Personal Meets Transpersonal: Part 1
In this interview from the archives, Igor Kufayev offers personal insights into the nature of awakening and transformation of human consciousness. Transcribed from the 1st interview with Rick Archer for the Buddha at the Gas Pump, Costa Rica, March 2012
- Early Childhood Experiences Growing up in Uzbekistan
- Loss of the Mentor: Coming Face-to-Face with Core Questions about the Purpose of Life
- Spiritual Experiences Fall into the Background of a Successful Art Career
- A Move to London, Tragedy, and a Reality Check
- Spiritual Initiation in a Dream State and Introduction to Meditation
- Initiation into Transcendental Meditation
- The TM-Sidhi Course and a Radical Shift in Reality as it was Known
- Circumambulating Mount Kailash in 3-D
- Return to London and the Realization that the Line has been Crossed
- Inner Messages Leading to the Understanding of Profound Yogic Experiences
Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer and my guest this week is Igor Kufayev. Did I pronounce that correctly, Kufayev?
Rick. Good! Igor was born in Tashkent Uzbekistan, and if Herman Cain happens to be watching, that is the way it is pronounced. You may not get the joke, but he was a U.S. presidential candidate who slaughtered the pronunciation of Uzbekistan; he wasn’t very strong in foreign relations! He now lives in Costa Rica. Igor has an interesting story to tell, and we’ll be going into it in quite some detail.
So, as I said, Igor now lives in Costa Rica. This is the first time I’ve actually had an interview with somebody in Central America, and we seem to have pretty good bandwidth. His spiritual life seems to have started quite early, in terms of things he has sent me. So I think I’ll just let Igor tell his story, and I’ll interject questions from time to time as I always do. I think we’re going to have an interesting conversation.
So where would you like to start?
2. Early Childhood Experiences Growing up in Uzbekistan
Igor: I can start in chronological order…?
Rick: Let’s do it that way – we can jump around, but let’s start that way.
Igor: As far as I remember myself, this sense of awareness – of what everyone is talking about these days – was always there. It was this kind of sensation of someone watching the activity of the one who is immersed in the activity. I even remember that as a teenager, I was very fortunate that I had a mentor. I was brought up by my mother, as my father left us when I was 3 years old. I was spending a lot of time in what would be called today, “on the streets,” until one day I was approached by this very unusual looking man. He said to me, “What are you up to?” I said, “Nothing. Just hanging around – you know.” He said, “Why don’t you come to my studio?” He gave me the address and I went to see him, and there were a lot of other kids, and it turned out to be a very interesting spot.
I grew up in the Soviet Union; Uzbekistan was still part of the Soviet Union. His studio was not like any other art studio you can imagine at the time. It was nothing in terms of being under the cover of the state – it was very much an underground place. Very soon he became a very influential figure for me. He was a martial artist and a painter, and a poet – a very charismatic figure – extremely strong. He had this very raw, powerful energy emanating from him; I wouldn’t call it a spiritual energy, because it felt very physical in every sense.
I remember that he very quickly brought out everything that was already there in me – in a span of maybe just one and a half or two years.
Rick: What do you mean, “He brought out everything that was in you?”
Igor: First of all I always loved visual – I even think I thought in terms of visual images rather than words and sentences. This is why when people say, “We think in terms of the language,” I sometimes disagree because not all of us think in terms of language. Some of us think in terms of sounds, in terms of abstract images – or even concrete images, and then the language kicks in later. He brought out that desire to become an artist – which was there, but it was latent – he allowed me to actualize it in my own being.
3. Loss of the Mentor: Coming Face-to-Face with Core Questions about the Purpose of Life
Igor: What happened later – he was murdered by the local mafia. I’m not going to go into the details of why and what have you, because that is completely another subject. I was probably 13 at the time, and it made a very powerful impression on me, because at that age I had no idea that there was something that – there was only life. There was all but life – there was nothing else. You can imagine, at that age you don’t think about your mortality. Although I have lived through the death of my relatives, my grandfather who was very, very important in my life, I didn’t even feel it that strongly when he passed away. Somehow it was normal; when your grandparents die it is like, “Yes, of course.” But when someone you knew – with so much physical power, with so much physical presence – is suddenly no longer there, it immediately puts you face-to-face with that core question of, “This life is not just about life; there is something else.”
As a kid, I was literally stopped in my tracks of all this bubbling enjoyment of life, and what have you; savoring, playing, drawing, growing, and what have you. For a year, I was in this very strange transitional situation, where I experienced a lot of what you would probably call an existential quest, or an existential urge to find out – why? I think this would have launched this existential quest in me.
Rick: It’s funny, just this morning I got an email which I haven’t had a chance to completely read it fully yet, from a woman in New York who is a counselor of some sort in terms of people who have undergone serious trauma, but at the same time she is a spiritual counselor, and I questioned, “Is there really a close connection between great trauma and spiritual awakening?” As I said, I haven’t read her second email in detail yet, but I glanced at it, and she said, “Oh yes, it is very common that serious trauma or issues will precipitate a profound spiritual quest or awakening.” So, maybe that is what happened to you.
