Nisargadatta Maharaj - Can we outsource spiritual growth
by Anil Bhatnagar
In today’s‘turnkey culture, we outsource all our responsibilities to experts for a fee. we even try to outsource spiritual growth. a guru is of little use if you are not prepared to put in the hard work
Balance faith with doubt. Question till you find a guru whose actions and teachings are consistentDillip Marya (not his real name) was my colleague and an intelligent engineer. Things took a downward turn for him when he came under the influence of his ‘guru’. Though he had turned vegetarian, he was also doing drugs and drinking heavily. He was borrowing money constantly to fulfil his guru’s needs. He was ready to obey the weirdest commands of his guru, even if it meant marrying the latter’s sister who was illiterate and with whom Dillip had nothing in common. When I asked him if his guru was self-realised, he laughed before replying: “He is God Himself. The question of being self-realised or not is ridiculously irrelevant for him.” Later Dillip got involved in a case of negligence and was suspended from office.
This true story might seem extreme to many among us because Dillip’s guru was obviously a cheat and Dillip was too gullible, and we would like to talk about good gurus and regular, not-so-gullible people. But this is precisely what Dillip thought of Jim Jones, when I told him how in 1977 in Jonestown settlement in Guyana, fearing his arrest, Jones led 900 disciples to commit suicide before fatally shooting himself. “The guru appears obviously bogus and the disciples foolishly gullible only when the guru and gullibility is not ours,” I said. But Dillip looked at me as if I was too lowly and materialistic to even begin to understand the sacredness of his relationship with his guru.
Question of motivation
A guru appears when we are ready for him. And a bogus one arrives when it was not our spirit but our ego that was looking for him for all the wrong reasons, such as:
• To run away from responsibilities.
• To have someone listen to our stories of self-pity and how badly the world has treated us and taken advantage of our goodness.
• An imaginary ‘one-stop’ answer for all our psychological needs, just as there are ‘one-stop’ malls for all our shopping needs.
• To appear more spiritual than those who have no or lesser-known gurus.
• To hide our shallowness and stupidity in the bigness of the guru and the organisation, rituals and drama woven around him.
• To hear how great a soul we have been without others noticing and appreciating this fact.
• To outsource our spiritual cleansing and growth to an expert as a ‘turnkey’ project in exchange of a donation, leaving us free to live the way we want to.
Many people like to be told that in their past lives, they accompanied Jesus or were close associates of Lord Rama. Who could appear to be more genuine than a guru who tells you what you want to hear? Such stories give us a good cover for our guilt and low self-esteem without working for it. A woman whose life is in shambles because she does not want to take on familial responsibilities, called up to let me know how her guru could see what I obviously could not—that this was her last birth before moksha! Last year, when I encouraged her to look within to find what she needed to work on, she came back to inform me that she had been Hanuman’s mother in a past life.
“Congratulations,” I said. “Having improved your past and future, why don’t you start working towards improving your present as well?” I tried to bring her attention back to her ignored present. She never returned. She did not want to hear how she could lead a meaningful and happy life since she was not willing to work for it. She was looking for praise and adulation, for someone to tell her that her journey was over and she had arrived. And she attracted precisely such a guru.
If you are really honest about your spiritual growth, it is important to ask yourself whether you need a guru who has a vast following, who flaunts his photographs with celebrities, who owns a jet plane, who insists on your wearing a designer badge (which is not going to change you one bit but will help him advertise himself for free), who regularly appears on television (in exchange for a fee), who predicts a future for you that you wanted to hear so badly. Do you feel the need to cover up the fact that you follow a relatively unknown guru by saying, “he may not be popular but he is genuine”? Who needs that clarifying cover? Definitely not your spirit, only your ego.
A bogus guru comes into your life not because of an accident but because you have been looking for them, though at a subconscious level. Dillip had a brief stint with drugs in college. Subconsciously, he seemed to be looking for a justification for resuming that habit. Also, he was finding it tough to take on heavy work responsibilities and wanted to run away from them without being seen as a coward. The false guru provided a convenient escape route. If you are aware of your own inner contradictions, they will not need to erupt to be noticed. The world is a great mirror—it shows you those parts of your personality that you feel uncomfortable with or want to suppress instead of confronting and setting right.
You have to beware only of yourself. Dillip and those 900 people of Jonestown got cheats as their gurus not because of chance or their extreme gullibility. They got them because they and their gurus needed each other to learn their lessons the hard way.
