From the Brink of Death...
With a Mission for a Wise Earth
Face to Face With Gokarran Sukhdeo & Gary Girdhari
Guyana Journal, December 2000
As we approached her in transit residence in Queens, New York, we were absorbed in our individual silent presentiment about the person we were about to meet. Neither of us had ever met a monk before, and certainly not a female Vedic Monk. We were not asked to, but we did take off our footwear, as per custom, before entering the apartment. And there she was, standing in her rust-brick-red robe in the kitchen area peeling (?) some sort of vegetable in preparation for a meal.
My (GG) first visual connection was her sweet charming smile, not a wide smile, coy, sort of disarming and pleasing, as if to say, without verbalizing: welcome, come in. She quickly paused her immediate chore, and steered us to the sitting area, flowing gently in her long monastic attire. She smiled and laughed often. She could be school-girlish; yet serious and philosophical.
Bri. Maya Tiwari is tall, not skinny, but slender, dark with black cropped hair. It's difficult to tell her age (and one does not ask), but from appearance and demeanor, my (GG) guess would be thirty-something, although she did unwittingly leak out that she was about the half century.
Bri. Maya Tiwari was born in Port Mourant, Guyana. Her father was known as Rampersaud (aka Mechanic, Bhagwan). Having passed GCE at the age of 15, she emigrated to the US in the early 70s to pursue higher education. (She should have done law, but switched to fashion design.) Coming then from Guyana at a tender age, the young woman more usually than not found it difficult to breach the existing status quo. Her parents and other family migrated to Hamilton, Canada.
There was no ice to break. Like a tumble weed in the wind she related her story as soon as she was prompted to do so. We talked (mostly she talked) for about two hours, only interrupted occasionally to interject our agreement or disbelief. Throughout, there was beautiful cordiality and rapport, so much so that it felt like we had been friends or had known one another for a long time. We felt very much at ease, and she was ebullient and lively.
From our understanding of philosophy and religion, we recognize that Western construal of Hinduism is that it is heathentic at worst, and idealistic at best. But from listening to her philosophy of life, and after reading her book The Path of Practice, even the most resistant agnostic would accept that the philosophy is definitely more realistic than idealistic, and is peacefully harmonized with nature and the cosmic forces (prana), and by extension with ones fellow beingand therefore cannot be heathentic. It is completely non-violent. How misguided the purveyors of the exegesis are!
Bri. Mayas teaching is simple. Based on ancient Ayurvedic teaching, it is all about utilizing our 'primordial' healing power (shakti) which everyone possesses, through breath-work, meditation, sound, yoga, and wholesome nutrition, to live healthy lives, and to heal ourselves from dis-easesboth physical and emotional.
Picture the Western civilized reality. First of all, the foods we eat, the medications we take, and other invasive procedures are loading us with hormones which hasten the puberty process, and offset the natural cosmic cycles of individuals, and throw all of us out of sync with natural development. Natural vitamins are taken out of our food and then replaced synthetically. Fruits and vegetables are sprayed with chemicals to make them look nice and have a longer shelf life. The human body is stripped of its spiritual wholeness, and is treated as a synthetic piece of machine with replaceable parts. The very act of eating is a violence. We rear our animals under violent and despicable conditions, brutally murder them, and eat their flesh in a very violent manner just like the TV teaches us to dodevouring gluttonously without etiquette, and always in a hurry. Inside us, the meat putrefies our digestive and excretory systems, not to mention harm done to our vascular and nervous and other systems. After a while, eating becomes more harmful than helpful. These are the realities of modern living, and our technological civilization.
Bri. Maya teaches that food is nourishment for both the body and the soul, and must be ingested with reverence. And when we fail to eat wholesome food in a wholesome way, our children reach puberty at 8 and 9 years old, become obese and develop diabetes milletus, Attention Deficit Disorder and other modern diseases. (And then we have to stuff them with more toxins.) We ourselves suffer premature depression, heart diseases, and a host of other western diseaseboth psychiatric and physical.
Bri. Maya was closely acquainted with the western lifestyle. Then, at the height of her personal and professional career, a successful fashion designer before 23, she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. After years of invasive treatment and twelve surgeries, radiation, etc., unsuccessfully, she was 'given' two months to live.
She decided not to continue on any more drugs, but to die with dignity. She spent three years with her Swami in Pennsylvania. She gave up the struggle, left her hectic life, friends and career in New York, and retired deep in the snowy mountains of Sugar Bush, Vermont to prepare for the final outcome. All the time, she said, "I did not want to burden my parents with my problem
I wanted to die with grace
I did not want to present my Maker with a body filled with drugs." So she discontinued the pain-killing morphine and other medications prescribed by her doctors.
She began writing a journal to her family (partly for catharsis, and to let them know), which got bigger and bigger. There, in the snowy woods, with deer and squirrels foraging around her cabin, and birds singing in the trees, she aligned herself with nature, even eating the young shoots of the plants that the deer ate. She was getting visions of relatives and family, even those who were remotely on her mind. Soon, she re-discovered her sacred rhythm with the universe. Her eating habits changed. She joined the deer pushing away the snow to forage for young shoots. She lived on brown rice, barley and grains. She vowed never to eat junk food again. In fact, the Missions conduct classes in Ayurvedic cooking.
When she emerged from her retreat three months later in the Spring, her doctors were astonished. There was no sign of the cancer, not even in her blood or lymph nodes. It is now many years since she was first diagnosed.
