About the Author
Suma Varghese is the editor of Life Positive magazine. A veteran journalist with 30 years of experience, she was formerly editor of popular lifestyle magazine, Society. A seeker of the spirit, she is unmarried and lives in Mumbai with her mother, her sister, and her cat.
Suma Varughese is a fellow pilgrim on the Path whose heart ever aspires to the True, the Good, the Beautiful, the Pure, and the Perfect. She is an eloquent spokeswoman of the heart. She calls us to live the life that is life, indeed - the life of simplicity, sympathy, service, of self-effacement, and self-realization. She has compiled some of her columns which have appeared in Life Positive, a highly-regarded journal of which she is a gifted editor. This is her first book and she has aptly called it Travelling Light.
We are all travellers. We were meant to be pilgrims. But lured by desire, we have become wanderers. And when we enter into the depths of silence within, we hear the call: 0 wanderer! Thy Homeland seeketh thee!
Above the magnificent arched entrance of the Bulund Darwaza in Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, are inscribed the words: 'The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses upon it.'
Pilgrims, seekers are we all, and to our true Homeland we must soon return. How best may we accomplish this journey of the spirit? The title of this stimulating, thought-provoking book gives us the clue - by travelling light!
A Frenchman visited a holy man. He expected to find the holy man living in a beautifully furnished house. He was astonished to see that the holy man's abode was a simple room with just a mattress, a small desk, and some books.
He asked the holy man: 'Where is your furniture?'
In return the holy man asked him: 'Where is yours?'
The Frenchman said: 'I have no furniture. My furniture is in my home in France. I am only a traveller here.'
Softly, the holy man answered: 'So am I.'
I recall the words of Gurudev Sadhu Vaswani: 'Take no luggage with thee, 0 traveller to the Temple of the Beloved! Tread thou the path, empty-handed! And when Thou reach the Temple, thou mayst know that the empty alone are filled!'
The cares and fears, the triumphs and achievements, the ambitions and struggles of worldly life are nothing but encumbrances on the spiritual path. The power and wealth that most people crave for are but the equivalent of what the airlines call 'excess baggage'. That's why we would all do well to appreciate the wisdom of Suma's chosen title, Travelling Light. The spirit is ever free and unencumbered. Discovering this freedom is one of the great gifts that we gain when we choose to walk the pilgrim path; it is a gift that Suma has experienced and enjoyed, as her beautiful essays reveal.
The articles in the book are brief and concise; I would describe them as monologues of the seeking, learning soul. The moods they reflect are very many, for the path of the pilgrim is not all soft and smooth. At times, the writer records the divine discontent of the seeker who looks beyond the material realities of existence; she speaks, too, of the grief and anguish of the painful search for the true identity of the self. The ordeal by fire through which one conquers the ego, is recorded in all its honesty. There are also beautiful reflections on gratitude, patience, and surrender. And, above all, the empowerment we can all achieve - not by passive resignation - but through dynamic awareness and enlightened acceptance.
To my fellow pilgrims, may I offer a few practical suggestions? If you wish to make progress on the Path,
1. always seek the lowest place: always be the last to lift up your Voice
2. don’t be afraid to dream
3. forget the worries of the past and the fears of the future live in the present - the here and now
4. manage to get a little space for yourself each day
5. develop a healthy sense of humour never laugh at others learn to laugh with others
6. howsoever much you try, you cannot know everything, but you can always make the best use of what little you know
7. you are as young as you take yourselves to be never grow old
8. speak little if you have nothing nice to say, better remain silent
9. forgive before forgiveness is asked
10. be the first to say, I am sorry!
As editor and writer, Suma Varughese has reached out to thousands of aspiring seekers through the pages of Life Positive. I am sure her readers will deeply appreciate this collection, which emphasizes what I believe to be the very essence of India's ancient wisdom: the Vedantic doctrine of the inter-connectedness of all life.
I am sure that there is a lot we can learn from this beautiful book. I trust this is the first of many such books from this gifted and sensitive writer!
