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SELF: Enlightened Masters

The Odyssey of Enlightenment

Media Backgrounder

Media contact: Byron Belitsos
415/453-4023   |   byron@originpress.com

Grand in scope yet deeply personal, Berthold Madhukar Thompson's chronicle about his twenty-year journey in search of enlightenment could well become the definitive treatment of the "Advaita" school of Vedanta for Western audiences-while also enduring as a modern spiritual odyssey with universal implications.

As his book opens, the author forsakes a conventional existence in his motherland of Germany, where he is a successful businessman. He heads over land to India at a time when very little was known in the West about Advaita spirituality--i.e., the now-popular Vedanta philosophy of nondualism that is the centerpiece of this book. Like Odysseus the warrior-hero, Thompson becomes a heroic inner warrior: Meeting the teacher Osho, he begins to engage in an arduous inner battle--as Thompson would put it--against his deep ignorance about his own true nature. After Osho's untimely death, he forms "alliances" with other spirit-warriors (his many gurus), whom he at times questions ruthlessly.

The Odyssey of Enlightenment records chapter after chapter of Thompson's varied ordeals with these teachers, not unlike the diversified ordeals that Homer reports in The Odyssey. Under each teacher's inspiration, Thompson deploys the "weapons" of spirituality that he finds at hand--selfless service, meditation, devotion, and gnosis. And then, after more than a decade on the inner battlefield, the author is recognized by a renowned teacher to have won the war: He is declared "enlightened."

But also not unlike the stouthearted Odysseus, the way home to the West is a worse ordeal for our author. He rejects the designation of "enlightenment" that has been conferred by his second guru. Seeking to become better established in the Self, he finds himself impelled to voyage to other unknown destinations where he encounters strange beings and a confusing diversity of teachings. Finally, the publication of a book becomes, in a real sense, part of his arduous journey home. Thompson first self-publishes many volumes in his attempt to explain his many trials on the road. In the end he completes his full chronicle and earnest report to the West about his inner conquests. It now includes an advanced set of well-honed questions and answers, plus a new set of even more advanced questions and wise reflections that he carries home.

Along the way, the author engages in a series of wholehearted commitments to five renowned teachers, each of which are depicted in a long chapter: Osho, Papaji, Ramana Maharshi (through the vehicle of his senior discliples), Ramesh Balsekar, and D. B. Gangolli. Unique and diverse contributions to the progress of his odyssey are provided by these beloved teachers.

His root guru was Osho. Also known in the West as Sri Bagwan Rajneesh, the notorious Osho made the author aware of the ways in which his European social and emotional conditioning blocked the realization of "buddhahood." Fully exploring the body-mind-emotion complex through therapeutic and meditation techniques was Osho's main emphasis-and as a result Thompson's investigation into nature of the Self took a back seat, especially in the earlier years of his discipleship.

In stark contrast, the teaching of his next guru, Papaji, (Sri H.W. L. Poonja), pointed almost exclusively to the true nature of the Self and facilitated experiencing this in his presence and under his direct guidance. Except for sitting in satsang with the master, Papaji said, no other practices were necessary. Thus the exploration of the body-mind-emotion complex was ignored in his teaching. He declared that the first occurrence of a full recognition of the Self is enlightenment; according to him, no further stabilization and establishment in the Self was necessary. Writes the author: "I no doubt experienced that which he referred to as enlightenment, but very soon found that these blissful experiences in no way meant an end to my odyssey."

Third, the practice of the self-inquiry method passed down from Ramana Maharshi through his brief but profound encounters with Sri Ramana's disciples Annamalai Swami and Lakshmana Swami, became a mainstay in the author's personal spiritual practice.

His fourth guru, the well-known Ramesh Balsekar, taught that everything is predestined, including one's own enlightenment. In Balsekar's view, practice is actually detrimental to enlightenment. Says the author: "Why, then, I wondered, did he hold satsang and teach at all? For me, this three-year association merely ended in a philosophical conundrum."

Finally, Thompson's last teacher, D.B. Gangolli, taught that the recognition of the Self is indeed crucial but is definitely not the last step on the path to enlightenment. Thompson learned that he still needed to become established in the Self through even more advanced Advaita Vedanta practices.

Among the important teachers the author interviews are the respected American master Andrew Cohen, whose gives a highly original and inspiring account of the perils and opportunities of the path to enlightenment.

Until Thompson came across the traditional Advaita Vedanta teachings (sourced from the great ninth century adept, Shankara) taught by the brilliant D.B. Gangolli, he founding himself stilling clinging to the notion that the spiritual power and transmission of the guru would somehow mysteriously make him enlightened. "What hooked me," write Thompson, "was the fact that so often in their presence, I was transported into another realm where what I had been so desperately seeking was simply there. This made it difficult not to believe that the teachers themselves were somehow the source of these experiences. Yet to this day, I cannot say for sure: What combination of factors and realities were actually responsible for these experiences? Was it the teachers? Was it me? Was it grace? Was it the Self? Was some measure of destiny involved? These are questions about which all seekers have to find their own answers."

Indeed, Thompson provides in this unprecedented volume a set of questions and answers that will surely inspire thousands of readers in their own odyssey for truth.

The Odyssey of Enlightenment:
Rare Interviews with Enlightened Teachers of Our Time
By Berthold Madhukar Thompson
Wisdom Editions

$19.00 • Trade paper • 334 pages • November 2002
Spirituality/Memoir/Hinduism • Distribution: All major wholesalers