She went to India and with her guru Swami Dyanand Swarswati, first to Rishikesh. She studied Vedanta and Ayurveda with some of the "old retired" Rishikesh Swamis. She did not study medicine, but decided to follow the Vedantic tradition, having taken the path of a Brahmacharini (female monk, abbrev. Bri.). She observed that over the past 500 years, medicine, including the Ayurvedic system) had become more prescriptive. She felt that such a healing paradigm would alienate people from the innate power of healing themselves.
We listened to her attentively:
"The dependency of allopathic medicine in a culture that has gone from 500 packaged foods to hundreds of thousands of packaged foods does not forebode well. We are poisoning ourselves
. And this is fostered by big companies that are foisting and influencing their ecology and their agriculture transnationally.
"We have seen almost complete deterioration of family life and values, community life as a whole. All this decline while there is incredible increase in science and technology. It's wonderful to have science; it's wonderful to have technology. I am not against these. But we have not taken stock of what has happened over the last 500 years.
"We are more product and productivity oriented. We have lost the natural values. Now, we see in the US, there is an escalation in the values of consciousness. Many here in the western world, many more people are looking for spirituality. To yoga. To a holistic way of life.
"Science is bioengineering life. Therein lies a serious problem, tampering with the life force of the earth, tampering with the memories that the plants contain. We presume that we know what the memory structure is all about. There is diversity of relationship, but we are tampering
with trees that support microorganisms, the birds, the butterfly, moth and the deer, squirrel, and all the creatures of the forest. We are changing the balance of life, and we are moving away from the central, focal point of its balance. We are changing it
we are having dis-eases and can no longer trace them to their causes.
"Modern medicine treat diseases in relative isolation. Ayurveda traces the disease to the root source of it, to how we respond to what we encounter, and that is the beauty of the Ayurvedic system of healing. I don't call it medicine, because medicine connotes that we have given up on our own inner resources to balance ourselves, taking only from the external.
"I even go one step ahead of holistic medicine. I am more an advocate for no medicine. Let's do our pranayama. Let's do our yoga. Let's do the practices that will bring us back in harmony with Nature. Let's be conscious and be aware of what we eat. Where does that food come from? Let's have our connection back to the earth. Is it food that heals us? Is it yoga that heals us? No. It's our connection to these things that heal us."
Bri. Maya has been ardently practicing and teaching her fundamental principles of the natural life. What she says seems so obvious. Yet, we harbor cynicism and skepticism because of our Western socialization, indoctrination, education and upbringing. She herself has not used any medication, even aspirin, in fifteen years.
Her new book The Path of Practice towards physical and spiritual health is outlined in basic sadhanasthe practices that reflect and re-create within us the energies and rhythms of the universe. The first sadhana relates to the foods we eat, beginning from its pristine cultivation, to its wholesome preparation and reverential ingestiona sacredness kneaded into each process.
Then there is pranayama, (the central practice of yoga), the regulation of breathing. Breathing is not just taking in air, but also the absorbing from the earth and the universe of life force, prana, the organic energy that forms currents in and sharpens our non-physical componentsour intellect, mind and ego. Pranayama also enables us to control our involuntary muscles, and other involuntary behaviors. Thus, we can slow down our heart rates, decrease respiration, lower metabolism, thereby diminishing stress, heart disease, and hold back the aging process. It is prana that causes the earth to revolve around the sun, the moon to orbit the earth. Prana moves the air, water, the ocean tides, nerves and memory cells.
Thirdly, there is the practice of sound. Chantings and prayers are sounds. Sounds can be soothing or violent. Sounds as in music inspire peace, love, and creativity. Some music and vibrations are the opposite. Sound is the source of all life. Although we perceive our bodies to be solid matter, every cell is formed from vibrations and interactions of energy (the quantum space according to Deepak Chopra MD, her "dear friend"). In the final analysis, we are made of living sounds, vibrations that travel through time and space, and our individual rhythms are dependent on the vibrations of the universe to sustain them. Sounds contribute greatly to personality development in our unborn babies. The universe most sacred sound is "Om". The sound "Om" resonates within the space of the sixth chakra, located at the point of the midbrow between the eyes, in the area known as the "third eye", thus enabling us, when we repeat mantras beginning and ending with "Om", to harness our inner power of intuition.
Practicing the sadhanas relating to proper nutrition, breathing and sounds is a journey, according to Bri. Maya. The individual may start wherever and whenever he is able. He can move as slowly as he likes. He may choose to work with one sadhana separately for one month, or combine all three. And most importantly, practicing of these sadhanas, for the improvement of ones physical, mental and spiritual health, does not require adherence to a particular faith or religion. She is a Hindu, but she is quite clear that her mission, the Wise Earth Monastery, is not evangelical, nor does she proselytize. All are welcome regardless of religion, class, sex, color, creed, nationality, etc. Indeed, the Mission speaks to people, their relationship to Mother Earth, and their inner empowerment.
She is now an internationally renowned teacher of Ayurveda, a practicing Vedic monk. She has delivered numerous lectures, and written articles in journals. She travels from the Mission headquarter in Ashville, North Carolina to New York, Guyana, Europe and parts in the US to set up Mother Om Missions.
Bri. Maya Tiwari has authored Ayurveda: Secrets of Healing and Ayurveda: A Life of Balance. Her third book The Path of Practice: A Woman's Book of Healing With Food, Breath, And Sound was only released about two weeks ago.
Visit the website www.wisearth.org
(Apologetic: Some of the quotes are not strictly verbatim. In our paraphrasing, we may possibly misquote Br. Maya. We assume all blame for any such error.)