On the Path of the Divine - Swami Patanga
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.”
Swami Patanga: This is a journey from “I already know” to “I do not know ANYTHING”
As a teenager, I was so steeped in “I already know” or “I am always right,” before I began the quest for a more successful and joyful life. Though I didn’t see it as a spiritual journey at the time, the thirst to become a better human being was already blazing within me.
Even when I was in 11th standard, I was very clear about two things that I wanted to happen in my life. First, I wanted to get into some secure business. Secondly, I had a strong desire to reach out to people. However, I was clueless about, “What is it that I want to offer to people?”
I was timid in school, but when I joined college, I felt I found my wings – I was involved in multiple extra-curricular activities, gregarious, and had plenty of friends around me. One day, a friend forced me to join a workshop entitled “Achieving Results and Nurturing Relationships”. The workshop shook me and made me look at myself in a more profound way. I soon started volunteering for the organization and began getting trained to lead the workshops.
In 1994, a year after graduating from college, I started a computer training company in partnership with a friend and later expanded this business. In parallel, driven by my urge to reach out to others, I started a news magazine where we shared positive, inspiring happenings around us. We also held workshops and symposiums on “The human within you,” which had a positive impact on people and also deepened my exposure to life in many ways, but left me in the dangerous state of “Only I Know”.
A Thunderstorm Within
Enjoying the same feeling of largeness within me, in 1996, I walked into the 13-day Isha Yoga Program, and also walked out of it gathering some lessons but recognizing its profoundness.
That was all. I didn’t keep up the practices.
A year and a half later, a moment of shift silently came, uncalled. Out of the blue, I started the 40-days mandala of Shakti Chalana Kriya and Shoonya meditation, twice a day… and completed it! I don’t know what happened within me in those 40 days…
A thunderstorm, a cyclone, or a tsunami.
And somewhere I got drawn into the current called “Sadhguru”. In many ways, from that time onwards my life has no longer been in my hands…
Within these forty days, I closed down my business. I did the Isha Yoga teacher training, and was active in organizing Isha classes in T. Nagar, Chennai. I also had the fortune to go with Sadhguru to Kadapa for the Dhyanalinga consecration preparation, and went for the Dhyana Yatra also.
During the Dhyana Yatra, on Sadhguru’s birthday, September 3rd, 1998, I mustered the courage to give him a small gift, together with a small bit of poetry. The gift was a keychain with a Buddha inscription, and the poetry was:
What can I give you?
What can I give you?
Except tears of love and gratitude…”
I heard Sadhguru used the keychain for his car for some time!
During this time, I had two appointments with Sadhguru.
First, as a confused person, who poured out his scattered emotions – not been able to leave aside his own worldly attachments, yet wanting to come full-time to Isha and be with Sadhguru. The message Sadhguru gave me was, “When you can be nowhere else but in Isha, then come.”
The second time when I met him, I offered an immaculate, fully blooming single flower at his feet, and with tears welling up in my eyes I urged him, “I just want to come to Isha totally!”
‘My’ Life came to an end
The moment My Guru found me
Nothing of me or mine is left
It is Him, Him, and Him alone
Simply flowing in the exuberance of the divine.
Paying off the debts
After discussing a few practical concerns, Sadhguru asked me to come to Isha full time by December 1998.
Though I had closed my business, I still had large debts to repay. I had no job, but I was in a frenzy to come to the ashram in December, which was just three to four months away. I did all kinds of things from begging to selling, to freelancing and trading, to asking for loan waivers – anything that could get me back home to Isha. By December 1998 I was in the ashram.
The Mystical Days
I was one of the privileged residents who had the fortune to be inside the dome for the Dhyanalinga Consecration. We sat facing the wall and I had no clue about what was happening, yet everything felt so mystical. In those days, mystical happenings seemed ordinary – from getting into deep states of meditation while sitting in front of Dhyanalinga stone (which was lying down), to seeing Sadhguru in two places at the same time!
One day when I came out of the Triangle Block building, heading towards Dhyanalinga, I saw Sadhguru entering the Shoonya cottage, but when I reached near the northern gate of Dhyanalinga, I saw him entering the dome too from that gate! “What! How come he is here too?” I thought. I knew it was impossible for Sadhguru to reach there ahead of me. I wondered for a moment. “Must be some consecration work,” I simply thought and moved on. To a logical mind it may seem like hallucination, but for us such experiences were not uncommon those days.
