Blessed by Mysterious Grace

Blessed by Mysterious Grace

Ravi Ravindra
Adyar, Theosophical Publishing House, 2023. vii + 400 pp., paper, $30.

On a Sunday afternoon, sitting at a restaurant overlooking the Ojai mountains, I laughed out loud. It was a hearty laugh, which drew attention to me. Aware of this, I tried to contain myself, but to no avail: I kept laughing and smiling. I was reading and relishing Ravi Ravindra’s latest inspiring book—surprisingly an autobiography, Blessed by Mysterious Grace—-and came across a passage where he describes his early days at the university, when even then the other students called him  “Who am I Ravindra.”

Fellow seekers who are familiar with Ravindra’s scholarly works on the traditional sacred literature of both Eastern and Western traditions (often building a bridge between the two) and his many papers on science, or who may have been fortunate enough to attend his courses on philosophy, comparative religious studies, or science, will have a chuckle too.

Seldom do we have a scholar in so many important academic fields who has written an autobiography revealing so much of his own personal journey, his doubts, fears, questions, and philosophical ideas. It is also inspiring because it points not only to higher truths but to different levels of subtle perception.

Ravindra’s readers will be grateful for this book, because in my humble opinion, I do not think anyone else could do justice to the complex man, his talent, and profound understanding of what it means to be human and honor the divine spark in our souls: “You need to work to relate the higher with the lower. That is the purpose of human existence.” There is no distance between his life and his work; they are perpetually intertwined, evolving in depth.

In one chapter, Ravindra refers to a saying in the Gospels: “From him to whom much is given, much is demanded” (Luke 12:48). He states that “there was no question” that much had been given to him, even though an objective observer would say that Ravindra worked hard, made many sacrifices, and took on responsibilities to earn what he did receive. The next line is profoundly important: “It cannot be only for my sake. My own self is too small to have any worthwhile purpose of its own. It must serve something higher.”

One does not have to read between the lines to see that serving something more important, higher, and bigger than ourselves is a theme that runs through Ravindra’s book—and life. That is why reading his book is elevating, putting us on a higher level of consciousness as we think and ponder life’s biggest philosophical questions: why am I here, and what is the purpose of my life?

At some juncture in Ravindra’s life, he found himself in turmoil: “I knew I needed a different kind of knowledge and education than I had obtained in the many schools and universities I had attended. I had become sadder and sadder the closer I was to finishing my Ph.D. The more I was certified as an educated man by the world, the clearer I was about my ignorance of myself.”

As we follow the author on the paths he explored, we see that the people he chose to seek out and study with were those who had a higher purpose in life, and he knew he could learn something from them. An encounter with J. Krishnamurti led to a touching friendship with the modern-day sage, which lasted from 1965 until Krishnamurti’s death in 1986. Ravindra evokes a gentle, kind man with a “doe-like frailty,” a characteristic not always observed by others who have written about him. He shares important conversations, humorous moments from some incidents with Krishnamurti that were unlike occurrences in an average person’s day-to-day life, as well as some of his personal frustrations because he was not able to meet Krishnamurti at the same level of clarity.

Ravindra writes of a mysterious meeting—which seemed almost accidental—in a remote village with a Korean Zen master, Chullong Sunim. After the master had spent days in meditation with Ravindra, he gave him a 1500-year-old Buddha statue from the Silla dynasty. When Ravindra tried to refuse such a valuable gift, Chullong Sunim told him he was repaying a debt to him from a past life, and proceeded to write to the customs people asking them to allow the antique to leave the country. Master Sunim said: “Maybe I took a lot from you before birth. You had done something for me in a previous life.”

Readers who have been attracted to G.I. Gurdjieff’s ideas will appreciate Ravindra’s meticulous recording of his work with Jeanne de Salzmann, a disciple of Gurdjieff’s, and his own challenges in looking objectively at himself.

The author’s association with the Theosophical Society has spanned more than four decades. He is regularly invited to teach at the School of Wisdom at Adyar and the Krotona School of Theosophy in Ojai for weeks at a time. He sums up why the TS makes a difference in the world: it’s “a unifying force which brings together all the great traditions of the world, deepening spiritual search and understanding.”

Without ever suggesting or advising, Ravindra points to the same higher truths and insights that sages have talked about throughout the ages. Nevertheless, he emphasizes, each of us must find our own way, take our own journey: no one else can do that for us: “It was clear to me that for me to approach any serious question a radical transformation of the whole of my being was needed. Nobody else, even the Buddha or Christ can answer my question; it has to be my own journey.”

This book will leave you much wiser about yourself, the human heart, and humanity. Maybe Ravindra followed a path that was “created” for him before he was born, but he has done everything he could to honor that divine spark in him.

Adelle Chabelski

The reviewer, a translator, writer, and human rights advocate, was consultant and interviewer for two award-winning documentaries, one on the former Soviet Union and the other, produced by Steven Spielberg, on the Holocaust. She teaches at the Krotona School of Theosophy and has served as president of the TS in the Ojai Valley.