When awareness of the totality, of wholeness, dawns upon the heart, and there is awareness of the relationship of every being to every other, then there is no longer any possibility of taking an exclusive approach to a fragment and getting stuck there. As soon as there is awareness of wholeness, every moment becomes sacred, every movement is sacred. The sense of oneness is no longer an intellectual connection. We will in all our actions be whole, total, natural, without effort. Every action or nonaction will have the perfume of wholeness.
Vimala was a great spiritually enlightened revolutionary and activist; a notable Indian figure of the 20th Century who boldly forged a radically independent approach to spirituality and the search for truth. Freed from all religious tradition, she brought the timeless wisdom of the East to the modern egalitarian West without the baggage of religious terminology, endeavoring to awaken people through deep rational inquiry. Fiercely independent, beholden only to her own burning passion for liberation, she crisscrossed the world for many years, travelling to 35 countries through the sixties, seventies and eighties, exhorting all who would listen to wake up to what she would term the ‘totality of Life.’
Her unusual spiritual passion began early. “The awareness of something beyond dawned on me at the age of five,” she wrote, and at that age she even ran away from home to the forest searching for God. Vimala knew her life would be dedicated to liberation, and her spiritual interest was encouraged by her free-thinking father. Her early life reads like an epic Indian tale. She spent a year meditating in a cave at the age of nineteen; she experimented with spiritual practices, visited ashrams, and also was invariably turned away by the Hindu authorities wherever she went, for the one simple reason that she was a woman. It’s hard to even imagine how bold and revolutionary she must have been as a woman seeker after truth in the deeply traditional India of the 1930’s and 40’s. And yet she was completely undaunted in spite of being hurt fairly often.
As a young woman she became a leading figure in the Gandhian inspired land redistribution movement of Vinoba Bhave, travelling tirelessly throughout India from village to village, lecturing and exhorting wealthy land owners to give land to desperately poor and landless farm workers.
An invitation in 1956 to hear several discourses by legendary Indian spiritual teacher J Krishnamurti was a pivotal point in her life. Listening to him and then later meeting him, precipitated an explosion and irrevocable transformation in the depths of her being, leaving her feeling consumed by an uncontrollable awareness and an intense flame of passion. Krishnamurti, recognizing her liberation, begged her to go out and speak widely, which is something that as far as I know, he never urged anyone else to do, in the full half century of his teaching career.
He said,”Why don’t you explode? Why don’t you put bombs under all these old people who follow the wrong line?Go – shout from the house tops! Go out and set them on fire! There is none who is doing this. Not even one…What are you waiting for?”
So she gave up the social activism of the Land Gift movement to travel the world as an independent spiritual teacher, giving talks and holding meditation and inquiry camps.
In an open letter to her former colleagues she wrote,
“My association with the movement is over…. No more peace and contentment. But a profound human revolution. A human revolution which consists of freeing oneself from every kind of personal, national, racial and ideological preoccupation… Everything that has been transmitted to our mind through centuries will have to be completely discarded.”
And she certainly did teach worldwide. She went wherever she was invited, travelling for decades throughout Europe, the Americas, and India until 1991, when she decided to remain in India. Her many books were published in a dozen languages.
Vimala was so independent minded that she didn’t really see herself as a student of Krishnamurti, and in her turn, she viewed the many people associated with her as friends, saying that the student and teacher must meet as friends. Unsurprisingly, she forged her own approach and although critical of the dogma of religions, nevertheless recommended that a serious seeker should spend at least 3-4 hours a day in spiritual practice and meditation, unlike Krishnamurti, who was always highly critical of engaging in any formal spiritual practice.
Significantly, in yet another chapter in her life, she also re-embraced activism in 1979, working for social justice, environmental sustainability and aiding the poor and disenfranchised. In her own holistic approach to activism she was again ahead of her time in recognizing the need for a real integration of social action and spirituality at a deep innovative level. She saw inner freedom as a social responsibility and just couldn’t relate to seeing one’s inner life as a private matter. Total revolution, inner and outer, was her call. And her life.
“There is infinitely more to life, and each passionate being who dares to explore beyond the fragmentary and superficial into the mystery of totality helps all humanity perceive what it is to be fully human. Revolution, total revolution, implies experimenting with the impossible. And when an individual takes a step in the direction of the new, the whole human race travels through that individual.”
I will never forget my first personal meeting with this remarkable woman in India in 1996, when I went to interview her for a magazine. She had no interest in publicity, nor being photographed or interviewed, which is one major reason she is not more widely known, and she only reluctantly agreed to my request to interview her. Yet she always made herself available for the many seekers, whole groups, and dignitaries from around the world who found the way to her door. By the time I visited her Mt Abu home, she was already elderly, a small dignified Indian lady dressed simply in a crisp white sari. I was stunned by how utterly present and attentive she was, without a single flutter in her being, radiating the mysterious presence and stillness of eternity. Her eyes were large, soft and warm and she was at once unfathomably strong and fearless; you felt as if you actually could see in her how the human and the absolute dimensions were really not separate. Vimala was disarmingly natural, delightful, her being fragrant with the hallmarks of a liberated soul. When she stood up, I was surprised how tiny she was, for she emanated such authority and power. How did she see herself, I asked her?
“I am a simple person, a human being who has loved life and who has seen life as divinity itself. I have lived in love with life, madly in love with the human expression of life as divinity”
In her presence I felt I could see for the first time what a liberated woman is actually like. I’ve never forgotten that unequivocal impression. For she was not a mother figure, not one of the classic Indian woman saints who teach as the Divine Mother. Vimala was an emancipated woman.
When the spiritual history of the world is ever written, from the vantage point of the future, she certainly deserves an entry as a pioneer in translating and transmitting the wisdom of the East to the West in plain non-esoteric language. Krishnamurti is much more celebrated for a similar role, but his female counterpart would have to be Vimala Thakar. She would also be remembered for seamlessly integrating the usually divergent streams of inner awakening and social activism in a way that leaves us all an example to follow.
With her death, a great soul has passed away.