Igor: Certainly that was the case because even before, in my earlier childhood, I had very profound experiences of basically gliding over my sleep during the dream state. Obviously I had no way of explaining it, somehow even subconsciously, I didn’t want to share it with others. I remember maybe I made a few attempts to talk about it to my mother, and just by the sheer way that she looked at me, I realized, “Oops! This is not a subject to talk about.” So I kept it undercover for many years, what would probably be immediately addressed clinically, if I did.
When I went through that experience of losing my mentor, those experiences flooded into my life. I would go to sleep, and suddenly, as soon as I closed my eyes, I would hear tumultuous sounds, which were accompanied by internal lights. It is hard to actualize it into words, because at that time I was quite frightened of those experiences; although I felt deeply that they were very pleasant. There was this terrifying beauty about this whole experience, which also would coincide with this profound awakening of myself. Obviously, at that time, I didn’t even have any idea of what it was, but I would become “bigger than myself” – bigger than what otherwise I would consider myself to be.
Very soon I was taken care of by my mentor’s younger brother, who was also quite a charismatic figure, but in a very different way. He was a professional boxer, a writer, and he had just come back from St. Petersburg to Uzbekistan, and he didn’t have that same kind of wisdom and sensibility. He just really took me into his hands, and was trying to just school me in the way that he thought was appropriate, because he felt that somehow he was responsible. I remember once he gave me a book, probably just to test my curiosity; I think it was something of Kierkegaard or maybe Schopenhauer, one of those German existentialists. Although I was in my early 15th or 16th year, I gobbled that book up in one night. It just felt to me, “I am reading something which profoundly relates to myself.”
4. Spiritual Experiences Fall into the Background of a Successful Art Career
Igor: So when he asked me, “So, what do you think? What is your feedback?” The only thing I could answer him was, “There was a profound sense of someone watching while I was reading.”
Rick: Which is the same thing you had ever since you were young?
Igor: Yes, but when I was reading the words of the philosopher, that experience became heightened. He could not explain or comment on that, so it became a closed subject because I thought, “I don’t want to keep hammering the same thing.” However, that ushered the whole era of me becoming interested in all these philosophical, metaphysical subjects. It probably launched the process which would have to culminate in quite a few years, because at the time the physicality took over, and also my art career took over. So the spiritual experiences, they fell into the background.
Rick: You were a teenager…
Igor: Yes, all of these sensual and sexual urges come forth, and you want to actualize yourself in the world rather than within yourself. It is a very natural impulse – I wanted to explore life. So until another tragedy came into my life…
At the time I was already enjoying riding a wave of success; having studied in St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, I left it and I decided there was no point to study, because I took everything that I could from that institution. I left the Soviet Union and I moved to Poland, to Warsaw. I was fortunate to meet a very influential art critic, who helped me to put together two one-man shows at the time when Poland was in a very difficult economic situation; this was just when Poland shifted from years of socialism towards capitalism – the so-called shock therapy. Yet I am here – 20-something year old kid having a one-man show, and all this artistic crème de la crème of the Warsaw society came to that show; I didn’t even know who is who, but a few important key figures were there. So in a very short time – just a few months after – I was invited to come to London.
5. A Move to London, Tragedy, and a Reality Check
Igor: When I went to London, I just had a little bag because I thought I’m just going to visit – little did I know that I would end up staying there for the next 18 years! The time I am talking about, is that when I was enjoying worldly success, something else happened in my life. I had a daughter from my first marriage, and she was 6 at the time. There was this terrible car accident; she was coming out of a taxi on the wrong side of the road, and she was hit by a lorry. That literally was a kind of reality check for me.
I had considered myself to be an atheist up to that point. Despite all of the spiritual experiences, I was still brought up in a largely atheistic society. All of this outpouring of spiritual wisdom that now you could find in Russia or even Central Asia was not there; I am sure it was, but it was very much underground. For me, as a student preoccupied with the surface area of life, it was hidden. I could say that I was interested in theology – in the intellectual apprehension of this whole idea of God rather than the actual, factual experience. Suddenly, I remember myself collapsing on the floor then and there, with this profound pain in the heart – and the word “God” literally stuck in my throat; I don’t even remember in what language that was.
I could say that was a turning point, where I could no longer live life as I had lived it before. Because obviously it is something that defies logic – somehow we are predispositioned to lose our parents and those nearest and dearest to us, but not our children. A few years after, when I managed to overcome that sense of loss, I found myself basically helping others to cope with the same experience. Coincidentally, people were brought into my life who experienced the loss of children, and I was working with them because I could relate to that. I could help them to acknowledge and accept what happened, because the mind defies that – it completely refuses to understand.
What happened to me, it actually trampolined me into that space which I probably had left when I was a teenager. It opened up this powerful outpouring of inner force that was there – perhaps in the latent state, but it was there bubbling. I was just not making full use of that, I wasn’t fully aware of that.
So when that happened, when that tragedy happened, it readjusted the whole setup in me. Although I am sure I was in depression for a number of months if not years, very quickly I was able to – I don’t even know how to put it into words – I just realized, “This is it, this is life; it is inseparable from death. You have to embrace it if you want to move on.” Not only that, but immediately it showed me that there is some deep connection between the two, and somehow it is utterly impossible to separate them. It is like living only to a certain degree. And with that, came that long interest in all this esoteric knowledge that was present in the culture where I was coming from, with all this fascination with Oriental thought.
