by Suma Varughese and Ajay Kalra
Majestic and attractive, fiery and outspoken, a Sufi, Sadhu, and Zen practitioner all rolled into one, an activist and mystic, a divine singer and speaker, Anandmurti Gurumaa is a peculiarly modern godwoman
She is majestic in appearance, tall, well-built and fair, with an upright carriage and an attractive face. Calm and poised, she speaks with a slight accent, thanks perhaps to her many sorties abroad. Anandmurti Gurumaa (38), is relatively new, though her early morning discourses on Sony and her sensational music albums with Times music such as Baawari Jogan, have earned her a considerable following.Born in Punjab to Sikh parents, she is said to have attained enlightenment at age 16. She has been a teacher of spirituality since then with an ashram in Haryana. Many centers in India and abroad have sprung up to host satsangs and meditation for the growing number of her followers. Gurumaa fits no recognizable mold. Though clad in regimental saffron, she can quote as easily from Rumi, Buddha, Guru Nanak and Jesus Christ as from the Bhagavad- Gita. Her discourse is peppered with Mulla Nasruddin and Zen stories. Equally at home with English and Hindi, she radiates a refreshing and very modern plurality. ‘She is an alchemist who has brought together the scientific temper of the West with the wisdom of the East,’ says a follower. An excellent singer who weaves into her discourses bhajans and sufi songs, she is also a talented photographer. Bluntly outspoken, she rails against insincere seekers and ‘pseudo’ gurus, even as she does not hesitate to address social issues like alcoholism and women’s rights. A unique aspect of her teaching revolves around the many original meditation devices she has created to help seekers eliminate the inner ‘garbage’.
One of them, Rachan Kriya, consists of calling out the name of God (whichever you please), with as much ardour, love and passion as possible, until tears gush forth and festering wounds heal.
At a satsang she held in Mumbai, more than 30,000 people listened in pin drop silence to her forceful and inspiring delivery. It was a piquant thing to see this saffron-clad woman sing a sufi song, invoking Allah with full-throated fervor. She has a powerful voice, deep and strong. One listener close by was shuddering uncontrollably, a few danced with total abandon, while many sat with closed eyes listening raptly. Excerpts from the interview…
Could you tell us something about yourself, how you began your journey…
What I am will benefit only me. Mullah Nasruddin once asked his disciples: ‘Would you like to achieve samadhi without effort?’ Every one said, yes, yes. He said, ‘Run away from this place. There is no way you can achieve the highest goal of your life without sweating.’ Whatever one has achieved is an asset to that person only. Seeing these assets or reading about them doesn’t make you rich.
Couldn’t it inspire people?
No. Let me give you another example of a close enlightened friend who is no more. He lived anonymously on the banks of the Ganges. Something brought us mysteriously close. One day, I asked him: ‘Why are you silent? The whole world needs someone to guide them; to inspire them.’ And he smiled and said: ‘Something moved me when I chose this path and started working upon myself. The day this happens in a person’s life is the day he will begin to change. You don’t change by seeing, you don’t change by listening. You don’t change by going through the whole encyclopedia of religion. So why should I bother? Let me be silent on the banks of the Ganges and enjoy this moment with you.’
I am aware that the presence of an enlightened person does make a difference. That is the reason that I am in society. But I would endorse his statement 100 per cent. All my speeches and discourses and traveling of the last 22 years has given me this experience through my bones. People only change when they want to change.
But maybe you can be a catalyst to that change…
In Vishnu Mahapuran there is a story of Druv who was given Vishnu’s darshan and asked to name his boon. He said: ‘Give this vision to everyone on earth.’ Vishnu smiled and said that it was impossible. Nevertheless, he added: ‘Bring all those who wish to see me and I’ll present myself to them.’ It is said Dhruv went around the whole earth seven times and everyone had their stories and excuses and justification not to go to Vishnu. He ended up with one pig. Halfway there, the pig asked if he would get shit to eat there. When Dhruv said no, the pig said: ‘Sorry, then I am not interested.’
So what kind of a catalyst could Dhruv be? Despite God himself offering to reveal himself, there was none to see him. This is true even today. People are not ready for it, because until and unless that urge, that fire, engulfs one’s heart, nothing happens. But like that beautiful couplet in Hindi says: ‘ Keep on yelling, keep on speaking aloud. Be awake, the night is here. The thieves are too.’
