On the Path of the Divine - Maa Chandrahasa
Initiated into Brahmacharya in 1995 and into Sanyasa in 2003, Maa Chandrahasa has been around since the very inception of Isha. Here she shares with us a few candid moments and some deeply transforming incidents that came to shape her spiritual journey.
Maa Chandrahasa : "I want to be a Sanyasi,” I stood up and declared in front of the entire Wholeness class one day, probably shocking everyone who knew me. I too was surprised that I said it - because I tended to have deep bonds with anybody or anything around me. This quality of mine revealed itself in the Wholeness.
There was one incident where Sadhguru brought a snake to the hall and asked, "Does anybody want to take care of this snake? He is dying. If one of you can feed him for a few days, he may live longer."
He had found the snake in a hole under a tree near the cactus garden . It was 6 feet long, and most of us were afraid to even go near him, let alone take care of him.
There was a short silence. Then, "I will do it,” I said without thinking. For me, it was like this - if Sadhguru asked someone to do something, and no one else seemed inclined, then I wanted to do it, no matter what it might be. I had not even held a snake before in my life. But Sadhguru handed him over to me, and there I was, holding a 6-ft cobra wrapped around my arm. "If he stops eating from your hand after 2-3 days, leave him in the forest,” he instructed.
He was such a poor, sleepy snake. I kept him in a cloth bag and hung it inside the class. Some of the Wholeness participants got frightened and threatened to throw me out with the snake if I didn't remove him from the hall. Sadhguru was very entertained by their reactions, and he scared them even more by saying, "He will come and sleep with you in the night!" We injected bird eggs in the snake's mouth, and gave him small frogs and worms to eat. The first two days he ate some, but after the third day, he started to spit out everything. So reluctantly, with a heavy heart we left him in the forest.
One evening a few days later, I was playing music from a tape recorder for a cultural program by the Dhanikandi children. I saw Sadhguru and few others walking together, and one of them was holding a snake in his hand. "Why is he holding that snake? Something is wrong!" my intuition told me. I left the tape recorder business and ran there to see what had happened - it was the same snake that I took care of, but he was dead now. He was found dead at the same place where Sadhguru had found him before.
"Please give me the snake to hold," I pleaded. They wouldn't give him to me. Only after much insistence was I allowed to hold him. I cried bitterly when I held him. He felt so different from when he was alive. We buried him near the same area where he was found. I felt as if I had buried my own child, and I couldn't move away from that place for a while.
So this is how I was.
A year earlier also, during my Bhava Spandana, I had stood up before Sadhguru to declare something. That time it was about my desire to get married and have a big house. I had even described what kind of husband I wanted and every inch of the house I had envisioned. So it was completely unexpected that within a year, I had taken a 180-degree turn and seemed determined to walk the ascetic path. But the truth was that I was burning.
"Before I die, I must get Kaavi clothes (the cloth of a Sanyasi) from him," is what I frequently thought those days. To my great annoyance, many Wholeness participants and even Sadhguru often tried to talk me out of Brahmacharya. However, I was determined, and Sadhguru yielded. I was initiated among the first batch of lsha Brahmacharis in 1995, and given Sanyasa with the first batch of lsha Sanyasis in 2003. After the Sanyasa initiation, when I received the Kaavi clothes from Sadhguru, I trembled. "Do I really deserve this unparalleled honor?" I thought as I took the sacred cloth from him.
From Wholeness to Sanyasa, I feel this path has been about learning the real meaning of having a deep and indiscriminate relationship with life.
Climbing High in Wholeness
During Wholeness, I was always on a high. Many days I would sit near Sadhguru's feet during the sessions, and sometimes even hold his feet. When I was not at his feet, the intensity of the processes we went through had me rolling, kicking around, or even climbing up the pole that supported the hut roof from inside. In fact, once the process was over and Sadhguru left the hall, I had a hard time getting down off the roof pole - because by then I had come back to my normal senses.
Sometimes, Sadhguru surprised me with his metaphysical presence. "I am with you for 24 hours," he told us one day in the second month of Wholeness. "He will go back to the house, right? How can he be with us for 24 hours?" my mind questioned. That very night, as I was falling asleep, I was woken up by a strong fragrance of vibhuti. I groggily wondered where it was coming from but went back to sleep. Again I was awakened by the same fragrance. It happened 2-3 more times. "Who has applied so much vibhuti that it is smelling like this?" I thought. Next, I took the torch light, and went around shining it on sleeping people's faces to find the source of the vibhuti fragrance. But I could find nothing that could explain it. Puzzled, I went back to sleep.
First thing, in the next day's morning session, I asked Sadhguru about the source of the vibhuti fragrance. "Why are you asking me? Go and check with your torch," he replied to my astonishment.
