In the London suburb of Southall, religiosity seemed to pervade everything. The Hindu temple was small and housed on the ground floor of a four-storied building. At the entrance, I took off my shoes and put them in a shoe rack. I entered the prayer room and sat down on the floor. Here, women and men were not separated, so everybody could sit wherever they liked. The walls of the temple were covered with typical Indian paintings. There was a very beautiful one representing Krishna in the act of driving Arjuna’s chariot during the battle of Kurukshetra. Many statues and portraits of Hindu deities stood in a semicircle, one close to another. I soon recognized the statue of Ganesh, the Hindu god of good luck with the body of a human being and the head of an elephant. This god was familiar to me because the statue of Ganesh was always set for the ceremony when I worked at the Empire Hotel getting the rooms ready for the weddings between the Indians. Once, I asked one of the wedding guests to tell me something about Ganesh. He said that Ganesh is one of the most important gods in the Hindu pantheon. His name means ‘Lord of all beings.’ He is the firstborn child of Siva and Parvati. He is short, big bellied, and has four arms. The elephant head has only one tusk. Close to Ganesh there is a little mouse, which symbolizes moderation in eating. It means to leave a small amount of food for the mouse.
Ganesh is considered the god who removes hindrances and brings good luck. He is invoked at the beginning of every job, enterprise, marriage, travel, and so on.
In that temple, the ceremony was performed by chanting. Now and then, they chanted before one of the statues of the gods. A table with fruit and typical sweets was laid at the exit. Before going out, I asked the man behind the table whether there was a guru in that temple.
“What kind of guru?”
“A guru with exceptional powers like Sai Baba,” I answered.
“If you want to see Sai Baba, come here at nine o’clock in the evening next Wednesday.”
“Okay, I’ll come.”
I said goodbye to that man, with the intention of returning for the meeting with the guru.
A week later, I stepped aboard the usual number 105 bus and went to the Hindu temple for the appointment with Sai Baba.
In the middle of the room, a big portrait of Sai Baba stood, surrounded by a flower garland. The Hindus chanted in front of the portrait for a few hours. Was Sai Baba with us in the room? Was his spirit, besides his portrait, among us? Honestly, I don’t know. I can say that not only verbal communication exists, but also non-verbal communication exists, which doesn’t need a physical presence. A few people, with regard to the saints of Catholicism, affirmed that they saw the same figure, at the same moment, but in different places thousands of kilometers away.
When I went back to the Empire Hotel, I talked about this topic with Alexander, a friend of mine from Ukraine, who worked there as a kitchen porter. He was a dear friend, but unfortunately, I lost contact even with him. He was tall with cropped hair and always smiling. Often, I could see him reading a book or a magazine in the canteen. He was proud of having been a seaman in the Soviet Navy. We often talked about spiritual topics. He was well-educated and had read many books about hermits.
“Do you think,” he said, “that the hermits who withdraw from the mundane world to live in the high mountains are really alone?”
“I don’t know.”
“They are not alone indeed. They communicate with other hermits, even if they are a thousand miles away from each other.”
“Maybe the contact with another living being does not need the use of senses. It may happen through the soul, the spirit, the mind…”

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind



Near Chiswick Square, I stopped for a while to look at a board in front of the entrance to an Anglican church. There was an advertisement for tai chi chuan. While I was standing in front of the board, a man about thirty years old with an athletic body came up behind my shoulders. He reached me and I assumed he was probably about to talk to me of tai chi chuan.

