Muktananda and Yogi Bhajan, to name just a few, who have sown the seeds of Indian spirituality into the fertile soil of America.

Ganganath at 8 years old

When I was a young child growing up in the 1950s, America was an extremely materialistic society. The post-war economy was booming, material goods were abundant and people were prospering materially. I had the good fortune to grow up surrounded by some of the wealthiest people in America. Although my parents were not wealthy, they wanted me to have the best education so they sent me to a private school for boys where I associated with the children of captains of industry. However, I soon noticed that all their enormous wealth did not make these families immune to suffering. When I observed the lives of my schoolmates, I saw that these “fortunate ones” suffered from the same problems of alcoholism, drug addiction, depression and anxiety that were prevalent throughout society. Clearly money, although useful, did not result in permanent happiness. At the time, as a child, I was unaware of Eastern spirituality but my inner being knew that there must be more to life and so an inner flame of spiritual yearning was kindled. I inwardly asked “Where does real happiness come from?”

A pivotal point came when my 11th grade English teacher recommended that I read “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse. Prince Siddhartha had grown up in a royal palace shielded from suffering but, upon seeing the suffering that existed outside, he was driven to discover the way out of suffering. Like Siddhartha, I had realized the inevitability of suffering regardless of financial abundance. Everything material is transitory. If our sense of happiness is dependent upon the attainment of material things, we will be inevitably disappointed. The shiny new car will one day rust and be taken to the junkyard. The human body ages, deteriorates and dies. Nothing lasts. And yet, the Sages of the East spoke of the possibility of attaining true lasting happiness, Satchidananda. That is what I was searching for. My quest had begun.

After reading, Siddhartha, at the age of 17, I was thirsty for more of the wisdom of the East. However, in the mid-west of America in the early 1960s, unlike today, Eastern wisdom was in short supply. My local bookstore carried only four books on Eastern spirituality; the Bhagavad Gita, the I-Ching, a book on Zen by D.T. Suzuki and the “Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha.” I bought them all and relished the wisdom within them. The words of the Great Masters were like a soothing balm that wiped away the pain of transitory existence. I realized that these enlightened Masters, whether it be Shankara from India, Lao Tzu from China, Padmasambhava from Tibet, or Rumi from Persia, were fountainheads pouring spiritual wisdom into the consciousness of humanity. Their teachings gave solace to the soul but, more than merely offering temporary relief, they gave hope by teaching the means whereby humanity could evolve to a higher level of consciousness.

Ultimately, our level of consciousness determines everything we are in life. In a world, plagued by misunderstanding, hatred and war, it was clear that humanity needs to evolve to the higher states of enlightenment that the Eastern masters spoke of. The more I read, the clearer it became that enlightenment is far more than merely attaining knowledge, as it is used in the expression “the Age of Enlightenment,” but that there are actual higher states of consciousness where one becomes aware of one’s true nature: infinite, eternal and blissful. I had grown up as a Christian and knew that Christ had said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” But, where was that Kingdom of Heaven located and how did one gain entry into it? My local Episcopal Church didn’t provide the answer of how to gain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven and so I turned to the East, where there were ancient traditions of time-tested techniques for the evolution of consciousness.. The Masters of the East seemed to know the way and possessed the keys to unlock that Inner Kingdom.

In the following years, more books from the East became available and by the time I had graduated from college, I’d read everything I could find about Yoga, Vedanta, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism and Sufism but my knowledge was purely book-learned not experiential. The next pivotal point came while reading another book by Hermann Hesse, “Magister Ludi – The Glass Bead Game,” for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. At the beginning of the novel, a young man arrives at a school of higher learning and, when he meets with the headmaster, he is told that of everything he will learn at that school meditation is the most important. This message struck my soul, and elicited an inner knowing that I must learn to meditate. I needed to have direct inner experience of the states of consciousness that the Masters of the East spoke about.

Ganganath on 6 month TM meditation course in St. Moritz, Switzerland

One day, I saw a poster on my college campus for a lecture on Transcendental Meditation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The poster read, “The purpose of life is the expansion of happiness.” That was exactly what I was looking for so I attended a 4-day class and learned to meditate. The results were immediate. I felt an inner peace growing with my daily meditations and soon decided that I wanted to become a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. After attending a 10-week Teacher Training course with Maharishi in Spain in 1973, I returned to New York and started a meditation center on the north shore of Long Island. Over the next 10 years, thousands of people learned to meditate at that center. While many great teachers from India came to America during the 70s and the decades that followed, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is credited with having popularized meditation and brought it to the masses in the West. By explaining meditation and the development of consciousness in a scientific manner, he made it acceptable to doctors, lawyers, businessmen and housewives. It is estimated that over 6 million people learned Transcendental Meditation throughout the world and this made a tremendous impact on Westerner’s awareness of Eastern spirituality. Meditation became a household word. Across America, it was no longer unusual to find meditation offered in schools, businesses and hospitals. Celebrities, like Clint Eastwood appeared on television with Maharishi and spoke of the benefits that they received from daily meditation. Doctors recommended Transcendental Meditation to reduce high blood pressure and prevent heart attacks. Meditation had become mainstream.

