When we venture into unknown territory, it is reassuring to have a guide. This is what a spiritual lineage offers us. As questions arise and we encounter obstacles along the way, we can turn to those who have gone before us for inspiration and guidance. The great sages of the Himalayas, beginning with the Vedic seers and continuing to modern times, have struggled with the same issues that we all struggle with. And as they overcame the obstacles that stood between them and Self-realization, they mapped the way for those who would follow after them. Passing on the teachings from generation to generation, these sages help lead aspirants to the highest reality.

Mapping the Spiritual Quest

Each of the stories of the sages that we hear or read carries a unique message that will inspire seekers of every level, for they show how even these great realized beings had their moments of doubt and despair—and overcame them. There was Narada, who taught others the art of happiness, only to realize that he was not happy himself. Prince Rama fell into a deep depression and wandered for years in search of inner peace.

When we venture into the unknown, it is reassuring to have a guide.

Parashurama, a great warrior, was consumed with frustration, feeling totally dejected and hopeless. Vidyaranya Yati wondered what was wrong with him because he had not gained direct experience of the truth after more than eighty years of intense practice. Madhusudana Sarasvati, a brilliant philosopher of non-dualism, felt empty inside, and secretly yearned to experience what the devotees did. And Swami Rama kept breaking his practice because he could not always control his anger.

These weary travelers each found the help of a guide who clarified their confusion and inspired them to continue on their spiritual quest. Systematically, step by step, the masters explained how to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way. Be patient, they would say. Train your body, mind, and senses, have faith, study the scriptures, seek the company of the wise, practice non-attachment, meditate. Make all possible effort, and then surrender to divine will. Embrace each moment as it presents itself, seeing it as an opportunity to expand your awareness, until you are fully opened and prepared. Then, when you least expect it, grace will dawn and you will experience oneness with the divine.

Sages for Every Time and Place

Each of these seekers became a channel through which the ancient teachings flowed, recast to apply to their own time and place. For me, Swami Rama was that channel. When I first met him in 1978, I knew nothing about the tradition of the Himalayan Masters. All I knew was that when I was around him, I felt a sense of deep stillness and peace. And as I listened to him lecture and watched him with his students, I knew in my heart that I had found my teacher.

Swamiji cared a great deal about his students and taught tirelessly, both here and abroad. No matter what the topic of his lecture, he would always stress the same basic points: “Sit with your head, neck, and trunk straight. Breathe diaphragmatically. Discipline your body, mind, and senses. Learn to know yourself on every level. Be happy. Grease your actions with love. Do not be attached to the fruits of your actions. Practice, practice, practice.” While we clamored for advanced practices, he kept teaching us the same basics, year after year, because he knew that mastering these basics was advanced practice. And those who understood knew that the real teachings were given in silence.

Human life is a gift, and we should not squander this marvelous opportunity to realize our divine nature.

Swamiji guided and counseled us in many ways. He was a practical teacher who created situations to make students learn to think for themselves—and the experience was not always pleasant. Swamiji did not want us to be dependent on anyone or anything external, including him. He encouraged us to go within—to connect with our inner truth. “Meditation,” he would say, “can give you that which nothing else can give you: it introduces you to yourself.”

Guests Passing Through This World

He constantly reminded us that we are merely guests passing through this transitory world. We should enjoy it, he insisted, without forgetting that the true purpose of life is to return to our eternal home. Human life, he would say, is a gift, and we should not squander this marvelous opportunity to realize our divine nature.

Whenever we asked Swamiji what we could do for him, he would smile gently and say, “Be happy.” For him the way to happiness was through selfless service—by “giving, giving, giving, without expecting anything in return.” He admitted that this is a taste that needs to be cultivated, but once we do, he would say, we will drink from the fountain of inner joy.

No matter how much Swamiji gave of himself, he would never take credit for what he did. He told us repeatedly that the knowledge he brought with him had been filtered down to the present through a long line of realized sages. Their ancient teachings are a clear stream of revealed truth that pours ongoing wisdom into the minds and hearts of sincere students. Swamiji’s teachings are a modern-day link to this great tradition.

Practice, Practice, Practice

In the West, yoga has too often been reduced to its physical component—to a series of movements and postures that enhance our physical health and well-being. But the underlying philosophy of yoga is far broader and more profound; it encompasses a holistic approach that creates harmony and balance for body, mind, and spirit on all levels. These teachings are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. The guides are there, waiting to help us. All we have to do is practice, practice, practice.

Further Reading

The Himalayan Masters: A Living Tradition

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

This universal tradition is concerned with the direct experience of truth and is not limited by the boundaries of religion, nationality, geography, era, or race. This volume explores the lives and teachings of eight prominent masters of this timeless tradition – men who knew how to be successful in daily life while experiencing the innermost truths of life here and hereafter.

Source: The Himalayan Masters: A Living Tradition (Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD)