Mumtaz Ali Khan, popularly known as Sri M, world-renowned spiritual leader, author, thinker and educationist hails from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. His forefathers were Pashtuns, who moved from Peshawar to erstwhile Travancore as bodyguards to the Maharaja. He was born in 1948 in a fairly affluent family. At the age of 19, he joined the Ramakrishna Mission at Belur Math, without informing his parents, after writing his exams.
Later, the young man wandered throughout the length and breadth of Bharat, particularly the Himalayas. From Hardwar, he travelled by foot to Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. One day, while walking along the rough terrain beyond Badrinath, he came across a cave called Vyasa Guha. It was here that he met his master, Maheshwar Babaji, who induced him into a deep meditation. Then came a stint as a trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation, where he met and married a Saraswat Brahmin. He now lives in Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh, where he started a school for the economically deprived and the backward.
Q Tell us about your association with your spiritual master?
I was only nine when I had a glimpse of my master at my home in Vanchiyoor, which opened up my mind. I was 20 when I went to the Himalayas to join him. I do not know his name. I call him ‘Babaji’ or ‘Maharaj’. A wanderer, he did not have an Ashram or a big following. I roamed with him all over the Himalayas for three and a half years. He is not Mahavatar Babaji, but there is a connection. I practise Kriya Yoga as taught by him. I have a Muslim background, but I grew up respecting the saffron colour, associating it with great men. It symbolises renunciation and sacrifice. It also signifies a rare spiritual vibration. I have great regard for Vande Mataram. I was deeply moved when I heard it the first time. You cannot detach yourself from the land where you are born.
Q Many of the incidents described in your autobiography are unbelievable. I felt as if reading science fiction. In what way does reading such books help one in his/her spiritual journey?
You felt it unbelievable because the experiences that I had described were not ordinary experiences. Rather, they were incidents that were beyond the comprehension of the sense organs. As we are generally accustomed only to sense impressions, it is difficult for a common man to digest it easily. Since we are living in this ancient land and culture, which goes even beyond the Indus valley civilisation and have read the Puranas and Itihasas, though many of the events and stories described are unbelievable, we do not consider them as mere fiction. If we ignore those wonderful texts, it will be a terrible blow to our entire culture.
Please understand that when you feel that something is not in tune the so-called rational understanding or rational mind, which can understand only inputs that come through sense organs, they are beyond the scope of intellect or logic. Such happenings point to the fact of Extra Sensory Perceptions at play. In fact, I wrote the book after a great deal of hesitation. But when my Guru commanded, I simply obeyed. Babaji told me that whether somebody agrees or believes or approves it is not my problem. He said it is your duty to share what you had experienced so that the present generation would know that such experiences are possible even now. I am of the view that The Ramayana and The Mahabharata cannot be dismissed as mere fantasy merely because we do not understand certain things. If a sadhak, who is on a spiritual journey, sincerely takes up spiritual practice and keeps the mind open to possibilities, goes beyond sense perceptions, his ESPs will start operating. But understand that the central part of the book is not about extra ordinary experiences that I had, it is about the true relationship between a master and a disciple, which is very important for a seeker.
Q Does Babaji still come and meet you?
My guru Maheshwar Babaji attained samadhi in 1985. So there is no question of his physical presence. However, in our Nath Sampradaya, Adinath as Sadasiva is none other than Sri Guru Babaji. With such beings, it is possible to have contact at any place any time, provided one must have proper understanding.
Q What are the conditions for a genuine spiritual seeker to have such experiences?
A genuine spiritual seeker will never start with the hope of getting extra ordinary experiences. He has to free himself from the confines of his limited body self. All the problems we have revolve around the identification with the limited body, mind and intellect. A real seeker will wonder at his own life asking, where was I before birth, what happens after death? When this quest continues, in due course, ones sense perception opens up to strange experiences. Spiritual seekers are always warned of such experiences as it may take them away from the path. A genuine spiritual seeker seeking salvation in the process you may come across such things.
