On The Path Of The Divine - Maa Vanasri
Maa Vanasri takes us through the trajectory of her eventful life: from a child in war-torn Germany to a nature-loving octogenarian. She recollects her first encounter with Sadhguru and his benediction that brought about her initiation into Sanyas.
In this series, each month, one of our Isha Brahmacharis or Sanyasis share their individual background, observations, and experiences of what it means for them to walk this sacred “Path of the Divine.”
A Play of Life and Death
Maa Vanasri : I was born in Germany - when World War II had just begun. Many cities were being heavily bombed and reduced to ruins. Eventually millions of people died – mostly men. Many husbands and fathers never returned. If they did, they came back mentally or physically handicapped. During the night, we would hear loud sirens, and run to the basement. Since we wouldn’t know how long the attack would last, we would pick up a big pot of wheat porridge and sour pickles while hurrying to take shelter. When the bombs would hit the ground, strange sounds and shockwaves could be heard from miles away. Even today when I close my eyes, I can hear those sounds. It is amazing how our body can store our experiences for a lifetime.
Since school buildings were destroyed and teachers were missing, we had no school to go to – but children did not miss anything. It was actually the most fun part of my life! It took nearly ten years to remove the masses of stone debris. In the interim years, we spent our time playing happily in these ruins – our unusual playground – discovering skulls and bones to play with. My only responsibility as an eight-year-old girl was to take care of the family-owned fruit orchards during the summer season, while my brothers managed a zoo with guinea pigs, white mice, hamsters, pigeons, and goldfish. My childhood was fun 24/7.
Three years later, when our school was somewhat re-established with substitute teachers, it took me some time to adjust. Soon I discovered that history classes were far less exciting than spending time in nature and playing in the ruins with skulls and bones. Anyways, it was not all bad because there were almost no full-time teachers. Most of them had died in the war, so the school was only open for a few hours a day. In the afternoon, we used to go to the textile stores to help our mother. I was fascinated by the different weaves of silk, wool, and cotton. I could make interesting patterns and sew almost anything effortlessly – It seemed like I was gifted in this art.
My preferred pass time, even now, is to ponder in my thoughts while watching birds, and following the moving clouds, and just enjoying the natural beauty all around. I could sit at a river bank for a long time, simply watching small fish jumping, and listening to the evening song of the nightingale echoing through the valley. I learned to recreate those melodies with my flute. In the winter, I would gaze at the stars for almost an hour every night, with snow all around me. The quiet of the night enveloped in the vastness of the sky, illuminated by billions of stars, would take me to a different space within me. I felt thrilled when I would see a shooting star. I was not interested in watching television, going to the cinema or partying. Even a relationship wasn’t something I looked for.
Once I read somewhere that the whole existence was made of spirals, and a certain knowledge can lead to a deeper understanding that can offer a clue to the invisible world. I was thrilled! All these years I had often felt, “Why am I here?” I never really fit into this world like the others. During this time, I came across many esoteric words like vibrations, polarization, soul, reincarnation, karma, ghosts, saints – but somehow, they didn’t mean anything to me. Many books were available under these titles, but unconsciously I understood that answers about life could not come from a book. I found intellectual teachings boring, and to me, nature seemed to be the highest teacher.
On the Roads of India
I often heard people saying: “I am going to India to find my Guru”. I thought that was weird. I too visited India, but my intention was to explore India in a different way – as tourist.
In January 2003, I came on a guided tour of India with a group of 45 people. We arrived in Chennai and visited Sri Aurobindo’s ashram, Chidambaram Temple, the Palani temples, several temples in Trichy, and many other places in Tamil Nadu. On the last day of the trip, while in the bus traveling from Trichy to Chennai, I saw several big posters of Sadhguru put up along the road. His face intrigued me. After we arrived at our hotel in Chennai I asked the hotel manager, “Who is the man on those posters we saw on the way here?” He did not know Sadhguru either, but the cleaning lady standing next to him overheard our conversation and told him about Sadhguru. She informed us that Sadhguru would be giving a Mahasatsang on the beach near the Church of St. Thomas that very evening. This would be the last night of our trip – we were due to fly out the next morning. What a chance! I took a rickshaw and went to the event.
