Interviewing the "Indiana Jones" of Yoga
Muz Murray is a spiritual Master and Mantra Yogi, well-known for his Mantra, Massage and Meditation workshops.
The interview below is rather long for a web page, but it is such a fascinating read that we couldn’t bring ourselves to cut any of it out!
You have been called a 'real-life Indiana Jones' in your colourful and adventurous life as spiritual seeker. Could you tell us something of your background before you began this work?
That will be difficult in a short interview! But briefly, I studied painting at Art College in Coventry, England, and afterwards worked as a Theatre and Film Décor designer and scenic artist for 10 years in many countries. At the same time I was gaining a reputation as a surrealist painter and poet.
In my early days as a bohemian artist, I hitchhiked all over Europe, earning my bread by sketching portraits on the street. Later I lived for a while on the Costa Brava in Spain, with the surrealist group there, becoming friendly with my painter-guru Salvador Dali and the Dadaist, Marcel Duchamp. Then with two fellow-poets I hitchhiked to Israel where we worked on a kibbutz. For further travel money I drilled for copper in King Solomon’s mines in the Israeli desert, trained elephants in Tel Aviv Zoo, painted scenery for the National Theatre and was a singer in a Nightclub in Acco!
From there I went to Cyprus where, at the age of twenty-three, the turning-point of my life occurred. Without any preparation or interest in spirituality, without any meditation practice, yoga or drugs, suddenly I was plunged into a state of ‘Cosmic Consciousness’—a revelatory experience in which I became One with the Consciousness of the Universe. In that state I understood many things impossible to know by ordinary means. This event changed my life completely and precipitated me instantly onto the spiritual path. But all that is explained more fully in my book “Sharing the Quest”.
After that, I took a ship to Egypt and found a job for six months as Head Designer for Egyptian Television in Cairo. I spent the next three years in Africa, crossing the Sudanese desert to Ethiopia and dangerously hitch-hiking down the whole continent, surviving bandit attacks, poisoned darts, swarms of locusts and a terrifying earthquake. I finally ended up as an actor and Art Director for films and theatre in South Africa.
So you had not become involved in the spiritual life at this period?
Oh yes, deeply so! After the experience in Cyprus, during my travels I studied every spiritual book I could get my hands on, to try and understand what had happened to me. And while in South Africa, I was initiated into Shabda Yoga meditation practice, by a Sikh master visiting from India and very soon lost all interest in a worldly career. After returning to England, I founded a mystical community and magazine called Gandalf’s Garden in London, which I guided for nearly five more years. Our centre became a mecca for Gurus and spiritual travellers from all over the world. But I was always longing to go to India for my own development and eventually, in 1972, I left my community and set off alone on my pilgrimage overland.
It took me seven months to get there. In Turkey, after weeks of searching, I was finally led to the secret Mevlana Order of Whirling Dervishes in Konya, which at that time was prohibited by the Government. The Head of the Order, old Suleyman Dede, kindly accepted me as one of his own. One night he brought all the dervishes together to dance and I was privileged to experience their mystical whirling dance in a form they never do in public. It was amazing. Together with the music of cymbals, flutes, strings and drums, and a narrative song from the Sufi scriptures, they incorporated several weird grunting chants of ‘Allah-Allah!’ at different speeds, and the rhythms and movements created an astounding effect. They pulled me into one of the moving circles of the dance and suddenly I had the mystical experience of being inside the beating of a great heart—like the Heart of the Universe. Incredible!
From there on I was sent along a chain of Sufi teachers until I got to Afghanistan. There I was trapped for three months during the Indo-Pakistan war, before I could at last enter into India.
How was India? What did it do for you?
How can I squeeze three years experience into a few words? India is a land of amazing extremes. Even my travels in the wilds of Africa did not prepare me for the outrageousness of India. Being there is a vital experience of life in the raw. You can see birth, life and death, actually going on in the streets. There’s none of our pre-packaged, over-protective and hidden-away aspects of life there. Psychically, I felt it was like stepping into a vast pool of consciousness of a totally different mental wavelength. It was an atmosphere like it must have been at the beginning of the world.
