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Between religion and spirituality....

The foundation stone of Santhagiri Ashram was laid by Swami Jyotirmoy Jnana Tapasvi in South Delhi this past week. Scheduled to have a prayer hall and dispensaries, it promises to heal in more ways than one, says UPENDRA TANKHA....

The shape of things to come at Santhagiri Ashram in New Delhi.

IT IS an eye- opener to listen to Swami Jyotirmoy Jnana Tapasvi at New Delhi's Andhra Bhavan for a couple of hours. Here is a clean-shaven bright-faced swami in ochre robes with a palpable aura of peace who puts at rest many a troubled thought about present-day swamis who promise instant nirvana, the fire and fury engendered by some elements in organised religions and the plight of all those, specially the youth, being bombarded by the consumer-oriented images of the idiot box.

``One must not confuse religion with spirituality,'' he says. While the first in the course of time gets bogged down by pomp and ritual, the second, found in all faiths, is the essence. There have been down the centuries saints and prophets, acharyas and imams who have pointed towards the eternal way which is called dharma, illumining the divine law in nature. In the present age, which he calls the age of Kali, some of the pristine knowledge has been lost and it is essential to restore it through continuing the ancient practice of guru-shishya relationship.

He says the base of all religions is truth and it is important to follow the eternal varieties enshrined in them in peace and without prejudice. In the present day when societies are in the grip of consumer culture it is essential that parents and teachers inculcate the right ideals in their children. Leadership and the media too have to play a role. It is of little use to turn towards the divine when one is old and infirm: The time to begin is here and now. Restlessness and stereotyped behaviour, the twin fruits of consumerism, have to be combated. He advocates fresh and clean food and a vegetarian diet in moderation.

He chucked up a bank job in Malaysia when he was called by Navjyotisree Karunakaran Guru, a spiritual master, who left his body about three years ago. The master who could cure by a glance had a massive following though he never left his home state of Kerala. He had no formal education but a burning desire to know the Self. At the age of 25 he met a Muslim saint, Quereshia Fakir, who introduced him to unparalleled spiritual experiences.

Later he practiced penances and founded the Santhigiri Ashram in Trivandrum. A few days ago the foundation stone for another Santhigiri Ashram was laid in South Delhi's Pushp Vihar area. The complex will have a prayer hall and centres for Ayurvedic and Siddha systems of healing. The former makes use of herbs and roots, while the Siddha system makes medicines from metals and minerals. Both these schools flow from the teachings of the ancient sage Agastya.

The concept of incurable disease is not found in Ayurveda and efforts are made to control and even overcome diseases like cancer.

The ashram will work to fulfil the Guru's vision of a revitalised life -- spiritual, social, economic and cultural. A great deal of negativity has crept into our lives and perceptions and these will be combated by imbibing universal ideals of dharma. The ancient knowledge that has been lost down the ages will be restored. About two years are needed to complete the project.

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