Finding the Light
The following is a selection from Vedika founder and spiritual preceptor Acharya Shunya’s bestselling book, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom.
One night I woke up suddenly to a lot of commotion and confusion. My mother had become sick due to the weak heart that she was born with. My sister was crying, our father looked worried, and though Baba was serene, he was meditating outside my parents’ room, instead of his usual place in the family temple or outside under the courtyard tree. Mother looked like she was sleeping peacefully, but apparently she had fainted.
Then my aunt took my sister and me to her room and sang spiritual songs, appealing to the formless power behind all forms for my mother’s recovery and, at the same time, soothing us with her melodious voice. My sister and I held each other tight for comfort and finally drifted back to sleep, with our heads in our aunt’s lap.
Though the night ended with my mother getting better, still the disturbance and fear left lasting impressions on my young mind. I didn’t appreciate this scary surprise at all. I simply wanted my mother to be her usual, calm, strong and smiling, busy, bustling self at all times, as all eight-year-olds in this world want.
I developed a fear of the night. In daylight, all was well, but as night slowly approached and the sun began to set, I would feel a dread. “Will my mother fall sick again tonight?”
So many things that I knew by the light of the sun began to feel unfamiliar in the darkness of the night - the water drums that caught and stored rainwater; my Baba’s hand-carved, wooden armchair; the empty cage of Mitthoo, the parrot we children had freed within hours after being given him because Baba told us we should never cage any living creature; and even my own beloved rope swing, which had been hung from the trees by my father. All of these household items and others, well-known by the day, took on menacing shapes and personalities in the dark of the night.
Many a night I would wake up and lie in my bed paralyzed with fear. Then, of course, it was harder to wake up in the morning for the walk to the river, and sometimes I would drag my feet while Baba’s shakti carried me back and forth to the River Sarayu.
Baba, I know, was aware of all this, and one morning he looked me in the eyes and said, “You know, little Shunya, at night the sun never really goes away. It is only the revolving of the Earth that makes us have an experience of darkness. But this darkness never stays. The darkness is not real. Only light is the Truth. Light is always there, always present. Light is behind and beneath and through the darkness, so darkness does not stand a chance. It is only an appearance, a temporary reality, a passing phenomenon. Light is Truth. Light is the absolute, eternal, unchanging Ultimate Reality. Light always was, is, and will be.”
As Baba talked on, I felt comforted. What my child’s mind heard is that light, not darkness, is Truth. And I knew that this light dwelled in my heart and in mother’s heart too. I knew that I was made up of light and that even sickness was a part of this light. The light is all things without itself being affected by any of its forms.
Baba’s words conveyed his blessings to my heart, and slowly, the worries about my mother’s health that I had internalized began to lift.
Baba asked my mother, who was now feeling much better, and my aunt to make sure that every evening I massaged my feet, my ears, and the top of my head with warm sesame oil, as he had taught me. So my mother and aunt sat beside my bed at night for several weeks so that I didn’t rush through the practice but applied the oil slowly and deliberately. When I would begin this practice, I’d start feeling sleepy almost at once; my hands would feel heavy as the oil entered my body and calmed vata dosha and rajas, the mental quality of turbulence. This made room in me for sleep.
Also, my mother would chant many of my favorite bedtime mantras to me:
Asato ma sad gamayah
Tamaso ma jyotir gamayah
Mrityor ma amritam gamayah
Translated, this means:
May I journey in consciousness from untruth to truth,
From darkness to light, from fear of mortality of my body
To recognizing my indestructible, immortal Self.
One night, when I was struggling a bit more than usual with falling asleep, Baba came to the room where my sister and I slept, and he chanted the greatest of Vedic mantras, the Gāyatrī mantra. Baba sang very softly, uttering each syllable with a power that landed in my heart like a million-volt electric charge. Then with great gentleness, he lightly touched the top of my head. I seemed to be suspended halfway between the waking world and the world of dreams. I experienced waves of comfort, reassurance, and a tremendous, inexplicable joy. Baba reminded me then that the Great Light of Atman, the Self, dwells inside me, right in my heart. “The Atman makes you all-powerful and truly invincible. Remember that," he said.
And I did.
Baba said, “Use this light to welcome the divine darkness of nighttime. Fear not the night. The goddess of sleep will nurture you carefully as you sleep, and then you can wake up with renewed energy to grow and serve the world. Rest now, so Mother Sleep can heal and rejuvenate you.”
From that night onward, my fears were gone. The fears had fled, and I experienced the peace that is my natural state. I seemed to have become one with the Gāyatrī mantra. I became firm in the conviction that my true nature is greater than the darkness I could see at night - a darkness that is here to serve me, after all.
As for the monsters I saw in household items, the next time one of them stared at me through my bedroom window, I closed my eyes and focused on the light in my heart. I became so powerful and potent that the monsters revealed themselves in the light shining through my eyes to be no more than what they were. I felt that these “fearsome” water drums were actually rather lonely and were waiting out the night in anticipation of the morning, when I could come play hide and seek with my sister and my cousins around them once again.
Each evening, after my elders had chanted and left my room, I would gently await a different mother. Her name is Bhutadhatri, the Mother of the Universe, the Goddess of Sleep. She wears dark, flowing robes, soft and studded with infinite stars, and she holds us all like babies as we sleep. We are vulnerable then but filled with hope for a new morning. Because she is there with us, we are never alone. We can trust, and let go, let ourselves drop into sleep. My breathing would become very quiet with long pauses between each breath, and soon sleep would envelop me, ever so gently.
One night, between a breath in and a breath out, I observed my own true being. In this precious state, I could see that I was not even dependent on my body to experience my own light. This light is beyond the body. The light outlives the body. It is beyond day and night, beyond life and death. I could see then that my mother was not just her failing heart. Even mother’s sickness was simply a temporary night in an eternal, unending, totally amazing light-filled reality.
Read more in Acharya Shunya's bestselling book Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom, a complete prescription to optimize your health, live with vitality and joy (Sounds True, 2017).
About the Author
Acharya Shunya is Founder and Spiritual Preceptor of Vedika Global. She is one of the extraordinary teachers of the living, embodied wisdom of Vedanta, Yoga and Ayurveda. A rarity today, Shunya was born into an uninterrupted spiritual lineage dating back thousands of years in the holy city of Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, where she spent 14 years studying Vedic scriptures and the sciences of Vedanta, Yoga and Ayurveda with her Guru, Baba Ayodhya Nath – renowned Vedic Guru of his time. Her title “Acharya” is a customary title earned from traditional schooling in India, and means “a master teacher."
Learn more in-depth Ayurveda by enrolling in Acharya Shunya's most comprehensive online Ayurveda course, Alchemy through Ayurveda.