Q You were born in a Muslim family and had close encounters with several saints of Sanatana Dharma (Hindu spiritual path of eternal righteousness). Such meetings might have paved the way for your intensive search. Did you ever face any opposition from orthodox Muslims?
I still get messages stating that life is short, that there is only life and that if you really value your life, why can’t you preach Islam? Why are you talking and wasting your life talking about Hindutva (Hindu way of life)? As Islam is interpreted today, extremism is not good for spiritual or human welfare. I have one determination and I am not worried about my body, which will go any time.
Q How has communal disharmony become a persistent malady in India? What remedies do you suggest?
I think in India, people misinterpret religion because they are ignorant about it. I recommend people to learn Sanskrit, particularly youngsters. Even if the religious aspect is left aside, it is a beautiful, ancient language. People should go into the deeper aspects of religion rather than sticking to its mere externalities.
Q Even after encountering Hindutva for so long, it seems that Islam and Christianity have not blended with this culture?
You cannot forcefully attempt that mingling, that is not possible. I will tell you why. Any religion which believes in one prophet and one book has a certain condition/conviction. Though there are very good aspects in their teaching, such as discipline, often it goes overboard. While I was staying in a Hindu mutt, hearing the prayer from a nearby mosque when someone complained to the Swamiji, he admonished them saying that let them have their prayer, better you concentrate on your prayer or worship, rather than giving attention to the disturbance. Though Gandhiji said that all religions are the same with a view to bringing together the people of India, the fact remains that all religions are not the same. It is true that as the Rig Veda proclaimed, Ekam sat viprah bahuda vadanti, all religions ultimately lead one to the same goal. You can respect ones religion and not interfere with another religion.
Q What is unique about Vedic religion?
The most appealing aspect of the Vedic religion is that it is not dogmatic in nature. There are no do’s and don’ts. It is not bound by rules and regulations. The spirit of inquiry prevails. It is strange that it came into existence thousands of years ago. Makes one wonder whether its origin is human at all! It is doubtful that in those days, the average human being had the capacity to even think in terms of inquiring, opening the mind, discussing and having dialogues. When people speak of the Vedas having a divine origin, I sometimes feel that some beings might have been present in those days, who brought this knowledge to us. Even if there were rishis (sages) who have accessed such knowledge from a certain level of consciousness, they might have derived inspiration from certain beings.
Q Though Hindus by and large accept that all paths lead to the same goal, is it not unfortunate that our Muslim and Christian brothers are not properly educated about this fundamental truth?
Hindu culture is like an ocean having innumerable rishis and saints proclaiming that truth need not belong to a particular sect and that there is no point in trying to convert the other. While Jews were persecuted all over the globe, only Hindu India gave them asylum. On the other hand, for years together Semitic religions have been taught that theirs is the only true religion and are linked with politics.
Q How can one recognise a real enlightened master and a cheater?
You cannot have a duplicate, without a genuine one. Suspect a spiritual teacher who is more interested in gathering disciples, gives importance to himself, dabbles in politics, not simple, publicity crazy, etc. Simplicity without ego, these are the hallmarks of a true guru.
Q What are your practical suggestions for attaining self-realisation?
I cannot give a formula for Self-Realization. It is a purification process that has to take place within. If one has sincere aspiration, a guru can guide him according to the guru’s lineage. I am a bhakti (devotional) and a kriya (breath) yogi. Generally, when someone asks me for kriya diksha, I usually tell him/her to wait as I am very selective. Kriya Yoga is a process by which the sushmna nadi and other inter connected centres are cleaned. As we are living in a commercial world, there are a number of gurus selling meditation, self-realisation, etc.
Q Why human beings suffer?
Sufferings and happiness are two sides of the same coin. Suffering is given to balance difficulties and enjoyments. I personally feel that suffering helps one to develop consciousness, but that does not mean that one should voluntarily take up suffering. Whatever misery comes unasked, makes one strong, by making him realise the futility of the world. Wherever one can, alleviate suffering and help the other that is the greatest sadhana. Swamy Vivekananda said that daridra Narayana seva purifies the bad karmas. If you help someone, that really helps you, not the other as it purifies your mind.