As the decades passed, I continued to explore other teachers and their teachings. Once the floodgate had been opened by Swami Vivekananda, spiritual masters from all of Asia poured into America. We saw Zen Masters from Japan, Qi Gong masters from China, Theravada teachers from Thailand, Tibetan Buddhist lamas, Sufi masters, Vedantists and Advaitists from India. In 1965, when I began my spiritual quest, I was not aware of a single yoga studio in America. Today, hatha yoga has proliferated throughout America and other western countries. And yet, despite this abundance of yoga studios and the growing popularity of hatha yoga, most Americans who practice yoga have not plumed the depths of Indian spirituality. Many westerners practice yoga only for physical culturing, not for spiritual enlightenment. The meaning of the word “yoga” is to yoke, or unite. It means the union of the atman, the soul, the spark of divinity within us, with Brahman or God. Yoga is far more than physical exercise. It is the path of Self-Realization, the small individual ego-bound “self” that is limited realizing the big “Self” that is infinite and eternal.

Currently, in 2011, the proliferation of yoga studios has brought Indian spirituality within the reach of hundreds of millions of westerners. The time has come for a deeper understanding of Indian spirituality to blossom in the West. It is high time for the next stage in the evolution of consciousness to dawn. Humanity is not an end product. Humanity is an ongoing process of evolving consciousness. Just as we look back on prehistoric man as being primitive, future civilizations will look back on this time when humans were relatively unevolved.

Humanity is faced with serious problems today. Some of these problems seem insolvable. How are we going to solve the problem of food shortages, lack of clean water, the pollution of the oceans, global warming and the biggest crisis of all, eventually running out of the oil that our entire civilization runs on, not to mention man’s intolerance and greed that result in terrorism and war?

The great Sages of the East speak of the dawn of a Golden Age. They say that humanity will pass through a time of great difficulty where catastrophes will shake the world as we know it but that out of the chaos a new world will be born. For this new Golden Age to dawn, the best of the East will join with the best of the West. The most modern technological advancements will be combined with the most profound ancient spiritual wisdom. Instead of technology being used to conquer and subdue nature, technology will be used in harmony with nature and mankind will enjoy an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity.

In 2006, my wife Tara and I moved to India in order to deepen our understanding of Indian spirituality. We spent the next four years researching the ancient wisdom of the Siddha saints of India. We read the works of the Himalayan Nath tradition as well as those of the southern Tamil Siddhars. After over 40 years on the spiritual path and having taught meditation in the West for over 30 years, we had learned, practiced and taught many types of meditation, including mantra meditation, japa, and chakra meditation. Before coming to India, we had already been initiated into the sacred yogic science of Kriya Yoga.

From 2006 to 2010, we continued to study the lives of great Indian masters, like Paramahansa Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, Shirdi Sai Baba, Baba Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, Trilinga Swami of Benares, Anandamayi Ma, Hazrat Babajan, Jnaneshwar, Tulsidas, Neem Karoli Baba, Shivabala Yogi, Tapaswiji Maharaj and others. It was during this research that we discovered one of the greatest lights to light this world, Ramalinga Swami or Vallalar. While many westerners know of Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi and Shirdi Sai Baba, few have ever heard of Vallalar. As we read about his life, we recognized that he was one of the greatest masters to ever bless this earth. It was clear that he possessed all the same siddhis (supernormal abilities) that Shirdi Sai Baba had demonstrated and yet so few outside of India had ever heard of him.

Throughout the ages, India has produced hundreds if not thousands of great enlightened masters. They are India’s greatest contribution to the world. In fact, India is a treasure house of spiritual wisdom, preserving for humanity the knowledge of how every human being can attain Enlightenment. This spiritual wisdom is not limited to books. It is a living tradition, preserved and passed on from enlightened teacher to student, from guru to chela, in an unbroken living tradition. This is the greatness of Indian spirituality. Other civilizations have developed great wisdom traditions but they were interrupted. The Great Library of Alexandria, the largest and most important library of the ancient world, was burned in 48 BC and most of the wisdom of Egypt was lost forever. Mao Tse Tung attempted to annihilate the wisdom traditions of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism from the largest population on earth and he nearly succeeded. The indigenous wisdom tradition of America and Australia were nearly destroyed by the coming of Europeans. This never happened in India. Throughout the ages, despite numerous foreign invasions, India has preserved its spiritual wisdom through the living tradition of great enlightened masters.