Another time I remember during the Samyama program, I couldn’t stop chanting Aum Namah Shivaya until the last day. So on the last day before the closing session, I was jumping around near the dining area shouting Aum Namah Shivaya with my eyes closed. While I was in this state, totally lost, suddenly something within me made me open my eyes and stop. I then saw that had I taken one more step, I would have put my foot inside a bucket of burning hot payasam. I looked at it for a moment, and without a further thought moved away, closed my eyes, and resumed jumping and chanting, “Aum Namah Shivaya, Aum Namah Shivaya…” Those were some mad days.
On Mahashivratri of 2000, I was initiated into Brahmacharya.
The Torture of Feedbacks
Within three days of our initiation I was back on the teaching schedule. As teachers, we treated our schedule with the reverence one would treat “God”. Our whole life revolved around the schedule. When a class started, we would be involved with the participants, volunteers and the people who hosted us in their homes – to such an extent that it would feel like our life would end after the program was over. But when we went to a new place for the next program, it felt like we were reborn around a new set of participants, volunteers, and hosts, in their new homes. Some of my most fulfilling days were when I assisted teaching the 13-day Isha Yoga programs.
One aspect of the teaching that helped me grow was receiving “feedback”. There is a culture of giving feedback among Isha teachers. The feedback is about where you slipped, and where you did well, however mostly it was about where we had slipped. The negative feedback made me unhappy and rebellious because I strongly held within me that “I cannot be wrong!” I would go to any extent to be perfect and not make any mistake. Yet in each class, the main teacher always pointed out the things I had overlooked – the carpet was not aligned, the window screens were not closed, one name on the tag was not written well, the list went on...
When Happiness Eludes
One time with the help of some volunteers, as a co-teacher I was organizing the morning and afternoon classes in Mylapore, and the evening class in Chrompet, which was around 25 km away. Every evening, after we finished the afternoon class, the class venue was being used for a music concert followed by a dinner party. So each night after we finished the Chrompet class, we went back to the Mylapore venue to set the hall for the next morning’s session. Every time we reached there, we found the place was littered with paper, plastic, food, and all kinds of things. So we would clean the whole place, transforming the ambiance to make it conducive for the Yoga class the next morning. By the time we retired, it would be around 2:00 AM, but we would be back at 5:15 AM. This went on for 13 days!
Almost every day the main teacher would come and point out at least two or three mistakes in what I had done. Every day I diligently tried to do things hoping not to make any mistakes. But every single day I failed miserably – no matter how much I focused or took care.
The closing session was on a Saturday. We had planned a new venue with a bigger hall for the 140 participants from the three combined classes. This hall was on the 8th floor, and it had large glass windows. On Friday, it had rained heavily until late, so we couldn’t set the hall that night. The next day, we came back at 3:00 AM and found that the hall was flooded with rainwater that had entered through the windows. Somehow, hurly burly, we cleared the water off, set up the hall, and opened the door at 5:35 AM for the session at 6:00 AM.
When the main teacher came in at around 5:45, he saw that we had used the spare battery as the main power supply for the audio system. We had done that because the power socket was a little far away, and we had forgotten to bring the extension box. The teacher scolded me for neglecting this. Now looking back, I totally agree with him – had the mic failed in the middle of the session, the entire session would have been a fiasco – but, at the time I felt shattered within me as I was unable to bear his feedback. We did organize an extension box, and the closing session went very well, but by then, I was crestfallen, and wondered, “What is it that I am missing?”
Thankfully, immediately after the class I was scheduled to join the Brahmacharis Meet. This time we all went to Mangalore beach with Sadhguru. One of the nights, when we were sitting around a campfire with Sadhguru, a time came to ask questions. I raised my hand and meekly asked, “What is happiness?” Sadhguru was amused hearing this, but when he looked at my state, he appeared thoughtful, and asked me, “How can I define happiness? If you have experienced it, you would know it. Haven’t you experienced happiness?” I said, “Yes!” Then he went on to ask, “Are you not happy when you see a glorious sunrise?” I said, “Yes.” “Are you not happy when you see a glorious sunset?” I said, “Yes.” “Are you not happy when you hear the birds chirping?” I said, “Yes.” Then he asked, “Can you not be happy even if nothing happens?” I took a long pause and without thinking I found myself saying, “Yes!”
After that session, for many hours we were repeatedly creating joy for no reason, playing on the beach. I saw Sadhguru watching us from a distance for a long time before he retired back to his tent. This session, in many ways, miraculously transformed my approach to life. I shifted from “working to not make a mistake” to simply offering myself totally and doing what is needed. This made me open to feedback, and I could now see how the main teacher looked at the situation. This left me free, exuberant and grateful.
