When I Lost My Sense || Inner Engineering

When I Lost My Sense

Then I was a man

I only went up the Hill

As I had time to kill

But kill I did all that was

Me and Mine

With Me and Mine gone 

Lost all my will and skill 

Here I am, an empty vessel

Enslaved to the Divine Will

and infinite skill

In the city of Mysore, there is a tradition. If you have something to do, you go up Chamundi Hill. And if you have nothing to do, you go up Chamundi Hill. If you fall in love, you go up Chamundi Hill. And if you fall out of love, you have to go up Chamundi Hill. 

One afternoon, I had nothing to do, and I had recently fallen out of love, so I went up Chamundi Hill. 

I parked my motorcycle and sat on an outcrop of rock about two-thirds of the way uphill. This was my “contemplation rock.” It had been for some time now. A purple berry tree and a stunted banyan had put down tenacious roots into a deep fissure in the rock surface. A panoramic view of the city unfolded before me. 

Until that moment, in my experience, my body and mind was “me” and the world was “out there.” But suddenly I did not know what was me and what was not me. My eyes were still open. But the air that I was breathing, the rock on which I was sitting, the very atmosphere around, everything had become me. I was everything that was. I was conscious, but I had lost my senses. The discriminatory nature of the senses simply did not exist anymore. The more I say, the crazier it will sound because what was happening was indescribable. What was me was literally everywhere. Everything was exploding beyond defined boundaries; everything was exploding into everything else. It was a dimensionless unity of absolute perfection. 

My life is just that moment, gracefully enduring. 

When I returned to my normal senses, it felt as if just ten minutes had elapsed. But a glance at my watch told me that it was seven thirty in the evening! Four and a half hours had passed. My eyes were open, the sun had set, and it was dark. I was fully aware, but what I had considered to be myself until that moment had completely disappeared. 

I have never been the teary kind. And yet, here I was, at the age of twentyfive, on a rock on Chamundi Hill, so ecstatically crazy that the tears were flowing and my entire shirt was wet! 

Being peaceful and happy had never been an issue for me. I had lived my life the way I wanted. I had grown up in the sixties, the era of the Beatles and blue jeans, read my share of European philosophy and literature—Dostoyevsky, Camus, Kafka, and the like. But here I was exploding into a completely different dimension of existence of which I knew nothing, drenched in a completely new feeling—an exuberance, a blissfulness—that I had never known or imagined possible. When I applied my skeptical mind to this, the only thing my mind could tell me was that maybe I was going off my rocker! Still, it was so beautiful that I knew that I didn’t want to lose it. 

I have never quite been able to describe what happened that afternoon. Perhaps the best way to put it is that I went up and didn’t come down. I never have. 

I was born in Mysore, a pretty princely town in southern India, an erstwhile capital, known for its palaces and gardens. My father was a physician, my mother a homemaker. I was the youngest of four siblings. 

School bored me. I found sitting through class impossible because I could see that the teachers were talking about something that did not mean anything to their lives. Every day, as a four-year-old, I instructed my housekeeper, who accompanied me to school in the morning, to drop me off at the gates and not enter the building. As soon as she left, I would dart to the nearby canyon, which exploded with an incredible variety of life. I started accumulating a vast personal zoo of insects, tadpoles, and snakes in bottles obtained from my father’s medicine cabinet. After a few months, when my parents discovered that I hadn’t been attending school, however, they seemed singularly unimpressed by my biological explorations. My expeditions to the canyon were dismissed as messing about in a rainwater drain. Thwarted, as I often was, by what I regarded as a dull and unimaginative adult world, I simply turned my attention elsewhere and found something else to do. 

In later years, I preferred to spend my days roaming the forest, catching snakes, fishing, trekking, and climbing trees. I would often climb to the topmost branch of a big tree, with my lunch box and water bottle. The swaying motion of the branches would transport me to a trancelike state, where I was asleep but wide awake at the same time. I would lose all sense of time on this tree. I would be perched there from nine o’clock in the morning to four thirty in the evening when the bell rang and school was done. Much later, I realized that unknowingly I was becoming meditative at this stage in my life. Later, when I first instructed people into meditations, it was always swaying meditations. Of course, I hadn’t even heard of the word “meditation” at this point. I simply liked the way the tree swayed me into a state beyond sleep and wakefulness. 