On first impulse, you are likely to reject the guru you need the most. We tend to run away from the people, situations and learning opportunities we need the most. A student who is weak in mathematics but good in literature is likely to spend more time on literature than mathematics even though his real need is just the contrary. Wrong criteria for choosing gurus are:
Fame and popularity: All it takes to become famous is a fat advertising budget and good marketing skills, more so when the products/services tend to be used for artificial reasons like impressing others. Unfortunately, this is an aspect of spirituality today. Recently, the author of a much-hyped bestseller was exposed in a magazine as having lifted 30-odd paragraphs straight from an almost unknown published book. If fame were to come only to the deserving, why did an old but superior book face anonymity while an author who obviously had nothing better to give but lift paragraphs from this book become so famous? Many (not all) gurus we see on TV or who advertise with pompous prefixes and suffixes talk of detachment, renunciation and abundance consciousness, but take advantage of others and pay heavily for self-promotion.
Stephen Covey talks of ‘private’ and ‘public’ victories. Private victories come from setting our own house in order first by mastering our inner unethical temptations and attachments. This mastery accompanies true peace, bliss and contentment. Public victories come from employing worldly shortcuts to fame, success and riches. Though private victories naturally lead to public victories, some people just cannot wait. Just as we cannot put the cart before the horse, we cannot go for public victories before private victories. I personally know of gurus whose conduct is far from exemplary. All they are after is fame, money and followers among whom they pay more attention to those who are wealthy and famous. An intelligent student can smell this incongruence, and following her inner voice, save her spirit from captivity.
Impressive titles: Traditionally, institutions gurus belonged to conferred titles such as Paramahansa, Acharya or Swami. Genuine gurus do not need them, unless conferred through a traditional system. You do not get to hear such prefixes before the names of Jiddu Krishnamurti or Kabir and other spiritual giants. I often say: “You are only as short in your eyes as is the height of the heels you think you need to look of normal height. It is not your body that needs high heels; it is your inferiority complex that needs them.” Suffixes and prefixes of gurus are like high heels. Don’t get impressed by them, for they may only show their own insecurity.
Celebrity followers: Celebrities following a guru often impress people. Both celebrities and gurus may use one another as publicity props. The life of celebrities tends to be imbalanced and their fame is uncertain, and so they might need the guru as an umbrella for protecting themselves from guilt and misfortune.
Wealth: A wealthy guru, if he is genuine, is wealthy because of his detachment to money. Wealth flows to him because he is totally empty. He may charge you something but will do so ethically and with genuine empathy. However, often people who having failed to develop a healthy respect for themselves, look for it outside in wealth.
Miracles: Miracles have long been associated with spirituality. But true saints warn us of falling to the temptation of impressing others with miracles. Someone practising reiki can heal people but if he is dishonest, he can keep people in the dark by claiming that the healing is proof of his personal ‘spiritual’ power. The true guru prefers to throw light on the gap that exists between your words and action. He lovingly challenges you. If you are too rational, the guru may talk of everyday ‘inexplicable miracles’ to help you step out of your familiar comfort zones. And if you are fond of leaning on blind faith, he may challenge you so as to make your faith more reasonable.
The following are aspects of the attitude to cultivate in your relationship with your guru:
• Should the focus be on conscientious imbibing of learning or on gratitude? The relationship with the guru has two facets: imbibing the learning and feeling gratitude consequently. People tend to overdo the second at the expense of the first. The quality of one affects that of the other. If you do not feel gratitude towards your guru, the speed and quality of your learning will be impeded. If you try to show gratitude but do not care to learn, you will not experience the results and your gratitude may lack genuineness and depth. For your gratitude to be genuine, you need to know and feel what it is for. Similarly if you learn and imbibe without appreciating how you have been made to touch a new level of freedom and fulfilment, your excitement, curiosity and passion may decline, making further progress difficult.
• Should the focus be on taking responsibility or on surrender? A guru is not here to resolve our petty problems like promotions, infertility, sour relationships, court cases, son’s divorce, or mother-in-law’s diseases. You can discuss these with him to help you discover the deeper spiritual lessons to be learnt and what you (not him or anyone else) need to do to overcome these problems. But people use gurus the way they use hotel waiters. Every time they need anything, they press a button to call the waiter. They might be totally disinterested in finding lasting spiritual solutions and changing their attitude. This lethargic smartness almost always backfires. You may learn yoga from a teacher, but you will have to practise it yourself. You cannot pay additional fee to the teacher to also do it on your behalf.
In reiki, healing works better in cases where patients take responsibility for their diseases and make sincere efforts to track down their spiritual roots and make necessary course-corrections.
Dr Mikao Usui, the founder of reiki, discovered that lepers whom he had cured went into a relapse for want of an accompanying necessary spiritual change in their attitude.
Many people hide their spiritual lethargy under the garb of complete surrender to the guru. You can surrender your fruits but not your responsibilities. Spiritual growth cannot be outsourced. It has no shortcuts. The best guru you can have is within you. Just as doctors can only act as catalysts to activate your inner healing power, a guru can only be a catalyst to put you in touch with yourself. A guru cannot work on your behalf for your spiritual growth just as he cannot eat to nourish your body. Hence the focus should be more on taking responsibility than on surrender, especially if the latter does not stem from reason and conscience.
