Losing Vishal, the brightest of Ammaji’s Chefs – 5 Jun 16

Today I have to give you sad news: one of our chefs has passed away last night. His name was Vishal and he was only 25 years old. He will be dearly missed!

Vishal was one of those chefs whom we employed after having started the restaurant, when the crowd of guests was growing every day and we noticed that we needed a bigger team. He came to lead the Chinese section of our kitchen but soon we found out that he could do so much more: he helped out with continental dishes, he could fill a gap in the North Indian section, too – he was a true all-rounder!

The newly married young man proved to be a real enrichment not only in a culinary sense. He was really enthusiastic about cooking, loved what he was doing and brought a fresh and positive spirit into our kitchen! When there were new cooks or helpers, he would be the one making them feel comfortable in the team, explaining them how things worked, where ingredients were and so on.

He truly cooked with the love that we want to see in Ammaji’s kitchen and which we promise in our meals! His love for food came apparent in his new creations and his wish to have us try them at our own meals.

It was with shock that we received a phone call about ten days ago on which someone told us that Vishal had had an accident. This man had brought him to the hospital – and immediately two of our team members started from here to help. It was clear already then that it had been a serious accident.

At his fall from his motorbike Vishal had broken all three bones of one leg and both bones of the other lower leg. Miraculously he had no other injuries except for some bruises on the arm. The breaks in his bones could be fixed in two surgeries and that’s what doctors did: one day one leg, two days later the other.

All surgeries were successful, we met him before and after. The staff and also management had gone to visit him several times. He was alright, considering the circumstances, talking, even joking. We told his family that we would lend our support until he was fully fine and would come to work again. Ramona and I paid another visit to him on the day he was about to get discharged. In the evening, he was shifted by ambulance to his home.

In the evening of the next day, he had a heart attack. His family took him to the hospital but the doctors could only testify his death. It was a shock. After all surgeries, when he was only going to be recovering – and nobody knows how exactly it happened and why.

It doesn’t matter anymore either – Vishal’s shining light has left us forever. We kept the restaurant closed in condolence the next morning and midday, opening only for the evening. And whatever will be prepared in our kitchen, we will always be remembering Vishal!

How to deal with the Knowledge that you won’t be alive much longer – 28 Oct 15

After having written about financial difficulties and difficulties in human relations, I would today like to write about a completely different issue that shakes your world if it comes up: if you get to know that you or someone who is very close to you has a bad illness or other health problem. I am obviously not talking about the common cold – no, I mean the news that someone has cancer, accidents in which an injured person loses a limb or becomes paraplegic. How to deal with such a situation?

Obviously, I will not give any kind of medical advice. For that, you will find a lot of qualified doctors who can help you through any possible therapy. I want to look at how you can emotionally and mentally deal with these situations.

Illness and death are the two situations in which you only have one option: to accept.

This is something that is much easier said than done and I am aware that anybody who finds himself in this position knows truly how difficult it is. If you know about the possibility that you may not live more than a year or two. If you know that you will never again feel your legs. If you know that your complete life will change because your partner now doesn’t have arms anymore.

The big point here is that you actually have no other option than to accept. Accept the facts and then make sure that you make the best out of the situation in front of you.

If you or your loved one know that the time for one of you is strongly limited, make every effort to make these days, weeks or months the most beautiful ones. Create lots of happy memories for those who will be around longer. Do things that you always wanted to do but always kept for later. See the beauty of this world together with those you love. If you have any talent for writing, I would even suggest to note down what you are going through so that others in the same situation can draw strength from your experience!

If you survive whatever it is that you have gone through, even if it is with a loss and a clear change to your life, appreciate every single second you are alive! For nearly every situation, there is someone who is in a worse situation. Have you seen the video of a motivational speaker who doesn’t have arms nor legs? It is incredible to hear him speaking about the joy of living!

Accept whatever it is that you have to live with now and create your life around it accordingly. Once you start accepting, you will notice how many caring people are around you who are ready to help and support you in every way they can! Accept not only your situation but also help of others when you need it.

It is difficult, of course, but once you start accepting, it will get easier and you will be able to see positive things in life again!

