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Sahaj Marg - the Natural Path

                                     

By Rama Devagupta

 

Sahaj Marg, or the Natural Path, is a simplified system of Raja Yoga (Yoga of the mind) as taught by Shri Ram Chandra Mission. With approximately three thousand members in the United States, the Mission has over twelve hundred spiritual training centers around the world. Its current president and spiritual master is Shri P. Rajagopalachari, who resides in Chennai, India.

Recognizing the simple fact that human beings are the sum total of their past impressions, beginning from birth (if not their past lives), Sahaj Marg philosophy makes the bold assertion that each person can create a new future in their own individual universe by bringing spiritual awareness to the present. It emphasizes the need for creating a balance between the material and spiritual pursuits of life in order to reach the pinnacle of human perfection.

"People come to Sahaj Marg for all kinds of reasons: looking for peace, spiritual upliftment, or the ability to become more focused and draw closer to the Divine," said Julie Kahn, a recent graduate from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Portland, Oregon. "Even though Sahaj Marg offers all these benefits at a secondary level, its main goal is spiritual evolution and God-realization."

Notwithstanding that the final goal sounds similar to that of other meditative paths, Sahaj Marg stands apart because of its two unique, quintessential features: cleaning and pranahuti (transmission), features that are utilized in the spiritual training of abhyasis by preceptors during the individual and group meditations. While pranahuti is the offering or transmitting of the spiritual master's subtle divine energy into the heart of an abhyasi, the cleaning removes the burden of past impressions and tendencies from the aspirant's heart and prepares it to receive further pranahuti. In unison with the daily practice, they result in an accelerated spiritual growth that is independent of one's individual capacity.

The daily practice consists of one hour of morning meditation that focuses on the presence of divine light in the heart, a half-hour evening cleaning practice that removes the impressions accumulated during the day, and a ten-minute bedtime prayer that reinforces the spiritual goal. While the practice requires discipline and commitment, most of the seekers who are exposed to Sahaj Marg are struck by its simplicity, sincerity and lack of monetary requirements.

"The Mission is run solely on donations, and they truly are donations," said Kahn. "There is no coercion financial or otherwise in this organization. I have heard stories of the Sahaj Marg masters' not accepting money when they felt that it could not be afforded, or was offered with an unwilling heart."

Kahn then narrated a personal experience wherein she had written to Rajagopalachari during the initial stages of her practice expressing uncertainty about Sahaj Marg. His reply, "You have to find the answer within you, from the heart," left a tremendous impression upon her, so today she makes the same point with newcomers. "Sahaj Marg is here for anyone who wants to take advantage of it; there is no force or pressure, and there is no need to blindly follow the master, because we have to really look into our heart."

Charlie Treichler, a Sahaj Marg preceptor (instructor), who owns and runs a computer company in Greenfield, Massachusetts, concurred: "A lot of other systems are about adding things, achieving things and becoming more powerful. However, in Sahaj Marg, it is more of an 'unbecoming' because there is only love at the center of its teaching and practice."

It is not the emotional, sentimental or lustful type of love, but the absolute and unconditional love of God, in its purest form, to which Treichler refers. According to Rajagopalachari, "Love has to be so much enlarged, so much universalized, that eventually there is a sort of resonance between your heart and the big heart that we call God."

It is because of this love that there are no demarcations in Sahaj Marg. Starting from the introductory novice to the veteran, and irrespective of one's intellectual abilities or spiritual approach, the same techniques of cleaning and pranahuti are utilized by preceptors for the spiritual training of all abhyasis. Furthermore, with no hierarchies, or different levels of teaching and gradation, all abhyasis have equal access to the Mission literature, receive the necessary individualized attention from preceptors and are encouraged to do the complete practice from day one. Within no time, therefore, the promise of Sahaj Marg has the possibility of becoming a Reality for every sincere practitioner.

This was indeed the case in Alicia Treichler's personal experience. Coming from a rich and diverse spiritual background, she is a massage therapist who has not only practiced Buddhist and Vippassana meditation, but also worked with energy, astrology, crystals, and other mystical systems. However, after coming to Sahaj Marg, she realized that the earlier practices paled significantly in comparison. "When I noticed the depth of sincerity in Sahaj Marg abhyasis, without any rigidity, and the lack of glamour and fanaticism in them, I was deeply impressed. It helped me overcome the initial fear about not wanting a structure, accountability or belonging to any group."