A Reluctant Teacher
In the second month of Wholeness, Sadhguru put my name down for Teachers' Training. I mildly protested but agreed. Though I enjoyed the training process and was quite involved in it at one level, on another level I could not understand much of what was happening. While others discussed in detail the various aspects of the lsha Yoga class for days on end, for me the training was just a dance. Frankly, I felt quite lost at times. However, in the end, somehow I became worthy of conducting lsha Yoga classes and received the teacher's shawl. I gave my first full class in Tatabad hall in 1996. For me, teaching lsha Yoga is a very mystical process, because it would happen in spite of me.
Sadhguru Takes Over the Class
Once it happened that I was co-teaching a class with a new teacher. We were staying in a volunteer's home, which was in the same building as the class, but one floor above. One day, I wanted the new teacher to be able to handle the class independently, so I didn't go inside the class during his session, and instead hung around in the balcony upstairs. Some music was being played on the street outside. I caught onto a catchy song and was humming along.
After a while, a few volunteers came running up, and asked me to manage a situation in the class. One of the lady participants, because of the energy situation in the class, was thrashing about wildly, out of control. So I had to go in. After the class settled again, the co-teacher pleaded with me to continue the session instead. Seeing no choice, I went and sat on the teacher's chair. The music worm was still on in my head, and I was unconsciously humming it. When the participants were sharing their experiences, I noticed that I was tapping my feet to that tune. After the class was over, a lady shared that she could see Sadhguru sitting in the chair, in place of me. She said that he left when I sat down for the closing invocation. Such experiences were not uncommon, so I did not think much of it at the time.
When I got back to the ashram after a week, as I entered the Triangle Block , I happened to meet Sadhguru. Among other things, he mentioned a certain date, and pointedly asked me, "Which class (aspect) were you teaching on this date in the morning session?" I was taken aback - that was the day I had been tapping my feet to that stupid tune, when that lady had seen Sadhguru sitting in place of me. "This moment is inevitable,” I replied timidly. “So you be in the moment, Maa,” he said.
Carrying My Guru's Dream to the Villages
In 1997, to my immense joy, Sadhguru sent to me to the ladies' prison to conduct classes. It was an ordeal in one way, but an extremely fulfilling responsibility on another. I once conducted a 21-day class at an orphanage for the physically and mentally challenged in Coimbatore. Those were some of the most touching moments of my life. In 2003, when Sadhguru told me to do Action for Rural Rejuvenation (ARR) classes in the villages of Tamil Nadu, his message was: Go and rejuvenate those villages. See that they are green and people are happy and healthy. So in each village, as soon as I entered, I envisioned Sadhguru's dream coming true - it was not an easy dream to fulfill though. From what I saw, Indian villages are not a pretty sight: undernourished men and women with sunken eyes working beyond their physical strength, roads littered with trash, people sitting out in open defecation, and skinny, unkempt little children playing around in unhygienic conditions. They were so settled in their unhappiness, that the most difficult part was to make them come to the class.
In the first week, with the help of Gobichettipalayam volunteers, I went to nearly 500 houses in 45 villages to invite key, influential people for the classes. These 120 people from many different villages enrolled in the first 6-day class in Athani. They, in turn, helped us to enroll more villagers. Within a month I was conducting three classes a day, sometimes four. In six months, I conducted almost 100 classes without any co-teachers, and just a handful of volunteers.
My typical routine for the first six months was conducting three classes (usually in different villages) going house to house to invite people from other villages, and in the spare time sometimes up to midnight, listening to people sharing about their personal issues. "They share too much, Sadhguru. I find it hard to listen to their personal problems,” I once said to Sadhguru.
"The traditional systems like village chaupal, joint families, festivals, etc. that allowed them to vent out their emotions with each other, have weakened. It is good for their well-being that they can share with you. Let them share," he urged. I too could see that many village folk were coming out of depressions simply by sharing - so I made myself available in whatever way I could.
As advised by Sadhguru, I used to go to different houses for lunch. "If possible, don't refuse anyone who invites you for a meal," he had said once. They were poor people but eager to serve a Sanyasi - so I would be eating food that was not nourishing enough, many times. In some houses where I went to invite them for the class, some ladies would offer me food out of politeness, not thinking I would say "yes". Then it would turn out that they only had food that was a day old, or just rice and rasam to offer - so they regretted inviting me. But I would gladly eat with them and we were bonded forever.
The experience of being with the rural people was enriching beyond words. They are very simple but receptive people. It's true, I had to use so many tactics to get them to attend the classes, but once they were in the class, they would settle into it on the very first day. From the second day they would relate deeply to Sadhguru, and by the end of the class you could see many of them were totally transformed. Seeing their hardships, their love and their transformation was very overwhelming. What happened in those three years of being with the rural people, in many ways defines what I am today.
Here I share some glimpses:
He Went Back to Work After 10 Years
Ten years ago, either a coconut or coconut leaf (I don't clearly remember), had fallen on one man's neck and he became incapacitated. Since then, his wife was working very hard to earn two meals for the family. Then one day, he joined the lsha Yoga class, and after the second day, he said he was improving and wanted to get back to work. I told him to go slow on that initially, but by the fifth day, he was back to work.
