I am often asked why, at the age of 66, I am walking across India.
A total of 7500 km through 11 states, charting 15-20 km a day in gruelling and fast-changing climatic conditions. It’s a 500-day soul-seeking journey through the villages and towns that constitute the world’s largest democracy.
The Walk of Hope is a prophecy come true. When I was 22, my Master, Maheshwarnath Babaji, predicted that I would one day walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir–the two geographical markers that mark the two ends of India’s length. He did, mysteriously, add the rider that this crossing would be in the company of a multitude of people. I was reluctant about the rider. I could do it alone easily, or so I thought. Why the people? But then, preceptors have their own reasons for what they say, which often lies beyond the grasp of the disciple.
We walk together carrying a message of true faith — to reinstate the spirit of hope, love, peace, harmony and oneness.
In 2012, in light of my advancing years, I felt the time was ripe to embark on the foretold journey. Meanwhile, the mission’s cause had coalesced in my mind through the intervening years. In a country overwhelmed by divisive communal tendencies, it made sense to originate and share a message of peace and harmony– a message that would celebrate the commonalities between a multitude of faiths and cultures, and make cohesive the contrasting elements of a once great nation known for its spiritual preeminence.
It is critical to understand India in order to fathom the idea behind Walk of Hope. India is a baffling nation — full of contradictions and disparities. Over the years, this disparity has given rise to trends, both good and bad. A trend that disturbs us is the regular outbreaks of communal violence. A stretch of peace and prosperity is suddenly arrested during such an outbreak. Lives are lost and the social fabric is torn. The progress of the nation comes to a grinding halt. By the time things return to normal, our nation has lost crucial opportunities in all areas of development.
Three thousand years ago, the Rigveda – one of the four canonical sacred texts from India–said: “Ekam sat, viprah bahudaa vadanti”, meaning “The truth is One, the wise call it by many names.” The source of all life is one; a clear reason for humanity to remain united despite the divergent beliefs. Our country has traditionally welcomed foreign travellers, faiths and communities, helping them assimilate into our diverse culture. In these times, this inherent wisdom has the potential to erase disparities arising from misunderstandings, thus uniting the humanity of India through a spiritual approach.
Flagged off from Kanyakumari on 12 January, 2015 — the birth anniversary of a great prophet of interfaith harmony, Swami Vivekananda — this journey across the varied landscape of India seeks a significantly restored nation, fit enough to be bequeathed to our future generations. We walk together carrying a message of true faith — to reinstate the spirit of hope, love, peace, harmony and oneness. We walk together, not as members of groups, faiths or parties, but as human beings. We walk together for a society where opportunity is given to all, regardless of caste, religion, language, region or gender.
It is this togetherness, this inseparableness of humanity that is our objective. Each day, we halt in the evening at a village or town on the way. We have meetings with the local community, which includes meaningful dialogues and inter-faith prayers. We eat together and rest overnight in their homes in a spirit of oneness. A like-minded group of responsible citizens, who foresee a united India, are accompanying me on this endeavour. Together, we hope to spread the message to over 10 million fellow countrymen.
Now that we have covered about 1750km over 110 days, I am greatly encouraged by the response we have received so far. In Malappuram, Kerala, we met an old Muslim lady along the route who enquired why we were undertaking this initiative. When we told her it was for the cause of peace and harmony, she responded thus: “There are no differences between human beings; there is no difference at all, except between the male and female gender. We need to live together.”
What makes this gigantic exercise possible are the individual contributions made by the common people who dream of a peaceful co-existence and communal harmony. I remember while walking through a town, an auto-rickshaw driver approached me. Handing me a hundred-rupee currency note, he said that it was all of his day’s earnings so far, which he was contributing to the cause. Time and again, we have been awed by such humble gestures, which have gone on to inspire us in our every step.
The Walk of Hope has grown from an idea to a movement — its impact is fittingly seismic. It has been welcomed everywhere with overwhelming love and support, significantly demonstrating the relevancy of the message. With nine more states to go, I have immense hope we will be able to achieve the extraordinary objective of the Walk.
Many challenges lie ahead. But the promise is gratifying. I remind those who walk with me that this is an inner journey too — a transformative endeavour that will journey into the depths of the soul and unravel the human capacity for compassion. This inner reflection is the crux of this syncretic exercise to make India one country and humankind its citizens. The moment is indeed here for all of us to walk our talk.