The moment spiritual guru Sri M walks into his beige drawing room, clad in a deep red kurta and Kerala style dhoti, the aura of tranquility around him puts you at ease. The conversation with him turns out to be as light as the single-alphabet spiritual moniker of Mumtaz Ali.
“I have had my stint as the typical yogi sporting long hair and beard,” says M, his graceful, clean-shaven face breaking into a grin. “While writing Das Kapital, Karl Marx had let that long beard grow on him. Outward appearance is not important as long as you have a strong anchor,” he says, directing the pun on himself with poise.
The synthesis of various schools of philosophies is an effortless habitude in Ali. Born in a Muslim family settled at Vanchiyoor in Thiruvananthapuram, his journey on the path of self realisation was steeped in the mire of communal identity.
His sojourn started when the call to traverse the ice-clad Himalayas became an irrevocable compulsion. The young boy of 19 had not the faintest idea regarding the whereabouts of the Guru he had chanced upon at the age of nine. The image of the sage was, however, deeply etched and luminous in his memories. The aimless journey rewarded him with many a prized rendezvous with evolved souls and a three-year-apprenticeship to his Guru. The experience coupled with his own brush with mystic powers are narrated in his book, ‘Apprenticed to A Himalayan Master — A Yogi’s Autobiography,’ which was released recently.
“I did face oppositions in my initial days as a seeker of truth. But it soon faded out and I went my way,” he says.
M eventually got married and has two daughters. Their home in Madanappalle in Bangalore is an extended
office of Satsang Foundation, the spiritual organisation that he founded and under which functions other institutions like the Pipal Grove School.
“My Guru had asked me, ‘how do you hope to deal with the problems of ‘grihasthas’ (people who lead a family life) if you are ignorant about it?’. Now, people seek help to find truce at home and I tell them to wait until I have found it at my own home,” he laughs.
Routine as it may be for a teacher like him, M obliges to outline the thin divide between spirituality and religion. “Spiritual and religious virtues are generally one and the same,” he begins.
“Spirituality is essentially a mystic affair. It is the bridge that connects you to the supreme reality or God and involves the exercise of freeing your mind from worldly involvements and turning the gaze inward. At the same time, you can be spiritual without adhering to any religion. By following moral values in your daily life — kindness, goodness of heart, compassion to fellow beings — you are also being spiritual in a sense,” he pauses and smiles before recounting an anecdote.
“A spiritual engagement with yourself does not mean that you pretend to be one with God from the very next day. Yesterday, a young man asked to meditate in my presence and wanted to believe that the buzz of a bumblebee that flew around while he sat with his eyes closed signalled the opening of the ‘ajna chakra’,” he laughs without the pretentious airs of a holy man.
“There are religions that do not cite God as the ultimate goal. For instance, Jainism is based on the philosophy ‘ahimso paramo dharma’ and does not acknowledge the existence of a supreme power. One who abides by the ‘Ashtanga yoga’ is not following a religion, but a set of ‘good habits’ described in the text as ‘yama niyama’.
The aim of religion is to instill a sense of righteousness and to encourage a deeper understanding of your self. “Only, when it acquires an organised form, the essence gets diluted and the external observances gain importance,” he says.
Even when we wind up in time for his departure, the fullness of the moment casts an overwhelming sense of lightness.