In India you get to grips with experiencing reality and there you become aware of the madness of your own cultural conditioning. But there is something about the timelessness of India that gives you opportunity to look into the depths of your being.
Were you seeking a Guru there?
Not really. I had already accepted the late Ramana Maharshi of Arunachala as my inner guru. His view of Reality related perfectly to my Cosmic Consciousness experience. And also I already had a Master of Mantra—Sri Ramamurti (Dr. Mishra). However, I was open to all other teachers and received initiation from many different masters and traditions. When I explained to some masters that I had already been initiated, they told me “Yes, but I want to initiate you.” So I ended up with quite a few spiritual names and the saffron robe, a begging bowl and a turban. So I travelled as a wandering sadhu, or spiritual mendicant, meeting nearly all the famous Gurus and hundreds of lesser ones. But only a handful had real quality and quite a few turned me right off.
You had some negative experience with Gurus then?
Indeed! Gurus—or so-called ‘Gurus’—come in all qualities. Some are very heavy egocentric power-trippers and enjoy lording it over their devotees. I’m sorry to report that some are petty despots, or simply self-indulgent conceited oafs. Some are in it for the glory, for the money, or for easy access to western girls. And so many western seekers are too starry-eyed and naive to notice it.
Even so, there are still some wonderfully deep spiritual teachers to be found in unexpected encounters and unlikely places. But many of the most profound are little known to westerners. Perhaps because they only speak Hindi or some local hill dialect, so communication is limited. But sometimes they can suddenly zap you with the power of love from their eyes, or the radiance of their inward vision.
One of the people I was most impressed with was Sri Goenka, a Bombay businessman, and teacher of Buddhist Vipassana Meditation. And another was a radiant sweeper-up in an ashram in Mathura, a humble low-caste man who was more spiritually advanced than his Guru, without knowing it! But as I often say, India herself is the greatest Guru. She will put you through more physical and spiritually problematical situations than you’ve ever dreamed of.
You say that with some conviction.
Well, I went through a great deal myself. And I put myself into many different situations and austere practices to try and understand them and my own capacities. Such as living with power-mad Gurus, for example, or trying Bhakti (devotion to the divine), fasting, or eating only one bowl of offered food per day, sleeping rough in the jungle or temple, or sleeping on a metal cot and letting the mosquitoes eat me (for ahimsa’s sake) or practising Hatha, Raja and Mantra Yoga and other yogic techniques, celibacy, and word-fasts—where I wouldn’t speak for a month or so, and things like that.
And did you find these practices to be of value?
Only to a certain extent; they were not entirely fulfilling. I feel they are more useful and calming for people who are mentally desperate. Even though I did get into some very high spaces on occasion and more revelations and insights came. Once when meditating in an ashram in Krishna’s town, Vrindavan, someone dropped the handle of a bucket in the cowshed outside. The vibration sped right through me and set my whole body tingling. The world around me completely dissolved into vibrating particles. Suddenly I saw the Cosmic Joke—that everyone was God looking for God. And the deadly seriousness of the average aspirant’s view of life (including my own) made me crack up. I fell on the floor shrieking with laughter for about twenty minutes.
But it was not until I came back to Europe and reflected on all the spiritual disciplines I had studied, that I really began to understand that repetition of mantra, coupled with Ramana Maharshi’s ‘abidance in the Self’ were the most valuable of all practices.
So what did you do when you returned after three years in India?
After settling in England, I went to visit some friends in France, who had come to my Mantra classes when I was organising a spiritual centre in Madame Blavatsky’s bungalow at the Theosophical Society in Madras. While there I was invited by a well-known yoga teacher to lead few mantra workshops in France and I began to go back there three or four times a year. Between trips I stayed in England to write my first book: Seeking the Master—A Guide to the Ashrams of India and Nepal.
When I was in India, westerners were always asking me where to go to find this teaching or that, so I got everyone I met to answer questionnaires about each ashram they had visited and I visited over three hundred myself. So the book was packed with vital spiritual and practical information about what each Guru teaches, where to find him or her, health hints, maps, etc.
Is your book still available?