• Should the focus be on assuring the guru’s genuineness or on one’s sincerity for spiritual growth? A guru can give you everything except commitment, devotion, and sincerity. You cannot rest on your guru’s laurels and spiritual strengths; you have to earn your own. Entering a good university and doing well there are
two different things. We need both, but the first is of almost no use without the second. The example of Eklavya proves that inner sincerity is definitely much more important than the stature of a guru.
• Is passion to grow spiritually more important than securing the guru’s grace? Guru’s or God’s grace is earned through your hunger and passion to grow spiritually, not by getting over-dependent on guru. Truth is never revealed to those who can do without it or have other priorities. Grace flows through the guru in proportion to your hunger for truth, oneness, fulfilment or freedom. Guru or no guru, grace flows if it has to. If you have no one guru, it will flow through people, books, opportunities and anything and everything.
Choosing your guru
The right guru enters your life only when you are looking for him for the right reasons. Self-growth techniques, gurus and books are like menus that hold promise for spiritual growth provided you are hungry enough to use them. A guru mirrors the student’s growth and the lessons that she needs to integrate—and so may mean different things to different people. Usually blemishes in a guru reflect our own. You always get a guru you need as per your level of spiritual growth. The only way you can keep yourself from falling off is to ensure that you don’t lean on others too heavily. Listen to the super guru inside you to scan gurus’ teachings for contradictions and viruses. Ask yourself the following questions:
• “Is the guru making me more self-reliant and free or more dependent and scared?”
• “Is he drawing my attention to himself or to the divine oneness that lies beyond him?”
• “Do I feel comfortable, equal to and part of him, or do I feel inferior?”
• “Does he make me believe that praying before his picture will save me, or does he say that I am already safe irrespective of the happenings provided I learn from them, and the best protection is consistent good karma?” (The former makes you gravitate towards the mortal person that the guru is; the latter towards the immortal truth that he is.)
• Seek someone who inspires you and whom you feel like following. Never mind how far he can take you; just take care if he can guide you to take the next step in the right direction. If you know your guru is not infallible, you will be able to follow his healthy instructions with faith and confront unhealthy ones with doubt. Contrary to common belief, the perfect guru need not be a self-realised soul—he may not be of much use to us, for nursery students do not need a college professor. Also, those who are not self-realised have no way to identify a person who is. I have on more than one occasion caught one guru attempting to look like one among us by posing to be as stupid as we were. Many years later, he confirmed my suspicion by saying: “A good guru is one who never allows his students to become too complacent about their guru’s infallibility and always keeps the flame of healthy doubt alive in their minds.” Your relationship with your guru should be like that of a bee with honey. The bee can taste it and benefit from it without getting stuck in it.
• It is much easier to demand perfection from others than from ourselves. That is why we need a perfect child, father, mother, and so on without bothering to see how perfect we are to deserve perfection in others. No wonder there is so much frustration. The guru is also on a journey like you—he is only ahead of you and the path he takes is what you feel like treading on.
• Stay away from gurus who deal in ‘gossip religion’. Gossip religion is full of stories that can be interpreted in any way and are irrelevant to our present moment living. For instance, these stories may explain why a king broke with his gada (mace) someone’s left thigh and not the right; what you would have to pay after death if you steal from a person of a particular caste; describe the acid streams of hell and the damsels of paradise. They discuss everything of the past and future but nothing that can affect our present. (There are hundreds of stories from the Mahabharata and other ancient scriptures that do show us how to live well. So I am not saying that every scriptural story is irrelevant. But if a story cannot stand on its own legs, has little clear message for our present day living, and needs too much subjective interpretation that can provoke arguments and counter arguments, it should be left alone.)
Some teachers argue that the intention of such stories is to develop fear so as to restrain us from bad deeds. As far as I know, a virtue that comes from fear is not a virtue at all. Virtue is like a seed; it grows from deep within. It is already in us. We only have to rediscover it.
• Balance faith with reason. “Doubt! Doubt! Doubt!” declare the Upanishads. “Not this! Not this! Not this!” relentlessly question till you arrive at a guru whose words are congruous with his deeds and whose life and character inspire you. A true guru serves his students the way a mother serves her infant. He always wants them to stand on their own feet. And he is happy when they need him less and less.
Reason is always based on the foundation of faith. Similarly faith must have its roots in reason for it to be of any meaning. Faith without reason and reason based on unreasonable assumptions is indeed dangerous. Even when you have discovered your guru, don’t give up reason and your inner guru. Surrender your results but never your conscience and actions.
Anil Bhatnagar, founder of Thrive!, is a corporate trainer, motivational speaker, career and personal growth coach, reiki teacher, and award winning author of five books. Besides Life Positive, he also writes for Personal Excellence and Executive Excellence magazines brought out by Stephen Covey’s Covey Leadership Center, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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