What is a Realized Soul? I asked Shanti once.  And how will I know if I see an Enlightened Being in India?

He started a story, as usual, about a shopkeeper near Rishikesh.  It didn’t answer my question.  It means he doesn’t know.  He mentioned that if someone advertises that they are an Enlightened Being, they are probably not.

There are billboards and posters all over India plastered with the smiling faces of saint-type people.  Not being able to read Hindi, I can’t say for sure that they are advertising themselves as Enlightened Beings.  But many Hindus travel to see these god-men and say that even touching the fabric of their clothes will purify their souls.

Umm, no.  I am a doubter.  I doubted Mataji when I arrived at Santosh Puri Ashram.  She dresses all in orange, with a crystal mala, two rudraksha malas, and a tears of Shiva double-rudraksha bead around her throat.  Her gray hair falls in a curtain of heavy dreadlocks.  She is nearly always smiling and at 67, she still works all day, directing the cook, setting out cushions around the Aarti fire, feeding the dogs.  But I didn’t see what made her so special.

Her three children are more immediately special – their articulateness, their sweetness and their knowledge of yoga and Ayurveda are endearing and command some respect.

It wasn’t until yesterday that I let Mataji in.  We sat in front of her in the yoga hall, in a meditative asana.  She opened the Baghavad Gita and we chanted, as we always do before her lessons.

It was the chapter on Bhakti Yoga that day, the Yoga of Devotion.

Something has been missing for me on this trip.  All the yoga postures, pranayama and meditation techniques seem like magical spells I have to get right in order to gain the reward: peace.  It’s been producing peace’s opposite: Pressure.


Mataji, over the course of this week, has changed that for me.  The Yoga of Devotion broke it all wide open – the purpose, expansiveness and hope of yoga.

Anything becomes boring, stale, dissatisfying, if love is missing, she said.

She summarized a myth about Bhakti.  The god Shiva transformed himself into a legless leper on the day of Khumba Mela, where all the saints take a Ganga bath to achieve liberation.  His wife Parvati asked him, “Will all these Saints achieve their goal?”  He said, “No. Watch.”  Shiva the leper asked millions of Saints to bring him to the water because he would like to attain liberation, but they hurried by.  Finally, a poor man rushed down with only moments before sunset.  He stopped when he heard Shiva’s request, and said I wouldn’t be worthy of liberation if I didn’t help you as well.  The poor man won his reward.

As Mataji told us this story, tears ran down her face.  Her expression was gentle, joy-filled love.  Bhakti right in front of me.  She personified the whole point of everything – to see what you are doing as worship!

Make everything in your life God, she says.  A thorn, anger, a cough, an enemy, a mishap, death – all God, purifying and refining you.

Then see how much love will fill you! she says.  Krishna says ‘there is nothing besides me.’ He is the scent in the flower; not the flower, because the flower will die.  He is the light in the sun; the fluidity in the water; the playfulness in the puppy.  (She said the last one for me.)

Santosh Puri with baby Ganga

Mataji doesn’t claim to be Enlightened.  She came to India from Germany at age 24, in 1969, and found her Guru, the one she had dreamed about as a little girl, sitting alone and nearly naked on a small island in the middle of the Ganga, near Haridwar, where I am now.  She stayed with him on the little island for 10 years, caring for cows, sleeping on the ground and only eating when someone brought them an offering of food.  For the first year, all she said was Om Nama Shivaya.  She nearly died many times.

Her guru Santosh Puri, was, from all accounts, Enlightened.  He left home as a boy to devote all his energy toward union with the Divine as a yogi, renouncing worldly pleasures.  When she arrived, he fought terribly to stay a renounciant, but in the end, they married and had their children.  He felt God called him back to ordinary responsibilities to test his devotion.

Santosh Puri was generous, devoted and angry.  Once he threw Mataji physically across the island because he was fighting his desire to be with her.  Once he told a man who was harassing one of their cows that his son would die if the cow died.  The next day when the cow died, the son also died.

The Samadhi Temple built over the cave where Santosh Puri was buried.

These stories are confusing.  But what I find here is that Mataji is sincere, and there is a deep peace pervading the ashram that Santosh Puri founded.  He died consciously, by all accounts, sitting in padmasana, the lotus pose.

I can’t begin to understand everything.  But, returning to Bhakti, it’s nice to remember that I don’t have to understand everything.

Like Mataji says, Just bow down like a child.  Say ‘I am small and God is great.’

It’s easy to forget that yoga is about more than “party poses” and secret formulas.  True yoga is so much easier than all that.  True yoga can be anything, as long as it’s done with the spirit of bhakti, love and devotion to something larger than yourself.


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