I found the classroom dull but I was interested in everything else—the way the world is made, the physical terrain of the land, the way people live. I used to take my bicycle along the mud roads in the countryside, riding a minimum of thirty-five kilometers a day. By the time I came home, I’d be caked with layers of mud and dust. I particularly enjoyed making mental maps of the terrain I’d traveled. I could just close my eyes when I was alone and re-draw the entire landscape that I’d seen that afternoon—every single rock, every outcrop, every single tree. I was fascinated by the different seasons, the way the land changes when it is ploughed, when the crops start germinating. That is what drew me to the work of Thomas Hardy: his descriptions of the English landscape which go on for pages on end. I was doing the same in my head with the world around me. Even today it is like a video in my head. If I want I can replay the whole thing, those years and years of all that I observed, with vivid clarity. 

I was a diehard skeptic. Even at the age of five, when my family went to the temple, I had questions—lots of them. Who is God? Where is He? Up there? Where is up? A couple of years later, I had even more questions. In school, they said the planet was round. But if the planet was round, how did one know which way was up? No one ever managed to answer these questions, so I never entered the temple. This meant they were compelled to leave me in the custody of the footwear attendant outside. The attendant held me by the arm in a viselike grip, pulling and tugging me around with him as he did his business. He knew that if he looked the other way I’d be gone! Later in my life, I couldn’t help noticing that people coming out of restaurants always had more joyful faces than those coming out of temples. That intrigued me. 

And yet, while I was a skeptic, I never identified with that label either. I had lots of questions about everything, but never felt the need to draw any conclusions. I realized very early that I knew nothing about anything. That meant I ended up paying enormous attention to everything around me. If someone gave me a glass of water, I stared at it endlessly. If I picked up a leaf, I stared at it endlessly too. I stared at the darkness all night. If I looked at a pebble, the image would rotate interminably in my mind, so I would know its every grain, its every angle. 

I also saw that language was no more than a conspiracy devised by human beings. If someone spoke, I realized they were only making sounds, and I was making up the meanings. So, I stopped making up meanings and the sounds became very amusing. I could see patterns spewing out of their mouths. If I kept staring, the person would just disintegrate and turn into a blob of energy. Then all that was left was patterns! 

In this state of absolute borderless ignorance, just about anything could hold my attention. My dear father, being a physician, began to think I needed psychiatric evaluation. In his words, “This boy is staring unblinkingly at something all the time. He’s lost it!” It has always seemed to me odd that the world does not realize the immensity of a state of “I do not know.” Those who destroy that state with beliefs and assumptions completely miss an enormous possibility—the possibility of knowing. They forget that “I do not know” is the doorway—the only doorway—to seeking and knowing. 

My mother instructed me to pay attention to my teachers. And I did. I paid them the kind of attention they would never have received anywhere else! I had no idea what they were saying, but on those occasions when I attended class, I stared at them, unwavering and intense. For some reason, they did not find this trait particularly endearing. One particular teacher did everything possible to elicit a response from me. But when I remained silent and taciturn, he seized me by the shoulder and shook me violently. “Either you’re the divine or the devil,” he declared. He added, “And I think you’re the latter!” 

I was not particularly insulted. Until that moment, I had approached everything around me—from a grain of sand to the universe—with a sense of wonder. But there had always been one certainty in this complex web of questions and that was “me.” But my teacher’s outburst triggered another line of inquiry. Who was I? Human, divine, devil, what? I tried to stare at myself to find out. It didn’t work. So, I closed my eyes and tried to find out. Minutes turned to hours, and I continued to sit, eyes closed. 

When my eyes were open, everything intrigued me—an ant, a leaf, clouds, flowers, darkness, just about anything. But to my amazement, I found that with my eyes closed, there was even more that grabbed my attention—the way the body pulses, the way different organs function, the various channels along which one’s inner energy moves, the manner in which the anatomy is aligned, the fact that boundaries are limited to the external world. This exercise opened up the entire mechanics of being human before me. Instead of leading me to a simplistic answer that I was “this” or “that,” it gradually brought me to a realization that, if I were willing, I could be everything. It wasn’t about arriving at any conclusions. Even the certainty of “me” collapsed as a deeper sense of what it is to be a human being started opening up. From knowing myself as an autonomous person, this exercise melted me down. I became a nebulous being. 