6. Spiritual Initiation in a Dream State and Introduction to Meditation
Igor: I was already practicing yoga. So the next miraculous thing perhaps was the initiation which I took in a dream state. I don’t usually talk about this, but on this kind of a program I think it is quite relevant, because I’ve noticed people constantly talk about lineage and connection to the particular tradition. This reinforces and reassures that one comes from the right place. And often those who are spiritual embedded from an early age, or spiritually awakened from an early age, even if it’s not a full awakening, they are often left somehow in the gray areas – I am talking about the general perception. Because what happened to me was quite a classical example of what I read later on in scriptures, that indeed you can be initiated in a state other than the waking state of consciousness. Who said that the dreaming state of consciousness is less profound or less important? That is exactly what happened to me.
Rick: The same thing happened to me – probably not exactly the same – but the most profound spiritual awakening I ever had was during a dream. I woke up from that with a huge sense of relief and gratitude, and a shift in my whole being. Anyway, this is about you!
Igor: That is very important, because what you are saying now shows me that you will understand exactly what I am to share here…
Rick: And there was some other being involved in that dream who was instrumental in making this change happen in me – maybe also with you.
Igor: Sure. Well, in my case, in that initial dream there was this entity which I cannot even – my knowledge in this domain was not strong enough and I don’t want to color my experience which happened then, with my understanding of what I know now, because that would not be fair. I am not giving a retrospect; what I am trying to give is as an authentic as possible experience, at a given moment in time.
I was asleep and dreaming, and it was definitely one of those lucid dreams, when I was fully witnessing the experience of dreaming – even seeing my body as it moves from side-to-side. Until something happened – there was this sensation of rupture, something opening. And the presence of a being who I cannot even try to describe, because it is one of those experiences where you are not even meant to look eye-to-eye. You immediately feel a sense of subjugation mixed with adoration, and then that being simply uplifts me up on the bed in probably a sitting position – I am not sure – and commands me that I ought to meditate. It whispers the mantra to me – not in the ear, but whispers the mantra to me right through the top of my head. So when that happened, I woke up in a very, very elated state.
Rick: Did you physically sit up in the bed or was it your subtle body?
Igor: No, I was actually physically sitting up on the bed. By that time, I actually sat on the bed – I have to really make a remark here, because I was not at all familiar with all of this sitting in a cross-legged position. I was actually an athlete – I served in the military service in the Soviet army for two years; people used to joke, I used to have muscles in my teeth! I was very, very physically active as well; I was a painter, but I was seriously working out 3-4 times a week.
So suddenly I am sitting, and I had this urge to get out of bed. At the time, I had a powerful trauma; my third vertebrae had come out of place, so I couldn’t really sit.
Rick: It didn’t come out just then – you mean it had come out before?
Igor: Yes, it had come out before, probably as a result of all this stress that accumulated there – and yet the energy was forcefully pushing, so this whole physiology just got dislocated. The vertebrae came out of place, and I was in tremendous pain for weeks on end, going to the chiropractor. I would be fixed, it would last for a week or a few days, and I would have to go back. But as soon as that dream happened, I sat up. So the first thing when I opened my eyes, and with this elated sense, I realized that I am sitting! Goodness me! I don’t even feel pain in my back!
So I literally crawled out of bed in that state, put a cushion on the floor, sat down then and there – and it was my first meditative session.
Rick: And you had a mantra that you had been given?
Igor: Well, it was a sound; obviously it was a mantra.
Rick: But you didn’t know that at the time, it was just some sound.
Igor: At the time I had no clue, it was just like, “That is what meditation is meant to be.”
Rick: Now that you know something about mantras, do you recognize it as a mantra which is traditionally given to people, or was it just some sound that you had never heard before?
Igor: It was clearly the mother matrix of all mantras – it was the sound of OM.
Rick: Oh, okay. You hadn’t read about that in books or anything, it was just given to you?
Igor: Well, interestingly enough, the only book that I had in the house at the time was – in today’s understanding that I have – a rather populistic, quite commercial book on yoga asanas. I don’t know – that book might have mentioned that mantra there. It was colorfully illustrated, and in fact, my partner at the time was using that book more than myself; it was the only, so to speak, literature on that subject in the house. What happened then, something exploded; I became very hungry for this knowledge, so very quickly I began reading and finding out about all these things.
I should also mention – as it is probably very significant – that my mother was already a meditator by then. My mother was already initiated into Transcendental Meditation (TM), and she became a TM-Sidha very quickly, because at that time Maharishi was very eager to introduce meditation in Central Asia. People were allowed to go into TM-Sidhi program literally after two months of successful meditation; it is something unheard of today, because you have to go through the stages, and you have to complete several rounding courses. I mean, you know all about it. Obviously, when she shared with me that she is a meditator, to me it never even kind of like – I would be reading her letters, happy that she is alive and that everything is fine, and I would immediately brush it off of my consciousness. Because to me it was not important – it only becomes important when it cognizes on some level within your own understanding.
Obviously when that happened to me, I immediately go, “Oh my God! My mother is meditating, and that is what she was talking to me about all along!” Suddenly, it all made sense to me, but on a very different level. It was as if I needed that kind of internal verification – and it happened beyond my wildest expectations! So I was meditating in that way for about a year – and something happened in the meantime.