Ramalinga Swami (Vallalar)

Ramalinga Swami, Vallalar, stands out by virtue of his having merged or dissolved his physical body into the Grace Light. This is a feat that few enlightened masters have achieved and it attests to his exemplary attainment. Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, Shirdi Sai Baba and Sri Aurobindo all left physical bodies, but Ramalinga merged his physical body into pure light and disappeared. No body was left to be cremated or buried. He was not the first Indian master to accomplish this. It is said that Shankara flew up into the sky, disappeared and was never seen again. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, there are numerous reports of high yogis and lamas having attained the Light Body, or Rainbow Body. During the Chinese Communist invasion of Tibet, at a gathering of religious and lay people, and in the presence of Chinese soldiers, a high lama attained the Rainbow Body and vanished from sight. It is reported that upon witnessing this miracle some of the Chinese soldiers who were atheists converted to Buddhism.

The greatness of Ramalinga Swami is that he clearly explained how this attainment of the Light Body is achieved. The others before him just did it and were gone and, after the fact, no one could ask them how they had accomplished this amazing feat. Vallalar, on the other hand, clearly explained in great detail the process that he was engaged in to progressively refine his physical body until one day he would merge with Pure Light.

After discovering Ramalinga, we searched on the internet for more information regarding the life and teachings of this great saint and were overjoyed to discover websites where we could download free books in English by Vallalar as well as books about his life. As we read these books, we were struck not only by the sheer beauty of the verses but by the incredibly scientific presentation of his wisdom. There was no doubt that Vallalar was a spiritual scientist of the highest caliber, par excellence. Since the ushering in of the Golden Age requires the coming together of modern science with ancient spiritual wisdom, a saint like Ramalinga whose approach to the highest spiritual wisdom is scientific is a perfect instrument for the evolution of human consciousness.

Ganganath and Tara Leela at the Temple of Wisdom in Vadalur

In 2007, my wife and I decided to make a pilgrimage to Vadalur in Tamil Nadu to visit the Temple of Wisdom where Ramalinga lived and taught. We arrived on Thai Poosam when the faithful from all over India and the world converge on the Temple of Wisdom. Ramalinga Swami did not allow any statues of gods or goddesses inside the temple. There is only a flame, representing the Divine Light within us, surrounded by veils of different colors representing the inner veils that obstruct our perception of the Divinity within us. We visited the holy places associated with the life of Ramalinga Swami; his birthplace, the room where he attained all the siddhis, where he wrote his famous book “Agaval” in one night and the place where he merged into the Grace Light. These holy places are sanctified by his presence and we felt incredible blessed to be in these sacred spaces.

Ganganath on stage at the Temple of Wisdom in Vadalur

During our time in Vadalur, we saw no other foreigners and there were few English speaking people in that area of Tamil Nadu. As we walked through the crowd next to the Temple of Wisdom, a doctor who spoke perfect English introduced himself and offered to show us around the area. Walking through the crowd, I noticed that there was a stage set up with men giving speeches over a loud speaker system. Without thinking, I turned to my wife and said, “I’d like to get up on that stage and speak to these people.” I asked the doctor if it was possible. He replied that he was scheduled to speak that afternoon so I could have his time slot and he would translate for me. When the time came, I sat on the stage in front of a microphone and looked out at the huge crowd of Indian faces looking at me. I had no idea what I was going to say. I had wanted to speak not because I had something that I wanted to tell this crowd but only because I knew inwardly that there was something I was supposed to say. As I stared out at the crowd I wondered if this had been a mistake. I meditated for a moment and attuned to Ramalinga Swami, that eternal ever-present Grace Light, that is all-knowing and compassionate. Suddenly, I knew what I was meant to speak. I said, “When Ramalinga Swami walked on this earth in Vadalur, he told his disciples that he was going to leave them because he was giving them the highest wisdom on earth but they weren’t getting it or practicing it. Then, he said that in the future foreigners would come from America and Russia and that they will tell you exactly what he had been saying. He said that when you hear it from them you will believe them. My wife and I have traveled from America to Vadalur where the great saint Ramalinga Swami lived and we  are here to tell you that everything he taught is true. Ramalinga taught that the most important key to attaining the Grace Light is to practice loving kindness every moment of our lives. Love is universal. When a mother in China loves her baby, that love is the same love that a mother in England, America or Japan feels for her child. Water is called by many names in different languages but it is the same water. Love is Universal. God is love and when we love constantly we are one with God.”

Ganga and his wife Tara are co-founders of the Universal Fellowship of Light, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the enlightenment of humanity. The Universal Fellowship of Light respects all religions and spiritual traditions, yet is free of all sectarianism that divides humanity. Ganga and Tara offer seminars around the world educating people about great enlightened Masters from many spiritual traditions. They can be reached through their website at: www.universalfellowshipoflight.com or by email at gangatara108@gmail.com

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Comments

  1. Louise de Beer says:

    Fascinating article–I would love to receive future emails.

    Namaste!!

    • Thanks Louise for your kind comments! I will add you to our email list.
      Blessings of Love, Ganganath and Tara Leela

  2. Exceptionally written article on Indian Spritituality. As a person born and brought up near Vadalur, Tamilnadu, I was fascinated by the article which proclaims the tenets of the great saint such as universal love and brotherhood. Let God give strength and long life to take you on the spiritual path further and spread the message of Vallalar to the world.

    Kindly include me in your mailing list.

    Regards

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