Friday, April 24, 2009

By Way of Introduction

I am often asked how, as a medical doctor trained in modern scientific medicine, I drifted to yoga in such a big way. I started my career in medicine in the 1970s as a physiologist. Physiologists are medical scientists who specialize in how the normal body functions, and their main job is to teach medical students, and to do research. The area of research, which I focused on, was nutrition in relation to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Around 1990, it started becoming more and more clear that although our food has a lot to do with heart disease and diabetes, these diseases are intimately related to our lifestyle as a whole, of which nutrition was just one component – physical activity, sleep, smoking, and, above all, mental stress being some others. I was myself going through a mentally stressful period those days, and that is what took me to the Delhi Branch of Sri Aurobindo Ashram in search of peace. Of course, I got peace there, but in addition, I also got a true insight into yoga. Although I had started doing some of the physical practices of yoga in the 1970s, I had never really understood how yoga could be a lifestyle, a way of life, a source of peace and calm, and a road to enlightenment. Like many others, I had also dismissed these claims of yoga as clich├ęs which need not be taken seriously. With the insight into yoga that the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother gave me, these ‘cliches’ became very real to me. As a result, my personal life and professional life started converging. The culmination of the convergence was the Integral Health Clinic of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), which I was instrumental in establishing in the year 2000. The clinic started providing lifestyle modification courses, based on yoga and at the same time in tune with the latest advances in medicine, for the prevention and management of chronic disease. In the year 2005, I took voluntary retirement from AIIMS to find more time for dissemination of yoga. As a doctor, I never prescribed drugs. Today I work in the Mother’s pharmacy and dispense small doses of love from Her inexhaustible reservoir.

How I discovered Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

I joined AIIMS as an MBBS student in 1965, and spent 40 years there, almost without a break. Sri Aurobindo Ashram – Delhi Branch is less than 4 km from AIIMS, but it took me 27 years to discover this oasis of peace. And, it is not that I was blind to matters religious or spiritual. Before I went to the ashram, I had done a decent amount of study on these subjects, and had tried to construct mentally an ethical code by which I had tried to live my life. But being a rationalist, I had generally kept away from places of worship as well as any rituals or ceremonies. Anyway, I went to Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the first time in 1992 on a Sunday morning at 10 am for a satsang. The discourse was good, but what impressed me more was the cleanliness, order, punctuality, and the intense spiritual energy of the place. Moreover, there seemed to be no obvious or mandatory rituals, customs or dress code. In short, the emphasis was on what is within you, rather than on the surface. I soon discovered that the 10 am Sunday satsang was an around-the-year activity; rain, hail or storm. I started coming for these sessions regularly, not necessarily for what was said, but more to spend some time in a peaceful atmosphere. Gradually I also started buying some books from the bookstore in the ashram. Although I was not new to this type of literature, reading Sri Aurobindo was like stepping out of this world. He is so thorough: he looks at his subject from every conceivable angle, and considers even viewpoints other than his own in such depth, that after reading him, there are no questions left – at least I had no questions left. Further, the language of Sri Aurobindo is immaculate; even his prose reads like poetry. The Mother has given loads of precious guidance for spiritual life, and even Her pictures show so much love in Her eyes that one at once knows that She has a heart large enough to accommodate the whole world. The knowledge that I gained from the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother soon led to devotion. That is how I got hooked to them and I have not looked back since. Their abundant Grace, and what I have learnt from them (which is also their Grace) has shown me a path that guarantees lasting inner peace which is independent of external circumstances. If I am still not at peace, it is because I am not walking the path sincerely enough.

I have no intentions of using the opportunity to blog to talk about myself. Besides the fact that it would be un-yogic, the world has better things to do than to read about me. This blog, being the first one, is intentionally an exception to this general principle. It is my privilege to start blogging on an auspicious day – it was on 24 April 1920 that the Mother finally arrived in Pondicherry.