My partner at that time was a serious yoga teacher – very, very dedicated yoga teacher, and she was a yoga master. She was older than me, and much more experienced in terms of the Hatha yoga tradition. She had a friend, and the three of us were meditating together in the same room. Although both of them were familiar with meditation, something happened that shocked both of them. Basically, my body started to spin, and when I realized that I am spinning, I wanted to come out of meditation – and I couldn’t.
Rick: So hang on a second – your body was spinning in a way, that if they were looking at you they would see it spinning, or was this an inner experience?
Igor: No, my body was actually spinning on a cushion.
Rick: Really? So 360 degrees like going around and around like a top?
Igor: No, sorry – not spinning in that sense; shaking and moving intensely.
Rick: Shaking and moving – Kundalini movements?
Igor: Yes, shaking intensely. And the more I would try to control that movement, the more it would enhance. So I stayed like that for about – they say 30-40 minutes. The friend of my partner, she was very shocked; she was literally frightened, because she had never seen anything like that even though they had both been in all these Yoga Acharya courses in the Sivananda movement of the Hatha yoga tradition lineage. She was basically terrified – because if I felt jolted, on the outside, it must have looked quite shocking!
Igor: Freaky, yes, let’s face it. So that happened, and after that all of my meditations were with swaying of my head – no matter what I did. It was very pleasant – my head would just sway, and the less I would try to control that, the more pleasant that it would be.
However, I was still unable to fully digest that experience in my dream. And my mother kept telling me that, “You need to learn meditation properly. All this is not important, this is dangerous.” So I thought, “Yes, I think I should do it properly.”
7. Initiation into Transcendental Meditation
Igor: So I went back to Uzbekistan – because by this time I was already living in London – and I took a proper initiation learning the technique from the leader of the movement who now represents Turkey. He is the one who introduced Transcendental Meditation in Uzbekistan, Albert Baruh – you might even know him because he studied with Maharishi.
Rick: Maybe years ago, I don’t remember him.
Igor: Anyway, so Albert initiated me, and immediately that first day of initiation, my head was moving and one TM teacher came to me after I finished meditation and she said, “What happened to you? Did this just happen to you now?” I said, “No, it has been happening for a while.” She said, “You will move very fast.” She told me, “You will really move very fast. You should do the Sidhi course as soon as you can.” To me, it was like, “What is she talking about?” I just found the time from my busy schedule in London – I’ve got all these commissions, exhibitions coming up. I barely have that week to do that TM course and go back. What TM-Sidhi course?
I knew the TM-Sidhi course was time-consuming and all that. So, off I went back to London with all this newly initiated, newly whispered-into-me-mantra – so I had to discard the old one. I was practicing TM probably for about five years – never missed one meditation, and it was wonderful!
Rick: Head still moving?
Igor: Moving all the time – all the time!
Rick: Would your head move when you weren’t meditating? Like if you were just sitting quietly, or only when you were meditating?
Igor: That’s funny you should ask that. Soon as I became a TM meditator, obviously Maharishi’s figure became more 3-dimensional than it was before when my mother talked about him. I started reading the Bhagavad-Gita, and I was reading a couple of other scriptures, and I was reading about the life of Maharishi; it was all moving me, but I will be very honest – in a very detached, spectator kind of view. I am not going to glorify that experience. I found all these gatherings that I used to watch on the videos – to me as an artist, it didn’t make much sense. I was skeptical about it, even slightly, probably cynical. But what happened later, obviously surprised me deeply. I will come to it in a little while; I don’t want to just jump over.
So obviously, I was reading about Maharishi, about his own master Gurudeva, Swami Brahmanada Saraswati, about the whole Vedic tradition. A lot of it would make sense to me, a lot of it would resonate, and my meditation would become more and more profound. I would experience all of this complete inner silence, of what Maharishi talked about in his lectures. I was basically carrying a flag, “Everyone should become a TM meditator!” Everyone who met me, I was like, “Are you meditating? No? Pft! You’re half asleep! Go on, off you go! Learn meditation. Not any meditation – just TM meditation.”
Rick: Your fundamentalist phase.
Igor: Yes, I began recruiting people left, right and center.
Rick: Yup, I went through that too.
Igor: So what happened next then – where did I leave off?
Rick: I asked you about whether your head was shaking outside of meditation. And the reason I asked is that I went through the head-shaking phase too. I was driving an ice cream truck, and if I stopped at a stop sign and just sat still for a moment, my head would start to go!
Igor: Yes, this is it. About the head shaking – that is very interesting. I had learned this prayer that Maharishi suggested in the Science of Being and Art of Living – the beautiful prayer before mealtime. As soon as I will shut my eyes to say that prayer, the same sensation would come, and my head will just go – I would forget that I sat here to eat. I would open my eyes, and, “Oh, okay, do I have to eat? It’s much nicer to just sit.”
As I said, it was very, very grounding and I had very beautiful experiences of meditation for a number of years, and my activity was certainly soaked in that experience. I could easily say that the creative aspect was just pouring out of me – not that [this started it], because I was an artist as far as I can remember myself. Some people even believe that you need to have some jolting experiences in order for creativity to take its most acute form of expression, and the examples of that are many. I know Maharishi deeply disagrees with that in his lectures on art and the creative process. He disagrees, but on the other hand, he still does not dismiss the possibility of suffering giving a profound ground for Consciousness to express itself through individual means in a very uplifting, powerful form of art – whatever that is. Just think of Mozart; his life was a success in the early years, but he had to endure so much. The older that he would get, the more would be put on his shoulders; and yet his music was becoming more and more elating.
