My Time In Silence and Solitude In India

Robin Armstrong emerging after 13 months in solitary darkness.
Robin Armstrong emerging after 13 months in solitary darkness.

My Time In Silence and Solitude In India

by Robin Armstrong

On January 14, 1968 I entered India with only fifty cents (13 rupees) in my possession. I had hardly eaten anything for a number of days. The man in the customs tent looked at my passport and said your from Canada, welcome to India, you can stay forever.
As soon as I walked out of the tent three men approached and offered me some fruit.  They drove me into Ferozepur where a young boy on a bicycle asked me to come with him. I followed him through the streets of the walled city of Ferozepur to his home by the Delhi gate. Immediately upon arrival, within one hour of crossing the border, I met one “Mauni Baba” (Raj Kumar) who asked me why I came to India. I told him that I was looking for a spiritual teacher. He mentioned that he had just spent many months in the Ferozepur maun mandir at the back of the Gupta Chemist Store.  I found this quite fascinating and we had many days of discussion about it. Mauni Baba took me in to his home to stay with him. I spent my first week or two in India talking with him and with Mr. Gupta (Sham Gupta, I think) about the spiritual path.
Mauni Baba told me that before you could learn anything on the spiritual path, that it is important to unlearn all the things that you think you know. He told me how chanting Hari Om and being alone was one of the best and fastest ways to develop spiritually. This made a lot of sense to me and when they offered me the opportunity to try the Maun Mandir, I said yes.
I had previously spent time alone on a mountain top, on an ocean beach, in the forest, and I had traveled around the world alone, without money or friends. But I had never spent time totally alone without sunlight before. I knew in my deepest heart that I would have to try.
I told Mauni Baba and Mr. Gupta that I had no money to pay for the room, and they graciously offered to take care of it for me. They were so positive and so kind to a stranger like me, that I shall treasure their memory forever.
On January 30 1968 I entered the Maun Mandir at Mr. Gupta’s house, where I passed eleven days alone and chanting Hari Om. When I came out I felt different. I felt cleaner and clearer in my inner being. I felt a deep presence calling me. I knew then that I would have to go further on this path of silence and solitude.
Mauni Baba and Mr. Gupta then collected some funds and  on Feb. 12 sent me by train to Delhi. They arranged a place for me to sleep over at before travelling on to Surat. From the train station I took a scooter rickshaw to the Hari Om Ashram at Rander. I was greeted by Mr. Zinabhai and later Mr. Bhikubhai. I waited three days at the Ashram until Mota came. Then I entered the Maun room for 98 days. I remember chanting and Mr. Bhikubhai coming daily to the door of the room and singing his favourite bhajans.  At first as my body rate slowed down to adjust to the room, I was quite nauseous. As a result I began to eat less and less, but chant more and more. I did not count the days. I had no where else to go. I did not feel that I belonged anywhere in the world, and the Maun room seemed to me to be the best possible place I could be! So I kept chanting, ignoring my thoughts and fighting my desires. The longer I was in the room, the longer I wanted to stay. I really did not want to come out but since I had set the time of 98 days in advance, I accepted my situation and came out.
When I entered the Maun room I weighed about 130 pounds, but when I came out I weighed closer to 65 pounds. My skin was just hanging on my bones. I must have looked rather fragile, but I felt stronger and better than any other time in my life! I had successfully completed my stay of 98 days, however, I felt that my work alone had not been complete. I had only one desire left when I came out, and that was to go back into the Maun room for a longer time!
Mota told me that I would have to stay out of the Maun room for at least one month. There were two reasons that I knew of. One was that he had to have the ashram in Kumbakonam repaired so that I could go there and be in a more silent environment. This was because some newspaper articles had already been written about me and I would do better being in a place with more privacy.  The second reason was obviously so that I would eat more and get a little stronger.
I was sent by train to Kumbakonam where I met the dear family that would take care of me for the next year of my life. The father’s name was Hasmuklal. The names of two of the children, Hari and Camel,
On or around June 28, 1968 I entered the Maun room once again. This time I did not come out until more than one year had passed. I came out on July 29, 1969. Mota was there and it was the day before Guru Purunama day. It was in this week that I spent much time with Mota. To this day I feel that I know Mota much more from the inside than the outside!
This time when I came out of the room, I had regained much of the weight that I had lost in Surat. When I decided to come out of the Maun room I thought that I had spent  about six months inside, however, it turned out that I had spent thirteen months in the room. Thirteen months is longer than I spent inside my mother before birth. Needless to say I was in an altered state of consciousness and my memories of this time are vivid but difficult to express. I do remember two special phenomena in  the first month that I came out.  First: every person that I saw when I came out of the room had a large golden aura around them stretching out for at least three or four feet.  This only lasted for a few weeks before the auras turned to white or silver. Second: I could look right into the sun without blinking for some time. I cannot see auras nor look into the Sun now. Hemantbhai came to the ashram to keep me company and watch out for me when I came out of the room. Coming out of the room was more difficult for me than going in. On one level I was super conscious, but on another I was oblivious to social concerns or considerations. I am embarrassed to think of the difficulties I must have caused to those who cared for me most. Hari Om! I will never be able to thank them enough for helping me through that time.
I left the ashram to visit another family of devotees to Mota, in Madras. I believe their names were Rasiklal and Babulal Barai. I stayed with this family for a week and they were the third family that took care of me for a while in India. I then visited the Mother in Pondicherry. While I was there one lady Dr. Patel and an old mystic named Diana took me to visit Ramana Ashram, at Arunachala, Tirivunamalay.  One month after coming out,  I returned and went into the Maun room again.  This time I only stayed in the room for a little less than two months. Until this last period of solitude, I had no visions, just simple peace. In this last period of solitude, a vision came, or many visions came. I could not sleep for most of this two months. I was lost in visions and their implications. Once again on coming out, I probably seemed quite eccentric to the dear people that were trying to take care of me. May they forgive me. Thank God for Mota’s guidance and protection.
On November 21, 1969 I left India, and returned to my place of birth, Montreal, Canada.

