The spiritual journey begins
by Prottunga Blab
Our spiritual journey begins long before we are even aware of it! But before this time comes that we are aware of it, we have to go through quite some experiences.
As a citizen of this earth, with a western and Catholic upbringing, my future seemed pre-programmed. School, confirmation, studies, marriage, career as a doctor, honorary diploma from the academy of medicine, nursing home, the Extreme Unction and the final end. It does not exactly sound inviting – the career maybe, but the rest?
But there was another part of me as well – a deep longing for freedom, unfolding and fulfillment. There were also moments of inner joy that made all tormenting questions, doubts and worries about the future disappear at once. As the person in charge of looking after the youth of our Catholic church, I wanted to know if I was an isolated case or if all the other adolescents were going through similar experiences. Lo and behold, I found out that I was not alone. In one of the youth meetings I asked each person to depict an image of their present situation in life. The majority of the adolescents portrayed themselves in a cage or in chains with the expectation that someone from outside would come and free them.
In the ensuing conversation, I tried to find out if they had also had special experiences of inner joy or harmony. Again, there was not a single person who did not have at least one experience. These experiences in particular kindled my interest in the spiritual life.
My first spiritual teacher was a Catholic priest whom I would call today a modern mystic. He inspired me and guided me in my meditation. These daily meditations I recall with deep gratitude. They started to shape my character and my attitude towards life. Many things in my environment suddenly changed. I was fortunate to learn the meaning of forgiveness.
After two years my friend, the priest, was transferred to a different church. Without his guidance, I continued my meditation with increasing intensity. I had many beautiful experiences but also some that were far beyond my present horizon of experience. These experiences created fear in me. For lack of spiritual guidance I stopped meditating altogether after some time.
The years that followed could be described as a tale of woe on both the professional and the personal planes – I will spare you the details. Burnt out, overworked, emotionally sick and full of self-pity: that is how I would characterize myself during that time. Only the Dalai Lama’s words that "the most difficult people are our best teachers"‚ were able to reconcile me with life again, at least to the point where I gave up my self-pity and was able to tolerate better the constant mobbing behaviour of my boss.
At that time I was the assistant medical director at the pediatric surgery division in Vienna. I had many seriously ill children in my care. Among them was the sick daughter of a dear friend of mine. On Easter Sunday – one of the few weekends I was off duty – I was hiking in the mountains when my friend called me to say that his daughter had just passed away. In dismay I dropped on the alpine pasture. What kind of strange life is this? This girl was born on an Easter Sunday with a whole series of defects, and our division had operated on her several times. These operations aimed at correcting the defects were successful, but each time one problem was fixed, a new one arose. One day, looking at an ultrasound of her kidneys, I discovered that she had a malignant kidney tumor. The child recovered from the operation back then but died now, this Easter Sunday, from a simple intestinal infection. A strange story. What forces were at work here? I wanted to know what was happening behind the world scene. As hard as I tried to find that out, I was unsuccessful. There was only emptiness. Absolutely nothing. After some time I gave up.
At that moment, a childlike laughter rose within me – a carefree laughter that I had been unable to experience for decades. Together with the laughter came the realisation: "I am sick – my psyche and my body are sick – I have to retrace my steps and live as free as a child – doctor, cure yourself – but where to begin?" Suddenly, the memories of happy experiences in my childhood came back as well. I knew: "That’s where I have to go back – at any cost – everything else is worthless."
I started supplying myself with lots of spiritual literature, inviting friends who I thought could help me and trying meditation again. It was not like before. Meditation was tedious and dry. The friends were not as spiritual as I had believed. The books provided me with some inspiration. I was assailed by stark doubt about whether or not I would ever get another chance to lead a happy life.
Reading Rudolf Steiner’s book How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds was for me the ‘kickoff‚. In his book, Rudolf Steiner describes simple concentration and meditation exercises that I practised with increasing enthusiasm. In one of the chapters, Steiner speaks about the necessity of having a spiritual Master in order to make real progress. I therefore began to actively look for a Master.
Finding a Master is not easy. I came across many 'masters'‚ but none of them met my expectations. A nice young guy told me: "When you are ready, the Master will appear." Right, I am sure he is just waiting for me, I thought, and went away disgruntled.
It was the week before Easter again, and I went skiing with some friends in Tyrol. Snowed in for several days in a cabin, I had plenty of time to read my beloved books. This time it was Rudolf Steiner’s Philosophy of freedom. Noticing what I was reading, a friend handed me an invitation to a yoga class in Vienna. I did not pay any attention to this invitation and used it as a bookmark. Back in Vienna, I came across the 'bookmark'‚ again – yes, sure, I thought, there goes just another one of those people who know better how to lead a happy life. No, thank you; I have already gone through enough disappointing experiences.
But something within me compelled me to go to the class, not knowing that this was going to be the conscious beginning of the greatest adventure of my life. On my way to the class I saw a stunningly beautiful rainbow. No, it was not one, but four superimposed rainbows of incredible radiance.