And yet if nobody wakes up that is not your fault. Your job is just to say ‘wake up!’ So that’s what I am doing. That’s what any enlightened person can do. In half an hour or so I will address around 30,000 people who will sit in absolute silence as long as I am speaking. Sometimes, I can hear my own breath in that silence. And yet after the session I really wonder if it is fruitful for me to spend that much time with them. I left them yesterday with so many questions by hitting at all their beliefs.
I keep wondering if what people are practicing is a fake thing or a real thing. Because if it is a real thing that reality should reflect in their life.
There are a few people who do…
Very few! And this is a hard fact. It was so hundreds of years ago, when Kabir said: ‘I don’t find a single soul who is ready to buy the product I have.’ And it was true in the 12th century when Jalaluddin Rumi said: ‘I am wandering in these streets of Konya, looking for a soul who is crying, I am in love with God, and I can’t find a single person. There are just hypocrites who do their namaz five times a day and yet they are untouched by love. And my heart is praying , ‘Send me one friend at least, with whom I can share the agony which I am experiencing, with whom I can share this longing in my heart.’ ‘
Do you feel like that too?
I don’t, but people really have to be pushed and banged and banged and banged and reminded to stop doing what they are doing or they go back to slumber.
Is it exhausting to be a guru?
It’s not exhausting because I am not a mathematician or an accountant who is keeping count of how many have awakened. I always say my job is the most joyous job on this earth. I am just enjoying my being and through that the words just come out. If they are of use to anyone, fair enough, and if they aren’t, then thank you very much.
That seems like a very balanced approach.
That’s how I have to be. Otherwise, I could get haggard and angry. Would you stay calm if your sibling, son, daughter or sister wastes your hard-earned money in front of you? Similarly, an enlightened person is giving his magnificent treasure to people who are not giving a damn about it. That should anger me, being a human, it should. But it doesn’t. This is what makes us different from other people. For us, the sowing in itself is enough. Sowing this seed of true love is so fulfilling, and so enjoyable that it doesn’t bring any fatigue. I still have the same spirit, the same fire that I had when I delivered my first discourse.
That is why I evolve various methods for today’s generation. I bridge the gaps and redefine traditional notions. Spirituality is not for retired, sick and old people. It’s for every living being. It will teach you how to fight, how to live, how to celebrate, how to face the ups and downs of life without getting broken. Spirituality prepares a person to live. If you don’t have that, then you can’t live your life. How could you? All the while, you would be wary, carrying a sign on your forehead, ‘Don’t come close…’
No one is bothered about that.
Yes, no one is bothered that you are fragile, that you will be mishandled, and you cannot even sue anyone if they treat your roughly! So you run away from society. To some pilgrimage, solitude, or to one’s own cocoon. That’s not life. Life is every moment testing us with altogether different circumstances and challenges. Every one of us has to develop that knowledge, that power to discriminate, how to respond and how much to respond. Not too much and not too little. When to be silent and when to be vocal. When to be passive and when to be active. This requires a very high understanding.
I believe that this religiousness that I teach is for very evolved people. I believe every seer is more than a scientist. A scientist is known for his curiosity, his research, his constant need to know. His search is for the material, but for a seer it is for something out in the unknown, beyond the mind, which you can’t see. A seer is concerned about that energy making this body move, which is making these senses move, which is making this mind move and think, which is making this intellect think and reflect. The seer is also concerned with constant search and research, using the methods of observation, using the methods of introspection …
What is the path that you teach?
If I were to summarize it into one thing, it would be awareness. How to develop that awareness-insight. I am not referring to awareness at the level of the mind as seen in mountaineers or astronauts. A slip in awareness and the mountaineer can be buried alive under snow or the astronaut blasted away from his ship. But that awareness does not transform them or cause them to disassociate from the mind and its functions. To be an observer is to be totally neutral and to be a witness. And somewhere, I would add, the awareness of who I am, or what the truth is.
What influences did you have to arrive at this understanding?
I didn’t have any influences. And I would suggest you do not get influenced.
Do you feel it’s necessary to have a guru?
Yet you didn’t have one?