It is now almost thirty years since I first went to India. I spent twenty-two months in India, but I only saw four months of India with my eyes. When the vision came I became attached to it. It was alive and thrilled with meaning. I chose to accept the vision and follow it. How could one argue with a vision that came after so much time alone and praying? I now think that a more spiritual person would have stayed in the room and not followed the vision! In all honesty, I do not think that I was ready to do that! I had karma out in the world that I had to meet with and take care of. I probably had gone as far as I was able to at the time. In the deepest honesty of my heart, I realized that I had desires that pulled me back into the world.
Everyone has the Maun mandir in the temple of their own heart, inside the tempests of the mind, the emotions and the psychic nature. The ignorance in the world is that most people are not aware of this fact. Somewhere in the heat of my vision I made a choice to champion education and fight ignorance. This decision led me back to North America.

Kumbakonam-Ashram-Armstrong-Robin-196807-1b Meditation
Meditation is simply the cultivation of the experience of silence. It is the simplest thing in the world to do. Any child could do it. Meditation is an accumulative experience. One can only know as much silence as he or she has experienced. Across a lifetime one can add up the total minutes of silence experienced as a measure of one’s depth in meditation.
The thoughts that come into one’s mind when one is alone, that is one’s karma. To change or transform these thoughts is a great work that requires much conscious effort.
When one is alone long enough one comes to know the thoughts that arise in one’s mind.
When one is alone for a much longer time, one’s thoughts become so familiar that one loses interest in them.
As one loses interest in one’s thoughts and one’s aloneness continues, conscious attention becomes focused on the feelings and emotions behind the thoughts. For every emotion the consciousness, in time, becomes aware of the volume of thoughts produced or attached to that emotion. Every thought associated to that emotion that we have experienced in our life will run through our mind for some time until a new or different emotion arises.
When one has been alone for a much longer time, one becomes familiar with the spectrum of one’s emotions. All of one’s emotions no matter how obscure come to the conscious attention again and again and again.
In time, when one has been alone for a considerably longer time, one gets bored with one’s emotions, and loses interest in the thoughts they stimulate. One’s interest fades away and one comes to peace with one’s emotions.
As this sense of detachment and peace grows, one’s consciousness becomes aware of a silent presence behind the emotions.
The greater challenge is to maintain this silent presence when one is not alone, in the midst of living.  This silent presence permeates us all, and in time, aloneness falls away, and like time, it becomes irrelevant.

On leaving the Maun Mandir
When I came out of my 98 days of solitude in Surat, Nandubhai advised me that anything that I learned in my time alone must be put to the test of life. It made much sense to me then and it still does today. I realize that God is both inside and outside, but the integrity to maintain this awareness on a daily basis can be quite a challenge. Of course nothing can be separate from God. In this I have the greatest faith. Hari Om. Hari Om Mota. Hari Om.
When I came out of my thirteen months of solitude in Kumbakonam, Mota told me that if there was any place in the world that people were afraid to go for fear of death, that I should go there and spend the night. In God there is nothing to fear. Hari Om. Hari Om Mota. Hari Om. Hari Om.
My greatest fear at that time was coming out of the Maun room and coming back into the world. It is now almost twenty-eight years since I came out of the Maun room, and in that time I have had to face many of my deep seated fears about life and love. I have had my share of happiness and sorrow. I have travelled far and learned much of the ways of the world, but one thing stays constant in my life. Hari Om and Mota. Hari Om. Hari Om Mota. Hari Om.
Hari Om and Mota were my constant companions during my time in solitude and they have stayed with me ever since. Hari Om and Mota watered the desert of my thoughts, and lit up a bright path to guide me through the storms of my emotions.
Chanting Hari Om and spending time alone quickens the soul on its path and awakens spiritual being. Hari Om. Hari Om Mota. Hari Om.
Even amidst the greatest involvements in life chanting Hari Om keeps one’s spirit awake. Hari Om. Hari Om Mota. Hari Om.

(Written June 13,1997, nine weeks before returning to India and entering Maun room for the fifth time.)