Four spiritual luminaries offer an ecstatic tribute to their gurus, testifying to the supremacy of the guru-shishya relationship. a guru purnima special
Next to God, the Guru is the most difficult entity to describe or contain. How does the unenlightened, limited consciousness evaluate and categorize an enlightened consciousness? The task is daunting, but nevertheless it needs to be done, if only to shed some of the excessive baggage that have grown around the word.
Our relationship with the Guru is one of the most important and powerful equations that we are likely to have in the world. The Guru is elder brother/sister, guide, friend, mentor, father, mother, God. In his presence, that which is latent within us, awakes and shines forth.
The Guru is transformative – as comforting as a mother’s hug; as scorching as a raging fire. The Guru stretches us, forces us to leave the comforting shores of the known, and venture into the dark unknown with only his voice to guide us. His presence enables us to drop our defenses – the recourse to satire, manipulation, and control – and stay tremblingly in the open vulnerability of our naked selves. He goads us to grow – surrender the anger, cultivate patience, let go of dependence, overcome attachment, cultivate courage, and so on. Through it all, the Guru loves and accepts us unconditionally, unfalteringly perceiving our divine nature beyond our frail, faulty deeds. His faith in us is undying, and through it, we develop faith in ourselves. The Guru teaches us to live, and accesses our true nature for us. How can we ever honor and revere this personage enough?
The search begins
Mostly, it begins with a search. The seeker, newly stumbling upon a dimension deeper than the material plane, pines for guidance.
Discovering one’s Guru is not the easiest thing in the world. Many have to wait for years before he or she manifests. Is there anything one can do about this? The old saying, ‘When the student is ready, the Guru appears’, couldn’t be truer. Make yourself eligible for this grace. Work on yourself. Use the situations that life throws you to cultivate your levels of patience, determination, courage, capability, generosity, unselfishness, and so on. Becoming a good human being is of paramount importance on the path, and is usually the first step towards higher growth. Creative visualization and affirmation will also bring the Guru closer.
Who is the perfect Guru? We draw the Guru we deserve. If we are looking for someone to look after us, and solve our problems for us, then we will attract a paternalistic Guru – at whose feet we may pour out our mundane concerns such as the job to take, the person to marry, the illness to heal, and so on. We look to the Guru to use his spiritual prowess to eliminate the obstacles in our lives, and keep us moving. Such Gurus abound in India, and for most people, this is the Guru’s role, but it does not even approach what a true Guru can do. Gagangiri Maharaj, a powerful hatha yogi based in Maharashtra, with ashrams in Kolhapur and Khapoli, once sighed that the long list of votaries waiting to meet him only had their material welfare at heart. None of them wanted what he wanted to give. A paternalistic Guru can also take advantage of your dependence to control you, so be aware of this.
Evaluate a potential Guru on the following basis: Is the Guru free of desires? Does she chase power, money, fame, or other things on the material plane? If so, keep moving. What you need is an enlightened Guru – and the fundamental characteristic of that sort of species is a freedom from desire.
Secondly, what is her humility quotient? Is she caring, kind, respectful? A surrendered ego is of paramount importance in a Guru. Real Gurus do not project
personality. They are unobtrusive, ordinary, simple, undemanding – yes, inconspicuous. You need spiritual eyes to discern them.
Thirdly, is he ethical and values-based? I recently read of a Guru who made his disciples beat up other disciples in order to bridle their ego. One unfortunate member who ran foul of the Guru even had four cans of paint poured over her. No end can justify such sadism. Remember that a true Guru is very aware that the end does not justify the means. Never consent to do anything that goes against your conscience. Back off the moment any such demand is made on you.
The right Guru
The most important of all parameters is to evaluate how you feel around them. Do you feel free, joyful, able to be yourself? Does the Guru radiate acceptance and receptivity? If so, you are in good space. A certain amount of awe and sense of reverence is natural for us Indians, who can scarcely control our reflex action to fall at the feet of anyone called a Guru. However, if it leaves you tongue-tied, inhibited, or uncomfortable, there are two possibilities. Either you are putting yourself at a level lower than the Guru, or the Guru is putting himself at a level higher than you.