How to answer your Child’s Questions about Death as an Atheist – 3 Sep 15

I have told you before already sometimes that we talk a lot with Apra. She had started talking very early and has always been very quick to understand what you tell her. This encouraged us even more than we had already planned to explain her everything that is happening around us. And that includes the question of death – which already came up quite a while ago with her.

You know that my mother died suddenly when Apra was eleven months old. We immensely value these months that our daughter could spend with her grandmother. In Babbaji’s room, there are big pictures with Ammaji and her and one day when looking at these, Apra asked: ‘Where is Ammaji?’

Most people in India would reply something like ‘She went to god’ or ‘God took her home’. I heard from European friends that there, too, such impressions are used, even by those who don’t really believe in religion and just are a member of the Christian church for going there once a year. They think it is the easiest way to explain death.

Obviously, that was not an option for us. I also sometimes wonder if that doesn’t have the opposite effect for children than what believers actually intend: I guess a child would be angry at god for having taken her grandmother along to his home instead of leaving her to play with the child! It sounds just cruel! God takes your loved ones from you and you will never meet them again! It’s no wonder children will get afraid of god!

That’s how we tell Apra that everybody gets old and at some point dies. Then they won’t come back anymore. It is sad but that’s how it is. Animals also die like this and plants do, too. She has watched this happen to flowers, she heard stories of animals and she understood that her grandmother, my mother, has died and won’t come back.

She also really understood it. The next thing she realized was that Naniji, my grandmother, was also old. She knew this before but now she had a new aspect to this fact! So she went to Naniji and asked: ‘Are you old?’ And when Naniji confirmed this, she continued asking: ‘So you will die soon?’

Oh, my grandmother was surely wondering where this thought had come from but she confirmed also this: ‘Yes, I will probably die soon but nobody knows exactly when.’

I believe when this day will be there, this will actually have already prepared Apra as far as in any way possible. It will be better than if we had evaded the question and not answered to her curiosity. Death is a part of life and even though it is always sad when a loved one leaves, it is something we all have to accept.

Apra is on the best way there. She nodded in agreement on Naniji’s statement but then she answered matter-of-factly: ‘We will miss you. I will cry.’

Naniji said ‘Of course’ and in a funny way, was happy about that, too!

The senseless Tradition Santhara does not justify Suicide! – 26 Aug 15

On Monday I went to Delhi on short notice for a TV debate. The topic of this discussion was the religious custom called ‘Santhara’ which is common in the Jain religion. Let me explain you what exactly this is, why it was a topic for TV and what my stand on it was.

Santhara, also called Sallekhana, is a practice among Jain believers with which people who are older than 75 years go to their voluntary death. If an old person of Jain religion feels there is no point of living anymore, if he wants salvation, if he feels the world doesn’t need him anymore or he doesn’t need the world anymore, he just stops drinking and eating. He won’t eat a bite and won’t even drink a sip of water anymore. He will die – and his fellow believers will applaud it.

This is how their saints died and this is the way of dying that the Jain religion glorifies. Now however, the High Court has banned this practice, as they consider it suicide.

Obviously, the Jain community is more than unhappy about this and wants to go to the Supreme Court to have this ban removed. They say that a court and a law cannot forbid this old practice and tradition.

So I was having a debate with five further people on this topic. I told very clearly that this is nothing else than suicide – which is why the court banned it! Every year 200 people in India kill themselves in this way! If someone goes on hunger strike, the government doesn’t let them die – they are force fed instead! You stop eating and drinking, so you will die – what is the difference?

My words were met by a strong opposition saying that this was not at all suicide but a wonderful thing for the soul. The soul would know its time and it was a necessary practice for reincarnation.

I refuted this answer, telling them that this was nonsense and that there was no such thing as a soul or reincarnation. If you allow these people do kill themselves, you have to allow suicide to everyone. Make a law for death by each person’s wish – then everyone can decide to kill himself whenever he or she wants to. You however want to have this right only for you because for the rest of people it is not allowed! You glorify this way of dying and due to this, people will follow! You are encouraging them to commit suicide!

They said their forefathers had always followed this practice as well. One lawyer, who will fight against this ban, claimed that it was not suicide at all, the soul would leave only at its time. That’s how there were people living for months and years without eating and drinking. On top, they argued, they wouldn’t tell young people to do Santhara, only those above 75 years of age.

