Mystics and Sceptics In Search of Himalayan Masters

The book ‘Mystics and Sceptics’ edited by Namita Gokhale, is a collection of essays that explores the spiritual and mystical traditions of the Himalayan region. It takes readers on a fascinating journey through the majestic Himalayan mountains. The essays in the book provide insightful perspectives on the culture and spiritual practices of the region. They tell a variety of stories that blend mythology, legends, and personal experiences.

This anthology provides a unique and insightful exploration of the region’s spiritual landscape, encompassing a wide range of cultures and religious traditions. It is best, in one’s sojourns across the Himalayas, to be cautious in chance encounters, for one could well encounter a saint, a Siddha, a madman or a charlatan. The cover of “Mystics and Sceptics” features artwork by the famous Himalayan painter Nicholas Roerich.

This uniquely insightful anthology is a collection of Twenty-five chapters that covers a wide range of topics, but they all revolve around the themes of religion, faith, spirituality, encounters with the supernatural, or even instances of deception disguised as divine experiences. The contributors to the collection of essays include a diverse group of individuals ranging from poets, diplomats, and scholars of Buddhist studies to academics, journalists, authors, and anthropologists. Among them are seekers, sceptics, and some who are both, creating a rich tapestry of perspectives on the subject matter.

This book traverses the sacred geography of the Himalayan range, encompassing different cultures and religious traditions in its living legacy. This includes exploring the spiritual significance of different places within the region and how they are interwoven with myth, legend, and anecdotal memories. The Himalayas are viewed as a living legacy of various spiritual and mystical traditions. The contributors invite us into a world that combines myth, legend, and mystery. They introduce us to remarkable beings of light, enigmatic figures whose names we may be familiar with.

Through myth, legend, and anecdotal memory, the book includes narratives of wanderers and seekers, gurus and enlightened souls, tricksters and delusions. The spiritual seekers discussed here include Guru Milarepa, Neem Karoli Baba and Siddhi Ma, Paramhansa Yogananda, Swami Rama, Guru Nanak, Swami Vivekananda, Haidakhan Baba, Yeshe Tsogyal, Lal Ded and Sri Madhav Ashish. This book also discussed the sacred traditions of the Dhuni and Chimta, the Shakti Peeths in the Himalayan region, trance runners of Tibet and Bhutan and the Khasi rituals of divination and prophecy. These revered figures have been profoundly shaped by the mountains, which have not only served as a wellspring of spiritual insight but have also played a pivotal role in their individual awakenings.

Top of FormBottom of FormNamita Gokhale’s, captivating compilation unfolds in this anthology, submerging readers in the enchanting and profound world of the Himalayas. This anthology stands as a powerful testament to the enduring strength of faith, the timeless potency of myths and legends, and the perpetual fascination that surrounds the spiritual journey. Whether you are an adventurer, a dedicated seeker of spiritual truths, or merely intrigued by the mystique of the Himalayas, this book is a veritable repository of wisdom and a boundless source of inspiration.

The stories herein are as varied as the flora and fauna of the mountains. Some of them display the resilient scepticism that is the foundation of true belief; others take a leap of faith.

I want to highlight a few chapters in the book written by experts about the famous luminaries of the Himalayas. These chapters delve into the lives and stories of these remarkable figures.

In Makarand Paranjape’s essay on Swami Vivekananda, we discover Swami’s deep fascination with the Himalayas, his pilgrimage to Kashmir and Amarnath, and his complex relationship with his disciple Sister Nivedita. He regarded the Himalayas as the crucible of India’s spiritual heritage, proclaiming that without them, religious India would have little history to show.

The essay on the revered Tibetan Buddhist master Milarepa, who transformed from a black magic practitioner responsible for the murder of 35 guests to a compassionate teacher, paints a vivid portrait of his life in seclusion across the Himalayan borderlands.

Belgian-French explorer Alexandra David Neel’s extraordinary journey to meet the 13th Dalai Lama in Kalimpong is chronicled, shedding light on the experiences of a remarkable polymath.

Navtej Sarna’s chapter on Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Gobind Singh explores their mountain sojourns, particularly Guru Nanak’s encounter with 84 Siddhas at Mount Sumeru, documented in ‘Siddha Gosht’ in the Guru Granth Sahib.

The 14th Dalai Lama’s dialogue with Rajiv Mehrotra about reincarnation and past life highlights the importance of kindness as the essence of religion, regardless of one’s beliefs in the karmic theory.

Ranjit Hoskote delves into the life of Lal Ded, the wandering yogini of Kashmir, while Ramola Butalia explores Siddha traditions. Madhu Tandon reflects on the journey of letting go of attachments in one’s twenties, and Alka Pande examines the Divine Feminine.

Tsering Dondrup’s riveting novella, “The Handsome Monk,” provides a unique glimpse into the world of a community largely unknown to outsiders, blending humour and tragedy.

In her essay on Neem Karoli Baba, Namita Gokhale masterfully captures the essence of her guru’s blessings and her transformative encounters with his spiritual successor, Siddhi Ma.

The line drawings by Siddhartha accompanying each chapter are both meditative and artistic, enhancing the book’s overall aesthetic.

This book ‘Mystics and Sceptics’ pays homage to the mysteries of the Himalayas and the hidden spiritual knowledge it holds. All the essays delve into the lives and teachings of these diverse individuals encountered in the Himalayas. There are encounters and quests, wanderings and lost paths, disappointments, and betrayals, but they carry the spirit of the seeker, of the search and the continuing journey within them. This book is a tribute to the mysteries of the Himalayas and the mystic secrets it contains.

The book ‘Mystics and Sceptics’ appears to be a rich and diverse anthology that explores the spiritual, mystical, and cultural aspects of the Himalayan region through a wide range of narratives, experiences, and perspectives. It invites readers to contemplate the enduring mysteries and spiritual truths hidden within the majestic Himalayan landscape.

Book: Mystics and Sceptics: In Search of Himalayan Masters, edited by Namita Gokhal
Published by: HarperCollins
Price: Rs 699

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About Ashutosh Kumar Thakur


Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bengaluru-based management professional, curator, and literary critic. He can be reached at [email protected]