When I heard that Rohini Ralby had written a book about her spiritual journey, I was immediately interested. I became even more engaged when I learnt about her commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, as I was then working on my dissertation on the same subject. Rohini’s husband generously handed me Rohini’s book, which I went on to read with resonances throughout, bringing memories of my own journey of Self discovery.
The core of any spiritual journey is a quest, the seeking of something that transcends the boundaries of our normal day-to-day experience. It is a voyage of discovery about who we truly are, our identity which goes beyond the realms of the body, mind, intellect and our ordinary limited sense of who we are.
It is put plainly in the Mundakopanishad (II:3):
‘The Self is not attained through discourses, or through memorising scriptural texts, nor through much learning. It is gained only by her who wishes to attain with her whole heart. To such a one, the Self reveals Its true nature’
Here is the paradox of the spiritual journey. On the one hand we are compelled as it were to act, to ‘do something’ about realising our true nature. This results from our misidentification with the lower gross personality, which leads us to believe that we are the ‘doers’ and we are the ‘enjoyers’. The ancient sages realised that, from this starting point, we will need to ‘do something’ and hence gave various guidelines for the journey. On the other hand, realisation is here and now, it is in the sense of Being the sat or Truth of our Existence. What this verse in the Upanishad is telling us is that when the mind and intellect attain a certain state of ‘purity’ – chittasuddhi – the Self reveals itself. This is the essence of Patanjali’s method of establishing oneself in the Self, the Purusha, by ‘Yogaschittavrittinirodha’ (‘Yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind’).
In this book Rohini has given us a fascinating and wonderful insight into what constitutes a spiritual journey, the ‘Walk Home’. My guru, Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayanandaji, used to say ‘Hurry Home!’ as a twist on the greeting ‘Hari Om!’. He would urge us to spend every conscious moment in the journey, not wasting any time, working through the stream of our daily experiences to guide ourselves, constantly striving for the Changeless Pure Awareness. Throughout this book, Rohini makes it amply clear that the journey is not about sitting in meditation in a remote location. It is in the dharmakshetra, the field of action, where the Self is found, just as Lord Krishna exhorts Arjuna not to shrink back from his dharma but act in the world with the right thinking, feeling and attitude. Rohini describes this spiritual practice – sadhana – as being ‘no more and no less than the moment-to-moment, day-to-day grounding of your awareness in the Heart’. In the journey, ‘Being’ and ‘Doing’ have to come together.
In every chapter, Rohini has given many practical pointers for the spiritual seeker. These are lessons learnt by a seeker on the journey through a process of reflection and introspection. In fact, daily introspection is essential for everyone on the spiritual path. It not only gives insight into one’s own ego identity but shows how the issues arising from one’s attachments can be dealt with according to the prescriptions of the scriptures. Rohini mentions, for example, that the basis of spiritual practice is self-surrender. This is a vital pointer, as it is one of the principles of Karma Yoga, the other being consecration of all actions to the Lord. This and other vital signposts on the journey will help seekers as they make choices about their sadhana. Two chapters in particular give precise and clear instructions to the practitioner. In Chapter 5, Rohini uses her own experience to give us insight into how to recognise and still vibrations in consciousness that make us miserable. She charts the entire process in such a precise way that there is no doubt about what needs to be done. Another important concept she has developed is the Foursquare personality analysis. It is a powerful tool to identify how the ego has learnt to function and then finding a way beyond this limited identity. There is no doubt that readers have much to gain in their own journeys through these techniques and insights.
Whether as head of security or appointments secretary, her relationship with Swami Muktananda, Baba, is the crucial element of her journey. As Rohini says: ‘You need the guidance of a good teacher and support of a practicing community.’ This is indeed true of almost all journeys of Self discovery: the need for a Guru who takes us from the darkness of ignorance to Enlightenment. It is said that when the disciple is ready, the master appears. It is not that he ‘appears’ out of nowhere but that sincere practice of purifying the ego leads to the recognition of the teacher. After her missed encounter with Baba in Boston in December 1974, Rohini dreams repeatedly of a ‘little Indian man in an orange robe’. The teacher ‘appears’ at the moment when Rohini is ready for the next phase of her walk home, and through the next eight years, her close encounter with the tremendous radiation of shakti from Baba, along with his continual instruction, takes her through hills and valleys of experience culminating in a transcendent experience beyond any sense of identity.
The spiritual journey is often compared to the purification of raw gold. One is subject to flaming heat, melting, and beating again and again until the Self is revealed, pure and self-effulgent. Anyone who sincerely treads on the spiritual pathway needs to remember that it is not going to be an easy walk. Many obstacles, problems and painful experiences will arise as we struggle with our false identity and disentangle ourselves from the thraldom of prakriti—the world of gross matter—to reach the ‘one place where the Self dwells in us: the Heart’. Rohini here offers us many instances where she struggles with the misery and pain created by her own false identifications, and with courage and conviction ultimately learns to let go and surrender, taking steps towards the Truth. It is this process of surrender of the ‘me’ and the ‘mine’ which is central to the spiritual journey.
Adi Sankara, the proponent of the Advaita or Non-Dualistic Hindu tradition speaks of the four qualifications of the spiritual aspirant: Viveka (discernment or discrimination), vairagya (detachment) shatsampati (the six disciplines of sense control, mind control, withdrawal, forbearance, faith and equanimity) and mumukshutva (burning desire to know the Truth). Throughout the book we see Rohini actively cultivating these in order to step forward on the path: knowing what is True and what is False, what is Real and what is Unreal, being guided by Baba, who puts her in various situations which enhance her sensitivity to the Essence, and step by step letting go of the falseness of the ego. In a similar vein, Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras says that spiritual practice consists of abhyasa (deep experiential study) and vairagya (detachment). Again Rohini, through being wholly present to her moment to moment experiences, reframes them in the spiritual context, making it possible for her to move on in her journey through letting go.
On the spiritual journey, we need a guide – those who have made the journey and who know which paths to take and which to avoid, where the pitfalls are and where to be particularly careful, where to take your time and enjoy the experience. Of course each journey is unique, but there are certain factors that all spiritual journeys have in common. Rohini, in this book, has done much to help others make a successful journey Home.
Trustee of Chinmaya Mission UK and Teacher of Advaita Vedanta
Chair of Interfaith, Hindu Forum of Britain
Co-Chair of Hindu Christian Forum
Trustee, Faith Based Regeneration Network UK
Trustee of Faith and Belief in Further Education
Currently researching Yoga Psychology at University of Oxford.
9th September 2011, Oxford