"Spirituality is very difficult to find in America," said Penny Hutchinson, a professional dancer from Seattle. "It is hidden in astrology, tarot readings, esoteric bookstores, and, if you are lucky, maybe in some churches, so it was not until I was in my late thirties that I started meeting people who were on a spiritual path."

After Hutchinson's introduction to Sahaj Marg a few years later, as her dance company performed around the world, she found the time and opportunity to attend Sahaj Marg meditation seminars in Denmark, France, India, Singapore and USA. "Wherever I traveled, I was able to interact and meditate with people who had a similar spiritual longing," she recalls. "It is incredible and wonderful that so many people from different countries can have the same aspiration and really focus on spirituality."

For six-seven years, Ramesh Krishnan, a computer engineer from Portland, focused on the religious practices of his Hindu background, but later on, after reading the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas (scriptures of Hinduism), he found himself craving the real spiritual experience that lay beyond the intellect. Shortly thereafter, he became acquainted with Sahaj Marg.

Describing the cutthroat competition within the company where he works, Krishnan said, "It is very confrontational, and you begin to feel that only the paranoid can survive. In terms of the work, anybody and everybody can challenge you, technically, intellectually and emotionally. One gets rewarded on the amount of responsibility one can take and the amount of work that one can do." Because of his youth, motivation and ambition, he naturally took advantage of this policy.

But soon, Krishnan started feeling that he was "way out of control on the inside. The internal bottling of all this anxiety was too much. I had never before been subjected to so much and I started taking it all out on the family." This disharmony made him recognize the need for greater regularity in his Sahaj Marg practice.

Today, Krishnan perceives a reduction in his stress level, which he attributes to the efficacy of the evening cleaning process: "I just do my work and am not really worried about the result. No longer do I care about the competition, or confrontation. I have more inner strength and confidence today because of my ability to dissociate myself from these kinds of pressures."

"In most people today, there is a deep sense that something essential is missing in their lives," said Rachel Ciporen, a preceptor from Seattle. "There is too much commercialism and materialism in our society. People are no longer sure about how to interact with each other, or even with nature. Therefore, they come to Sahaj Marg searching for this missing element and looking for some answers."

Because Sahaj Marg is outside of mainstream religion, it is sometimes viewed with skepticism. "There is no need to believe in anything," said Ciporen, addressing this concern. "The only advice given here is that the abhyasi should do the practice as prescribed and be open to experience the presence of God within the heart." Similarly, discussing the fear of cults, she said, "You do not have to shut up your mind and heart to continue in Sahaj Marg. It is your mind, your heart and your own experiences that will tell you precisely if this is the right path for you or not."

Emphasizing that Sahaj Marg is an open system, Ciporen said, "We always encourage abhyasis to ask questions because, ultimately, each abhyasi has to depend on himself or herself to find the right answers." Reminiscing about the early days of her practice, she added, "When I came to Sahaj Marg, I was determined that I was going to do things at my own pace and nobody was going to commit me to doing anything within any period of time. I was very glad to find this attitude to be shared in the Mission and amongst other abhyasis."

When asked about the benefits of this practice in her personal life, Ciporen said, "Not getting wrapped up in little things and keeping things in perspective. Detached attachment and not overreacting. Learning to respect others and remembering that divinity is present in each one of us."

These remarks sound ordinary because of Ciporen's unassuming nature, but are deep and profound if complexities of the human psyche are considered. Not surprisingly, therefore, the unfolding of such experiences and conditions the mastery of one's inner nature and letting go of lower tendencies like prejudice and fear continually creates in these abhyasis a feeling of wonder.

Watching the naturalness in their actions and demeanor, it is obvious that Sahaj Marg has transformed their hearts and enriched their lives. Yet, there is no time for complacency or rest, as they strive to be the living examples of divine love and light. In so doing, they extend a silent invitation to other seekers to give Sahaj Marg a try, an invitation so genuine and simple that it is difficult to ignore.

(Contact information: In Georgia USA: Bharath Madhavan 770.495.7706  http://www.srcm.org/ )