“No, thanks.” I said, anticipating his words. “Sorry, I am not interested.”
“Come up with me, I want to talk with you.”
We went to the upper floor and entered a room equipped as a gymnasium. It was a traditional gymnasium, that is, without apparatuses for bodybuilding. On one of the sides, there was a step. We sat down on that step. The light was very dim, but I could see him clearly. I cannot forget his face, his eyes, and everything of him. He left an indelible imprint in my heart and mind.
The young guy was a bit taller than me and wore brown running trousers, a green T-shirt, and white training shoes. His hair was light brown and his eyes green. He had a small scar in his large forehead. His nose was a little bit snubby and his lips were very thin. His arms and legs were so stout and beefy that they made him seem capable of knocking a bull down, but his smile was the sweetest I had ever seen. As soon as we sat down, I went to the core of my issue one more time.
“I would like to know whether everything ends, or there is something that survives the decay of our body after death.”
The young English athlete stared into my eyes for a short while. All of a sudden, he stood up and bent his right arm.
“Stand up! Push my arm hard with all your strength!”
I stood up, too. For a while, I had the sensation of being in another world. That unexpected action of the young athlete, the half-light in the gymnasium, that chance meeting in London in a country different from mine, all these made me think that I was daydreaming or I was in an unreal place. I couldn’t feel like I was living in this world.
I had an instant of confusion, and then I decided to follow the instructions given me by the athlete. So, I put my hand on his arm and pushed it hard, with all the strength I could muster. The athlete went back markedly.
“Now you are strong!” he exclaimed.
Soon after, he recovered and pushed my arm back. Even though I tried hard to withstand him, I couldn’t help stepping back.
“Now you are weak! What’s happening?” he said to me.
We kept doing this exercise for a while, and the smile appeared on my face. Just that smile that I had lost for many, too many, years!
“What happened to you? When we entered the gymnasium, you were pale, pensive, and tied up with your question about death. Now you are smiling. How is it possible?”
“You are an angel, aren’t you? How can I thank you for the smile you’ve brought back to me!”
He seemed to appreciate my praise, with a big smile.
“Thank you! Today, I gave you a small amount of fire. It’s a fire that you will pass to others later!”
Then, he explained the meaning of the exercise we had done.
“You must never permit yourself to be conditioned by the result. Never ever act, work, study, fight, love, and so on only for the sake of a good outcome. The good action is important, not the result! You shouldn’t stop any action only because you haven’t achieved good results. In other words, you must be authentic to yourself regardless of success or failure. Success doesn’t give you strength or energy, nor can failure deprive you of your good qualities. So, remember this: Don’t depend upon anything outside yourself, but only rely on your inner energy! It is possible to apply this principle to sports as well. If a football team wins a match, it doesn’t mean that it is a strong team, and if a boxer wins a fight, it doesn’t mean that he is a champion. Both the football team and the boxer are really true champions only when they have a real autonomous, inner strength, regardless of winning…”

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind



A desk for tourist information was on the ground floor of the Hounslow Library. I went there for information about Buddhist temples in the neighborhood. A middle-aged woman was sitting behind the desk, watching her computer. She was in her sixties with ash blond hair, and she seemed to be very precise and meticulous at her work. She wore glasses with a silver frame. As soon as I approached her, she looked up at me from the computer with her pale blue eyes.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, please. Do you know about a Buddhist temple to visit nearby?”
The lady looked carefully on the screen and then turned to me.
“The nearest Buddhist temple is in Chiswick. Here is the address. It’s about half an hour from Hounslow bus station.”
I thanked the lady and headed for the bus station. After about half an hour, I reached Chiswick. It was not so easy to find the Buddhist temple. People didn’t know about it, but after many attempts, I caught sight of the building, which was near a large square with trees.
I expected to find a big temple open to the public like those I had seen in Southall. Instead, this temple was in a private building. I knocked on the main door, and a short gentleman, who didn’t look like an Englishman at first glance, came and opened the gate. He was about a meter and sixty centimeters tall, maybe less, light-skinned with gray eyes. I thought he was too short to be an Englishman, but he spoke excellent English slowly, making it easy for me to understand. He wore a gray suit and a red tie. I was under the impression that he might be the owner of that mansion.
He sat me down in a small room by the corridor. From time to time, monks passed. Their habits were yellow, different from the crimson ones I had seen while watching the Dalai Lama on television.
“The color of the habit of your monks is different from that worn by the Dalai Lama. Why? Is not the Dalai Lama the head of all Buddhists?”
“Not at all. In Buddhism, there are no heads, but only many traditions, which originated from the founder Buddha Shakyamuni. Buddhism has developed horizontally, not vertically, as it happened in other religions like Catholicism.
“Usually, the laity talks about Buddhism as if it were one religion, but it is divided into many sects, each one with its own doctrine, practices, and scriptures. These sects are divided into numerous branches. Many of them blend with local religions, cultures, and traditions. However, how can I help you?”
His question perplexed me. I was hesitant about what to ask. Then, I decided to go straight to the core of my problem.
“I’d like to know whether everything ends, that is, we disappear into thin air, or something of us survives, after we die. I want to know whether the soul exists and whether it is immortal.”
He looked at me with his eyes full of surprise, but soon he recovered, and, speaking very slowly for me to understand, expressed his opinion about the subject.
“It’s possible to give different answers to such a question! There is an extreme conception called nihilism, according to which everything ends and nothing remains with our death. Nothing is immortal, eternal, and unchangeable. Everything passes, transforms itself, and ‘becomes.’ We are like blades of grass that will never grow again after having been pulled up. There is another idea. It believes that death is only the beginning of a new life. After death, human beings are resurrected or reborn. It is like taking off worn clothes and putting on new ones. Our Buddhist idea is a half way. For us, after death, there is neither nothingness nor resurrection. We think that there is a kind of immortal and indestructible energy inside every living being.”
“Can you make yourself clear? What do you call energy?”
“Energy is just our minds.”
“The brain, that is?”
“Not at all. The mind is different from the brain.”
“But how can the mind purify itself?”
“In order to get good results, it is important to practice meditation. Come with me. I will show you our meditation room.”
He walked me to a room with a hazel-colored carpet on the floor. There were many statues. Shakyamuni Buddha stood in the center. Other statues and portraits reproduced enlightened masters.
“Who is your God?”
“We have no God. In this sense, we are atheists. But we have our own spirituality.”
“Who is Buddha?”
“Buddha is an attribute of a general characteristic. It means ‘The Awakened One,’ that is, someone who awakened from the sleep of ignorance and sees things ‘as they really are.’ There were persons who became Buddha in the past, and others will become Buddha in the future. According to Buddhist teachings, one of the main causes of suffering is the excess of self-grasping and self-cherishing. The tendency to protect the ‘I’ leads to delusions and excessive attachment. What we call love toward others is love toward ourselves. Too much attachment is oppressive for families, friends, and partners. It has nothing to do with love.”
I treasured his words.
“May I come to meditate in this temple from time to time?”
“Yes, of course, you can come here anytime.”
I said goodbye to that man and left the temple.,,