I was surprised to see thousands of chairs arranged in the sand, and rows of people standing with hands folded in Namaskar, welcoming people in. The sun was setting – looking like a big red fireball above the ocean , and a bearded man silently walked onto the dais. “So, he is Sadhguru!” I thought curiously. He spoke in Tamil, a language I didn’t understand, but I was not interested in his words. Just sitting there, under the miraculous sunset was a feast. For the last fifteen minutes of Sadhguru’s talk, I fell into a kind of trance and felt totally energized. On the way out, I bought the book “Encounter the Enlightened”, and the next morning I took my flight back to the US.
An Inevitable Journey
A month later, I visited “Kripalu” - a big yoga center in the Berkshire Mountains, near Lenox, where I lived. While in their shop I was amazed to see Sadhguru’s photo in a magazine entitled “Enlightenment”. This was an announcement for a seven-day program that was to be conducted by Sadhguru in Princeton, New Jersey, in March 2003. I joined the program. Though I was skeptical about spiritual gurus in general, I still sat there without making any conclusions, and the week passed quickly. I returned home energized, and with some tools to live better.
In May 2003, I did BSP with Sadhguru in Michigan, US. During the program, Sadhguru talked about how accumulated knowledge can become like a wall. It released me from some negative emotions I had been carrying within me since childhood. I had a brother who had a photographic memory. He was a brilliant student; he skipped two years of school and was still top of the class. He would read three books a day, and repeat what he had read to us with a lot of pride. With him next to me, I used to feel stupid. When I heard Sadhguru say that acquired knowledge is of limited value and is not needed to move inward, it deeply impacted me.
In September 2003, I was thrilled to be a part of the Dhyanayatra group. It was an unforgettable experience, with Sadhguru also joining us . At school, I would always trace my fingers over the Himalayas on the atlas and experience an impalpable sense of longing. Now in the yatra, though traveling for many hours a day in buses was a stretch – hiking up to Gomukh, witnessing the colorful rainbow glacier, taking a dip in the rejuvenating cold glacier water… everything was simply fascinating.
Traveling by bus on those winding roads, seeing so many sadhus, saints, and devotees, trekking up to the Kedar temple with Sadhguru, encountering the white façade of the temple – all these events and more are still etched in my memory. I remember when I entered the Kedar temple with folded hands and bowed to the shrine, all of a sudden there was no world around me. My legs started to tremble, and tears started to pour down. I noticed that the other participants also looked different after the temple visit – more silent, more reflective, and agiler . I found each stop of the Himalayan yatra enriching, and truly unforgettable.
Then in January 2004, I came to the ashram for the first time to attend a six-week sadhana in preparation for the Samyama program. At that time, a lot of construction work was going on around Dhyanalinga, and we used to do our sadhana in the Kaivalya Kutir. On the opening day of the Samyama program, when I entered the Spanda Hall I couldn’t believe my eyes. Over a thousand mattresses were neatly laid out, and people were rushing in for the one closest to Sadhguru’s dais.
Samyama! What a stretch! I had lived in small places before but never on one mattress for seven days! It taught me great patience – just to sit – doing nothing except to follow Sadhguru’s instructions. I never knew I could chant for so many hours without falling asleep. Here and there were moments when I felt like getting up, stretching my legs and doing something else, but towards the end, the leg pain adjusted itself. When Sadhguru initiated us into the Samyama meditation, things started to move right and left, and the floor also disappeared for some moments. “Who is doing that?” I wondered, later. It felt like some force was moving me into other dimensions.
In 2004, I participated in a special program with Sadhguru, called “Vaibhav Shiva” – a celebration of the glorious ways of Shiva. It was a priceless experience, where I felt my being had been enriched in unknown ways. I also had the fortune to attend “Leela” , which I felt was just a glimpse of who Krishna could be. In that program, Sadhguru said that in order to play we need a heart full of love, a joyful mind, and a vibrant body. I am still working on that.
