by Rajiv Agarwal: I dedicated 23 years of my life to find enlightenment. I explored deeply the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism, Zen and served numerous Gurus, obsessed with finding reality…
Whatever I write and teach is from my own direct experience of awakening.
I was born in Siliguri, a small town in India in 1976. Since early childhood, I had an intense fascination for the unknown. I went for my college in New Delhi and it was during this period that I started exploring the healing therapies of different traditions. These included Reiki, Magnified healing, hypnosis, mantra healing, Pyramid healing, dowsing, crystal healing, chakra balancing, kundalini awakening etc.
I was quite good at healing and the people I healed saw great improvements in their health. Over time, I became a popular healer. Soon I had a group of people around me, who thought I had great spiritual powers. But, I did not want to become a Guru, and I was least interested in collecting people around me. I knew I was just on the surface, and true healing could only arise once I understood consciousness, once I attained enlightenment. I didn’t want to be distracted from my lofty goal, and I slowly distanced myself from my image as a healer.
Persecution and Suffering
I come from a very conservative and close knit society. The society I lived in thrived on money, the only purpose of life was making lots of money and if you weren’t interested in making money and wanted to go on a different path, you were a pariah. The people around me were intensely religious, but all they wanted from God was to fulfill their petty desires for money and security, and they tried to sway the Gods by pleasing them with offerings and prayers.
But I didn’t want to please God for money. I wanted to find the infinite immensity, the ultimate reality.
When I came back to my small hometown after my studies, I realized how emotionally traumatic being a seeker was. People were already gossiping about me. It was inconceivable for them that I wasn’t interested in becoming rich but instead wanted to meditate and find reality. They thought I either had some mental issues or had lost my mind. Some were sympathetic, advising me to leave this madness and be more practical, ie focus on money and material aspect of my life.
It was during this period that I realized something ironic. In such a religious and spiritual place as India, it is great to worship God, but if you are intent on finding God, dedicating your life to finding reality, then you are ostracized from the society.
During this time, something even more emotionally devastating happened to me. I had gone on spiritual retreat for a week to a place called Ganeshpuri, near Mumbai. It was a wonderful trip which helped me gain insights into my mind. I used to get up at 3:30 AM, spending hours meditating and immersing myself into the teachings of various enlightened masters. I also met local sages and wise men, absorbing their wisdom and insights.
But, when I came back home, everyone in town believed that I was in a rehabilitation in Mumbai for drug addiction, a rumor spread by one of my close friend. (Till today, I utterly fail to understand why he did that.) This wouldn’t have been such a big thing now, but in 1999, in a small town in India, it was a social death sentence. It was a double whammy for me, having a tag of a spiritual seeker who wasn’t interested in money and a drug addict. I became a social outcast.
I was young and the derision I experienced broke my heart into pieces. I knew people whispered behind my back as I walked down the streets. I started going out less, meeting people less. All this while, I kept asking the heavens- “all I wanted was to find the ultimate reality, to follow the path to truth. I have never even hurt an ant, then why are these people against me? “
I spent most of my time locked in my room. I had this immense sadness, a longing to become whole with the universe, to find my true eternal self, a pain which seared my very being. I couldn’t cry in front of my parents or family members, and it was in my room I spent hours in tears, till my head split and my eyes became sore. But nothing brought peace to me.
“Why are they after me? I am not gambling or doing drugs. I am cultivating compassion and kindness, living a simple life of utter nonviolence? Why am I being persecuted?”
It was during this time that I seriously contemplated living the life of a penniless monk. I wanted to take the vows of renunciation and live a life dedicated to finding the truth. The more I withdrew from everything, the more hurt and pained my mom become. She saw me withering away in front of her eyes. She was constantly haunted by the thoughts of me renouncing the material life and becoming a monk. This stress affected her health and made her very depressed.
With tears in her eyes, she would plead with me not to become a monk. I loved her immensely, and I was torn between my love for her and my desire to dedicate my life wholeheartedly to find enlightenment.
After months of agonizing over my decision, I realized that I couldn’t find peace if I broke her heart. I couldn’t see her suffer any more.
Ultimately, I made a promise to her.
“Mom, I will never break your heart. I will only become a monk when you agree, that too with a smile.”
That was the end of my dream of becoming a penniless wandering monk. My mom’s health steadily improved, but she never gave me permission to become a monk.
A new dawn
It was difficult for me to stay in the suffocating environment of my home town. I was very good in composing and creating music, and I decided to shift to Mumbai and find creative expression as a sound designer and musician. I found solace in music and thus began my career in music which I pursued for many years.
Since I was working as a freelance sound designer and audio engineer, I took few gigs and dedicated most of my time in my spiritual pursuit. I traveled extensively across the entire length and breadth of India, specially the Himalayas. I met countless saints and enlightenment masters and lived a life of utter simplicity. There was a time when I even lived and meditated in a cave.
I met some fascinating sages in my journeys. I met the bliss intoxicated sage, who was mostly immersed in inner ecstasy and radiated immense joy, the silent sage, Mauni Baba, who hadn’t spoken a word in the last 40 years, the wise Dineshananadji, who was immersed in non-dual awareness.
