Gurus - The making of a guru
When the seeker’s anguish is finally appeased in the joy and bliss of union, one tortuous, painful journey comes to an end. What then? What is the next bend of the road? What are the contours and characteristics of the enlightened life? And is gurudom the inevitable obligation of all enlightened souls?
Certainly, a genuine guru’s desire would be to make each disciple a guru. For they recognise what Swami Vivekananda articulated: “The more such (enlightened) men are produced in a country, the more that country will be raised; and that country where such men absolutely do not exist is simply doomed, nothing can save it.”
Sadhu Vaswani, the founder of the Pune-based spiritual organisation, Sadhu Vaswani Mission, used to rejoice when the ranks of his disciples dwindled, because it meant that they had found the answer and moved on perhaps to becoming gurus themselves.
Expressions of enlightenment
Yet gurudom in not entirely inevitable. Liberation, after all, does not wipe out individuality. If anything, it releases it, and the enlightened one is therefore completely at liberty to be his true self, pursuing his natural mode of self-expression. There have been scores of liberated artists, poets, singers and writers in ancient India. The sage poet Thiruvallavur, or the great musician Thyagaraja being among them; not to mention Vyasa, Tulsidas, Tukaram and Eknath. Meerabai, too, expressed her ecstatic love for the Lord mainly through verse. Creative expression is one of the fallouts of the enlightened stage.
There are too Himalayan masters who sit closeted in caves for years, having few direct dealings with humanity. They may not teach, but who can deny that it is the fruits of their sadhana that keeps the world from imploding to pieces. Their energies purify the atmosphere and keep the level of the collective consciousness from sinking too low.
Having said that, one must admit that there is a formidable amount of evidence to support the enlightened soul’s natural gravitation to teaching. When the Buddha attained enlightenment, lore has it that he never wanted to leave that blissful state. However, it is said that no sooner did he lay his palm on the ground, than the very earth pleaded on behalf of every embodied soul to teach the way out of the misery of existence. What could the Buddha do but return?
Teaching from compassion
A heavy responsibility is laid on the shoulder of the enlightened soul. He, who has himself been through the misery of existence, cannot sit back and watch humanity suffering. If he knows the answer, he cannot but speak it out.
Besides, the enlightened sage is free of desire, and therefore free to love unconditionally. None is more passionately involved with humanity than she, for she alone can fully harness her energies and will to the purpose, undiverted by personal agendas. And she knows that there is no more sublime goal than to catalyse human transformation, for only that can erase the suffering of the wounded earth. Committed though they may be to social transformation, enlightened souls recognise that the route to it is through inner work and not through the external manipulation of society through laws and revolutions.
J. Krishnamurti, the quintessential anti-guru, once said: “I think when one sees something true and beautiful, one wants to tell people about it, out of affection, out of compassion, out of love. And if there are those who are not interested, that is all right, but those who are interested can perhaps gather together. Can you ask the flower why it flowers, why it has perfume? It is for the same reason the speaker talks.”
Masanobu Fukuoka, the great Japanese sage and founder of natural farming, whose book The One-Straw Revolution is one of the most beautiful texts on spiritual living, had an awakening in the 1930s. Having recovered from severe pneumonia, his encounter with death had shattered his complacence about life and wrested it of its meaning. He writes: “In what had I placed my confidence until then?” Anguished, he searched non-stop for an answer, until one morning, having wandered all night in agony, he watched the glory of dawn and it occurred to him: “In this world, there is nothing at all.” He had seen through the maya of existence, and he was transformed.
Like all enlightened ones, Fukuoka too was charged with the zeal to tell the world about his truth. He writes: “I could only think of this concept of non-usefulness as being of great benefit to the world and particularly the present world which is moving so rapidly in the opposite direction. I actually wandered about with the intention of spreading the word throughout the whole country.”
An enlightened soul may be motivated to teach through his desire to repay what Nitin Trassi, in his book The Science of Enlightenment, calls “the debt of speech”. He writes: “Conceptual knowledge received from the guru paves the way for true knowledge. This is the ‘debt’ or obligation which is owed to Speech…. The Enlightened One feels an obligation or compunction to express or record his own feelings and observations in words.”
Having made up his mind to spread his message, how does the potential guru go about his task? Does he wait for people to come to him or does he go out and seek them out? Writes Nitin Trassi: “The liberated person does not teach as a form of self-fulfilment. He does not receive sustenance or gratification from teaching. His teaching is more in the nature of a spontaneous outpouring in response to the demands and needs of his disciples.” A guru, it would seem, is more often than not a happening, rather than a premeditated career plan.
Says Swami Vivekananda about his own guru Ramakrishna Paramahansa: “His hard-earned jewels of spirituality, for which he had given three-quarters of his life, were now ready to be given to humanity and then began his mission…. This man sought no one. His principle was, first form character, first earn spirituality, and results will come of themselves. His favourite illustration was ‘when the lotus opens, the bees come of their own accord to seek honey; so let the lotus of your character be full-blown, and the results will follow’.”
Swami Vivekananda adds: “Be in no hurry therefore to give your thoughts to others. First have something to give. He alone teaches who has something to give, for teaching is not talking, teaching is not imparting doctrines, it is communicating. Spirituality can be communicated just as really as I can give you a flower.”