The class itself did not reveal any particular spiritual surprises. I was mostly familiar with the subjects taught. But during the simple meditations that were part of the class, I suddenly experienced again the same feeling of infinite inner peace. All the questions that I constantly dragged around in my mind were washed away. I knew immediately: I would like to continue meditating in this group. I only could not relate at all to the Master living in New York. Back then, in my self-conceit, I did not see that a realised Master is the greatest gift one can obtain in life. I was so caught in my own ideas of what a Master should be like that I did not realise that Sri Chinmoy was – in every way – the ideal Master for me. Some time later, Sri Chinmoy showed me that a Master in no way acts according to the wishes and expectations of his disciples – but that is another story.
In my gruelling doubts about whether or not I really needed a Master, I sought help from one of the instructors, who is also a doctor. His answer was: "A sick person needs a doctor." I was instantly certain that I was in the right place. Those were exactly the words that touched my soul like a magic wand. So, what else could I do? I wrote a letter to Sri Chinmoy with the mandatory picture and asked him to accept me as his disciple and guide me in my spiritual quest.
It was interesting that, at this point in time, everything in my life was prepared for a spiritual path. I had become a vegetarian a few years earlier because I did not want to become an accessory to large-scale livestock farming. At first I was still eating organic‚ meat because that did not involve large-scale livestock farming, but after some time I had no desire for it anymore. A longstanding relationship that had become more and more superficial broke up 6 months before the meditation class. I was truly free and ready for a pure life. Alcohol and smoking had never been issues for me. I never had a beard, and wearing white clothes – as a doctor, I was able to handle that! I would probably never have become Sri Chinmoy’s disciple if my life had had to undergo any lifestyle changes at this point in time, so it was good that everything was prepared.
I started to intensely deal with the Master-disciple relationship while I was anxiously waiting for an answer from New York. Three months passed before I got the news that the Master had accepted me as his disciple. My first reaction was not a happy one. "Darn," I thought, "now I really have to work on myself. This is the end of a relaxed life for me."
The next shock came at the first Centre meditation together with all the other disciples. The women in saris, the men in whites, separated the way it used to be in the Catholic church 50 years ago. What an inhibited spiritual community, I thought, and thought about leaving. But the meditation made me forget all this. Once more, all the inner anxiety, all questions and doubts were washed away. And the disciples were all very nice.
Thus I overcame my inner doubts and ended up becoming the disciple of a realised Master who lived far away from me. That was not what I had envisioned. Meditation twice a week is all very good, but where is the Master to discuss all questions and problems with?
The first time I saw my Master was at the Vienna International Airport after a year of intense meditation. Sri Chinmoy was giving a concert tour in Europe. When the airport doors opened, I saw a short, stocky man in a track suit. He had no hair. He briefly meditated on his disciples – I was among them. Suddenly I felt tremendous joy in my heart. So, this is my Master…
To tell the truth, his outer appearance still did not agree with my concept of a Master. And that was exactly the problem during the concert tour on which I was able to accompany him. I was frustrated. The other disciples depicted in iridescent colors their fantastic experiences in the Master’s presence or during his concerts. Myself, I was not able to feel anything, in spite of my sincere efforts. The music, too,
was not that easy to get used to. Had I not immensely enjoyed the company of the other disciples, it would probably have been the end of my spiritual journey with Sri Chinmoy.
But everything took a different turn. At an evening function after a concert, the Master spent time exclusively with his disciples. I was sitting in the function hall, feeling once again completely out of place. Dinner was being served and therefore people were moving around. I noticed that the Master was meditating, so I sat down and meditated, looking at him. Inwardly I asked: "Am I your disciple or is it all a mistake?"
The Master suddenly opens his eyes and smiles at me, and his image detaches itself from his chair and melts directly into my heart. Such experiences are hard to describe. One thing I knew for sure: "I am his disciple. The Master is in me." That’s what I wanted to know. I was happy.
Of course, after such a special kind of experience you wish to have more experiences. And as is always the case, every expectation destroys the possibility for more extraordinary experiences. My desire was put to a tough test. I had to wait for four unbearable days before the Master revealed himself a second time. Inwardly I had already given up.
The Master was visiting a tofu factory in Switzerland owned by one of his students. In this factory, we were – one by one – walking by Sri Chinmoy to take blessed food (prasad). I was one of the last ones in line. At this point I had no expectations. I walked slowly, almost indifferently, towards the Master, looked at him and then it happened. This kind of experience is difficult to express in words. Through the eyes of the Master I saw a big, light-flooded room. Or better: I did not see it; I fell into it, I became part of it. And what brings tears of gratitude to my eyes even today is that this room was filled with infinite love. There was nothing but perfect love, and this love was far beyond any experience of love I ever had.
This short moment – it probably lasted only a few seconds – fulfilled me entirely. Intoxicated by this wonderful experience, I silently left the hall and sat down in a quiet corner to absorb these precious moments. The grace of the Master can accomplish what nobody else can.
Even though I came to him out of pure curiosity, he lovingly and unconditionally accepted me. He has never criticised my way of thinking, or that of the other disciples. On the contrary, he has always given me extraordinary experiences to motivate me. Slowly and steadily he has awakened in me my longing for God.
In silence, his love has transformed me and still does today in exactly the same way. This is the miracle that turned my life into a fascinating and never-ending adventure.