‘Less luggage, more comfort; make travel a pleasure’, ran the slogan of Indian Railways till the early 1970s, persuading the passenger to travel as lightly as possible. The catchphrase held strong relevance in the context of steam engine-powered trains resembling black monsters belching out thick clouds of smoke, and crude train journeys of that long ago period, when rail was the most viable mode of travel for longer distances, ranging from several hundred to a couple of thousand kilometers involving transits varying from overnight to a few days, when individuals and families journeyed around carrying many large and unwieldy pieces of luggage. It was as if everyone was lugging around micro versions of entire housings, greatly encumbered and severely fatigued by travel weariness at the time of reaching destinations. At destination stations, it was again a melee of hired porters dragging down huge pieces of baggage from rail compartments and heaving it up on their heads for the laboured trudge to exit gates. The post-journey travel fatigue mandated a recovery period stretching to a day or two to enable a person to regain a general state of fitness for the tasks ahead.
The scene underwent a gradual evolution in the years that followed in the form of faster and less polluting diesel and electric engines, replacing the highly polluting coal-fired steam locomotives, speeding up trains and reducing transit times, upgrades of facilities at stations, integrated kitchen cars offering on-board catering and air-conditioned coaches enhancing overall comfort levels. Travel baggage refined to compact back-packs and sleek boxes fitted with strolley wheels and extendable handles enabling easy carriage virtually eliminating dependence on porters. The traveller since morphed into a lighter being, unencumbered and self-sustaining, aided by fewer pieces of easy-to-handle luggage and faster transits from origin to destination locations.
For most people, the journey through life appears to be more or less like travels on board Indian trains as it obtained till the greater part of last century, crudely powered by polluting fuels of greed, divisiveness and hatred, slow-moving and constrained by several pieces of heavy baggage of acquisitions and unduly strong attachments to possessions. Progress in life is misconstrued as a process of addition, feverishly filling up external deficiencies and satiating greed through material possessions. Life is unknowingly wasted in adding things at all levels, physical and mental. There is accumulation of objects and data, erroneous opinions and perceptions, unhealthy desires and attitudes against the stark truth that no one in the real sense is ever deficient to begin with. Instead of appreciating the right path to divinity, we choose to complicate things by our desire for something from outside that we think is missing and deemed as required to fill up the deficiency, when the real need is to clear the dust obscuring our brilliance. The traveller cannot progress by adding artificial layers on otherwise clear mirrors of perspectives and allowing the self to be weighed down by excessive baggage. The requirement is not to add but to subtract, not to maximize but to minimize, to strip down to bare minimum. Not to go on satisfying endless wants but to keep discarding possessions that are superfluous and things that can be given up, lightening the baggage retaining just the bare essentials. The bad habit of addition makes us hoarders, making it difficult for us to move forward. Subtraction then becomes addition multiplying happiness.
Hoarding material possessions creates too much noise drowning out the melody of life, the grand music of the inner self, to listen to which one needs the silence accruing from an irreducible minimum of desires and possessions. The journey is from the illusion of our being something by way of artificial culturing, social construct and accoutrements, to the reality of nothing, to the universe of supreme intelligence and compassion. The progress from the boundary of physical defines constituting the human body to the boundless source of creation is the very basis of the spiritual process. The search for the infinite is a journey inwards, not to any outward region. We may want to traverse the length and breadth of planet earth or explore the galaxies or delve still further into micro-nano divisions of ‘god-particle’ in the hope of divining ultimate reality, only to figure out the chimerical nature of such endeavour. The only way to cover distance from the individual to the cosmic is to journey inwards. Turning inwards to reclaim one’s true nature does not mean acquisition but realization, not by riding on beliefs and dogmas but by seeking. Not by relying on those wonderful instruments of human survival called sense organs which present distorted impressions of reality perceiving something only in relation with everything else; not by cerebral exercise of acquiring new beliefs or philosophies as such knowledge merely appears to polish prevailing ignorance by making it more lustrous. True seeking propels one towards the experience of existence as borderless unity, not as an intellectual theory but as a living experience. Borderless unity can deliver the seeker to an entirely new dimension enabling access to the very source of creation.
What is my progress and evolution as a traveller treading the spiritual path? I consider myself to be a traveller and not a pilgrim as yet. While I cannot boast of any significant accomplishments, I have, over the years, taken many steps to lighten my baggage. Total abstinence from tobacco and alcohol, practicing vegetarianism and generally simplifying my lifestyle have been a few at the sensory level. Closely complementing it is a conscious effort to give more and receive less, to banish hatred, selfishness, greed, while welcoming acceptance and inclusion, and ushering in a greater degree of moderation and balance in all activities. The journey of Christian and his family to the celestial city, as depicted by John Bunyan, speaks of sensual pleasures as dangerous diversions of the soul that must be rejected, the treacherous wilderness replete with slough and hills of difficulty serving as motif of inner struggles to be overcome, the hard path the soul must trek almost every day and thereby gaining in strength of character and endurance of spirit, where the dedicated and persevering pilgrim is also rewarded with beautiful palaces and delectable mountains surrounded by singing birds all the way to celestial city lined with golden streets and fragrant flowers. Where is that celestial city and how to reach it? The answer lies in discarding the noxious and highly polluting coals of envy and avarice, lightening our luggage by retaining only bare necessities and thereafter connecting our engines to the electrifying power of loving kindness and infinite compassion, to surge forward with all speed towards soul consciousness. “The foundations of man are not in matter, but in spirit. But the element of spirit is eternity”, said Emerson. Soul consciousness brings in the realization that no matter what happens by way of temporal loss or gain, success or failure, acclaim or defamation, one can still remain stable and peaceful because ‘I the soul’ cannot lose anything. What happens in life is a karmic play of cause and effect but the soul is the master creator capable of endless creation and manifestation of all that is good. Hence embrace the wider space and move on; as Emerson would have it, “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough”.