The Tree of knowledge
Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master
Forty years ago, a young man of nineteen from Kerala, the southern-most state of India, was found in deep meditation in the cave of Vyasa up in the Himalayas near Badrinath, close to the Indo-Tibetan border regions. Even in those days, a teenager going away to the Himalayas to meditate was not a common occurrence. What made this case almost unbelievable was that the young man in question was not even born a Hindu.
How this young man became a yogi and the mysterious and fascinating world of un-imaginable power and grandeur that opened up for him, is the story of my life. I was this young man.
If you will allow me, I shall start at the very beginning. Let us, as quickly as possible, walk together to the abode of the eternal snows. There, among the ice-clad Himalayan peaks, dwelt my friend, philosopher and guide – my dearest teacher and master by whose kindness and grace, I learnt to fly high into the greater dimensions of consciousness.
Words fail to do justice to the glory of those spheres, but then words are the only tools at our disposal. Let us, therefore, begin our journey, good friends, walking in the deep woods, talking about the wonderful sights, the bright flowers swaying gently, the sweet-singing birds, the great river gushing along, the tall trees standing silent and so on until we turn the corner and all of a sudden come across the towering great whiteness of the snow-covered Himalayas and are rendered speechless with wonder. Didn’t the ancient Rishis sing: Yad vaacha na abbhyuthitham — the power and the glory that even words cannot comprehend…
This is, to use a familiar expression, mine is a ‘rags to riches story’, a different context – an ordinary boy reaching the Himalayan heights of expanded consciousness by dint of sincerity, one-pointed attention, willingness to take risks, and unwillingness to accept failure… Of course, there was one other factor which I consider most important. The guidance and blessings of a great teacher whose unfathomable love and affection helped me undertake this journey through largely unexplored territory; a teacher who never curtailed my freedom to question, never held my hand too long lest I turn lazy and dependent, and forgave my shortcomings and conditioned responses. Can I ever forget that great being — father, mother, teacher and dear friend, rolled in one? Was it compassion that led him to walk into my life when I was barely nine years old, or was there a link beyond the mundane reckoning of life spans? (…)
I was wandering around the courtyard doing nothing in particular. Dusk was not far from setting in. The light had mellowed to a soft golden yellow. I thought I would go home too and perhaps find some snacks in the kitchen. So I turned towards the house. However, for reasons I cannot explain to this day, I turned instead and walked towards the jackfruit tree at the far end of the courtyard. There was someone standing under the tree and was gesturing to me to come forward. The normal instinct would have been to bolt, but instead, I was surprised that I felt no fear whatsoever. A strange eagerness to go closer to the stranger filled my heart. I quickened my steps and was soon standing in front of him. Now I could see clearly.
The stranger was tall, extremely fair and his well built muscular body was bare except for a piece of white cloth that was wrapped around his waist and reaching just above his knees. He was also barefoot. I was intrigued by this strange man who had slightly brown and thickly matted long hair gathered over his head in a big knot that looked like a tall hat. He wore large, brown, probably copper earrings and carried a black polished water pot in his right hand. By far, the most striking of his features were his eyes: large, brownish black, glittering and over-flowing with love and affection.
He put his right hand on my head without any hesitation and his kind voice said, “Kuch yaad aaya” in Indian, which means, “Do you remember anything?”… He then removed his hand from my head and stroked the middle of my chest with it saying, “Baad mein maalum ho jayega. Ab vapas ghar jao.” (You will understand later. Go home now). I still did not understand what he was trying to convey but instantly obeyed the command to go back home. As I hurried back home, I felt as if his touch had made my heart lighter. Reaching the last step to the rear entrance of the house, I turned around to have a last glimpse of the stranger under the jackfruit tree, but he was gone. There was no one there.
It was also getting darker. I ran into the kitchen with great excitement. What an adventure to share with my mother and tantalize my little sister with. I opened my mouth to begin my story but no word would come out of my mouth. It was as if someone or something had locked my vocal chords. I tried again and gave up. On a few more occasions, I tried to tell the story and failed. Convinced that I was being prevented by some unknown power from exposing the incident, I gave up all attempts.
It took ten years before I could speak about it to anyone at all. The first person I spoke to about it was none other than the stranger I had first met under the jackfruit tree — my guru, whom I met again in the Himalayas under completely different circumstances. At that meeting, I was formally accepted as a disciple; but we’ll come to that later. After the jackfruit tree incident, although outwardly I looked like any other boy of that age, my personality had undergone a profound change. A secret life went on within, side by side with the ordinary activities of day-to-day existence. The inner journey had begun and the first sign of this was that I began to meditate without even knowing the word meditation.
It happened like this. Although I found myself unable to share the extraordinary experience that I had had, the image of those loving eyes never left my heart. One night, I fell asleep as usual beside my mother and sister thinking of this man with the kind glance. Normally, I was a sound sleeper, and in the morning I had to be called many times before I would wake up. But that night was different. Around midnight, I suddenly woke up and sensed a lovely, blissful feeling in the centre of my chest. It was as if someone was tickling my heart with a soft feather. A tingling sensation began to move slowly up my spine. I wanted to sit up but felt that my mother might wake up and get curious. So still lying down, I closed my eyes and tried to look inward.
First the loving eyes appeared, then they vanished and in their place was a cool silvery light that came up my spine and filled my heart. If I had known then what an orgasm feels like, I would have called it a strange orgasm of the heart with no sexual connotations. But I was still too young to make the comparison. All I could understand was that the blissful feeling intoxicated me. I do not know how long it lasted, this first experience of a trance… No bliss, no light, no tingling sensation, everything had vanished in a moment. I was off to wash, have breakfast, dress and get ready for school. Only the kind eyes still haunted me.
Every night since then, the meditation continued. I had some extraordinary experiences which I shall relate presently. But more importantly, saintly men and evolved souls came into my life, and the writings I needed to read, fell into my hands as if by providence.
Source: ‘Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master: A Yogi’s Autobiography’, which narrates the spiritual journey 19-year-old Mumtaz Ali Khan took to the Himalayas to return as Sri ‘M’, a yogi with profound knowledge of the Upanishads and deep personal insights. At the Vyasa Cave, beyond the Himalayan shrine of Badrinath, he met his Master Maheshwarnath Babaji, and lived with him for three and a half years. What he learned from his Master transformed his consciousness totally. Sri M, as he is popularly known, is a social activist, educationist and a crusader for inter-religious harmony with a deep knowledge of world religions.
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