―Tristan Laurillard, May 2015
Sujith Ravindran (born in India, 1972) assists men in reaching a higher level of "masculine maturity" through his workshops, retreats, books, podcasts, videos, and one-on-one conversations. All of his work is donation-based (without a suggested donation amount), and his books are free of copyright. His own spiritual quest began when he was only four years old, and he started guiding others at the age of sixteen.
In the spring of 2015, I am introduced to Sujith by an acquaintance. Three weeks later, we have a conversation during an eighty-minute Skype call.
We start by talking about my personal life and view on men's work. Sujith is interested in who I really am and want to become, rather than the things that I do. He expresses praise after nearly everything I say, and I feel appreciated. Such a warmth radiates from this generous, Bollywood-faced man.
Turning the focus to him, I ask him what he discusses in his workshops.
Sujith tells me that he opposes the Western habit of sitting back and intellectualizing things; he considers such behavior to be chiefly responsible for our tendency to stifle our incredible, native greatness. Instead of thinking, then, he engages in 'practice' (a central word in his vocabulary), a tradition that his own teachers also uphold: namely, the lineage of wise men for whom Sujith regards himself as a mere intermediary―hence the absence of copyright.
Sujith sees a core of authentic intelligence, stamina, and kind-heartedness in everyone, and he wants to be instrumental in helping people reclaim these inborn qualities.
Adopted from Hindu mythology are Sujith's ideals of 'Shiva,' the model man, and 'Shakti,' his female equivalent. For a person to attain either state, a total of seven stages must come into existence, each one opened up by a marked initiation. It is the third transition that Sujith tries to unblock in his male audience: the shift from adolescence (in spiritual terms) to maturity.
His global following, reportedly consisting of thirteen thousand individuals in Holland, Germany, and Belgium alone, has given rise to a team of what he describes as more than fifty volunteers. Things just unfolded that way, he explains. Inspired men (mostly, as two-thirds of his events are for men only) offer to organize something in their own city, maintain his website, and publish audio recordings of his talks―of which there are roughly five hundred by now, he states. During his annual six- to seven-month tour through twelve countries, they pick him up from airports and invite him and his wife to be their guests in private residences.
We exchange a few words in Dutch. Sujith knows my hometown, and he shares with me that he has "been blessed" to support some noteworthy corporations and governmental bodies through "complete transformations."
I invite him to think of a topic he would want to discuss if he were given the opportunity to speak at a TED conference. He pauses for a moment, and then knows exactly what he would want to talk about.
He explains that Western men have bottled up their masculine energy, partly as a result of pressure from past generations of feminism and partly out of shame about the now-poor image of manhood, which has been ruined by the traumas that adolescent men (again, in spiritual terms) have inflicted. However, suppressing our masculine force will never work; it needs to come out in some way. And we must avoid releasing it through brute eruptions like war, gambling, addiction, or sexual assault.
This masculine energy deserves to be nurtured. When it unfolds gracefully, it makes a man productive and creative: a powerful energy source. Bringing this about in the Western man will require us to abandon the pattern of endless refinement through intellectual processes and instead embrace ongoing practices, rituals, and ceremonies. Only then will society regain a population of inspirational, strong, service-minded, heart-opened, mountain-like men, who transform societies and inspire humanity.
Sujith needs to go and look for his laptop's power cord in another room. In the background, I see what a beautiful view he has from his West Vancouver home.
When he returns to the room, we move on to the topic of men's peer groups. He has launched many, he says, both in Asia and in Europe. He tells me that feminine work belongs inside society, but men's groups must be held on the edge of civilization. He voices three prerequisites for men's gatherings, all three of them drawn from Indian traditions:
He personally invites me to attend his upcoming retreat on the Sunshine Coast. We'll go camping near a facility that provides sanitation and vegetarian food. I have to pay to use this facility, but Sujith's contribution is, as always, on a mere donation basis.
We are nearing the end of our conversation, and when I ask him about any personal struggles he still has, I see that this man has no intention to be a spotless mentor. Without any hesitation, he openly reveals his own sadness, vulnerability, and emotional needs. He has his own teachers to turn to and receives tremendous support from the several thousands of men he works with.
The next time I am in the neighborhood, he says, I ought to give him a call; we should get together for a cup of tea or a slice of pizza. He says that he wants to get to know me better and that I have a vibrant, rich personality: a prolific interviewer. I could make a difference in people's lives, he believes, and possibly also become a facilitator, a kind of servant (in his lingo) to help other men step into their own fullness.
Over the next two days, I read about a third of Sujith's book, which is titled 'The Shiva Code.' And that is all I can do; this is dense stuff. It covers topics I have seen in works by other thinkers from India: detachment, wholeness, conditioning, non-judgment. I see kernels of valuable insights on every page but have no idea what to do with mystical subjects such as transcendence and cosmic consciousness; these are unworldly notions that my brain is not used to absorbing, or does not want to absorb.
Perhaps, in the future, I can pick up his work again―when I am more capable of translating these esoteric concepts into useful, concrete knowledge for daily life. It seems that today, as I look at Sujith's seven transitions toward Shiva-hood, I must be one stage too low.