Despite all my wild ways, the one thing I did manage to do in a strangely disciplined fashion was my practice of yoga. It started one summer vacation when I was twelve. A whole bunch of us cousins met every year in my grandfather’s ancestral home. In the backyard there stood an old well, over 150 feet deep. While the girls played hide-and-seek, the regular game played by us boys was to jump into the well and then climb up again. Both jumping down and climbing up were a challenge. If you didn’t do it properly, your brains could become a smear on the wall. While you were climbing up, there were no steps; you simply had to clutch at the rock surface and claw yourself up. Your fingernails often bled out of sheer pressure. Just a few of the boys could do this. I was one of them and I was pretty good at it. 

One day a man of over seventy years of age appeared. He watched us for a while. Without a word, he jumped into the well. We thought he was finished. But he climbed out quicker than me. I cast aside my pride and asked him just one question: How? “Come, learn yoga,” said the old man. 

I followed him like a puppy. And that’s how I became a student of Malladihalli Swami (as this old man was known) and got into yoga. In the past, waking me up every morning was a family project. My family would try to make me sit up in bed; I would keel over and fall asleep again. My mother would hand me my toothbrush; I would stick it into my mouth and fall asleep. In desperation, she would push me into the bathroom; I would promptly fall asleep again. But three months after starting yoga, my body started coming awake at three forty every morning, without any external prompting, as it does even today. After I woke, my practices would simply happen, no matter where I was and in what situation, without a single day’s break. This simple yoga—called angamardana (a system of physical yoga that strengthens sinews and limbs)—definitely set me apart in any group of people, physically and mentally. But that’s about all. Or so I believed. In time, I lost all faith in structured education. It wasn’t cynicism. I had enough zest and life in me to keep me involved in everything. But my dominant quality even at this age was clarity. I was not actively looking for inconsistencies or loopholes in anything I was taught. I just saw them. I have never looked for anything in my life. I just look. And that is what I am trying to teach people now: if you really want to know spirituality, don’t look for anything. People think spirituality is about looking for God or truth or the ultimate. The problem is you have already defined what you are looking for. It is not the object of your search that is important; it is the faculty of looking. The ability to simply look without motive is missing in the world today. Everybody is a psychological creature, wanting to assign meaning to everything. Seeking is not about looking for something. It is about enhancing your perception, your very faculty of seeing. 

After high school, I embarked on a self-study program at the Mysore University Library. I was the first person there in the morning at nine and the last to be shooed out at eight thirty at night. Between breakfast and dinner, my only sustenance was books. Although I was always ravenous, I skipped lunch for a whole year. I read widely, from Homer to Popular Mechanics, Kafka to Kalidasa, Dante to Dennis the Menace. I emerged from that one year more knowledgeable, but with more questions than ever before. 

My mother’s tears compelled me to enroll grudgingly in Mysore University as a student of English literature. But I continued to carry the cloud of a billion questions, like a dark halo around me, all the time. Neither the library nor my professors could dispel it. Once again I spent most of my time outside the classroom rather than in it. I found that all that was happening in class was the dictation of notes, and I was definitely not planning to be a stenographer! I once asked a lecturer to give me her notes so I could photocopy them; it would save her the trouble of dictation and me the trouble of attending. Finally, I made a deal with all the teachers (who were more than happy not to have me in class). On each day of the month, they would mark me present in class. On the last day of the month the attendance was registered. That day I would enter and just make sure they were keeping up their end of the bargain! 

A group of us started meeting under a huge banyan tree on the campus grounds. Someone named it the Banyan Tree Club and the label stuck. The club had a motto: “We do it for the fun of it.” We would assemble under the tree on our motorcycles, and talk for hours on a variety of subjects—from how to make Jawa motorcycles go faster than they did to how to make the world a better place. Of course, we would never get off our motorcycles at any point. That would have been sacrilege! 

By the time I was done with university, I had ridden all over the country. Initially, I traveled South India on my bicycle. Later I crisscrossed the entire country on my motorcycle. Then it was natural to cross the national borders. But when I reached the India-Nepal frontier, I was told that my motorcycle registration and driving license weren’t enough. I needed more papers. After that, it became my dream to somehow earn enough money to travel the world on my motorcycle. It wasn’t just wanderlust. The truth is I was restless. I wanted to know something. I didn’t know what and I didn’t know where I needed to go to get it. But in my innermost being, I knew I wanted more. 

I never considered myself particularly impulsive; I was just life-oriented. I measured the consequences of my actions; it is just that the more dangerous they were, the more they attracted me. Someone once told me my guardian angel must be very good and perpetually working overtime! There was always in me a longing to test the border, to cross the edge. What and why were never questions for me. How was the only question. When I look back now, I realize that I never thought about what I wanted to become in life. I only thought about how I wanted to live my life. And I knew that the “how” could only be determined within me and by me. 