I didn’t. Things just unrolled. In my childhood I used to accompany my mother to spiritual discourses, gatherings, satsangs. We would also have assemblies of sadhus coming home. And the very friendly mahatmas would pick me to speak to. Some mystical reason must be there; I don’t know. I was still a teenager when I had this full blown enlightenment. I didn’t put in years of austerities. I was a bubbly kind of girl who used to enjoy all games, sports and extra-curricular activities, which I continued after college. Enlightenment never distracted or distorted me. That’s the reason I have stated that youngsters are the best candidates for what I have.
Were you aware of what happened to you?
Yes. Definitely! Four years onwards I remember each and every incident that happened. It was not difficult for me to understand what the mahatmas were speaking. The grownups would be raising their eyebrows and I would be volleying the mahatmas with my questions. They would get baffled, sometimes angry. I remember one got so angry that he said: ‘If you don’t shut up, I am going to give you a shrap and you are going to just burn over here.’ I said: ‘Okay, go ahead, do it.’ I must have been 11 and this whole incident became the talk of the town. The sadhus used to warn each other: ‘Do not go to that house’ (laughs). So I am pretty much aware of the things that were happening. I didn’t see myself as a seeker, but there were moments when this great yearning would pierce my heart and that took some time to open up. That’s my experience that your true guru is within you.
What do you think is the role of benediction versus effort for spiritual growth?
They both go hand in hand. As I said there were moments when this yearning, this fire, would just kill me, because questions would pierce the heart and there was no one to answer them. So it brought me to my own senses. But it wasn’t easy. I had my share of pseudo masters. For seven years I was in awe of a highly intellectual person. I was a child at that time. As my own fog went away I could see that he was not what he was portraying himself as. That’s the reason I admonish all these pseudo gurus because I know how much they can hurt. That’s why I always advise people not to be dependent on me. Be dependent on your own self, be dependent on your own understanding. You have to develop that awareness that even I can go wrong someday; although once realized one never goes wrong.
Is this realized state permanent?
Yes. Once the atom has been brought to that point where it explodes, you can’t reverse it. You are not awakened in one moment and unawakened in another. It doesn’t happen like that. That’s the reason it’s the highest human achievement. But it is not too arduous because the treasure we are looking for is already within us. That makes the whole journey very simple.
Can you tell us about the experience of enlightenment and how an enlightened person functions?
The experience of enlightenment cannot be expressed in words; you have to be in that state to know what it is. And to know that, one needs an enlightened person whom you associate with on many many levels. Right from the physical to the emotional to the intellectual; you can even be in love with the guru. There are some hidden ways. Sometimes, the master would use words; sometimes it would be the presence, at one point, he would give a push. Because the fear of losing your identity becomes so powerful, you dare not jump.
Does random thinking go away altogether and you are functioning from moment to moment?
Once you are enlightened, the darkness in the corners and layers of the mind goes away.
The mind is still there?
The mind is definitely there. The enlightened person now has the ability to use the mind whenever it is required and to not to use the mind when it is not required. So you have the button on or off. That’s the reason you are called a master. At present the mind is using you and consuming you, dissipating your energy. The mind is the master, the lord. In an enlightened person, the mind is the slave.
But random thoughts…
There is no place for random thoughts. There is no room for unconsciousness, basically. That’s the reason the Gita says an enlightened one never commits a mistake. Even if an enlightened person kills a cow he would not be called a paapi. Why? Because he has done it in awareness. Not because of some random thought, or in anger.
Do you think a person should teach spirituality only after enlightenment?
Yes, very strongly.
What about Vedanta teachers?
Vedanta is a subject that needs constant thinking. Teaching can clarify your thoughts and give the students around you a new thing to listen to. The question is are these Vedantists willing to admit that what they have understood is at an intellectual level and not existential?
Being a woman how difficult is it on this path and to be a guru?
In my own personal capacity it is not difficult. But it is a BIG difficulty for those male mahatmas. A section of the Jain scriptures affirms that a woman meditates and does austerities so that she can be born as a man in order to achieve self-realisation…
What do you feel about this?
Do I have to feel it? I am the living evidence of it. I am the living evidence that you don’t have to grow old to be fit for enlightenment. It’s something that can happen at a very tender age. At six, nine, 10, 30, 40, whatever. It has nothing to do with your sex, but with your ability and urge to be on the path.
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