I’ve heard it said that India is a land of spirituality where one might realize God more quickly. Certainly the spiritual quest is a living reality here, acknowledged and encouraged. As Paramhansa Yogananda said in his poem My India, “Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves and men dream God.” If one is willing to look and feel closely, there is a subtle sense of uniqueness beneath the obvious disarray that I find highly intriguing but difficult to define. I don’t mean to romanticize India because living here can be challenging for Westerners, but there is also a special “something” about the place. Maybe it is because so many saints have walked this land, or perhaps it is because God is so interwoven into the cultural landscape. I haven’t come close to understanding this but I think about it daily.
Why is it that I meditate better here and feel more devotion? To locals I say, when asked how I like it here, “India is a land of extremes.” Perhaps it’s true that spiritual growth is accelerated in such environments simply because life’s challenges force us to resolve them within.
Primed for Mysticism
As a “Kriyacharya,” (someone authorized to give Kriya Yoga initiations) I hear many stories that cause me to simply shake my head in amazement. Kundalini, visions, spiraling currents, out-of-body experiences, and ecstatic states are regular fare. I don’t mean to say that these are universal or even common, but I can almost guarantee that someone in every class will come afterward to ask for help with something like this. At first I suspected overactive imaginations but I was wrong.
One woman was distressed after Kriya initiation because she was experiencing a loss of body awareness while teaching her classroom of children. The bliss she was feeling was interfering with her duties. The top of her head was very warm to touch and actually emanated an inner vibration. There have been many such accounts, all sincere. A woman from South India spoke of a local goddess who regularly appeared while she practiced Kriya. Another man wanted to know how to control the chakra awakening he was experiencing, and described it in great detail. Such stories have made me wonder, “Why don’t Westerners seem to have these experiences so frequently?” I think the answer is culture.
Westerners are trained to be skeptical by nature and to look for material, physical and tangible causes to phenomena, whereas in India the veil between the material and astral planes is thinner. I don’t like to generalize like this but I am coming to agree with others who have said that the Indian psyche is primed for mysticism whereas the Western mind is primed for practical efficiency, due to the influence of culture and training. But interestingly, if you take an Indian and put him in America or in a westernized subculture within India, he becomes highly practical and efficient within a short order, often rising to the top of his field. I’m hoping the same can be said, in reverse, for us practical Westerners who now find ourselves in mystical India.
Jugaad: India’s Secret Weapon
Jugaad is a word that characterizes an approach to life in India. Roughly translated, it means “improvisation” or “an ability to make do” in the midst of challenging circumstances. It can be thought of as the spirit that says “No problem” when the lights go out, the water tap is dry, and the roads are flooded. It’s the village entrepreneur hooking up a lawnmower engine to his bicycle rickshaw. It’s getting home alive in your space capsule using odds, ends, and duct tape as they did in the Apollo 13 movie.
With a little bit of creativity, enterprise and hustle, the average Indian gets by and prospers. I think this is why you see Indian immigrants around the world rising to the top of their fields in all countries. The hassle of life has trained them to find solutions and novel approaches because they can’t rely on things to work the way they do in the West. Some even see jugaad as India’s secret weapon for economic success in the world of international competition. As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and in a country where “doing the needful” is a daily requirement, jugaad comes in mighty handy.
When I was working at the Ananda community outside Pune in southern India, I’d regularly encounter mechanical problems that baffled me. Something would break or we wouldn’t have the proper tools (by my Western standards) or some complication would arise. “No problem,” Hari, our labor foreman, would say. First he’d try one thing, then another and another until finally we’d find a solution and get the job done. If not, we’d sometimes take our problem to the local village and go from shop to shop seeking a solution. Locals would always offer help, taking what we brought as a personal challenge. Passers-by would join in with opinions of their own and sooner or later, an answer would come.
If you visit India and ever find yourself lost, you’ll experience the same thing. Just ask for help from anyone on the street and a crowd will gather to give you half a dozen opinions on how to get where you want to go.