The Life’s Purpose Fulfilled
In 2003, the first Mahasatsang was planned in Chennai. We saw this as a huge possibility to take Sadhguru to all the people of Chennai. This was the first time in the history of Isha that we decided to publicize the event in an organized way. As I had been born and brought-up in Chennai, and the city had been dear to me, I yearned to be scheduled for the Mahasatsang organizing activity. It happened, and I was asked to go to Chennai about 3 weeks before the event. While I was travelling, from nowhere, I fixed it within myself that I would put up one hundred hoardings and flood the city with pictures of Sadhguru. At that time, neither had we done anything like that in Isha, nor did I really understand what it took to do such things. I was definitely in for a surprise.
I found that there are three costs to put up one hoarding – cost of printing the flex banner, the hoarding rental cost, and the cost to erect it. The rates quoted for printing the flex banner and renting the hoarding were too high for our budget. Within a couple of days, I learnt that we could not even dream of putting up one proper hoarding with the donations that the Foundation received at that time.
But after a lot of jugglery, many meetings with sponsors, and cutting the costs wherever possible, we managed to put up 112 hoardings of Sadhguru all across Chennai. Today, putting up that number of hoardings in a city as large as Chennai may seem like a drop in the ocean, but in 2003 we felt that we had rocked the city with those billboards.
We erected a 12x10 feet hoarding at the median strip across two lanes of traffic on a super busy main road in T. Nagar. There was traffic all day on this road, and the position of the hoarding was such that each person crossing that road couldn’t miss seeing Sadhguru’s picture. When we erected it, it felt as if Sadhguru was reaching out to all the people of Chennai. When I came back from the site on that day, I was feeling so elated that I gatecrashed a review meeting of the teachers, raised my hands and declared, “Yen Piravi Payanai Adainthen! (my life’s purpose is fulfilled).”
This campaign drew media attention too, and a reporter enquired of Sadhguru in a press meet later, “Which ad agency did you use for such an elaborate campaign?” The photo that we had used on the billboards had Sadhguru looking at the sky, and it became so popular that many people referred to Sadhguru only as ‘Vaanam Partha Guruji’ (The Skyward Facing Guruji) for many months later.
One Day Matches!
In the years to come, I was involved in the Isha Communication Center, which then included PR, media, and fundraising activities. Subsequently, ICC was split into three departments, and I was given the opportunity to lead our fundraising team. We not only raised funds for Isha projects and events, we also had the fortune of facilitating people to become Ishanga 7% partners, and organizing for people to take Devi Yantras to their homes. Devi Yantras not only benefit the people who have the yantra in their homes but also contribute to Sadhguru’s vision of consecrating the entire world.
Some of the biggest challenges of fundraising were when Sadhguru would announce surprise mega projects – like Rally for Rivers. In this case we had less than sixty days to find the sponsors. Initially, a separate RFR fundraising team was formed, but the task eventually came back to our team – this meant even shorter time.
For the first time, we created separate fundraising teams in each Isha center and empowered local volunteers to take up the fundraising in a big way. This project was as thrilling as a one-day cricket match where we were racing against time! However, we knew all along that with His Grace things would fall into place – as it always happens. We just needed to totally give ourselves and simply do whatever was needed. The whole of Isha came together for Rally for Rivers, and made 140+ events happen gloriously. We also raised all the funds that were needed for the Rally and these events.
When in silence…
From the day one of coming to Isha, I have heard Sadhguru telling us in so many ways that one can experience this life beyond the mind and body. Only recently, when I was in silence for 3 months, it just struck me so hard and I realized, “There is another way to BE rather than living as a thunked (drunk out of thinking) person, or as a person shackled by the physical.”
A few more days into the silence period, I had an experience that “I do not know anything!” I clearly saw that “I REALLY do not know ANYTHING”. What I have gathered in my mind is too meager to be anything. This has left me in a state where I am able to bow down to everything and feel a sense of freedom and gratitude within me.
Here I write a few lines that came to me during those moments:
I look up at the mighty Velliangiri
I bow down to all the mountains and plateaus
I feel the rays of the ever jubilant Sun
I bow down to all life graced by it
I am intoxicated
by the fragrance of Nagalinga flowers
I bow down to all the plant life
I hear the chirping of unknown variety of birds
I bow down to the whole of animal kingdom.
Tasting the honey, the bee brings
I bow down to all the insects.
O fellow human Life
I bow down to each one of you...
Bowing down or simply being...
Unbinds me from the shackles of the physical
Fills me with bliss and gratitude.
Ready to embrace life here and now...
Is this YOU - ‘Shambho’?
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."