I watched the silver rod approaching my eyeball with trepidation. It's just like inserting contacts, I reassured myself. Besides, who wouldn't want pearls in their eyes ? Harish Johari was treating me to one of his Ayurvedic preparations. What should I expect ? His own eyes twinkled. "If I tell you then you'll say you had the experience because I suggested it."
Johari grew up with Ayurvedic preparations. This knowledge was passed down through his family at a time when commercial medicines were unheard of. Instead, local herbs and plants, as well as gems and metals, were carefully prepared to make everything from digestive aids to preparations for treating serious illnesses. He credits his family and family friends as his original teachers.
Today, students come from around the world to study with him in Bareilly, India. He teaches what he lives from his home there, and in the time-honored tradition, his students are part of his family. "I put one seed in the ground and get one thousand back," he says of teaching. "Now I am learning from my students."
Each year Johari visits students in the United States, usually staying with his publisher in Rochester, Vermont, which is where I met him. In addition, he has brought many practical aspects of ancient Indian wisdom to the West with his books on topics ranging from the healing properties of gems, numerology, tantra, kundalini, Ayurveda, and cooking. His latest book is Ayurvedic Massage: Traditional Indian Techniques for Balancing Mind and Body.
The formal part of the interview over, Johari treated me to another of his preparations - a delightful lemon saffron cheesecake served with chai (spiced Indian tea). My eyes soothed and brightened with his pearl preparation, my stomach fed with honey and cheesecake and my mind with wisdom, I left Johari's company feeling nurtured physically, mentally, and spiritually.
You have written extensively on Ayurveda, as well as many other topics. Is there a common theme in all your work ?
Life. Life. It looks to you like different subjects, but I've never written about anything else. I write about life and how to make life healthier and beautiful. According to Ayurveda there are three pillars on which the human structure rests - food, sleep, and sex. If one pillar becomes higher, the other two become smaller, and then the body is topsy-turvy. So food, sex, and sleep should be in proper balance. Food only takes care of nourishment of the body, sleep takes care of rest and relaxation, and sex - the satisfaction of desires. They are all very necessary. But they are secondary. Breath is primary. Breath is not just the coming and going of air through the nasal passages. Breath relates the external world with the internal world. It's a bridge which connects the outside with the inside.
Nothing is more important than circulation of the breath and the other body fluids. If the input and output are properly balanced, then there is no problem in life. Problems come when there is too much input and not enough output, or too much output and not enough input.
Having proper output means not only breathing right, but also having a regular bowel movement. Constipation is the most dangerous thing for the body. Ninety-nine percent of diseases in man are due to constipation. It happens when we don't have proper circulation of food material, by not drinking enough water, or by not being open and rejecting the used food material.
When I came to America I said to people, "As you know, it is very important to get up early in the morning and go to the toilet." Everyone looked at me like I was saying something wrong. I said, "What is the matter, why do you look at me like this?"
They said, "We don't go to toilet every day." I said, "Why not? You have to." Then I said, "How many of you do not?" And they all raised their hands and said they don't go to toilet every day - sometimes once in two days, sometimes once in three days. It's not regular. And I said, "You're all sick and that's why there are bad smells in the room. So please open the windows !"
I don't understand how people can come here and teach anybody meditation or any spiritual thing. Meditation can only be done when the stomach is clear and clean, when there are no toxins in the body. No meditation is possible if you have not been to the toilet. After the toilet you should sit down and meditate and connect yourself with the source from which our energy comes, rather than waking up in panic, and trying to reconnect yourself with yesterday by remembering the past day and night. Then you should have breakfast and get busy with whatever you have to do.
What about food? Any advice for people who want to be healthier?
Food should be light, and not make you feel heavy. You should eat fresh food. Another bad thing in this country is the invention of the fridge. That fridge is a very bad guy. Whatever you don't use, you should throw away. You don't throw it away because you're greedy. You keep it.
People ask me if they can make enough bread dough for a week and put it in the freezer. They want to do things only once a week, or maybe once a lifetime, and still have the fruits of it every day. I think they will invent a seed which grows into balls of dough instead of the wheat plant, or maybe baked bread will come out. That's what they want, they don't want to do anything. Then you ask them why do you work so hard , and they say, "for bread and butter." And yet they don't eat well.
So I say to people, stop using canned food. Stop using food which was cooked more than eight hours ago, and don't reheat food.
What happens when you reheat food?
You destroy prana. Everything else remains, but the prana is missing.
What about taking lots of vitamins and supplements? It's so common these days.
Remember one thing. The body will only take what the body needs. The rest will be thrown out. We do not have a bank in the body. For young people, the body does not need anything. They already have everything in the body - it manufactures enough for itself. If they need anything at all, it's suggestion. A very small amount of something will act as a suggestion to the body, and then the body will manufacture its own material and use it. That's what we use in homeopathy, a small suggestion. We use this idea in Ayurveda also, but homeopathy is just plain suggestion. It wakes up a part of the body that knows how to make what it needs.