Missing 10 Days of Practice
There was an old couple who I used to visit often. They were very reverential towards Sadhguru and did their practices regularly. Recently, after ten years, I went back to that village for some work and visited them again. The old man came rushing to receive me. His wife had died by then. As we sat to chat, he talked about his wife's illness and cried. His sons later shared that he had cried about his wife only in front of two people: the doctor who was treating her, and me. I felt so touched that he was so open with me. Then he started to say, "I am sorry, I am sorry!" I asked him what he was sorry about. "I did my practices all these years regularly - not even a day I missed them. But those ten days when my wife was dying, I could not do the practices." I was speechless looking at this wonderful man. He was nearly 80 years old and could not properly sit cross-legged, but he felt sorry for missing ten days of practice. I was humbled.
Taking the Class Outside
Once, there came a drunken man to the class, and I did not allow him in on the first day. He sat outside the hall, heard the class and watched the practices from the window. He did the practices on his own sitting outside. The next day, he came to the class looking sober. "You cannot deny me. I sat through the entire class yesterday," he implored.
He warmed me with his commitment, and I allowed him in. It seems those were the first six days in many years when he did not drink. He was overwhelmed after the initiation and cried for hours. He continued the practices, and eventually came out of his alcohol addiction completely. He went back to work, and his wife who had left him, came back to be with him.
Going Beyond My Guru's Instructions
After six months, I was joined by other teachers, and we could expand into many other villages too. The rural volunteers and people were so loving and trusting that in 2006, when we won the Guinness Record for planting 8 lakh saplings, we had planted 90,000 saplings just in the Erode district alone - nearly 10% of the total. In the aftermath of this, I took it upon myself, without any instructions from Sadhguru, to plant 50 lakh saplings as a gift to Sadhguru on his birthday. I went from town to town to make it happen. Of course, it did not happen. Instead, I damaged my health so much that Sadhguru called me back to the ashram to recover. I continued to work for ARR from the ashram.
Soon the Chennai Gramotsavam was announced, and we had invited hundreds of players. In addition, nearly a thousand villagers wanted to come on their own expenses. But someone had to be in Chennai to take care of the entire arrangements, games, etc. Since the rural people bonded with me a lot, I asked Sadhguru if I could go. "Gramotsavam will happen, Maa. You stay here," he said. But when I insisted, he said, "Okay, go! But do not ask me about your health later,” and he left.
The Gramotsavam happened gloriously with 500,000 people in attendance. I thoroughly enjoyed the intensity of organizing such a mega event and taking care of the villagers. However, on my way back, I fell so sick that I had to be hospitalized and was recommended to undergo an urgent surgery. However, Sadhguru refused the surgery, and put me on a certain diet and gave me some sadhana. When I went back for a check-up after 40 days, I was fine. But I learnt an important lesson.
In 2006, I moved back to be in the ashram full-time, and in later years took care of Akshaya and the local welfare activities. The first time when Shivanga Sadhana was offered to ladies, Sadhguru wanted rural ladies to benefit from it. So I went back to the villages to inspire them to take up this sadhana and come to the ashram for the culmination. Nearly 1,400 ladies came to the ashram on that Thaipusum day in 2011. I was dancing within myself to see that.
Now, I take care of an lsha farm where I do organic farming using the zero budget and intercropping techniques that I learnt in Project GreenHands’ workshops. I get so thrilled when I see my little plants growing and I am able to send their produce to Akshaya. These techniques are amazing - I use only cow dung and cow urine as bio inputs, and from just one acre of land, we sent 2.1 tons of radish, 650 kg of coriander last month and will soon be harvesting tomatoes and okra, too. I am able to experience the pride of being a farmer first hand.
A Journey of Building Inner Strength
One time, I was experiencing a lot of pain in my right arm because of an injury. I was like this: if the doctor had to put some burning ointment on a wound, four people had to hold me down. My tolerance to pain was so low. So naturally, when this pain in my arm developed, I went pleading to Sadhguru for help. He simply joked about it and told me not to take any medicine either, not even painkillers. The condition developed into cervical spondylitis, and the pain became really unbearable. The doctors were also puzzled why I was not taking any medicine for it. When I could not bear it any more, I went to Sadhguru for the third time. Sadhguru again laughed, but this time Vijji Akka came to support me, and Sadhguru gave in to our appeals. He gave me some sadhana, and the pain simply disappeared after a few days. I wondered later why he had not given me the sadhana earlier. But I realized later that there was a shift in my tolerance to pain since that episode. Like this, he made me drop so many limitations that used to pull me down.
The real test to my transformation was when I got the news about my mother's death. I was hurt, yet felt distant from it, and gracefully went on with my usual teaching schedule. It was then I realized how much had changed within me. I am now a different person in so many ways. From the clinging, immature girl that I was - I now feel distant from my social situations, yet I am as involved as I was 25 years ago. How to express my gratitude to Sadhguru? Whenever I strayed from my path, he gave me time and support to get back. For me, my everything is Sadhguru.
How will I ever pay back my debts to him?
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."