My first introduction to Non duality (Advaita) was through the works of Nisargadatta Maharaj. Maharaj intrigued and fascinated me. This got me interested in other Advaita teachers like Ramana Maharishi, Atamananda etc. I also started reading the works of J Krishnamurti, whom I immensely admired.
Experiencing ecstasy and profound stillness
It was during this time I started having fantastic spiritual experiences. Sometimes I felt so ecstatic that every cell in my body would explode with bliss. I felt that I was floating in an infinite ocean of ecstasy. I was absorbed in these expanded rapturous states of being for hours. A sense of immense sacredness and divinity infused my entire consciousness.
During these states, my body sometimes used to go in spontaneous states of yoga. Sometimes my body would become so flexible that I could bend spontaneously into difficult yoga postures. Many of these postures were completely unknown to me but the body automatically aligned itself to certain ancient forms.
Another curious thing happened with my breathing; I experienced spontaneous Pranayama and kumbhka (Ancient yogic breathing patterns and techniques). It is a cessation of breath, which leads to higher states of consciousness. I experienced both the outer and the inner cessation of breath. After I took a deep breath in, my breath used to stop for around a minute to minute and a half. During this time the mind felt utterly still and pure. After the inner cession, I would exhale, wherein my breath used to again stop for approximately a minute.
Sometimes I didn’t experience Kumbhka instead my breathing used to slow down to one breath a minute, with the inhalation extending approximately 30 – 40 seconds and the exhalation for the same period of time. This would continue sometimes for 45 minutes at a stretch.
Inner Spiritual Awakening
In 2005, I had gone to Mirik, a small town in the Himalayas for silent contemplation. One day, as I was strolling besides the beautiful mountain lake, engrossed in witnessing my consciousness, something unexpected happened. As I looked within, I could feel my consciousness slowly expanding beyond my body. To my utter amazement, my consciousness expanded and slowly embraced the lake and the mountain ranges. As I looked at the clouds, I could see them become one with me. I was suddenly everywhere. The entire space was myself and everything under the sky was me. Every point of space contained me, reflected my consciousness, which was mine, but was also universal. The entire creation melted into a luminous wave of consciousness. I was free from the bondage of individuality, from being a mere speck. I was the totality, but it was not me as a person. There was identity, but it was universal, all embracing.
It was at this moment that the teachings of Nisargadatta, J krishnamurthi, Advaita, Zen and Buddhism all unfolded and I realized what they were trying to point at. For years I had read them, contemplated their teachings, but now, at this moment, I was living them.
The spiritual awakening experience caused a permanent shift in my understanding. However, the deeper effects of the awakening started fading away in the next 6 months. But I had got a taste of the potential of my own consciousness and I wanted to make this my permanent state of being.
More than ever before, I wanted enlightenment. Enlightenment. This one word brought untold grief and suffering to me for the next few years.
I started chasing the abstract mystical concepts of enlightenment and fell down the rabbit hole of grace, guru and Nirvana. I wasted years pleasing Gurus, hoping they would somehow help me in integrating and making this state permanent, that their grace would bestow enlightenment, the ultimate cessation of being. Most of my waking state was absorbed in contemplating awareness and consciousness. I knew if I witnessed my consciousness a little longer, meditated a little more, I would finally go beyond the veil of illusion and find my own true self. The more I chased enlightenment, the more miserable I became.
After being a miserable seeker for 7 years, I was utterly exhausted. I still experienced the states of profound bliss and peace, but since they were an impediment to enlightenment, I had stopped paying attention to them. (In hindsight, it was the foolish thing I did in my life).
Bliss wasn’t good enough.
Peace wasn’t good enough.
I needed enlightenment, the ultimate resting place.
This had been hammered inside my head through the teachings of most of the spiritual systems. You couldn’t rest till you found enlightenment. Till you reached perfection, everything else was an illusion. Either you were Enlightened and perfect, or you were still in duality, in illusion. It was a black and white situation, either you attained it, or you were imperfect.
Shift in consciousness and perception
It was in 2013, I was in India when I started having doubts about enlightenment. For years I had unquestioning faith in its existence. The more I started questioning it, the more it started to fall apart.
Then it struck me. I was looking for a perfect enlightened state in the future, a state which someone else had experienced. I had been caught in endless becoming , the desire to find a perfect state of being which I had read in books. And I had totally forgotten about what I had – the infinite bliss and peace which I had always experienced, the state of beyond mind and consciousness, the state of pure awareness.
At that moment, an intense joy overwhelmed me, shaking the very core of my being. The vast treasure of awakening had always been with me but my spiritual greed of becoming more, of wanting it to be permanent had made me blind to it. It was like having billions of dollars, and still being miserable because you are not as rich as Bill Gates.
That day, I stopped becoming. I stopped seeking. I stopped being a miserable seeker. I had finally arrived.
That was the endless dawn of awakening.
It took some years for this final shift to be totally integrated. Life has become immensely beautiful living in present conscious awareness. Stillness has become the background for all activities. Spontaneous states of bliss and ecstasy arise, carrying me to the infinite shore of immense joy.
There is a sacred wonderment when beholding nature and life in all its diversity.There is a shining darkness, an unfathomable silence, space which is empty, yet full. I call it what is, the sense of presence. And I would like everyone to experience these amazing higher states of consciousness at least once in their life time. Even the sun pales in front of the immensity of consciousness.