There was a big boom in poultry farming at the time. I wanted to make some money to finance my desire for unrestrained, purposeless travel. So I got into it. My father said, “What am I going to tell people? That my son is rearing chickens?” But I built my poultry farm and I built it single-handedly, from scratch. The business took off. The profits started rolling in. I devoted four hours every morning to the business. The rest of the day was spent reading and writing poetry, swimming in the well, meditating, daydreaming on a huge banyan tree. 

Success made me adventurous. My father was always lamenting that everyone else’s sons had become engineers, industrialists, joined the civil service, or gone to America. And everywhere everyone I met—my friends, relatives, my old school and college teachers—said, “Oh, we thought you’d make something of your life, but you are just wasting it.” 

I took on the challenge. In partnership with a civil engineer friend, I entered the construction business. In five years, we became a major construction company, among the leading private contractors in Mysore. My father was incredulous and delighted. 

I was exuberant and sure-footed, adrenaline-charged and itching for a challenge. When everything you do is a success, you tend to start believing that the planets revolve around you, not the sun! 

And that was the kind of young man I was that fateful afternoon of September 1982 when I decided to get on my Czech motorcycle and ride up Chamundi Hill. 

I had no clue then that my life would never be the same again. 

Later, when I tried to talk to my friends about what had happened that day up on the mountain, all they could ask was, “Did you drink something? Did you pop something?” They were even more clueless than I was of this new dimension that had suddenly exploded into my life. 

Even before I had begun to process what it meant, the experience returned. It was a week later. I was sitting at the dinner table with my family. I thought it lasted two minutes but it was seven hours. I was sitting right there, fully aware, except that the “me” I knew as myself was not there anymore; everything else was. And time flipped. 

I remember various members of my family tapping me on the shoulder, asking me what happened, urging me to eat my meal. I simply raised my hand and asked them to leave. They were accustomed to my strange ways by then. They left me alone. It was almost four fifteen in the morning when I returned to my “normal” senses. 

The experience began to happen more frequently. When it occurred, I neither ate nor slept for hours on end. I simply sat rooted to a single spot. On one occasion, the experience lasted for up to thirteen days. I happened to be in a village when it began—this state of overwhelming and indescribable stillness and ecstasy. The villagers gathered around me and started whispering to each other, “Oh, he must be in samadhi” (a blissful state of being beyond the body, well-documented in Indian spiritual traditions). India, being the country it is, there was a traditional understanding of spirituality to which they were heir that I, with my blue denim–wrapped brain, had no clue about. When I emerged from that state, someone wanted to put a garland around me. Another wanted to touch my feet. It was crazy; I could not believe anyone would want to do this to me. 

On another day, I was having lunch. I put a morsel of food in my mouth, and suddenly, it exploded. At that moment, I was able to experience the miraculous alchemy of human digestion—the process by which an external substance, a piece of the planet, was becoming a part of me. We all know this intellectually— that a part of the planet nourishes us, and our bodies, in turn, one day return to nourish the very same earth that once sustained us. But when the knowledge dawned experientially, it altered my fundamental perspective of who I was. My relationship with everything around me, including the planet, went through a dimensional shift. 

I grew aware of that extraordinary intelligence within each of us that is capable of transforming a piece of bread or an apple into the human body in a single afternoon. Not a small feat! As I began consciously touching that intelligence, which is the source of creation, seemingly inexplicable events started occurring around me. Things that I touched were transformed in some way or the other. People would look at me and burst into tears. Many claimed that they were relieved of conditions of physical and mental suffering just by looking at me. I found myself healed in a matter of hours of conditions that would have taken me months to get out of through normal medical care. However, I gave all of this little importance. 

This ability to transform my external and internal reality quite dramatically has continued within me and around me to this very day. It is not something I have ever tried consciously to achieve. It is just that once one is in touch with this deeper dimension of intelligence, which is the very basis of our existence here, life turns quite naturally miraculous. 

In about six to eight weeks, this incredible experience became a living reality. During this time, everything about me changed dramatically. My physical appearance—the shape of my eyes, my gait, my voice, the very alignment of my body—began changing so drastically that people around me started to notice as well. 