Ayurveda has existed for thousands of years. Its practitioners have been called quacks and sometimes they were punished for being doctors. But now the time has come for Ayurveda to be revealed to the world. People want medicine and treatments which are without reactions or side effects. Ayurveda has lots of possibilities. It is astonishing that herbs and plants and metals can be used in so many different ways. All the possibilities have not been explored. Not all is known. Not all has been tested. There are ways they can be used for physical health, mental health, and also for spiritual development, that haven't yet occurred to us.
What about the Ayurvedic preparations made from gems or minerals? How do they work? Do they function like vitamins? Are they more readily assimilated than vitamins from healthfood stores?
Metals and gems are made into bhasmas by grinding them up and treating them with sulfur or other elements. Then a small ball is made and fired; and then it's ground up again, and fired again. This may be done seven or eight times, until it becomes pure white ash. Then it is a bhasma. It's very effective and very good.
Bhasmas are hungry. They are oxides, so they have been completely dehydrated. When they go into your body, immediately they search for water and mix with it. That way they get assimilated into the body. And the second thing is that because it's in oxide form, there is nothing that cannot be digested. The amount is so small that it is easily assimilated in the body.
Also, bhasmas have very subtle properties. Take calcium, for example. Pearls and coral are both calcium carbonate by chemical analysis. For a Western medical man, calcium from a pearl and calcium from coral will be the same. But there is a world of difference between pearls and coral. They are not the same - pearl is cool and coral is hot. We make bhasmas from both. In Ayurveda we understand that both cold and hot are necessary for balance. We see the body as two opposite poles. We see the pairs of opposites in everything.
When there is a severe problem with the stomach and the digestive fire is low, we never give pearl oxide, we give coral oxide. Coral oxide increases digestive fire, sets the stomach right, and brings chronic indigestion and chronic constipation under control, whereas pearls are good for the nerves and the heart and lungs. Pearl oxide is calming. It brings sleep, and makes the system more restful.
A preparation from pearls is also good for people over 50 years of age. A very small amount of it every now and then keeps the body chemically alkaline, and it remains healthy. In old age, the body become more acidic, so we become sour. I am now sour, but young babies are not. That's why meat from an old animal is sour, and meat from a young animal is not. So in old age those things which increase alkalinity in the body will be appreciated and healthful.
Your newest book is about Ayurvedic massage. How important is massage for health ?
Well, the first most important thing in the world is breathing, the second most important thing in the world is cleansing, and massage is the best cleanser. To dispel toxins from the body, and to recycle vital life fluid, there is nothing better than massage. By working with muscles, you make the muscles work. Then fluids move out and new fluids full of nourishment flow in. In this way massage expels toxins. Also, it strengthens the body. It strengthens the immune system, and it's soothing. Even wild animals can be brought under control if you give them a little massage. If you sit down with a wild animal, and rub its body, hug or touch it, and play with its spine and head, in a few minutes the animal will become very demanding, and say please, give me more massage. So massage tames the wild beast.
This is the secret Indian women use to control their men. To get that massage, the man runs home. The house is a heaven where he can relax. Massage is very important for people who are working and who are tired. It brings them back to normal life, relaxes them, takes away their fatigue, provides them with fresh nourishment, gives them security, grounds them, and makes them feel comfortable.
All the things you've written are about becoming healthier and happier. But it seems to me that gem preparations and Ayurveda are about physical health, and tantra and yoga, which you have also written about, are much more spiritual. Are tantra and yoga connected with astrology and Ayurveda?
Yoga and Ayurveda are interrelated. The philosophy is the same. Ayurveda exposes you to all those things that are inside you. The health of the body is not only controlled by medicine, but by mental attitude. The mind and mental diseases and all mental problems are connected to Ayurveda. Mental attitude can only be right when you understand and work with your mind. The subject of mind and working with the mind is also part of the eightfold path of yoga.
In ancient days the Ayurvedic doctor also had to know astrology. He had to know which nakshatra - moon constellation - was on the horizon, because picking herbs for making medicines was done only under certain auspicious nakshatras.
If you had to take a plant out of the earth to make medicine, the day before you clipped it, you went to the plant with a small pot of sugar cane juice or sugar and water and you said to the plant, "Please, I need you for my patient and I want you to free the plant from your spirit by tomorrow so that I can come and pick the plant." Then you offered the sugar water and prayed. The next day when the moon was right you went back and picked the plant. By that time the spirit in the plant had separated itself from the plant, so you didn't hurt anybody.
There was this much consideration for all living things. This can only be possible when your philosophy is such that you see life in everything. When you believe that everything is alive, everything has consciousness, everything understands, then everything will act the way you want if your intentions are good. If you are acting to help others, then you will get cooperation from all spirits and all plants and all minerals and everything in the natural world.
Is Ayurveda related to tantra?