Now for me, it is not an argument to say ‘our forefathers did the same’! This doesn’t mean it is right and just because they were doing wrong doesn’t mean that you have to do the same! It was the same with the Hindu practice of Sati, when women committed suicide on the cremation fire of their husbands! They were forced to follow this tradition until it was banned! Then, too, a lot of people protested – but in the end, you just cannot make the law of a country according to religion or tradition!

Your argument about only telling this to old people is invalid, too! Who decides who is old and who is not? Who says old people are not useful anymore? Why do you give them the idea that after 75, they will soon have to die? A lot of politicians and people of other work fields are working into their high eighties as well! If I just see how invaluable my grandmother is to my daughter – I wouldn’t want to miss her just because of such a stupid tradition! She is 95 years old or even more and in this way, we would have lost her 20 years ago!

And I don’t even feel like replying the idea that someone could be alive after not drinking even a sip of water for a month, let alone several years! That’s just nonsense and fraudulent claims of cheaters!

I am sure that the ban will remain and I think it is good that this practice will finally stop.

Preparations for the Event ‘Life after Death’ – 23 Jul 15

We are in the middle of our preparations for an event which will take place this weekend, here at the Ashram. We have invited people to come and sign up as body donors. They will agree that after their death their bodies will be given to hospitals so that they can be used for the progress of medicine!

Every religion has its own rituals and ceremonies for the time after death. Some religions burn the bodies, other religions bury them. All of that is done for the benefit of the soul, to get to heaven and to reach similar goals. What should someone do who is not interested in all of these ‘benefits’ because he doesn’t believe in them?

I believe it would be much better to give your body to medicine instead. If any organ can be used to save another person’s life, wouldn’t that be great? It is for me not the thought that you could live on but the idea that even after death, you can help another person to live! Even if you are very old and your organs can really not be transplanted anymore however, medicine can still take benefit from it! Yes, there are so many medical students who need to learn what they will be working with – and they could learn on you!

A long time ago already, my father asked me to find out where and how it is possible to donate his body after his death. You may be surprised but my father is really a very open thinker and has appreciated this thought for a long time!

Finally, on this weekend, he will be able to fill a form confirming exactly this. I have some atheist friends whom I have met over social networks and together we are arranging this meeting on Friday and Saturday. We will get together with more atheists – as religious believers will usually not go this way – and inform them, have talks, meet, get to know each other, make some new friends and help further lives as well as science in this way!

We don’t know how many people will finally come. Over sixty have confirmed their plans but you know how it is in India – it could be a lot more as well! That’s how we are in full preparations for food and accommodation, for making the Ashram nice and ready and of course excited and looking forward!

I will give you a full report on the event on Sunday!

When the nearly-enlightened become insensitive – 2 Nov 14

I already told you that I got much support from friends after my sister had died in 2006. Although nobody can really alleviate the grief you feel, it is nevertheless great to have someone to hug and a hand of a friend on your shoulder, with love and compassion. There were however also some people whom I thought to be friends but who did not really mean to support us when reaching out.

I received such an email. It was by a woman whom I had once considered a very good friend but for whom I had already realized that she was a bit too deeply in the esoteric scene for me. She believed in things I thought were far too incredible and due to her efforts to convince others, which they didn’t appreciate at all, I had created some distance in between us.

In this woman’s email she started by expressing her condolences about the passing of my sister Para. Then however she continued saying that she had had a dream. She had dreamt that Para was in a kind of state in between worlds and due to some Karma, some sins that she could not dissolve in her life – because it was cut short – her soul was stuck there. I should do certain ceremonies and prayers to help the soul of my sister.

Can you believe this? That someone would send such a mail to a man who has just lost his sister and is in deep grief about it? Who would like to hear that your loved one is in a kind of purgatory and has to suffer, blackmailing you into doing some weird kind of rituals in order to help?

I sent back a cross reply and although I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, I believe I told her not to bother with the well-being of my soul or the ones of my family. Maybe she had meant it well but it was definitely not something to say to a grieving person!

