Path Without Destination: An Autobiography

Path Without Destination: An Autobiography

by Satish Kumar, Satish
Written with elegance and penetrating simplicity, Path Without Destination is the exhilarating account of the extraordinary life of Satish Kumar. At nine years of age, Satish renounced the world, left his home in rural India, and joined a wandering brotherhood of beggar monks until an inner voice guided him to Gandhi's vision of a peaceful world. Spurred to


Written with elegance and penetrating simplicity, Path Without Destination is the exhilarating account of the extraordinary life of Satish Kumar. At nine years of age, Satish renounced the world, left his home in rural India, and joined a wandering brotherhood of beggar monks until an inner voice guided him to Gandhi's vision of a peaceful world. Spurred to action, Satish undertook an eight-thousand-mile peace pilgrimage — walking from India to America without money and through deserts, mountains, storms, and floods.

His inspiring journey, recounted in this memoir, led him to settle in England, where he became one of the leaders with E. F. Schumacher of the "small is beautiful" movement and was the guiding spirit behind a number of ecological, spiritual, and educational ventures. Today he is the editor of Resurgence magazine and he travels and lectures worldwide. His is a call to each of us to embrace human scale, strong communities and ecological awareness.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Tales from a rich, cross-cultural life by a renowned Indian peace activist. Kumar's exceptional spiritual journey began at age nine, when he was accepted into training as a Jain monk. He learned Sanskrit, meditation, and extreme discipline (one of the rigors of the order was to have one's hair plucked, not cut, from the head), but as an adolescent he began to question the purpose of the life of solitude and study. He left the monkhood and attended university, became entrenched in the ideology of Gandhi, and entered into an arranged (and passionless) marriage, which ended abruptly as his commitment to itinerant peace activism grew. Kumar began traveling the globe, preaching of the need for nuclear disarmament, worker's unions, and organic farming. Most of these travels he made on foot, walking from village to village through India, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, continental Europe, England (which he reached by train), and finally America (arriving on board the Queen Mary, thanks to a generous sponsor). The latter half of the book is absorbed with a more settled life, as Kumar founded an activist English newspaper called Resurgence, married again and had two more children, and tried his hand at small-scale organic farming in the English countryside. Now in his 60s, Kumar still makes walking pilgrimages, especially around milestone birthdays. In monk's fashion, along the way he has simply trusted in the hospitality of whomever he might meet at his daily destination, and most of the stories testify to the universal kindness of individuals. For a freewheeling wanderer, he fills this autobiography with many niggling details that weigh it down (precisely how the auction prices proceeded for hisEnglish farm, exactly which vegetarian dishes were served at people's homes, etc.). Yet this concrete attention to minutiae also prevents the memoir from becoming mired in the many abstract ideals Kumar embraces, and grounds it in refreshing reality. .

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

BEFORE I WAS BORN, while my mother was still pregnant with me, she often had a dream — always the same one. A wise old man with a long beard was riding with her on the back of an elephant into a forest. He promised to take her to a land of gold and jewels. "Why are we on the back of an elephant?" Mother asked. "Let's go on horseback so we can move more quickly." The wise man said, "I don't know the way. Only the elephant knows the way." Mother argued, "This is stupid. A horse is much more intelligent than an elephant." The wise man replied, "It's not a question of intelligence but a question of going the right way." Mother's dream always ended with her and the wise man riding on the elephant, never reaching their destination.

On the ninth of August 1936 I was born in the town of Sri Dungargarh, at four in the morning: the time of Brahma, the god of creation, a time of complete stillness, calm, and peace. As the rays of the sun touch the earth, so the rays of knowledge come to the soul.

When Mother consulted the Brahmin who was the village astrologer about her dream, he said that I was the child of her unfulfilled wishes and that I would never have gold or jewels and that I would never reach my destination. Life for me would be an unending, continuous journey. Then, offering ghee (melted butter) to the fire, the Brahmin named me Bhairav Dan, which means "gift of Shiva."

I was four years old when my father died. My only memory of him, except for holding his index finger and walking, was of his body wrapped in a white cloth and heaped with marigolds and jasmine, only his face showing, his eyes closed as if in deepsleep. His body lay on a wooden stretcher in the courtyard of our home. Relatives and friends came from miles around, all the women wearing green saris as a sign of mourning. When they reached the beginning of our street, they started wailing loudly.

Mother retreated into her room in tears. One by one she removed the precious pieces of jewelry which Father had given her when they were married — golden chains, bracelets and rings, pearls, diamonds, and silver bangles. She took off the pendant from her forehead, the diamond stud from her nose, her diamond earrings, her gold armlet, her belt of gold wire studded with pearls, her silver anklets and silver toe rings. She removed her yellow sari embroidered with gold and put on a plain green one. She sat on the floor in the corner of the room. For days she didn't move, she didn't speak to anybody, she didn't take food. She just stayed in the corner of the room weeping. I came to her asking, "Why are you here, why don't you come out, why don't you come to the kitchen, why don't you..."

Four men took Father's body on to their shoulders and carried him in a funeral procession. Outside the town they laid him on the funeral pyre. Wood and coconuts were heaped over his body, and the fire was lit, Melted butter and sandalwood incense was poured onto the fire while the village priest chanted mantras. We stood in a circle around the pyre until the fire died. Next day the ashes were collected and then taken by my brother to Benares to be offered to the holy river Ganges.

I followed Mother like her own shadow. I went wherever she went. I was part of her body. She breast-fed me until I was two years old. She massaged my body daily with sesame oil. I slept in the same bed as Mother and always ate off her plate. She rose at four in the morning and meditated for forty-eight minutes, the prescribed period in the Jain religion, the religion of our family. She sat alone on the veranda with the glass sand timer, and meditated partly in silence and partly chanting the Jain mantra of Surrender:

I surrender to those who are Enlightened and therefore have no enemies
I surrender to the Released Spirits
I surrender to the Wise Gurus
I surrender to the Spiritual Teachers
I surrender to the Seekers of Enlightenment

She chanted it one hundred and eight times, counting with her bead necklace. After her meditation she took a daily vow to limit her needs. For example on one day she might say, "Today I will not eat anything other than the following twelve items: rice, lentils, wheat, mango, melon, cucumber, cumin, chili, salt, water, milk, and butter, and today I will not travel more than ten miles, and only towards the East."

At dawn she ground the flour by hand with a stone mill and churned butter from yogurt. At sunrise she milked our cows and the water buffalo. Then she would turn the animals out for the cowherd to take them to graze for the day. We were a large family — my three brothers, my four sisters, my uncle and great-uncle, their sons, wives, and grandchildren all lived in the house. If we were all together, the number of us would be about forty. Breakfast was generally a glass of milk — tea and coffee were never allowed.

The family would eat the midday meal from eleven o'clock onward. Mother would make sure that each member's taste was catered for too. Eating in our family was never a social occasion, it was an act of personal satisfaction. No conversation was allowed while eating. Though she limited her own appetite, Mother would prepare for each of us our favorite foods — but food was also her weapon to punish us for disobedience. For all of us Mother was the only mother, the head of the household: my cousins would call their own mother "Sister."

Copyright 1999 Satish Kumar

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