Q Critics say, spiritual experiences are subjective and hence not scientific.
Depending on the instrument of perception, spiritual experiences can be both objective and subjective. Even now science could not define the smallest particle. According to the theory of probability, one of the key factors of quantum theory, matter cannot be defined either as a wave or a particle. They say it depends on the Observer. Here I see the merging of Swami Vivekananda and Dr George Sudarsan.
Q The land of Sanatana Dharma (Hindu spiritual path of eternal righteousness) (India) is facing serious threats, both internally and externally; what is the way out?
Good and clean people must enter politics more and more. Politicians should be taught the basics of our culture. For example, Varnashram Dharma was a great concept which in due course got corrupted. Understand that this country with its ancient Hindu culture can never be destroyed. It is the spiritual guru of the world and hence it should not loose. I am very optimistic that this land has a great future. Like in the olden days, people will again come to this land from all over the world as Swami Vivekananda said, India is the guru of the world.
Q Hinduism is getting wider acceptance all over the globe, but Hindus in India are in danger in their motherland?
Sanatana Dharma will survive every threat. All the threats that you see are merely because of political opportunism. Once I had been to Kashmir to attend a conference on Dara Shikoh, elder brother of Aurangzeb, who had killed him alleging that he was an infidel. Dara Shikoh had a guru of Kashmiri origin. He was a great philosopher who was the first person to translate Upanishads into Persian, other than Sanskrit. Western philosophers came to know about the Upanishads only through his translations. I am of the view that the Kashmiri pundits would return to their homes one day. Guru Gobind Singh founded the Sikh religion to protect the Hindus. If someone breaks the door and takes away your daughter, it is a different matter, you have to react.
Q Tell us about your association with Organiser and Deendayal Research Institute?
I have closely moved with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). I have had some association with Nanaji Deshmukh, working for the English version of Manthan, as a joint editor, through the late KR Malkani, who was my friend. Devendra Swarupji was the editor. I had worked in the Gonda Village, where there is no discrimination between Muslims and Hindus in running small co-operative farms, aimed for the all-round development of villages. Before that while in Chennai, I was correspondent of Organiser and wrote an article titled ‘I am proud to be a Hindu.’
Q You are running a school in Madanappalle, Andhra Pradesh. What changes do you advocate in the present educational system?
We have to encourage dialogues at all levels. Encouraged. It is fine to study scientific western systems of thought, great deal of our culture. You should not become rootless. Bhagavad Gita, classical dances, music, Sanskrit, astronomy, etc should be taught from a very young age. It is not communal. Yoga, meditation, etc. in our school these are introduced. Every year the children themselves will write, direct and act a Sanskrit drama. Krishnamoorthy was an Upanishadic rishi open to thinking and dialogue. Desikachar, thythareeya Upanishad.
Q Your views on religious conversions?
Religious conversion of any kind is coercion. It is murdering the individual’s freedom to choose. On the other hand, if somebody really wants to change his/her religion, he must have the freedom to choose. Hindu system of thought is not a proselytising system. It gives the individual ample freedom to find out one’s own way.
Q Do you consider yourself a Hindu?
I am proud to be a Hindu. As a person belonging to this great country and culture, I am a Hindu. People who perform haj from India are called Hindu Muslims as in Arabic language, Hindu means India. Surprisingly, Indian Muslims will get upset over calling them Hindu Muslims. I belong to this ancient culture and I am proud of that. All Muslims of this land in that sense are Hindus by culture, though they follow Islam. Unfortunately, a lot of indoctrination is going on among Indian Muslims.
Q Message to the readers?
No religion becomes meaningful if it is not compassionate. Simply going to temple, mosque or church will not make one religious. In the Bhagavad Gita in chapter 12, when Arjuna asks Bhagavan Krishna who is dearer to you, Krishna says that one who keeps the welfare of all living beings in one’s heart is dearest to me.
Read a review of Sri M’s book, Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master