Yes, Ayurveda is also connected with tantra. Actually tantra was first, and Ayurveda and other disciplines slowly and gradually developed out of tantra. Man has always searched for miraculous powers. He has always wanted to transcend his physiological and psychological limitations. He knew that if he could somehow master the external energies of nature and also increase his own will and power, then he might achieve transcendence. So he had to pay attention to the outside energies, and also to the energies within him. In this way introspection and self-realization became a practice which slowly and gradually developed into meditation and tantric exercises.
But you know the magical powers of tantra have a bad reputation - casting spells, killing your enemies, defying social standards. I know the special powers have been misused, but how were they used in helpful ways?
I will say one thing: I have some matches in my pocket. If I like I could light one and burn down this whole house. I can cook my food with this match, or I can burn down my house. The power is the same. The same power which can create separation and destruction can also create union. Crazy and power-mad people who wanted to harm others used tantra in a bad way, so it got a bad reputation. But actually tantra or any science is just a science! It's a study, a branch of knowledge. It is a methodology; it's not a religion. Tantra is a mother science - a very beautiful science from which developed geometry, mathematics, alchemy, and all other good sciences. Tantra helped the evolution of consciousness because it explored so many branches of knowledge for expansion of body, mind, and consciousness.
Do you need knowledge to be connected to the greater source? Do you need more than knowledge?
Everything in this cosmos is connected. There was no cosmos, it was all one - in the form of nebulous mass or frequencies, or electronic charges, whatever you want to call it. Before matter materialized, it was not in the form of matter, but all mixed up in one. Then matter materialized, and stars and planets formed and from stars and planets, our solar system evolved, and from our solar system, we came. So before we became earth, we were all molten in the sun! We are all one, and we are connected with that big energy source. Even after we are separated from all that, we are still connected to it.
The birth of the baby inside the body of the mother is an outcome of that connection which is called law, or dharma. The mother's hands don't shape the nose and eyes and ears of the baby. The father's hands don't, the doctor's hands don't. The total construction of the baby is done by law. And that law is in the genetic information of those cells which are slowly and gradually constructing the structure after the fertilization of the ovum by the sperm. So this genetic information, which is carried from one generation to another generation, has inherent in it the blueprint of how things work, and that is the connection. So we are connected.
We forget our connection because the eyes, the ears, the tongue, and the memory present us with so much information. We are so lost in this constant input from our sense organs that we have no time to remember ourselves. This is the problem with our senses.
How can we remember ourselves?
Only you can expel your darkness - your ignorance about yourself - so that you can see that you are a divine being. When you see, then you act like a divine being, not like a slave of your senses, not like a slave of your body. Then you are the master of your body and the owner of your conscious mind! Then you can have spiritual revelations without any problem. But as long as you do not work with the gross material existence of yourself, which is the body, and do not make it pure, then the elements will disturb you. The senses will disturb you, prana will disturb you. You won't be able to sit or relax. Concentration for a longer period of time will not be possible. That's why in ashtanga yoga the yamas and niyamas - the code of conduct - come first.
Asana and pranayama and the higher rungs of pratyahara ( sense withdrawal ), dharana ( concentration ), dhyana ( meditation ), and samadhi ( absorption ) are only possible after you have started living in a more ethical manner and see that everybody is created by God. When you see the same spirit in everything and the same God in everything, then spiritual development and transformation are possible. But as long as you are hating your mother and thinking bad about your father and not having any relationship with your brother and blaming everybody in society, then spiritual realization isn't possible. You may find some "guru" who will offer to sell it to you, but it's not possible for you to have it, because you can only have it when you have first purified yourself from all this anger, this jealousy, and these lower instinctive things which create bad feelings and bad body chemistry.
The eight steps are unavoidable if you want meditation and samadhi. You cannot ignore any step. I know people who say asana and pranayama are not important and they just sit down and do their mantra. Or they say education is nothing, they just sit down and read their holy book! You can do that. But as a general law we talk about ordinary people; exceptions are not counted. If you are an exception you can do anything, but if you are a normal person then for you purification, cleanliness, honesty - all these things are necessary. Then slowly and gradually you can realize more.
When students come to you on a spiritual search, what do you tell them ?
I really don't teach anything. People come to me and I say, Listen, we are all traveling on a road which is infinite. There is no beginning and no end of this road. When there is no beginning and no end, how can I decide who is ahead and who is behind? We are all on the same road, and the road isn't finished. So neither I know something more than you, nor do you know something less. You are playing a role, you want somebody to play teacher, so you selected me. You say, Okay, for 10 days you'll play my teacher. So I come for 10 days, I play your teacher and you play my student. You sit down in front of me and I talk and you listen to what I say. This is just theater.
You should understand that this is not the only truth. It is a relative truth. The real truth is within each of us. Everything is within us, and when the time comes things are automatically revealed.
You must understand that the physical, the psychological, and the spiritual are one. As long as you discriminate among the physical, the psychological, and the spiritual you are living in a very different world where all things are separate and there is no unity. As long as you can't see God in everything, you're not spiritual. The first and foremost spiritual principle is to see unity in diversity. Then you can have a real spiritual search.