Sojourn in Abode of Shiva
In 2006, I moved into a cottage in the ashram and spent six months volunteering in the Rejuvenation Center. That same year, Sadhguru offered the first yatra to Mount Kailash. I immediately fulfilled the requirements and started packing. Yet another adventure was about to start! During this three-week yatra, we crossed the borders of Nepal and entered Lhasa, now a territory of China. There we visited the extraordinary Potala Palace. This palace used to be the home of the Dalai Lama until he fled to India in 1959. During the Chinese and Tibetan revolution so many shrines and scriptures were burnt, but this Potala Palace had survived.
The next morning the group continued the journey in 48 jeeps driven by very experienced drivers. The terrain was totally wild, a no-man’s land – it had no signs to direct us where to go. On the way, we passed many high sand dunes, and during the break, some of us actually climbed up and skied down these mountains. We crossed abundant valleys and were mesmerized by the herds of unknown animals we saw. I never thought that such an unusual opportunity would cross my path.
Then we arrived at the famous Manasarovar lake, a high altitude freshwater lake, fed by the Kailash glaciers. Everything about this lake was so exceptionally different than any other water body I had seen before. The backdrop of the lake was a huge mystical curtain, a dense gray misty mass, which felt like a borderland between the visible and invisible realms. Sitting by the shore at night with Sadhguru was a surreal experience . We took a dip in the soft, and energizing water of the Manasarovar, twice.
The next day, we met with the sherpas with horses and yaks to start the climb to Mount Kailash. As we approached Mount Kailash, unseen faces of the mountain were revealed. Unbelievable! The weather was cool, but for an altitude of 18,000 feet, it felt very comfortable. The following morning, we hiked up the mountain along with Sadhguru, getting closer to the glacier of Mount Kailash. A small stream was running down from the melting glacier on the north side of the mountain. Just touching that diamond clear river water was like feeling silky pearls moving gently through my fingers. I always had a certain relationship with water and a fondness for wild rivers. Wherever I lived in different countries, rivers and lakes were always close. Often before bedtime, I would spend time at a riverbank enjoying the moonlight shining into the babbling water, flowing over the rocky riverbed. Water is so transformable: liquid – solid – vapor, an example for me to understand flexibility better.
We spent two hours sitting with Sadhguru and mingling with the powerful vibrational field of Mount Kailash. Then slowly we walked down the mountain, being grateful to every rock we stepped on.
The Beginning of the “Beginningless”
In around 2008, a longing arose within me to walk the path of brahmacharya. I felt was like I was a drop in an ocean - the ocean that Sadhguru is, and Brahmacharya will enhance the possibility of merging with this ocean. Though I acknowledged I wasn’t perhaps young anymore, but I remained open to the possibility and applied for it.
In 2010, I went back to the US to attend a three month program at the Isha Institute of Inner sciences (III), “Anaadhi” –“The beginning-less”. I committed myself to it absolutely, and the rewards of doing 90 days of sadhana under the guidance of Sadhguru had an everlasting effect on me. I was flying high, sometimes crashing down, and in-between standing still. Sadhguru often spent 5 or 6 hours a day with us – it was a dream come true. It was a priceless process. I felt that I am a small temple in the spiral of Creation – where each spiral reflects the same original Creation.
In 2011, in March, I was asked to see Sadhguru. “How old are you?” he asked me as soon as we sat down to talk. I told him my age, and he smiled and hugged me. Within five days of this brief meeting, I was asked to go into brahmacharya sadhana - the greatest gift I have received in my life. Totally outside of my expectations, Sadhguru initiated me into Sanyas instead, after a few days of Sadhana. My deepest gratitude to Sadhguru for accepting me on this path with all my shortcomings. It is a historic time to be part of the consecrated ashram space when Sadhguru is here, reaching out to millions, and offering transformational tools to all of humanity.
Learning for me is an open field and never complete, but under the guidance of Sadhguru - “He Who Knows” - it is a blessing to be here. Two years ago, I climbed up to 7th hill with Sadhguru’s Grace. Next year I will be 80 years old, and still on, and loving life!
Editor's Note: Watch this space every second Monday of the month as we share with you the journeys of Isha Brahmacharis in the series, "On the Path of the Divine."