Perhaps the most striking thing about Mumtaz, as he is usually called by the many students who know him as a Vedanta and yoga teacher, a spiritual instructor and founder of Satsang Foundation, is his name, Mumtaz Ali. In a syncretic land like India, a Muslim imparting core Hindu wisdom is really par to the course, but in the vitiated times we live in created by divisive politics, there is usually a pause and then a rush of pleasure at the thought of this unlikely coupling.
Yet Mumtaz Ali does not see himself as a posterboy for Hindutva. He wears his identity lightly, and sees himself as a human being, absorbing wisdom from all available sources from Sufism to Hinduism. Spiritual journey is thrilling and began in the most mysterious way at age nine, when a strange being approached him in his home in Trivandrum, Kerala, and pronounced himself as his guru.
Wearing a white loin cloth, the long-haired fair-skinned visitor told him that he would not meet him again for many years but that all means for his spiritual tuition would be provided. Sure enough, different people manifested at different stages in his life and led the boy, who by now had already attained the experience of inner bliss, onward. In his second year of college, he ran away to the Himalayas and in due course met his master, who he calls Babaji, once again.
Clearly, a man with a destiny, Mumtaz was instructed by his guru to teach Vedanta and yoga and accordingly set up the Satsang Foundation and Satsang Trust, in Bangalore. In between becoming a spiritual teacher, Mumtaz dabbled in many activities, serving as a trustee for the Krishnamurti Foundation for a few years. He met and married his wife, Sunanda, there and soon after began his other passion, setting up schools for rural education.
Self-centeredness, yes. So you can say unselfish ego. I have never seen anyone whose ego has totally gone. Especially the sanyasis, who have a stronger ego than ordinary people like you and me. I love Kabir. He said, I looked for evil and I could not find it anywhere. I looked within my heart and could not find any good there. How many of our so-called enlightened people are prepared to say that? Nobody. I haven’t met anybody. (laughs) Honestly.
Sometimes I feel proud to have founded an institution. Sometimes, that thought does pop up. And there are times when people tell you, you are great, wonderful. I think all one’s life one has to watch this ego. If one lets go of this watchfulness then it is possible that one can get caught. One can get established in watchfulness. That is very important. My master used to say, it does not matter what people think about you. Let them think anything. That is watchfulness. The Upanishads also declare, he who thinks he know, knows not.
There are many valuable things in our tradition. To ask people to discard all that is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. I had a discussion with Krishnaji once. He said that he had not read any of the scriptures. I said fine. Then he gave a public talk in Madras, where he said, ‘Throw away all your holy books into the river. There is nothing in them.’ That evening I said, ‘Sir, there is a contradiction in what you are saying. You said you had not read these books. Then you said, ‘Throw them away, there is nothing in them’. If you have not read them, you cannot say, there is nothing in them.’
You try to do something. To somehow get the sorrow out of the person. After this experience, there were very few prejudices left. There may be some but few. Therefore one sees very clearly. You say only what you feel. You don’t want to pretend because you have nothing to hide. Also, meditation becomes effortless. I learnt the kriya yoga from my master and that is what I teach my students. I also teach the Sri Vidya upasana. I initiate a few, but there are no number games.
It’s like this. When Babaji passed away in 1985, he told me not to teach for a while. In ’92, one night, he appeared in a dream and said, ‘Tomorrow, start talking.’ The next day, a jeweler friend of mine told me to address a small group of theosophists. It turned out, there were 150 of them. A few people suggested that we meet every Sunday. I wondered what name to give instead of my name and somehow the initial M suggested itself. People started calling me M, sometimes Shri M or even Mister M (laughs). I prefer M because it is neutral. In time we founded the Satsang Foundation.
We also have a chapter of the Satsang Foundation called Manav Ekta. I am planning next year to go on a padayatra. I want to go to Gujarat. I want to hold prayer meetings every evening like Mahatma Gandhi did. To heal the pain. Another activity that the Satsang Foundation does is to start educational institutions. We have about a hundred children to whom we offer free education until the class of seven. We run it on donations from people. I make my living through painting.