What was happening inside me was even more phenomenal. Within six weeks, a huge flood of memory descended—literally, lifetimes of memory. I was now aware of a million different things happening inside me in a single moment. It was like a kaleidoscope. My logical mind told me none of this could be true. What I was seeing inside myself was clearer than daylight. But I secretly hoped it was false. I had always seen myself as a smart young man. Suddenly I appeared to be a clueless young fool, and that bewilderment was something I could not come to terms with. But I found to my chagrin that everything my memory was telling me was true. 

Until this time, I had completely refused to accept anything in my life that did not fit into a rational and logical framework. Slowly, I began to realize that it is life that is the ultimate intelligence. Human intellect is mere smartness that ensures survival. But true intelligence is just life and life—and that which is the source of life. Nothing else. 

The world has been told that the divine is love, that the divine is compassion. But if you pay attention to creation, you realize that the divine, or whatever is the source of creation, is, above all, the highest intelligence that you can imagine. Instead of trying to tap into this all-powerful intelligence that pulsates within each of us, we opt to use our logical intellect, which is useful in certain situations, but essentially limited. 

I also began to experience a heightened sensitivity to the feelings of others. Sometimes just the sight of an unknown person on the street in a state of grief could make me weep. I could not believe the states of misery that human beings were capable of enduring when here I was, simply bursting with ecstasy for no reason at all. 

It took a while for me to realize that what was happening to me was something “spiritual.” I began to understand that what the sacred traditions and scriptures had extolled as the ultimate experience was happening to me; that I was experiencing, in fact, the most beautiful thing that can happen to a human being. 

Moment to moment every cell in my body was exploding with nameless ecstasies. Right now people glorify childhood because a child can laugh and be happy for no reason at all. But I saw that it is possible to be ecstatic in one’s adulthood as well. It is possible for every human being because all we can ever experience happens from within us. 

I began to realize that the physical transformation in my appearance was actually a realignment of my entire inner constitution. I had been practicing a basic set of physical postures, or hatha yoga, since I was twelve years old. Those thirteen-odd years of yoga bore fruit at this time. Yoga is essentially a way of recreating the body so that it serves a higher purpose. The human body can function as a piece of flesh and blood or as the very source of creation. 

There is a whole technology for transforming the human into the divine. The human spine isn’t just a bad arrangement of bones; it is the very axis of the universe. It just depends on how you reorganize your system. In my case, from being a physically intense person, I learnt to carry my body as if it were not there at all. My physicality became very relaxed. Earlier, all that intensity was in my body. People could feel that if I entered a room, it meant action. But now I learned to carry my body differently. 

And that is when I realized that this experience I had had was really yoga. This experience of union with existence, of oneness with all life, of boundlessness was yoga. The simple set of yogic postures, or asanas, I’d been practicing daily was about physical fitness, or so I thought. But after that experience on Chamundi Hill, I realized that what I was doing was actually a process that could deliver me to a dimension far beyond the physical. And that is why I tell people: even if you get into yoga for the wrong reasons, it still works! 

There is something within every human being that dislikes boundaries, that is longing to become boundless. Human nature is such that we always yearn to be something more than what we are right now. No matter how much we achieve, we still want to be something more. If we just looked at this closely, we would realize that this longing is not for more; this longing is for all. We are all seeking to become infinite. The only problem is that we are seeking it in installments. 

Imagine that you were locked up in a cubicle of five feet by five feet. However comfortable it is, you would long to be free of it. The next day, if you were released into a larger cubicle of ten feet by ten feet, you would feel great for a while, but soon the same longing to break that boundary would return. It does not matter how large a boundary we set, the moment you become conscious of it, the longing to break it is instinctive. In the East, this longing has been culturally recognized as the highest goal of all human activity and endeavor. Freedom—or mukti or moksha—is seen as the natural longing in every human being and our ultimate destination. It is just because we are unconscious of it that we seek to fulfill it in installments, whether through the acquisition of power, money, love, or knowledge. Or through that other great pastime of today —shopping! 

The moment I realized that human desire was not for any particular thing, but just to expand illimitably, a certain clarity rose within me. When I saw that everyone is capable of this, it felt natural to want to share it. My whole aim since then has been to somehow rub this experience off on other people, to awaken them to the fact that this state of joy, of freedom, of limitlessness cannot be denied to them unless they stand in the way of the natural effervescence of life. 

This condition of ecstatic well-being that has been mine since that afternoon on Chamundi Hill is neither a distant possibility nor a pipe dream. It is a living reality for those who are willing. It is the birthright of every human being.



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