Travel by Train

Swami Swayambodhananda Saraswati

It is perhaps my destiny to make long journeys by train and I have always travelled in what may be called the common man's compartment, or the unreserved compartment. On such journeys, the blessings of the god of population fully ensure the uninhibited and effortless spiritual progress of every passenger; which is no small help in maintaining India as a spiritual country.

These unreserved compartments are a class in themselves. They are neither two tier nor three tier but usually four tier compartments, the tiers being classified on the basis of the height at which human beings are stationed inside the compartment. The lowest tier consists of old village women and children sitting or sleeping on the floor of the compartment. The second tier consists of those fortunate passengers who have obtained proper seats. The third tier consists of the standing passengers and the fourth tier consists of more enterprising passengers who accommodate themselves on the racks meant for luggage.

All the passengers normally have their bodies pressed on all four sides by other passengers or by the walls of the compartment. As the passengers keep turning around along with the swaying motion of the compartment, all their internal organs get a thorough massage. The simple act of urination becomes an exercise in moola bandha and vajroli mudra, the development of body awareness and the performance of several asanas. Due to difficulty of obtaining passage to the urinals, passengers are forced to retain their urine and thus practice vajroli mudra. The passage to the urinal invariably consists of a mid-air route in which you move on your toes placed on the corners of successive seats and clench your fingers around supports obtained at the height of the luggage racks. This mid-air crawling on all fours results in the practice of moola bandha and several asanas. By chance if you touch the hair of an old woman sitting on the ground you are sure to hear the choicest abuses hurled at you.

In ancient India yogis used to practice panchagni tapasya (the five fire penance) consisting of enduring the heat of four fires burning on the four sides of the yogi and the summer sun burning the scalp from above. In summer the metallic walls of the compartment become virtually hot plates and sufficient sunlight enters through the windows to ensure that every passenger practices panchagni tapasya. Yogis also used to stand in cold water on a winter's night as a form of spiritual discipline. In the common man's compartment the passengers do not have much warm clothing. In winter nights as the train, speeds through open fields or hilly tracks, chilly winds directly hit the passengers, resulting in a severe discipline forced upon them during their performance of normal family duties.

In one journey I observed four people gambling with cards in the compartment. Suddenly one of them snatched a few thousand rupees from his companions, roared like a lion and brandishing a knife made his way quickly to the door of the crowded compartment. Then he pulled the chain and vanished in the darkness of the night. The atmosphere of the compartment was suddenly electrified by this incident and every passenger's consciousness received a severe jolt. Such incidents continue to happen on train journeys and the resulting shocks accelerate the long and slow process of mind expansion going on in every individual.

Above all, the journey gives a severe blow to your ego which is the greatest block in spiritual progress.

The general atmosphere of the compartment has to be noted in this connection. A child is crying; a village woman is feeding her baby, baring her breasts in public; the passenger next to you is nudging at you continuously to make more room for himself; somebody is smoking and somebody else passes wind. All these things make it impossible to maintain physical and mental isolation. The only way to get peace of mind is to acknowledge and accept the existence of your fellow passengers.

There is a scriptural statement which says that in this age of Kali the mere utterance of God's name is sufficient for liberation and no further austerity is required. I am not surprised because mere existence, especially during a train journey, imposes so much austerity on the common man, in this age of Kali, that mere remembrance of God's name in these circumstances- would amount to the highest act of devotion.

After reading this article, the reader, I am sure will agree with me if I call the unreserved compartment a 'Mobile Sadhana Kutir'.