Unfortunately you can only find actual copies in the British Museum and some Ashram libraries. The first edition has become a collector’s item. My publisher went and retired just when it had become popular as the ‘Bible of India-bound Seekers’ or more humorously known among seekers as ‘the five-star Guru Guide’. So the first print ran out very quickly. However, I have now made it available as a digital download on my website for a small price.
How did you come to specialise in Mantra?
Ah! When I was running my community in London, I went to a lecture by a Hindu brain surgeon and doctor, who was also a Raja and Mantra Yogi. During his talk he chanted awhile and the effect on me was very like the cow-pail experience I had in Vrindavan. My cells began to dance and I fell off my chair laughing joyously. Finding this very strange, I invited the doctor Guru to my community and he stayed with us for ten months, so I learned all my basic sound-work with him. Events like that led me to deepen my interest in the effects of sound on the consciousness. And I slowly came to realise that constant purification of mind by the repetition of mantra, was one of the most effective means of emancipation for the majority of westerners.
I went on to study mantra with all kinds of masters in India. On having refound the ancient tantric manner of chanting, I was invited to teach it to large temple congregations in southern India. To me that was like taking coals to Newcastle! But they seemed to appreciate the dynamic form of mantra I had rediscovered, which was very different from the sleepy mumblings of the priests to which they were accustomed.
When I started teaching Mantra in Europe, I found many of my students having reactions similar to what happened to me with my master. At a week-long seminar in France, with the intensity of the practice some people began shaking with blocked energy, either laughing or crying. Others asked for some way to release their tensions as they couldn’t concentrate on the meditations with anguish rising. So I led them through an intensive breathing and mantra session combined with psychological ‘trigger-suggestions’ from psychotherapy. The result was devastating! Suddenly about thirty or more people were writhing around on the floor screaming, crying or laughing hysterically. And by sympathetic contact, I also became flooded with painful childhood memories and wept like a five-year old as I talked them through it. I was crying, my interpreter was crying—and a good time was had by all!
After that, I realised that all my sadhana—my spiritual practices in India— had not touched or overcome the deep anguish in my being from feeling abandoned in childhood. I saw that spiritual practices may often be used like sticking a plaster over a festering wound. That’s why Krishnamurti was so against meditation, at least in the way it was used as an escape from daily life and inner problems. But when I explained to him the way I used Mantric Meditation, he allowed me to teach it at his school in Brockwood Park, in England.
But isn't it dangerous to bring things up this way?
I have come to realise that it is far more dangerous to one’s sanity, health and quality of life to keep such feelings buried. Otherwise we only half live, or live neurotically, without knowing why we do what we do. Meanwhile pressures build up inside until we blow a fuse, cause a fight, have a nervous breakdown, commit suicide, or whatever. For some people the hidden and repressed feelings cause cancer. Yet the whole of western society is structured around keeping this stuff in. And the way many people use meditation is often precisely to assist this smothering and bottling-up process. And I was no exception, after ten years of getting ‘high’!
But after the emotional explosion at the seminar, people felt renewed and released. And their meditations for the last couple of days of the workshop were far more beneficial and deeper than before. So that showed me the way I had to go next, for my own development, as well as for assisting others. To be able to handle anything that might happen in a workshop, I had to go deeper into the mechanics of bodily tension and release.
Back in England I studied many forms of psychotherapy with leading therapists of the day, including Dr. William Schwartley (Primal Therapy), Dr. Frank Lake (Clinical Theology), David Boadella (Bioenergetics), Frederick LeBoyer (Birthing), Jack Painter (Postural Integration) and many others. Eventually I co-founded The Open Centre in London, at the Community Health Foundation, together with a small group of therapists interested in bringing the spiritual element into psychotherapy. Most therapists at the time seemed to be analytical mechanics, who didn’t recognise that man is basically Spirit, not just mind and body. Therefore I developed something called Psychosomantrics (a word that came to me in a dream) which means working with the psyche, with the body and with sound, by using the ancient consciousness-changing sonic-therapy known as Mantra.
Mantra is one of the higher secret teachings of Yoga, which is why it is little known in the West. Many confuse it with singing or devotional chanting—that is, kirtan or bhajan—but Mantra is technically different. It is the Science of Sound—of audible and inaudible frequencies. It works on the deep levels of consciousness, purifying the subconscious, and even affecting the ‘mind’ of the cells. For this reason it has been found helpful in retarding cancer or diminishing growths. Mantra acts like an internal massage of the body-mind complex, which is complimented by the style of external massage we use in the seminars. And in combination this sometimes triggers the release of cellular memory, bringing both pains or joys from the past. If such things occur, that’s all right, we can handle it. However, we are not looking for emotional release for the sake of it, but for spiritual transformation.
What form does your Mantra Workshop usually take?
I generally begin with a multi-level chant to give an impression of the range of Mantric sound and to wash away the stressful effects of the outside world. Then perhaps, some warm-up exercises to integrate the group. This is followed by theory and mantric breathing techniques and how to properly use the vibrant intonation of OM and other Mantrams. We always work with the Tantric Mantric Alphabet which activates the chakras, and this is followed by both dynamising and tranquillising chants, which creates a spontaneous state of profound meditation. I generally include massage, perhaps some yogasanas, Zen Walking meditation, Satsang—spiritual question and answer sessions, guided visualisation, Homa Fire Ceremony, or Yoganidra—a form of very deep relaxation with an alert mind. I have to play it by ear, depending on the capacity of the group. But students find the effect of the workshops like a purificatory bath for the soul, both stimulating and tranquillising at the same time.
So Mantra by itself doesn't produce a sudden catharsis? There are those who say that intensive breathing and Mantra can be harmful. Even Jung said somewhere that Mantra was not for the Western mind.
I can assure you that no one ever died of breathing. And with respect to Jung, this was one of the times he spoke in ignorance. He was not a practitioner of Mantra. One of his close pupils told me it was an area of which he knew next to nothing and of which he had an irrational fear. There is no ‘Eastern or Western mind’. There are cultural conditionings, that’s all. Mind is only thought-processes. Bring up a Vietnamien in Italy, or a Hindu in England, and the resulting mentality is Italian or English. ‘Mind’ is only a reflector of its environment. In any case, Mantra works on far more subtle levels beyond mind altogether. Mantra is the East’s greatest gift to the West, especially to the overworked intellect, as it phases out the movement of mind completely.
If someone happens to weep or laugh during a session, it simply means that the working of mantra in them has allowed their own pent-up feelings to release themselves. Mantra didn’t cause the feelings in the first place. Otherwise it would happen to everyone. No, it just means that the person is emotionally ripe. I have seen people freak out (become hysterical) in yoga classes when simply doing postures or relaxation, when the habitual ego-control over inner tensions has relaxed.
For many, mantra causes joyous feelings or profound meditative ecstasy. And it usually develops a slow, steady deepening of soul experience. It depends what you are after. You usually get what you are looking for from it. If your intention is release, then emotional release is likely to come. If it’s deeper meditation you are looking for, then you will get that. If you want the flowering of the heart chakra, you will find that happening. It is a matter of intention. So in a group I have to be aware of the many needs and work on many levels.
What kinds of people come to your workshops?
People of all backgrounds: from housewives and yoga teachers, to musicians and professional people. Sometimes I have children, who love it. I also get many nurses, healers and medical workers and even nuclear scientists. In Italy I often have opera singers, who find that mantra increases their range of voice, as mantra teaches them to sing with the whole body and not just the chest.
Most of my students are what I call ‘spiritual heroes’—by which I mean they are usually people who are not restricted to any one spiritual viewpoint, religion, sect or path and therefore have had to ‘go it alone’ for many years. They are usually relieved to find someone who offers spiritual development without attachment to any religious trappings or dogma. My way is that of universal openness to whatever brings us closer to an integration with the Omnipresence. That is why I could never conform to any cult, or accept the role of a Swami (an initiated monk of a specific order) which is much too restricting. People tend to have very fixed ideas about what a ‘swami’ may or may not do.