Some people just lack every notion of tactfulness and sensibility when it comes to the feelings of others. Another woman once had come to the Ashram for a visit. We had known each other for years. When she left, she got into the taxi which would take her to the airport and asked the driver for the seat belt. As people don’t normally put it on in India, he had to search for a few minutes to get it out behind the seat covers. While locking the belt, she turned to us and said ‘I have learned from your experience!’ and they drove off.

Even with a seatbelt, my sister and anybody on that side of the car would not have stood a chance to survive. Regardless this fact however, a friend just doesn’t say such a thing. Needless to say we are not friends anymore.

That’s how I learned that your bad times can also make it clear to you who are your friends and who are not.

How Life continues even after Tragedies – 26 Oct 14

Back in Germany in the beginning winter of 2006, Yashendu and I just worked as we had done before my sister had died. Travelling from one place to the other, staying everywhere for about a week, giving workshops and individual counselling sessions. When something tragic happens in life, you have to go on but tragedies do change life – and you notice that in your every day’s work as well.

We travelled, together with our Indian flute player, to many different towns in Europe. We were horribly sad but even in such a state of mind, we connected with people, did our workshops, smiled and shared. When you occupy your mind with something else than your grief, it is easier not to think of it, not to fall back into the sadness and to just react, think and talk as you usually would. During the individual counselling sessions however, I was reminded of my sister many times.

People come to me to share their troubles and many times those are emotional. When a woman came to me in that time and told me that her husband had passed away, how could I not think of my sister? I shared my own grief with her. Together we just sat for a while, feeling the love for the one who had left and sharing the feeling of missing a loved one in daily life. In the end, I told her we had to go on and we looked at each other, knowing that we both would.

Another time, a young woman came and told me that she had a fight with her brother. So bad that she had finished all contact with him. She told me in tears that she loved him but also felt that she never wanted to see him again, feeling very conflicted in those emotions. I could not help but be glad that my sister and I had never had such a fight. I reminded this woman of the fact that life can be very short. She loved him and knowing this, she should not let this fight be the last thing that had happened in between the two of them. Don’t end it all with a fight – you never know about tomorrow!

Several times I cried with friends who had known her. We remembered her and I felt support once more from those who love me.

Life really moved on and at the same time, Para remained with me and no day went by that I didn’t think of her.

Losing a loved one can shake your Belief at its Root – 12 Oct 14

I have told you about the death of my sister Para in September 2006 and how our entire family tried to cope with it. In Hinduism, there are certain rituals to be performed after the death of a family member. It is the issue of these rituals that shows me how much Para’s death influenced and changed my and my family’s own belief and inner world.

My family prepared to perform the rituals. We are all not into showing off and were struck with grief, so nothing big was arranged. They started some rituals however – and I didn’t like it. In fact, I got quite angry about it. Nothing would get my sister back! It didn’t matter how many prayers you would say, no matter how much you would offer to any god, she would not come back to life!

I got really angry when the priest came who was supposed to do the rituals and I just sent him away. Obviously, the priest was taken aback but he left, seeing that I was not going to let him or my family members do any ceremony in our home. In my outburst, I expressed very clearly that I thought this all to be just senseless drama.

You may wonder what my parents had to say about that and how they must have felt. This is one of the greatest proofs I have that my family is the best one I could have got on this earth: they accepted what I said. They didn’t argue, didn’t get angry. They understood what I had said – and were fine with it.

This incident is also proof for the fact that my religiosity and that of my family was shaken after the death of my sister. Had we all been still deep in faith, we would have worried about her soul and performed those rituals in the biggest and best way we would have been able to. Para’s death, however, had made a change.

My sister’s passing was a major reason for me losing my faith. It was such a great shock that it shook all pillars of what I had been believing in. You start questioning a lot of things, starting with the small ones: I had studied her astrological birth chart thoroughly. Nowhere was there any sign for her passing away before her time! How could this happen to us, a family that was deeply into religion, preaching it to others and telling them to believe, too? And to her, what had she done to deserve this treatment by the gods?

Of course, it is not a one-day story to lose your religion and belief. It is a longer process which I had started after coming out of the cave and which I went through in the years that followed. The death of my sister was a major point on this path. I had already left the role of a guru, I had started walking away from religion, even though I was still not conscious about this happening, and some day later I would even turn away from god.