Rick: Or Beethoven.
Igor: Or Beethoven – the examples are endless. Then again, to say that my art became better or improved, that my paintings became more profound with meditation – today in retrospect – that would not be true. It’s just that it was definitely a new level, and perhaps I, myself, as a vehicle of that process of creation was less involved. That was definitely so. So I would no longer be identified even with the process of painting. Because in the Science of Creative Intelligence, if you remember, Maharishi talks about artists – he compares them with meditators.
When you sit down in front of the canvas for several hours, after a while the doer and the doing kind of merge; and that is exactly what the Greeks call the Muses. The Muses are always standing outside, waiting when the artist drops that egoic veil to allow the creative process to unfold fully. This Romanian sculptor that I love very much, Brancusi, the one who worked in Paris and became very, very famous in the beginning of the 20th century – he used to say, “It is not difficult to do great works of art. It is difficult to get into the state when that happens by itself.”
8. The TM-Sidhi Course and a Radical Shift in Reality as it was Known
Igor: So going back to that whole experience of meditation, I was basically very grounded, very settled; I could have probably carried on for – I don’t know how many more years – until I decided that the time has come for me that I needed to go into meditation in a much more conscious, in a much more dedicated way. And that is when I went back to Uzbekistan and did the TM-Sidhi course. And that’s it. That was the end of me.
Rick: What happened?
Igor: What happened is that, basically, reality ceased to exist for me as I knew it.
Rick: Just in doing the course? Just then and there, right from the start it just shifted.
Igor: At the start of the course, I had to be put at the back of the room because –
Rick: Because you were shaking?
Igor: The chair on which I was sitting, if I wanted to stop myself and grab the chair, I would start jumping on the chair – and that was before the flying sutra. That was in the first part of the course, when you go through the theoretical part. I was literally feeling the deconstruction of personality literally increasing with every day. As I would go back to my mother’s apartment – because during that course, we were not on a campus; we were actually allowed to be in our homes. Because this was still a very transitory stage for the TM Movement in Uzbekistan and there was not even a place where people could sleep, so we would go there early in the morning and go back to our own dwellings by evening.
By the time the flying sutra was given to us, I was feeling as if I literally no longer know who I am – and there is no force in me that can stop me from that process.
Rick: But I suspect it was not an upsetting experience; there was something good about not knowing who you were – or was it?
Igor: I am not sure – I will have to be honest with you. I mean I don’t know how it is with everyone else, but for many creative people, for artists, the idea that we have of ourselves, the self-identity, is often the core – or at least we think of that as a core – of our creative personality. And when that inner core suddenly starts to shake and things are just falling away from you, it’s like – I don’t even know. I don’t think I read by then or knew that at the core of our personality, or at the core of our individuality, there is this “coreless” – I will be honest with you: I did not know that emptiness is the core. Let’s put it this way.
So coming so close to emptiness – or emptiness being revealed in a very forceful way – was not an easy experience. So what happened is that when I actually sat down on that day when we were given the flying sutra – I mean, man, I probably had made a hole in the mattress! We were meditating on those sports mats and I had this mattress which was very new, and I could even smell the almost burning sensation from so much friction that was generated underneath. I thought, “I am going to ignite a fire here! If I sit any longer – the smoke was already coming – the next will be flames!”
What happened next is that when the flying sutra was given to us, I suddenly had this sensation that, “This is it – I am dying. I am literally dying, physically dying.” It even felt like the sensation of nausea – physically, I was nauseated – and I felt like, “I want it over.” And at that instant, when I felt that, “I am dying, I cannot take it any more” – what happened is very interesting. I had this very clear 3-dimensional image of Maharishi coming right in front of me – not as a photograph, because I’ve never met the master, and not even how I’ve seen him on T.V. and broadcasts – but literally he was 3-dimensional, within myself. And as soon as I’ve seen that his face is fine – he doesn’t show signs of worry – this massive ball of iridescent white light appeared above my head; and it’s not that I am seeing that ball with my eyes, but I’m sensing that ball of light above my head. Something happened, and my body was just literally sucked into that ball; not that the ball descended down, but I literally leapt – jumped – into that ball. And when I jumped into that ball, it is like when you have this “repeat” shown in sports programs, when something is shown in slow motion…
Rick: Instant replay…
Igor: Yeah, instant replay – my whole body, starting with my head, piercing that ball of light. Like piercing, as if I am coming into that placenta of light, and then it’s like [makes a sucking sound] it sucks me in. At that moment, there was nothing of me – it was all iridescent, snow-white light – there was no sensation, there was no physical sensation even; it was just a very profound feeling of being light, and being one with the light. I was no longer seeing the light, I was that light; there was this total immersion. When this experience waned, I was apparently jumping all over the place.
And we had these two Sidhi supervisors, the TM-Sidhi course administrators – they are usually couples as you know. The female would sit with us, and the male would sit with the ladies.
Rick: Really? I should think it would be the other way around.