Even Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, seems to have become a spiritual teacher more by happenstance than design. He writes: “A time came when, for a while, I was left with nothing on the physical plane. I had no relationships, no jobs, no home, no socially defined identity. I spent almost two years sitting on park benches in a state of the most intense joy. Later, people would occasionally come up to me and say, ‘I want what you have. Can you give it to me or show me how to get it?’… Before I knew it, I had an external identity again. I had become a spiritual teacher.”
Transforming through serving
Others may choose a more active approach, but again motivated purely by selfless service. Pandurang Shastri Athawale, the founder of the Swadhyaya movement that has created a social transformation through the active dissemination of the Bhagavad Gita philosophy among the fishing and farming communities of Maharashtra and Gujarat, was to begin with a teacher of the Bhagavad Gita. However, anguished by the rise of communism and western notions of living, he goaded his listeners to take a more active stance and spread Vedic teachings at the grassroots level in order to avert a social disaster. To his credit, his teachings wrought harmony among warring families, reformed addicts and alcoholics and created a revolution in self-esteem.
Such gurus practise what Robert Greenleaf calls in his eponymous book, ‘servant leadership’. He defines the concept thus: “The servant-leader is servant first…it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” The guru earns the love, fealty and following of his people through his selfless desire to serve them.
Mahatma Gandhi, for instance, always wanted to serve the poor and he found his opportunity in South Africa. Balasundaram, a Tamil indentured labourer, once came to him in a state of acute distress, having been brutally belaboured by his employer. Gandhi took him to a doctor, got a certificate testifying to his wounds, went to a magistrate and obtained a summons against the employer. Then he went to the employer and told him that he did not want him punished and all he had to do was to release Balasundaram to someone else (indentured labourers could not be set free; their services could only be transferred to others). This active and dynamic intervention on behalf of one of the most oppressed sections of South African society so impressed others that he became the hero of all indentured labourers. All through, the Mahatma earned the love and loyalty of India by leading through example and transparently living by his ideals.
Dada Vaswani says of his guru, Sadhu Vaswani: “One day, as he took a walk on the roadside, he saw someone lying underneath a tree. He was a beggar. His clothes were tattered and torn, his feet were soiled with mud. Sadhu Vaswani asked for a bucket of water. As soon as the bucket was brought, Sadhu Vaswani—this uncrowned king of our hearts—he had but to lift up a finger and hundreds of us would rush to find out what his wish was—with his own hands, he washed the body of the beggar and gave him his own shirt to wear.”
Mata Amritananadamayi is well known for sucking out a leper’s festering sores with her mouth. Her healing hug, administered without discrimination to all who approach her, is testimony to her commitment to humanity.
Mark of genuineness
There are, of course, gurus especially in today’s times, who court publicity and employ extrinsic methods to drum up a following. One has nothing to say against them for they too serve their purpose, but inasmuch as their motivation is subject to misunderstanding, one must say that they do not inspire the same level of faith as those led by the service motive. What then are the signs of a good guru?
Egolessness: The guru must have transcended his ego, else he is not only doomed to disaster but he will destroy his disciples. Gurudom is a heady business, especially here in India, where we are all too ready to get into worship mode, no matter how unworthy the subject. Money, fame, incredible power, are all vested upon the guru, and unless he is free of the notorious ego, he is likely to fall out of grace. Worse still, the guru’s ego can dangerously damage his disciples, for he might be prone to using them to boost his own image.
The guru’s job is to annihilate the disciple’s ego, and he cannot persist in this exercise without being free himself, for he often uses what can appear as harsh practices. Dada Vaswani says of Sadhu Vaswani: “This is a necessary stage that you should, in the beginning, be attached to the form of a guru. In fact, the guru himself draws you, so that you are liberated from attachment to worldly forms. Afterwards, when you are attached to the guru, the guru detaches himself… Once he withdraws himself, we cry out for him. Sometimes, we even call him a tyrant. But he does all this to annihilate our ego.” He recalls how he himself was so hurt by Sadhu Vaswani’s prolonged indifference to him that he ran away one wintry night and spent it on a park bench. Awareness that he could not do without his guru drove him back home again, bringing about a substantial change in this young man, who by his own account, was rather taken up with himself. “I had just graduated with high honours and I thought I had the world in the palms of my hand,” he recalls.
Humility: Egolessness engenders humility, which is the ability to see the one in all. Sadhu Vaswani, for instance, refused to be called a guru. “I am a guru of none,” he said, “I am a disciple of all.”
The guru must be able to go the level of the disciple and lead him from there. Says Swami Vivekananda: “The only true teacher is he who can immediately come down to the level of the student and transfer his soul to the student’s soul and see thought the student’s eyes and hear through his ears and understand through his mind.”
Leave people be: Never try to convert those who are unready for it. Leave them to God. He will prepare them when their time has come. Says Swami Vivekananda: “Do not try to disturb the faith of any men. If you can, give him something better; if you can, get hold of a man where he stands and give him a push upwards; do so, but do not destroy what he has.”
In Servant Leadership, Greenleaf calls the following the best test to discovering whether someone is a good servant leader or not. “Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”
Ultimately, the mark of a good guru lies in his ability to create gurus.
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