There are no Words to describe the Grief for a loved one – 5 Oct 14

Last Sunday I told you how my sister died on 18th September 2006. The days after her death went by in a blur. I don’t exactly remember what happened when but what I do remember is the extreme sadness of that time.

What were we doing at home, after her death? We actually had nothing to do. We just held onto each other, supporting each other in our grief. Naniji had lost a granddaughter. Babbaji and Ammaji had lost their only daughter. The three of us had lost our sister.

In the beginning, I was still in full shock. I didn’t cry. I held my crying mother in my arms, was as sad and grief-stricken as I have ever been in my life but I couldn’t cry. We talked about Para and thought of a future without her which looked grey, sad and lonely. Everyone cried – but I couldn’t.

I believe the shock had really shaken my mind. I never needed much sleep but in those days, I slept extremely badly. One morning after such a night, I came out of the cave in a kind of half-awake state, a ridiculous idea on my mind which in that moment seemed the solution to everything. When I saw Yashendu, I told him to urgently switch on the computer: we would search for her on Google! That was it, she was not gone, we would find her! I couldn’t accept the bitter truth, couldn’t face reality.

Many people came by in the days after Para’s death. Even more people, friends from all over the world, sent emails, messages or phoned to show their support and send their condolence. With every mail, every word about her, remembering times together or just trying to give mental support, I felt that not only I and not only my family had lost a wonderful person. No, the world had lost one. She was too young, she would have seen so much of the world and with her heart would have moved so many others!

A dear friend, with whom Para was going to stay as well after landing in Germany, even took a flight and came to the Ashram. She joined us, just to be with us in grieving for my sister.

Finally however the point came when I could release. I started crying and cried until there were no tears anymore. It was a relief to let it out – but it didn’t ease the sadness a bit. Nothing would ever be able to fill this space that she had left behind.

The worst Time of my Life: when I lost my Sister – 28 Sep 14

In September 2006, after a wonderful time with my family in Vrindavan, I took my flight to South Africa. It should be a short stay, followed by the worst time of my life until today.

I was working like I did in any other place, giving private sessions, workshops and lectures. After a few days, on 18th September 2006, I got a phone call in the early morning. It was my younger brother Yashendu, calling me from Germany. With a choked voice and under tears he gave me the most horrible news a brother will ever have to hear: our sister had died in a car accident.

Purnendu and Para had been on the way to the airport that night. Para was supposed to fly to Germany where she was going to meet Yashendu and later I would join them. Her second journey to Germany.

But now, she was dead. They had had an accident. Purnendu was in hospital. Yashendu said he was going to book a flight now.

My hands and legs were shaking. I was sweating and for a few minutes, it was difficult to think anything. Then I phoned our father and told him I would come immediately.

The next flight to Delhi was via Dubai. I bought the ticket and rushed to the airport. I cannot describe my feelings. Never before or after have I felt this shock, this pain, the disbelief and then again pain when reality hit me again. I didn’t cry a single tear. Somehow I managed to pass these hours, the most difficult flight I have ever had.

I landed in morning time and reached the hospital where my parents and Yashendu were waiting for me. Purnendu was in the hospital room, his leg broken and in plaster. Apart from that, he was fine. A few scratches, a small bandage here or there. He had been sleeping before the crash and had been unconscious after. He had woken up in hospital. I fulfilled the difficult task of telling him that Para was no more.

As soon as Purnendu was discharged, we took Para’s body from the hospital and took off towards Vrindavan. On the way, we made phone calls to prepare the funeral. We didn’t want to wait a minute longer than necessary. Everyone was crying, Ammaji was destroyed over the death of her daughter and we still had to tell our grandmother who was waiting at home, not knowing of the extent of the tragedy.

At the Ashram, people had started the preparations for the funeral. From this, Naniji had understood that the worst had happened. It were the darkest hours for our family.

Everyone was crying but I didn’t find time or space for tears. It seemed as though my mind had not yet arrived to accepting what had happened. I once even lifted the cloth up and looked at her face, as if I could not believe this had really happened. It was her.

We brought her body to the funeral place, Purnendu staying at home because of his broken leg. I have seen death before and after but until today, this remains the most horrible moment of my life: when we put fire on the wood beneath my sister’s body. She was gone.