Igor: No, but with us it was like that – it was very interesting. She was a very big woman; she was this massive Indian, a big kapha woman. We were doing this TM course on the school grounds, probably in one of those sports complexes. And she was standing to prevent me from hitting or jumping on the radiator…
Rick: Oh – you weren’t even aware that your body was –
Igor: I wasn’t even aware, but I was jumping. The whole of our – because I was the first one to jump…
Rick: Were you jumping on mattresses? Was it all covered with mattresses?
Igor: It was covered in mattresses, yes. And apparently, I was jumping as high up as one meter off the ground, off the mattress surface. But at the time when I was in the experience of that white light, I had no sensation of what the body was doing; I would have probably bruised myself if I was elsewhere.
So I lay down – and obviously when I came out of that state, after the rest, the teacher gathered all of us together. The men and the women were all in one room sharing their experiences, and I am just sitting – I am not there. I don’t know where I was, I was just, “Okay, who cares?” I could just see many eyes were on me. So the teacher then shows me the sign like, “Come to me.” So I come close to him and he asks me, “So tell me what happened.”
So I tried to explain what happened, but my tongue is like literally glued in my mouth, as if I ate something – I could not speak. My speech was completely impeded. Obviously, he was Indian speaking in English, and I was from Uzbekistan – but I was communicating with him in English as well, not through the interpreter. He would be basically communicating with everyone else through the interpreter, but I didn’t need an interpreter – so I was just able to waffle something like, “What I’ve experienced is probably bliss. I don’t know – but this is what it was.” So he tells me, “Ananda, ananda.” He tells me, “Sit down, relax, and just try to say what happened to the others. Don’t worry about it.”
So I sat down there, adjusted my breath, and all I said, in very simple words, that, “I’ve experienced something that surpasses all experiences I’ve ever had in my life” – obviously in the Russian language because the course was in Russian. And as I was saying that, three or four of the other ladies started to laugh hysterically; they were just rolling on the floor, and you could see that this was a release of some sort. And the following day, they were the ones who flew. So the Sidhi course went on.
But that was just the beginning – what happened was just the beginning. I don’t know where you want me to take it from here, because this was basically the start of it all.
Rick: Yes, for some people, they would see that as a kind of culmination of one’s progress. “It sounds like you’ve made it – you’re done – white light and so on.” And some people diminish the value of any sort of experience which comes and goes. They say, “Well fine, big flashy experiences, they are going to come and they are going to go, but what we’re really concerned about is something that is more pervading and abiding. Anything which can come is going to go, but the significant thing is that which has never come nor could go.”
So maybe you are going to take us there, but I’d say, just go on from there in terms of what you consider to be the next significant stage in what happened to you.
Igor: Well, perhaps the next significant stage was that I had to go back to London, because I was already a British citizen. By then, I would have to go back to my home country with a visa as a visitor. So I did the Sidhi course and I stayed a little longer; and I felt like I was really dreading to go on a plane. Well, I’ll tell that experience very quickly because it is an interesting experience – the experience on the plane – to take us to the next stage, because it’s something that also shows one the capacity, the range of experiences.
So I was dreading to go on a plane for many reasons because – as you probably can imagine – I was shaking and what have you.
Rick: I’ve been on plane flights with hundreds of people who are all doing the TM-Sidhi program, flying to India or the Philippines or someplace, and everyone is doing their program. They’re all bouncing around and the stewardesses are completely freaked out! It’s like she has a plane full of epileptics or something!
Igor: Well, this was my worry, because I couldn’t sit still – let’s face it. If before there was shaking of my head, now my whole body was not just shaking. I mean to start with, the TM-Sidhi program for me, at least for a period of time, was no longer a meditation. Meditation has finished – forget it! As soon as I would close my eyes, I would start jumping. You don’t even do the whole thing; I would try to diligently concentrate on my program like it’s supposed to be – and I thought, “Well, maybe I’m not doing something right.” I thought you were supposed to go through all of these sutras, and then you go into the flying sutra. Instead, I closed my eyes and as soon as I relax, my whole body starts jumping like I’m just this little chicken trying to fly.
9. Circumambulating Mount Kailash in 3-D
Igor: So I was dreading trying to go on a plane. So before the plane experience, actually this is very significant. I was also in the habit of saying Grace before going to sleep; just as I was praying before mealtime, I had that sitting down just before going to sleep and sitting with eyes closed. So one of those – I don’t remember whether I was still in the Sidhi course or soon after the course – but when I closed my eyes and was just about to say a mantra or something, a very beautiful experience happened to me. It showed me that we know very little in terms of our psychic setup when we say, “Oh genetically I have so-and-so.”
Because I was never brought up in a Hindu environment; to me all of these Hindu Gods and Goddesses, like symbolism was stuff of colorful folklore. So what happened is that, with my eyes closed, I was suddenly levitating – not physically levitating – but I went into this very high flight, and I ended up flying around Mount Kailash. It was a 3-D experience, and it was a very profound experience, because I literally circumambulated Mount Kailash several times in an aerial view. I probably had never even read about Mount Kailash then. Obviously, now I know that Mount Kailash is the symbol of Shiva, it is the largest Shiva Lingam on the planet; it has been worshipped by many, many different traditions on the whole of the Indian subcontinent.
