Posted by: Harsha • Jan 24th, 2001
Q: Where were you born, and what religion were you born into?
Harsha: I was born in Amritsar, Punjab, India, in a Hindu family.
Q: Anything interesting about Amritsar?
Amritsar is the birth place of the Sikh religion. Amritsar is where the Golden Temple of the Sikhs is. We used to go there often.
It was a beautiful place and still is I am sure. In the old days, some Hindus and Sikhs had this tradition. The oldest son of a Hindu would become a Sikh and the oldest son of a Sikh would become a Hindu. My grandmother on my father’s side was from a Sikh family. Her father was Hindu but rest of his brothers and sisters were Sikh!
Q: Are the Hindu and Sikh religions very different?
Harsha: I am not a religious scholar and can’t answer the question well. There are differences I believe. When I was growing up in Amritsar, we did not make a practical distinction between Gurudwaras (Sikh temples), and the Hindu temples and used to visit both on a regular basis. The Sikh temples had langars (free food) on certain days of the week.
Q: Who is your teacher(s)?
Harsha: I am a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. My teacher is Sri Chitrabhanu, one of the spiritual teachers of Jains in North America and one of the Jain spiritual leaders in India. He guided me closely and advised me in my early twenties and initiated me as Harshadeva in 1978.
Q: Jainism is a different religion than Hinduism. If you were born as a Hindu, how did you become a student of a Jain teacher?
Harsha: I don’t know. I don’t think I was aware of the differences between the Hindu and Jain religions at the time and thought that Jainism was a branch of Hinduism. See, there are advantages to being not too bright! The thought of Jain and Hindu religions being different did not really occur to me at all in terms of deciding on my teacher.
Q: How did you actually meet your teacher?
Harsha: I had been attending classes with Yogi Gupta, a Hindu teacher, in New York City for some months in early 1978. I was looking for a Guru and a guide. A woman who also attended Yogi Gupta’s classes told me about the Jain Meditation Center and Chitrabhanuji.
Q: What happened next?
Harsha: I was hesitant to go visit another meditation center as the date of my initiation by Yogi Gupta had been fixed and I had also paid the initiation fee. But somehow, I did end up going to the Jain center out of curiosity. The first lecture I attended with Chitrabhanuji made no sense to me at all. I went again a couple of days later. Some students told me that Chitrabhanuji had enquired about who I was. After going to the meditation center a few times, things seemed to click and I established a rapport and friendship with Chitrabhanuji. Eventually I decided to forgo the initiation with Yogi Gupta and started visiting the Jain center several times a week. Chitrabhanuji took me under his wings, so to speak, and became my teacher and guide.
Q: What was it like having a teacher like Sri Chitrabhanuji?
Harsha: I felt I had found the right Guru. Chitrabhanu Ji and I seldom talked about things other than those relating to philosophy, meditation, advanced practices of yoga, and different states of consciousness. Because he knew the depth of my sincerity, he was always accessible to me. He guided without imposing any dogma or religion.
My questions to him from the beginning centered on how to attain enlightenment. He told me frankly on the first day when I had a chance to speak privately with him that he could not give me enlightenment. Nobody can, he had said. He told me that those teachers who make such promises mislead their students. “Only you can go within and realize the miracle that you are. Everyone must do it for themselves. The teacher shows the way, inspires and gives spiritual nourishment but you must walk and reach the goal by yourself.”
I discovered that the best time to speak with Chitrabhanu Ji on a regular basis was to walk back to his apartment with him (and his wife if she was there) after his lectures. That was the time when most people left him alone and gave him his privacy. I usually had a lot of questions on advanced spiritual practices and pranayama, which I felt were not suitable for general audience and so could not be asked during the question and answer sessions at the meditation center.
Q: You must have had many interesting experiences with your teacher. Can you describe some?
Harsha: Yes, there are many such incidents. Once I was sitting in my teacher’s house and we were talking about the spiritual path and practices. All of a sudden, I said with seriousness, confidence, and determination, “Gurudev, I want to attain the Highest Absolute State. I know I can do it.”
All of a sudden my teacher got up from his seat and bowed his head to me with folded hands! I was quite shocked as usually I bowed to him and touched his feet in the traditional Indian manner.
Q: How did you earn a livelihood and still maintain a spiritual practice in those days?
Harsha: While I was studying with Chitrabhanu Ji, for most part, I taught Hatha Yoga at a Health and Racquet club to earn a living. When I was not working I was usually meditating or doing pranayama exercises. By the time I was 23, it had become my habit to sit for meditation for several hours a day in the morning and at night. On my free days, when I did not teach yoga, I did nothing else but meditate the whole day taking breaks every few hours to stretch and eat.
Q: What books were you reading in those days?
Harsha: Although I had enjoyed reading quite a bit since I was a child, my attraction to books lessened considerably during the time periods when I was only meditating. I usually kept near me Chitrabhanu Ji’s books and also the various books on Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga by Swami Sivananda. I also remember reading Osho’s discourses in forms of various books in the late 1970s as well. Eventually I lost interest in such readings and did not wish to use the mental energy in that direction. The one book that I consider equivalent to a Guru is “Talks with Ramana Maharshi.” For a simple person like me, that one book ultimately proved to be more than enough.
Q: Can you talk about Ramana Maharshi?
Harsha: For some reason that I cannot describe, Raman Maharishi, along with Chitrabhanu Ji played a central role in my spiritual life. During the phase of deep meditation when I had given up all books, and even my pranayama exercises that I loved, I still read conversations with Raman Maharishi. He was in a very real sense always absolutely alive for me. I thought about him constantly.
One night I had a significant dream. I was in a large group of people. I was a male but had a different face. Ramana Maharishi came towards the group. He singled me out with his eyes. He squinted his eyes as if in thought. Then looking at me very carefully, he said as if talking to himself and me at the same time, “Do I know you? Do I know you? I don’t know…I don’t know if I know you.” As he said these words, he came straight towards me and touched me on the head.
Even though it was a dream, my whole body was literally charged with explosive electric energy. I did not feel afraid because I was already quite used to such experiences in manifestations of the Kundalini Shakti in various ways. It was an experience, particularly relevant to me as Raman Maharishi whom I loved so much, had appeared in the dream and blessed me. It is hard to describe the closeness that I feel with the Sage of Arunachala.
I have often mentioned this to Chitrabhanu Ji. without any fear that he would mind. Chitrabhanu Ji has told me that he visited Ramana Maharishi in his youth and that Ramana Maharishi always said “Ahimsa Param Dharmo” which means non-violence is the first principle. My teacher always assured me that I should not think that it is improper to follow the teaching of other great sages. The non-sectarian streak in Chitrabhanu Ji is very strong. In that way, I am very much like my teacher.
Each individual path is unique. To discover the Jewel in the Heart, that contains the individual and the world and shines through the mind as consciousness is a recognition sages point to, and it is for each to see that with one’s own eye without an intermediary. The words and instructions of a genuine teacher work in a flash when the time is ripe, and then those words disappear without a trace in One’s Own Being.
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