At 28, Himani Singhee’s perfect world (affluent, loving husband; shiny career prospects; and first motherhood) crumbled when her seven-month old son Mihit was detected as a “special child” with a rare brain disorder affecting especially his motor functions. A year later, while Himani was still groping in emotional wilderness, (her woes compounded by her failure to clear the CFO exam by one mark), a friend suggested she join the Soka Gakkai, a community of lay believers in Nichiren Buddhism, united by the practice of reciting a Buddhist chant – Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
She resisted initially, but then her son’s condition, problems at home and her growing loneliness and sense of hopelessness pushed her to seize the rope offered. Today a much-happier Himani admits how it was the community as much as the benefits she derived from chanting (the nature of her own and her son’s higher life condition, her success in clearing CFO, improved relations with her husband and a business windfall, inter alia) have kept her committed to the practice.
“When I joined Soka Gakkai, a senior leader visited me. The leader’s eyes filled with tears as I talked to her that first time. I was surprised that in this selfish world, a stranger should feel such compassion. So it has been with other members. Today I know if I am low, I can dial any member and they will come to my support. I have become stronger in these last four years with the power of chanting. And I feel the warmth of the community around me.”
Like Himani, Saswati Gupta, a CA with a premier audit firm, too was propelled to join ISKCON by a crisis -- the vacuum left by the death of her father (her mother had preceded him) four years back. “I felt there was nobody to take care of me, alone, friendless. In Krishna, I found that support I craved. I go to the ISKCON temple every weekend and look forward to meeting the other devotees. Though we hardly talk, greeting each other makes all the difference.”
While a grave crisis is the commonest reason for linking up with a spiritual community, material surfeit and ennui of urban life, especially corporate life, is also nudging the younger generation to try out spiritual options. Like Shounak De, an engineer from Jadavpur University, employed with a top-notch company, joined Isha Foundation in 2010, in his mid-20s.
“I was leading a flamboyant life, partying, smoking, drinking -- the monotony got to me. I attended Isha’s seven-day inner engineering programme and that changed my life.” To the extent he gave up smoking, drinks, non-veg food and finally the corporate job; he works currently as a volunteer for Isha in different capacities, with a sense of mission.
More often, modern seekers carry on their spiritual practice alongside their secular jobs. In November 2017, successful woman entrepreneur and leadership coach, Deepa Soman, who had avidly studied different religions in her youth, finally signed up for 4-year lessons with Yogada Satsang Sabha (YSS) -- started by Paramhansa Yoganand (Mukundlal Ghosh) in 1917. Today, morning and evening practice of kriya yoga, comprising asanas and pranayams among other things, is neatly woven into her hectic professional schedule, as is a visit to their centre in Wadala on Gurupurnima and other auspicious days. “Since I began this practice, my physical fitness has gone up immensely, I have lot of control on my tongue, and feel a deep connect with all humanity,” affirms Deepa. “I definitely am in a much better position now in my 50s, than I was in my 20s, 30s or 40s.”
For more traditional Indians like engineer Naresh Maiya, gifted with a golden voice, spiritual practice has been an integral part of life from the beginning. Says Naresh, “My father was attached to Satya Sai Baba’s institution Dharmakshetra since I can remember. He conducted a spiritual course with children. I started singing bhajans there when I was 16.” A practice he continues to date. He is now the male coordinator for the bhajan programmes. “Over the years, I have made friends at Dharmakshetra and we are always there to help one another.”
Though spiritualism is an inward-turning journey aimed at realising oneself, one’s true potential, like any other journey it is fraught with varied challenges — doubts, confusion about concepts, everyday difficulties in doing one’s practice, unrealised expectations — and this is where the community comes to the seeker’s aid. Saswati Gupta, who attends the Bhaktivriksha class every Saturday in ISKCON, geared to grow their faith in Krishna, acknowledges, “The guidance and support in the path of devotion that I receive from my shikshaaguru is invaluable.
Also, I feel more connected to the devotees through this class. I have even made a new friend, my first in seven years of living in Mumbai.” Similarly, Himani observes how the monthly discussion meetings of Soka Gakkai that she attends unfailingly help to strengthen her chanting practice. “Sharing of experiences in faith by members, study of Buddhist concepts, and above all warm interactions at these meetings keep me enthused about my spiritual practice.” Thus continues the quest...