But why did it happen to me? Why would it happen to me? But it was such a clear, crisp experience! Later I understood that this was the preliminary experience of pure Consciousness. Because all that I had experienced before – all this bliss, all this iridescent light and everything – this was probably what I would call a doorway toward what was to come.
So I got on the plane, and when it takes off, and my body really needs to shake, and I am sitting next to people – I am doing my best not to do anything. I am literally squeezing my buttocks, drinking water – and then I could not take it any longer. And what happens is that my body starts swinging – but in a very high frequency because I try to keep it from moving – so it moves very fast and probably in a very different way than it was before.
Rick: Couldn’t you just get up and walk around the plane?
Igor: Well, I did that – but it’s like a 6-7 hour flight. What happens is I feel like I am flying with this airplane together; and I am not inside the airplane. This whole cloud of airplane – this airplane is flying in me. I am inside, but I am also – I don’t know how to put it. It’s like I am inside the airplane as the body, but the airplane is flying inside of me. I am this space, and the airplane is just transiting in that space. And with that experience, I no longer cared, “Do I shake or not?” It was a nice, smooth transportation all the way to Heathrow Airport.
Rick: Did you actually, literally shake the whole time?
Igor: I probably did, I don’t know.
Rick: The person sitting next to you didn’t freak out?
Igor: Well, by the time we landed, people were half asleep. I’m sure that if I saw an ambulance outside, I wouldn’t have been too surprised, but there was no ambulance, there was no…
Rick: No police cars…
Igor: No police, no paramedics…
Rick: Okay, good. So you got back to London…
10. Return to London and the Realization that the Line has been Crossed
Igor: So I got back to London, and it was winter, January – very cold – and I am in the heat of it all. By then, I have realized that something has happened to me. I went to the TM Center and tried to do group programs. In fact, one episode was very funny.
I don’t want to mention names because I don’t want to frame anyone, but I am doing the TM-Sidhi program with a group who were basically “veterans.” There was Dr. Vernon Katz, the one who worked on the translation of the Bhagavad Gita.
Rick: He’s here in Fairfield, actually – Vernon is.
Igor: Oh, right. So he’s not based in England anymore?
Rick: No. He must come and go, but he’s been here for quite a while. Sweet man.
Igor: A very sweet man, I got to know him later. I got to know him – we did some Guru Purnimas together at the house of another one of Maharishi’s students.
But at that time we were doing this program, and I am moving – kind of jumping – and one of the TM teachers, the Sidhas, he couldn’t take it anymore. So he jumps at me, puts his arms around me and tries to stop me. “You cannot do it! You cannot do it!” He is very stressed, obviously, and he completely lost it. The more he tried to keep me – and I’m looking at him and I’m thinking like, “If you don’t release me, I am going to explode here.” And the next thing, the body moved and he just flew – like maybe 6 meters – like this wave just threw him. He was trying hold me, literally. Anyway, “I’ve realized it wasn’t such a great idea,” he apologized, and we hugged each other afterwards; and he told me something like, “There was some kind of stress that came out, he never remembers anything like that.”
By the way, all of this sounds familiar – and not to make this sound dramatic, but the TM-Sidhi administrator of Indian origin who initiated me, he told me throughout his whole career he has never seen such an acute manifestation of whatever was happening to me. He told me a few interesting things which I understood were said confidentially, which he shared with me. He said, “I don’t know what it is, man. You’ve got to go with it. We are following a protocol here. If something goes unexpectedly, it is part of the experiment I guess.”
Rick: In other words, he wasn’t trained to deal with your situation.
Igor: Absolutely, and he was very honest about it. But in England I found that people were trying to put a qualitative – I don’t want to use the word “judgment,” it’s not the word judgment – a qualitative measure on what I was going through. Someone even suggested, “Oh, your vata is completely out of place.” But I had already taken a course on Ayurveda by then, and I already knew very well about all these humors, and I knew about the Samkhya philosophy in terms of prakrti and how it all functions. So I knew this was not a humor of the body, this was not a dosha. Because this is something primordial, something which actually rules all of the doshas – rules everything, rules my breath, rules my heartbeat; it’s something that is the Conduit with a capital “C.”
So when I realized that I am on my own – I cannot delegate my experiences and have feedback in the movement which I thought myself legitimately belonging to – that interestingly enough that gave me a very profound sense of inner resolve. This inner composure; “What are you worried about?” When I placed these questions, the inner – what you probably would call – intelligence told me, “That is what it is. You’ve got to go through it. There is no way back, you crossed the line. You cannot come out. There’s no way – ‘Okay, I’m pulling out. I don’t like it, I want to go back to my old self.’”
Rick: Yeah. It’s like when an airplane flies across the ocean, there is a certain point at which if they have some kind of problem, they can’t go back to the airport they came from because they’re not going to make it. They have to keep going and get to the other side.
Igor: Absolutely, it’s one of those. You are mid-air, so you’ve just got to go along with it. And amazing things started from there on, but I suddenly started to get these inner messages as I would sit down – and sitting down for me became my life. Thankfully, I wasn’t working for any boss, I didn’t need to go to the office. Being self-employed all my life – being an artist – I had this leisure. I would go to the studio, but instead of painting, I would be thrown into spontaneous meditation. So, very quickly – by then I already had a mat there. I actually had this Japanese futon stuffed with seaweed, which is not like the bouncing mattresses on which the TM-Sidhis programs are usually done.