For example, at a large Yoga Convention in France, I once gave a 5-day mantra course, which was attended by a renowned yoga teacher from Italy. She appeared to be extremely impressed with my work and invited me to teach in her famous school, telling her students: ‘Here is a real Master.” However, on the last day of the Conference, all the speakers were asked to entertain the students at a farewell party. So for my ‘piece’ I sang a couple of pop songs I had written in the Sixties and gave a demonstration of the wild ‘jive’ dance of the fifties (which I hadn’t done for about 40 years! It nearly gave me a heart-attack!) But the yoga impresario was so shocked that she never spoke to me again. Obviously a master is only a Master if he conforms to your preconceived ideas.
How is it you left the UK to live in the south of France?
Well, after living one year in Spain, one year in Israel, three years in Africa and three years in India, three long, freezing winters in England were quite enough for me! But actually, I found it more central for serving all of Europe, as I travelled a lot and taught in many European countries. Before I went over to France, for three years I was director of a psycho-therapeutic healing and retreat centre called The Inner Garden in Suffolk, England. There I was working round-the-clock with people suffering from mental and spiritual problems, nervous breakdowns and things like that.
Working constantly with depressive individuals is very draining. And many of the people with such problems were unable to survive in the world, and so had little or no money to pay for treatment. As I was being invited more and more often to work in France and other countries of Europe, I found I was earning over there to subsidise the virtually free psychotherapy I was giving in England.
At the same time I was doing my own inner work and eventually I entered into the state of samprajñata samadhi, which I had been trying to reach ever since my experience 18 years before in Cyprus. I remained in samadhi for three and a half weeks. After that I no longer wanted to organise anything or be responsible for others—as you can imagine! Just before that I had been to France to give a workshop, and found that my friends and students there had built an extension onto their house as a retreat for me, if ever I needed it. That seemed to be a sign. I realised that the ‘Universal Guru’ was guiding me to come and work more widely in Europe. So I closed my centre and went to live in France.
And for the next three years I lived in semi-retreat, consolidating my inner experience and writing in-depth answers to the questions of spiritual seekers’ in my second book “Sharing the Quest”.
Do you have a centre in France now?
Not any longer. I did run another Inner Garden Centre for a year or so, but found that too much of my time was taken up with administration. And now I have moved further down to my ‘hermitage’ in hills of the Portuguese Algarve, I am mainly living as a recluse, although occasionally students may come for a short stay, doing ‘karma-yoga’, helping out in the office, house and garden. So it’s rather like the manner of the ancient ‘Gurukula’ system of India, in which there was no formal teaching, but students imbibed a spiritual lifestyle during the activities of everyday life. And as a continuation of Gandalf’s Garden, I like to think of it as “Gandalf’s Gurukula.”
Have you any plans for the future?
Yes, to always remain in the present.
No, I don’t have any ambitious projects, apart from settling down to write several books that have been on the back burner for far too long. For the last half century, my time has been taken up with 3-month workshop tours of Britain every summer and of Germany and Italy in the autumn and spring. Not to mention odd jaunts off to workshops or Conferences in New York, Israel, Bali and Taiwan. And during the winters I usually led a group of students on a teaching tour of the Ashrams of India as part of a Travelling Mantra Workshop. After which, I would return home to the exciting task of trying to find my garden somewhere under the weeds.
And now at last! my esoteric fantasy “Ifflepinn Island”—for “green-growing children and evergreen adults”—has finally been published and is getting all 5-star reviews on Amazon.
My latest book “You Are the Light—Secrets of the Sages Made Simple”—after a lifetime of contemplation and spiritual experience, offers final answers to the problems that perplex many seekers. I was very touched to see two reviews from different reviewers, both saying the same thing: "This is the only spiritual book you will ever need."
Meanwhile, fans and students are pressing me to get on with my ‘Indiana Jones’ style autobiography, “Memoirs of a Maverick Mystic: Journeys from Dali to Delhi”.
And so I think the long-awaited “Mysteries of Mantra”, will have to be produced as a series of smaller books to begin with, or it will take forever to be finished as a complete work.
Apart from that, I try not to make plans these days. I practise tuning-in to what the ‘Guruverse’—this universal teaching environment that people like to call ‘God’—wants me to do. I look for the signs and listen with the heart, and watch what clues the world is sending me.
Otherwise, as John Lennon sagely remarked: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”