If it is the former, it helps to remember that there is no one you can be closer or more intimate with than the Guru, because he has let go of all defenses, masks, and shields. Free of all physical, emotional and psychological need, he loves unconditionally. There is literally no subtext between you and the Guru. If, on the other hand, the Guru is keeping you at a lower level, he is not a true Guru. A real Guru is very aware that what he is in actuality, you are in potential. He just got there before you did. Sathya Sai Baba apparently once told a devotee, “The only difference between me and you is that I know that I am God, but you don’t know that you are God.”
Choosing the right Guru is of paramount importance because the task of transformation requires us to give up what we are in order to be what we can be. We need to surrender our beliefs and viewpoints, our sense of who we are, our preferred way of behaving. The paradoxical truths of life take time to sink in, and till then, we must be content with not knowing, and yet staying open. Such learning can only take place in an atmosphere of absolute trust and love.
How does the teaching happen? Dada Vaswani once said that spirituality is not taught, it is caught. This enigmatic phrase indicates that one learns from the mere presence of the Guru. Studying his behavior, his expressions, absorbing the place he is coming from, can often be a potent teaching. We see his unfaltering patience even with the most obtuse, his compassion and humanity with those in trouble, his respect for all, no matter how erring, and we are not just inspired, but somewhat changed. An osmosis happens in the presence of the Guru. Study him long enough, and hard enough, try and see what lies behind his attributes, and you become charged with his essence. This form of transference is the characteristic of the bhakti path.
Sometimes, the transference is through an experience like the shaktipat, in some of the kundalini yoga paths. Some Gurus have the power to awaken the student by virtue of a look or a touch. When this happens, they undergo an altered state of consciousness, and experience the enlightened state firsthand. However, this does not mean that enlightenment is won. This is only a precursor to the goal. We have only seen the truth. It still remains for us to be the truth.
Sometimes, our relationship with a Guru comes to an end. There is no more traumatic event than this. It can happen for three reasons. One, if our ego cannot take the task of annihilation, and reacts by putting the Guru in the wrong, and rejecting him. Two, if we have outgrown the Guru, and need to move on. Three, if we discern that he is a false Guru.
The first event is the most likely of them all. The solution here is to go back to the Guru, apologize, and return to the task of hammering at the ego. Don’t flinch from this job, hard though it is. Self-realization is what you have been born for. Let nothing come in the way of it.
Outgrowing a Guru is sad, but not uncommon. Each of us is unique, and your path may fork off into a direction other than your Guru’s. It may break your heart to part, but do it nevertheless, because your first loyalty has to be to your growth. The Guru himself will be the first to tell you so. Ramakrishna Paramahansa, for instance, had two Gurus – Bhairavi Brahmani and Tota Puri. While Bhairavi Brahmani taught him about bhakti, Tota Puri initiated him into advaita, or the path of nonduality.
If the Guru has been a false Guru, don’t lose heart. Learn what you can from the experience, and purify yourself in order to attract a true Guru.
The Guru’s role is said to be done when the Sadguru (true Guru) within, awakens. This Sadguru is our intuition, our Higher Self. The Sadguru then leads us the rest of the way, and unfalteringly shines light on our path. Although the overwhelming majority of seekers need a Guru to guide them, there are a lucky few in whom the Sadguru awakens right from the start, and leads them on. Such people do not need the Guru, for the Higher Self itself guides and supports them.
One such is Deepa Kodikal, a housewife who found herself plunged into a series of spiritual experiences while expecting her fourth child. The event culminated in her achieving nirvikalpa samadhi, considered the highest form of samadhi in which every trace of the self is subsumed in the Universal Consciousness. Today, she says that an underlying feeling of peace and joy is a constant state of mind. For such people, the world itself is a great teacher, for they have the capacity to learn from everything and anything. The family dog or cat become a vast teaching on being in the now, and the task of running a house the equivalent of Zen practice.
Another such is Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, and A New Earth. Tolle had a spontaneous awakening from the depths of a depression when he felt he could not bear to live with himself anymore. That statement, with the implication that there were two selves, plunged him into a profound inner experience from which he emerged, awakened.
The final stage of the journey will quite often culminate in the student becoming a Guru. However, this stage must by no means be expedited. To take responsibility for the souls of others is a weighty responsibility. Do it only when you are confident that you are ready, which means that you are established in the enlightened state, and that your ego is extinguished. At such a point, life itself will anoint you by bringing you people who want to learn from you. Now it’s your turn to be a Guru. - Suma Varughese
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