Rick: More firm?
Igor: But something firm that actually cushions. And I found it more conducive to my kind of program, for what I was going through. The heat in the body would just keep growing. I was already finding myself meditating, sitting basically in my underwear with all of the windows open in the middle of January – and it was quite cold. It was very cold, and yet I was burning – I was just like in flames.
11. Inner Messages Leading to the Understanding of Profound Yogic Experiences
Igor: And very soon the messages were sending me to go to places to get some information. In one of those moments, I had this sudden urge, “I need to go to that bookshop that I’ve been to before years ago. I know I need to go there. Why? Let’s just go and see.”
So I go to that shop, and it is Watkins – the number one shop for spiritual literature. It’s actually a kind of a little center. So I would go to this bookstore – which is the primary bookstore in London for all of the spiritual literature. It has a shelf for each author; thousands of books, thousands of entries – where do you start? So I go to this store, and suddenly it’s like my hand moves to the shelf, and I am pulling out one book, I am pulling out another book; I piled up like maybe a dozen books, I sit down, because I am physically extremely drained. I could hardly move; literally everything is a physical effort.
Rick: Because of all of the Kundalini you’d been having?
Igor: Well, the word “Kundalini” hadn’t even entered my lexicon yet. What happened then is that I sit down then and there on the floor, and I start seeing this book – “Ah, no.” This book? – “Oh, yeah, okay.” This book? – “Oh, this sounds…” So I picked several books, and there were several books by Gopi Krishna, and he is like, “Kundalini, Kundalini, Kundalini.” So I opened the book, and I’ve spent maybe an hour or an hour and a half in the shop trying to figure out which book will help me the most. Suddenly I see that there is all this talk here, but somehow nothing reverberates in me; I still have to intellectually cognize what the guy is saying with what I am experiencing. So I am kind of reluctant, as if I am just going to leave the bookstore without anything.
Then my eye fell on a table where several books were with the book Play of Consciousness by Swami Muktananda, and there is a small picture of him in the middle. And literally, my whole internal – like my whole body – starts vibrating. Like I feel this incredible sense of joy. So I grab this book – I don’t even need to open it, because this is the book. So I buy this book, I go home, and I read it.
Obviously, what I read is the complete – complete – explanation of what is happening to me. What is happening to me is the profound yogic experience: the profound experience in terms of the alternation in breath pattern, the profound experience of these inner kriyas – of all these yoga postures that I have been doing in the program. And I’ve been practicing yoga, I’ve done a really, really high level of asana practice in Hatha yoga – but the asanas I am doing in the altered state of consciousness, I’ve never read anywhere, I’ve never seen any images of that; it’s just something which the body basically does by itself.
Rick: When you say alternation of breath, do you mean like fast, involuntary breathing, right?
Igor: Yes, different pranayamas. In fact, pranayama is a very big subject…
Rick: It was just happening to you spontaneously?
Igor: It happened spontaneously, and it went on for about three years. I literally lived through various pranayamas, culminating in the complete suspension of breath – when the breath would just subside. Later on of course, I’ve learned that this is all the actual aim of Hatha yoga, to have the spontaneous retention of breath called kumbhaka. This is where Consciousness is literally experienced within, beyond the level of the transformation of the oxygen into the blood stream, into the brain. It just happens on the nuclear level right inside the brain – the process which allows you to experience Consciousness in an unbounded state.
And yogis experience that forcibly, they induce that. They practice it for many years – and that happened to me spontaneously. I would just sit there without breathing – without breathing at all. I am not talking about suspension of breath, which is another very beautiful – perhaps one of the most beautiful – breathing that one can ever experience. It is when the incoming and outgoing breath equalize to such a degree that there is almost no breathing at all.
Again, Maharishi talked about this. When you intellectually understand that it is one thing, but when it happens on the level of the body, it’s a very beautiful experience; because literally the parameters of the body, as we know it, they fall away. Because when you experience that breath, you literally experience the expansion of Consciousness.
Rick: You’re making an interesting point here, and I want to just comment quickly. I’ve often used the analogy that you can pull any one leg of a table, and the other legs will come along with the whole table. And the whole purpose of yoga is – as you’ve just said – to implicate a certain state of consciousness, and they do that through physiological means. However, it can work the other way around, where changes in consciousness can bring about the physiological changes that yogis are intentionally trying create – in order to change the consciousness. So you can come at it from either direction. The point it illustrates is – like it or not – there is a very deep and important correlation between the physiology and whatever state of enlightenment or consciousness one is living.
Igor: Absolutely. That is why in the yogic tradition – in Indian tradition – they talk of two different threads: you either hold the threads of prana, the breathing, or you hold the thread of the mind. But both are ultimately linked to the same goal. It is just two different aspects, two different traditions, but within the same tradition. And that actually brings us close to perhaps the most powerful experience, or the radical experience, which would completely transform what I thought of myself to be and what this whole thing – what this whole whatever you call it – journey. And that, interestingly enough, happened right on the verge of waking and dreaming state of consciousness.
<End of part 1>
Continue to Part 2…
Cover Image: Igor Kufayev in Roussillon, Provence, France in 2004. Courtesy of Flowing Wakefulness.