Compilations of one's columns can often seem like an exercise in vanity, of little interest to anyone save the writer, and perhaps a handful of loved ones. I feel a little bashful, therefore, to offer you these jottings of mine, written over a period of seven years starting from January 2001.
What emboldens me, though, is that Life Positive readers, where these writings first appeared, were good enough to often urge me to compile them into a book. It took me a while to take this seriously because I always thought these writings would not stand the test of time - after all, they were the products of an unliberated mind. I have come to believe, however, that this itself may be their special attraction. All of us need corroboration on the path, proof that that the dangerously slippery territory we tread is really the path to enlightenment. A fellow traveller can offer such reassurance and endorse one's own experiences.
Indeed, I first started writing columns like these way back in 1991, when I was working for another magazine, because I was convinced that we have an obligation to pass on our experiences and insights to those behind us, just as we benefit by those before us, a passing on the torch, so to speak, from traveller to traveller.
Perhaps, to put the pieces in context, I should give you some details of my life, for mine has been a very upside-down journey. Unlike the average person who ripens into a seeker as she matures through life, I had a spiritual awakening after touching rock bottom. I had spent 16 years in depression, and was unhappy and confused, with almost zero self- esteem. In a wonderful act of grace, I was granted a powerful spiritual awakening that lasted close to a year.
During this period, the vast jigsaw puzzle of life fell into place and I understood everything. I understood that the universe was so designed as to enable us to derive our happiness from the happiness of others. This meant there was a designer, which meant that God existed. It also meant that the universe was one and we were all interconnected. Insights poured into me, the central one being that only when one goes beyond the ego can one focus unwaveringly on others and it is through their happiness that we attain true happiness.
This insight is often misunderstood when I try and explain it. It is often misconstrued as extreme self-effacement, a submission to the will of others. Very much to the contrary, I refer to the enlightened state when one acts out of an inner fullness and plenitude and a true generosity of spirit that enables detachment and an active preference for the other's welfare. This is an act of deliberate choice and there is great joy in it. Perhaps I could explain it best by likening it to a mother who receives some sweets and saves them for her children. The joy she derives from watching her children feast is surely far more profound than her joy at eating the sweets herself.
However, after that one year, I deliberately chose to let go of this state, which I would slip into each time I chanted the mantra, 'It's their happiness that counts and not mine.' I did it because I was tired of pumping myself into this state. I wanted to find a way to make this happen naturally. I suppose this is when I became a seeker, though at that point, I had no idea that such a word existed, just as I did not know that spirituality did. Mine was an internal realization and I had simply no reference point outside myself.
When I did let go of the state, I was little prepared for the startling consequences. Like a rubber band snapping back to its original length, I was back to my pre-awakened state - touchy, reactive, unhappy, and with a deeply damaged mind, void of discipline, self-control, and energy. I knew then that the journey for me lay in eliminating the conditioning that stood between me and the enlightened state. The journey was one of letting go, not adding on, I recognized, for I already was 'that'. This explains the title of the book, Travelling Light, for I like to think that I am shedding baggage along the way, until I become honed to my essential self.
What remained from my original experience, however, were the insights and a perspective that was shaped by the insights. I had seen the Truth, even knew the Truth, and I simply had no questions left.
Therefore, what you will read in these pages will be the perspective of someone who is still on the journey to liberation but at the same time, has a mature understanding.
I have divided the columns into roughly three sections: Self, Reflections, and Society. Anchored in the holistic perspective which recognizes the essential oneness of the Universe, I flit between these three sections, now sharing my own journey and insights, now pondering on the impact of these insights on society, now looking at concepts, ideas, and life.
I leave you here now to explore the book. It is my sincere wish that this little book will become your friend. I hope that you will find solace in these pages when the corners of your mouth are down, and that it will stir you up, make you think, and even make you act. I cannot end without saying how profoundly I respect every last person who steps out of the fast track of conventional living and places a foot gingerly on the spiritual path. The journey that we have undertaken is difficult, and yet a crucial one, for it is the ultimate purpose of human existence. Godspeed every one of us.
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