Travelling Light

Mooji, Prem Baba, and Shantimayi (Celebrity Gurus of Rishikesh): Day 840-877 (Jan 17-Feb 23, 2016)

Mooji was one of the main reasons we went to Rishikesh – Mooji and Prem Baba. Both are celebrity gurus, who spend a short season in Rishikesh each year in the spring.

Prem BabaWhen we arrived in January, Prem Baba’s team were already in town, and Prem Baba was holding satsangs five mornings per week.

A satsang (translated from Sankrit as “meeting in truth”) is an opportunity to sit in the presence of a spiritual teacher, and (usually) to listen to them speak about spiritual wisdom.

Photography is not allowed at the satsangs, except on special occasions, when a group of people is graduating from an intensive course.

It turned out that many of our friends from the Agama yoga school on Koh Phangan were also in Rishikesh to see Prem Baba and Mooji. We always had the option of good company during the satsang, and for meals before and after.

Shiva in RishikeshAgama yoga has had a campus in Rishikesh for many years. Agama operated there first, before opening the school on Koh Phangan. The local Indian yoga teachers in RIshikesh started to resent the popularity of the school, and enlisted the local police to harass the non-Indian teachers. These days, the Rishikesh school is usually only open when the senior teacher of Indian descent, Muktananda, is able to be there.

Prem Baba was a psychologist before becoming a guru, and he has kept his psychological focus. In his view, unresolved issue in the psyche will prevent people from integrating higher states of consciousness. It won’t prevent people from having peak experiences, but it will interrupt those experiences, so they remain isolated incidents.

Prem Baba speaks Portuguese, and has a translator into English, so the teaching goes quite slowly at his satsangs. He doesn’t take questions live, either. People write questions on pieces of paper, and he chooses a few questions to address in each day’s satsang.

Perhaps it is this selection process, or perhaps it is his audience, but the questions were commonly directed at the dilemmas of everyday life.

“Do I have to forgive my parents to be a spiritual person?”

“How can I tell whether my relationship is supporting my spiritual growth?”

“How can I deal with my negative thoughts?”

“I can’t break my addictions.”

And so on.

RishikeshPrem Baba himself radiates unconditional love. He seems very peaceful and gentle during satsangs, but we have heard from insiders that he is a regular human being, and sometimes loses patience with the goings-on in his team of volunteers.

While it was nice to bathe in the feeling on unconditional love, we hungered for more in-depth information about higher states of consciousness.

We started attending satsangs with Shantimayi, who was a disciple of the same guru as Prem Baba, and who teaches at the same ashram. Unlike Prem Baba, she lives in Rishikesh all year round.

Ravi managed to score a place in Prem Baba’s intensive ABC1 program, which has been sold out. A cancellation happened just a few days before it started, and somehow, Ravi was the person who got the open place!

Prem Baba doesn’t run the course himself – volunteers do that. So it was off for six days of challenging the ego and ripping away defence mechanisms …

Jenny continued satsangs with Shantimayi, and also met an interesting local Brahmin chap.

After Ravi returned to the real world (and had a few recovery days), we went to visit a friend in a city a few hours away by train – Chandigarh. From there, we could drive to the Golden Temple, the spiritual heart of the Sikh religion.

When we returned to Rishikesh, we moved in to a shared apartment with one of our Agama friends. It was time for Mooji to arrive!

Mooji has a Jamaican heritage, and lived for many years in England. He achieved a state of realisation without any particular spiritual practice, and without having a guru. In trying to understand what had happened to him, he connected with a guru from an ashram in Rishikesh.

Mooji is very popular, in part because his teachings are widely accessible online. His satsangs in Rishikesh are attended by hundreds of people. They queue up for an hour or more to get into the lottery for spaces on the floor immediately in front of Mooji when he speaks.

A transmission occurs in person, that doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen as strongly, when watching videos of a satsang. However, in a room with two or three thousand people, not many attendees are close enough to benefit from the transmission.

Jenny much preferred the intimate satsangs of about 40 people with Shantimayi for this reason. Many days, we went to separate satsangs, and met up afterward to compare notes.

RishikeshShantimayi is much less tolerant of questions from people who are still mesmerised by the mundane. While Mooji will patiently listen to a 15-minute rambling story about the disintegration of someone’s marriage, Shantimayi does not hesitate to interrupt.

Ravi encouraged Jenny to prepare a question, as it is very easy to get to ask a question in the small satsangs of Shantimayi. The point is not so much to get the answer to the question, but to have Shantimayi focus her full attention on the person asking. In that rapport, higher states of consciousness can be transmitted. Shantimayi can also gain intuitive understanding of the person, and offer specific, individual advice.

As an insight into Shantimayi’s style, this was Jenny’s first question, and Shantimayi’s response.

Jenny: “I have heard that there are different levels of enlightenment. There is vikalpa samadhi, and nirvikalpa samadhi, and apparently there are more levels even beyond this. What can you tell us about this?”

Shantimayi: “Who told you that? Was it a man?”

Jenny: “Yes.”

End of discussion.

Shantimayi then shared things about self-realisation, but nothing more was said about “levels” of it. Jenny found that both amusing and fascinating. And she decided not to worry any further about measuring “progress” on the spiritual path.

Bathing in the Ganges, RishikeshTo wrap up the spiritual experience in Rishikesh, Ravi braved a plunge in the ice-cold Ganges. Apparently, the Ganges is so pure, it can wash away your karma.

Scientists have recently discovered bacteriophages in the Ganges (viruses which destroy bacteria), so there may actually be some substance to the legendary purity of Ganga Ma. Whether there are karmaphages, though, is yet to be determined.

Ganges, RishikeshThe river is still quite nice at Rishikesh, close to the mountains. Farther south, around places like Varanasi, where thousands of corpses are burned (or partially burned), Ganga Ma smells like a sewer!

Ravi made a wise choice, bathing in Rishikesh. Even if it was extremely cold!


Ganges, Rishikesh

Cold, cold, cold, cold, cold …







Ganges, RishikeshAaaaaah … warmth!


Job done.

Karma washed away.

Now what …. ?