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind



I stood in front of the gilded dome for a short while and then entered the temple. At the entrance, a man asked me to take my shoes off and wash my feet. He picked up a reddish headscarf from a large basket and wrapped it around my head. At last, I was allowed to go in. There were two prayer rooms; the floors were covered with white sheets and no chairs. I noticed that the best places to sit down were by the pillars because I could lean my back against the pillar while sitting on the floor. I chose one of those places and sat down. I turned my head slowly to one side and then to the other side to see what kind of people were sitting there. The women were on the left side; the men on the right. Between the two groups, a long central space was left clear. Opposite me, on the left side, there was a window divided into three smaller ones. Three women, each in one of the small windows, seemed to be reading a book. At the center, I saw a lectern with a book on it. (Later, I knew it was the holy book of the Sikhs.) Standing behind the lectern, a man slowly waved a fan made of feathers over the holy book. Every about ten minutes, the person behind the lectern alternated. On the right side, there was a wooden platform with a small harmonium and a man was playing it.
Close to me, there was an olive-skinned man with a white turban and a graying, long beard. He looked quite relaxed while waiting for the ceremony to start. From time to time, he turned to me and looked at me in the eyes. Obviously, he wanted me to ask him something.
“In which town are we?” I asked.
“Is this a Hindu temple?”
“No, we are Sikhs.”
“Our religion was revealed to Guru Nanak Dev by God; then, the precepts were handed down to other gurus and collected in our holy book.”
“I am looking for a guru, a spiritual master. Can I find a guru in this temple?”
“Why do you think a guru is helpful to you?”
“I would like to progress in my spiritual path and know whether everything ends or whether there is something that survives the annihilation of the body when a living being dies.”
“To know the answer there is only one way. You have to ask God for help. Our religion is based on praising God and calling for his help. Do you expect that the human being can progress in his life without God’s protection and guidance? Reflect upon it for an instant! There is only one guru indeed. Life itself is the real guru or master. Live your life intensely. It will be your best guru. No guru is greater than life. Who taught you the way to arrive at this Sikh temple?”
“Circumstances, chance, fate!”
“In a sense, it is true. Man deceives himself about having his own willpower. One believes he is capable of making decisions, but actually the individual has no decision-making power. Only circumstances take the lead. We are like flags blown by every wind. Everything is fortuitous — to be born in that town and not in another place, to have those parents, families, and friends, not others. Even the encounters we make in the course of the day depend upon fortuitousness. You can make all the efforts you can and read as many books as those kept in the Library of Alexandria, but if the circumstances are not favorable for you, your efforts and knowledge will remain a dead letter. It is up to you to establish if there is mere chance or something else, some entity behind the happenings. In my opinion, the one who creates the circumstances is only God. Since God is the one who controls the events, it is natural that we invoke Him. But you, as a Christian, can invoke your master, Jesus. The result is the same.”
At the end of the ceremony, everyone was handed a bit of sweet, purplish pastry. Then, in a little procession, the holy book was carried along the central aisle and placed in an adjacent room. The man whom I had talked to before busied himself in tidying up the prayer room, folding the sheets, and cleaning the area where the holy book had been exposed.
When I was about to leave the temple, a man came up to me and asked me to accept the food that was being offered in the dining room. So, I entered a room where there were a few long carpets for people to sit down and eat the meal offered by the community. The food was vegetarian, abundant, and tasty. Each one took his own metal tray, which had four or five sections, and got in line to receive his ration. When my turn came, they put yogurt, some well-seasoned rice, and other spicy, Indian specialties, typical of the cooking of the Sikhs, in each section of my tray. Moreover, they gave me some soft bread similar to our dough for pizza.
I took my tray full of food and sat down at one side of those carpets to eat my meal. A man close to me talked about the meaning of that food, which was so abundant and free.
“Sikhism,” he said, “has eliminated castes and discriminations among the people who belong to different social levels or classes. We are equal before God. Eating together strengthens the feeling of equality.”…

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind