By Aalif Surti
The relationship between the aspirant and the guru is truly special, as can be seen in these personal stories of their gurus’ benediction that many of our readers have shared with us
In the summer of 1989, I was invited to Yogaville, Swami Satchidananda’s ashram in Buckingham, Virginia, USA to perform comedy as my alter ego, Swami Beyondananda. Although I had heard that Gurudev had a great sense of humour and loved to laugh, this was a bit intimidating. After all, here I was performing shtick wearing (in those days) a rainbow clown wig in front of a genuine swami.
My wife Trudy and I arrived a day or two early, and took a tour of the Lotus Shrine. The Lotus Shrine is a beautiful temple, dedicated to celebrating the truth in every religion. The slogan above the entrance says: ‘One truth, many paths.’ So as not to exclude anyone, the Shrine even has a section honouring atheism. (Hey, just because you don’t believe in God doesn’t mean that God doesn’t believe in you!)
The first night, we attended a satsang with Swami Satchidananda and it put a smile on my face just to be in his presence. At one point, Gurudev said something that gave me an idea. He was talking about enlightenment and said: “If you want to be enlightened, you must desire nothing.” Now, at that time, I had manufactured and was selling funny, colourful, playful boxes of…nothing. I had an entire routine developed around the concept that this box was the ultimate enlightenment product because nothing was guaranteed to solve all your problems instantly. With just a little bit of trepidation, I did the nothing bit during my performance and watched Swami Satchidananda laugh uproariously. After the show, I presented him with a box of Nothing to “help him gain enlightenment”. We all laughed, and as you can see from the photo, Gurudev clearly gave Nothing his stamp of approval.
Fast forward five years, and I receive a call from Yogaville. A huge event was being planned for December 1994 to celebrate Gurudev’s 80th birthday. Would I be willing to come to specifically do my ‘nothing’ routine at the celebration? My answer was yes, and I joined a slew of musicians and other celebrities to honour a being who dedicated his public life to finding and creating common ground among all spiritual paths—and reminding us all that happiness is an inside job.
In keeping with the spirit of joy and laughter, a ‘farce field’ was inadvertently created. The speaker right before me was Dr Dean Ornish, famous for his very successful programme for treating heart disease. Dr Ornish, as I recall, was a pretty serious guy who had no idea what I was going to say. He told his own story of how his life was transformed by meeting Sri Gurudev. When he was still in school, he went through a period of deep depression, and someone took him to meet Swami Satchidananda. “When I told Gurudev that I was seeking happiness,” Dr Ornish recalled, “he gently laughed and said, ‘Nothing will make you happy.’ That insight changed my life.” And then I was on, pitching my Nothing box! What a set up! I sold a lot of boxes of Nothing that night.
Although we have long since run out of boxes of Nothing to sell, Gurudev’s message still resonates. Nothing, no thing can make us happy. Happiness is a condition that, like Spirit, transcends circumstance. For years, the photo of Gurudev, Trudy and I, and Nothing, graced my sales table at performances. Today, it sits in front of my computer so I am reminded and inspired each time I sit down to write.
I didn’t know Gurudev well, at least not personally. I wasn’t what you would call a ‘devotee’. But I recall a being who loved poetry and word play, who loved life and lived joy. May his memory inspire us to find cause for celebration instead of separation, and find our happiness not from what does or doesn’t happen in our lives, but from the deep well of joy that is the Source of wellness.
Steve Bhaerman aka Swami Beyondananda is humorist and author of a new book, Swami for Precedent: A 7-Step Plan to Heal the Body Politic and Cure Electile Dysfunction.
Diamonds of grace
I was 25, a Stanford graduate and PhD student. I was a scientist, an academic. I thought I understood it all. Or most of it, anyway. And then I entered His room, in a far off corner of the world, 7000 miles from home, as a river worshipped as the Mother Goddess flowed past.
His eyes pierced the thin veil of understanding I thought I had. His presence caused the very fabric of the world I knew to unravel. His words revealed to me, for the first time, the Truth of existence. A wave of the purest love, light, peace and bliss washed over my entire being, penetrating through the skin, into the nucleus of every cell. The wave washed through the recesses of my heart, healing in an instant pain which had festered there for years. The ocean of his divine light washed through my brain, making a mockery of the ‘education’ I thought I had, tearing to shreds the ‘truth’ I had been taught. It washed through the very core of my being, bringing every sense, perception, thought, feeling, and emotion to a standstill.
I had been raised to believe that God could not be seen or felt. The God of my religion did not, ever, incarnate in form. We were taught that God was a formless, nameless, unknowable, omnipotent Force to be feared. Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, I was face to face with the Divine in the form of a simple, humble Indian saint, draped in orange robes with divine love and light streaming from every pore of his being. It was a fact that even the scientist in me could not refute. The divinity of his presence was tangible, palpable, unmistakable and undeniable. This realisation that I was in the presence of God belied everything I’d ever been taught, everything I’d heard, everything I’d read. Yet it was truer than the very fact of my own existence. It was truer than the blue of the sky or the green of the leaves.
I was miles from the home I had always known, from my family, from the world I had made my own. Yet as I stood on the banks of Mother Ganga, listening to Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati sing, carrying us on the wings of his voice to God, suddenly nothing else mattered. To be here, on these sacred banks, to have His divine darshan that cradled my spirit and soul was all that mattered.
“But how could you take sanyas?” people ask. “You’re so young.” Or: “How could you leave everything behind? Don’t you ever miss America? Don’t you miss the comfort and life you had there?” When one is walking empty-handed on the beach, one is frequently drawn to the pretty seashells or rocks on the sand and one might even bend down to pick some up. But if one were walking with pearls in one’s hands, one would never even notice the seashells or rocks, let alone bend down to collect them. My Guru has poured diamonds into my hands, of truth, peace, serenity, bliss, and union with God. How could I bemoan the lack of rocks in my life? How could I miss the days of collecting scattered seashells when my hands are now overflowing with the diamonds of His grace?
Sadhvi Bhagwati, Rishikesh
Guide and transformer
Despite my eagerness, I could not find the real path towards spirituality until I came in contact with an engineer through work. He initiated my wife and I into the art of listening the voice of silence (shabad) that is ever present within. The experiences that followed were totally new for us, and took us beyond physical boundaries into spheres where we experienced rare visions, colours, lights, sounds and at times, a state of nothingness.
We had an opportunity to meet the Guru, Thakar Singh Maharaj, head of the Ruhani Satsang Society. Maharaj provided teachings of listening to the sound of silence called shabad or dhun. Meetings with Maharaj enabled us to hear without external ears, and the shabad became melodious, intense and regular. We also underwent transformations so that anger subsided, feelings of internal power were enhanced, stress diminished and efficiency at work improved.
My wife and I continued with morning and evening meditation, and felt incomplete the day we missed either session. My wife has advanced greatly and is able to read auras and discern the character of a person by just looking at him. Remembering the Guru and living spiritually resolved problems not only in personal life but also on the work front. The Guru is protector, guide, initiator and transformer for me. In the past seven years, miracles have happened effortlessly through his grace.
I do not know where I have reached on the spiritual journey. The Guru knows and guides us to higher levels based on our seriousness and devotion. The journey continues.
S.K. Dodeja, via email
Flower of divine love
I can never forget my first meeting with Pujya Ma in 1978. I questioned her about yoga, Vedanta and meditation and was surprised and disappointed when she interjected: “But have you forgotten Jesus Christ?” Her insight into Christ’s life and teachings was so original and fascinating that I was soon converted. Pujya Ma explained: “We should never give up the religion into which we have been born through destiny. We come to acceptance and understanding of other faiths through sincerely practising our own. God is One, and ultimately all religions are paths to the same destination.”
Students of Pujya Ma come from different backgrounds, and cannot be called ‘disciples’, nor does Pujya Ma claim to be a spiritual teacher. When I addressed her as ‘guru’, she replied: “I am neither worthy to become a guru, nor do I wish to be one. Rather join me in humble obeisance, and let us go to the Lord’s door together.” Pujya Ma has never asked me to give up anything—possessions, money, family, or adopt any strict discipline. We are all free to question whatever we hear or read. All Pujya Ma has ever taken from me is my accumulated tension, hypocrisy, selfishness, concepts and delusions.
The only ‘rules’ at the Arpana Ashram in Haryana are that everyone should attend daily prayer meetings, share mealtimes and work fulltime. Even these simple injunctions are not enforced, because Pujya Ma says that only discipline imposed from within provides an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth. Pujya Ma’s philosophy is that anyone can practise ‘spirituality’. She calls this the ‘playway method’. She affirms that there are no boundaries between the spiritual and the mundane. Our lives must reflect the Truth in every aspect of our work and dealings with others.
Pujya Ma has given us the opportunity to serve those less fortunate. Health and community services have taken root in villages around our centres in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. She tells us: “You are the real beneficiaries, because they have given you this opportunity to become better human beings. Our only wage is the happiness we get from serving the Lord.”
Years ago, Ma asked me to take up the garden as my responsibility. How painful it was for Pujya Ma, an expert gardener herself, to see my fumbling attempts in the garden. Yet she never told me how to work, but gave me books and tools and a free hand. She told me the garden was my guru. Simultaneously, she was clearing my doubts, planting a seed in an aspirant’s heart, and fostering its slow growth within; clearing the weeds of complexes, and nurturing humane qualities.
Pujya Ma explains that guru and disciple have to become one in spirit, united in the performance of action towards the common goal. When we conjoin our energies with those of a guru, and her words become mantras, we automatically receive spiritual knowledge and learn its practical aspect. Through Ma’s grace, the Guru and Goal are truly one.
Mark Henderson-Begg, Karnal
Dispeller of darkness, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev lit a lamp in my path. When the fire of my longing doesn’t burn bright, Sadhguru is always there. Once, a few Isha Yoga volunteers gathered around Sadhguru under a tree. As he illustrated his childhood memories of climbing trees and swaying in deep meditation, my mind wandered off. All this is fine but how is it possible for me?
Abruptly he looked at me and said: “Sue, why don’t you climb this tree?” Caught unawares, I gingerly took small steps. Laughing at my apprehension he said: “Go up further.” Sensing my hesitation, he exclaimed: “Oh this is how she pursues the spiritual path also.” Every step I took up towards the top of the tree, whatever I felt, he reflected. Every doubt, every confusion vehemently surfaced in my mind and was instantly pierced with or without his words. As I descended from the tree, I could feel those limitations just vanishing within me and I was drenched in humble gratitude. The rock of ignorance that I have slumbered upon has sprung into wakefulness by the grace of my Guru.
Sue Shewale, Isha Foundation, via email
Married into a conservative family, with my children in boarding school, life was lonely. My mind turned inwards and my urge to know the Self became intense. Around this time I met Swami Purnanandji, a renowned Raj Yogi and spiritual healer from Satna, Madhya Pradesh.
Sadhana with Swamiji was effortless yoga. I was to sit at a set time in a clean empty room for one hour in the morning and evening. Swamiji gave me mud from the banks of the Ganga to make a low platform to sit upon with copper wire fixed to it. In this way, he imparted knowledge to me from a distance of 45 km, not through words but in a subtle form. His teaching was so effective that in a few months I experienced savikalpa and nirvikalpa samadhi. “But,” he said, “this is not the end. One must practise to be in total awareness at every moment.”
After this my whole attitude towards life changed. I dealt with the world and fulfilled my duties, but none of it had any impact on me. I realised this when my husband passed away suddenly. I was in total awareness with the blessing of Swamiji. I consoled my children and made arrangements for the last rites. Though Swamiji is no more, he is ever with me. He reminds me that a capable guru can lead disciples to truth only as long as they have the intense desire to know.
Girirajkumari Kushwaha, Vadodara
The way within
You do your best and accept the results gracefully—this is the teaching of my satguru Yogiraj Sri Sri Mangeshda, whom we affectionately call ‘Dada’. A direct disciple of Mahavatar Babaji, Dada does not like to advertise this, as he wants people to come to him only to gain knowledge of Kriya Yoga. Dada moves around like an ordinary human being, clad in a pair of jeans, teaching us how to incorporate spirituality in day-to-day life.
I had tried various paths in spirituality but I resisted change and felt frustrated. All my learning came together in a subtle form the day Dada entered my life. Together with meditation, alternative healing, self-recognition and development programme, a residential programme ‘How to be Happy’ where he teaches how to live happily moment to moment, and initiation into Kriya Yoga, Dada turned me from a discontented person into a true seeker.
With the practice of Kriya Yoga and regular meditation, I have embarked on a journey within the self with my satguru as guide and mentor. In this journey, the destination is not as important as walking on the path, and with Dada firmly by my side, guiding me at each breath, the path promises to be interesting.
Jaya Laungani, Mumbai
Merging with Mother
I came to Mother Shivaa feeling very small, threatened, filled with fear and a sense of loss. From the first time I met Mother, I knew I was in the presence of Light. Soon, I realised that being in her presence, being guided by her, is the process of illumination. Her being manifests beauty and love in everyone who is touched by her grace. Every time she guides us in meditation, I feel the transformational power of that grace. Its touch changes everything. Absence becomes presence, an idea becomes experience, a question becomes an answer, fragments coalesce to form a whole.
In meditation, Mother’s grace is the current that leads everyone towards ever-deeper awareness. Flowing in it, and with it, my being held by hers, the drop merges with its source. Outside the meditative state, I am a drop again. But I am neither separate nor small. Everything of the sea is in a drop. Mother’s grace has enabled me to live in this awareness. It has enabled me to breathe again, to hear the silence at the end of each breath, the infinitesimal pause that holds eternity.
Ranu Sharma, new delhi
A beautiful life
For years I had been leading a hectic life, but things felt imperfect. Then I met someone who transformed my spirit—a gentle, humble, graceful, soft-spoken bundle of treasure—Meena Om. A soothing voice, which acted as a balm to the bruised soul, compassionate eyes that melted the darkest suspicions, and an inspiring persona that brought hope and a spirit of wanting to achieve the impossible. She fascinated me. How could someone claim: “Life is beautiful, let’s make it more beautiful”, or that: “The only sin we commit is we do not live life fully”?
Never has Meenaji in the seven years that I have known her forced me to do what she says or even tried to mould my individuality. Where on earth would I find a person who is so content in her communion with the Supreme that when she says: “I will be happy if you find happiness elsewhere, because for me it means one less person to nurture,” I see a carefree Sufi streak in her, her divine unconditional love an equal mixture of love and severity, much like Nature.
As I reflect on her radical influence in my life, I see how slowly, gently and with supreme wisdom, she cut my being to transform me. Meenaji is a reflection of the supreme cosmic intelligence. She has helped me surmount so many challenges that today, shared secrets bond me and the universe, and I have the wisdom to smile and announce: “Life is beautiful, let’s make it more beautiful.”
Anjali Anubhuti Kalia, new delhi
Self as guru
I started my spiritual journey 18 years ago. Beginning with meditation and pranayam, I longed for a guru, hoping for a trigger for faster progress. I got a boost practising reiki, and began reading books on spirituality and attended several workshops like C.E.T., Art of Living, Rebirthing, Self-hypnosis, and so on. My desire for a guru increased in intensity. For a time, I was able to study with different gurus, even taking diksha from one, but those associations came to an end due to the imperfections I perceived in my teachers and their organisations.
I now wonder about the need for a diksha guru. A guru who is needy himself and to fulfil his needs has to be manipulative and partial, cannot be a true guide. The true guide lies within each of us. We know what good qualities we should have. All we need is to practise them and the rest comes as a by-product. All the goodies of not only the spiritual path but the material world as well will then effortlessly flow into our lives.
Despite my negative experiences, I do not have any good or ill feelings towards anyone. I believe that both these emotions are two sides of the same coin. I live this life not with grace from a guru but with my own grace.
Ramesh Shani, Mumbai
Practice made perfect
When I was 15 somebody gave me a copy of Osho Times and that motivated me to read and understand Osho. Reading him at that tender age has given me a deeper understanding of life, pain, suffering, hatred and anger. I couldn’t complete my graduation but because of practising Osho’s teachings, self-confidence arose in me.
After imbibing Osho I can say that my anger has reduced by 80 per cent. The method that has worked for me is watching. If anger is arising I stop my activities and watch it: breathe out, go away, wash your face, do some gibberish. After some time, the intensity of anger goes down. If I had poured it on somebody I would have lost that person. I have tried it rigorously for two years. Practising what I read from Osho is my workshop; I work on myself.
For example, I’ve heard Osho say it takes 21 days for the mind to change a habit. To experiment, I started putting my handkerchief in the left pocket instead of the right. Really, it took 21 days for my hand not to go to the right pocket automatically—complete transformation. Democrat by heart and dictator by the brain—I have learned this from Osho by a rigorous commitment.
Rajesh Agrawal, Delhi
Guru as mother
I cannot dream of life without my sadguru, Swami Satchidananda of Anandashram in Kanhangad, Kerala. His life is his teaching. Whenever I feel depressed, I remember his words: “You are not alone. Surrender to the Divine. Thy Will be done.” Once when I requested him to write his autobiography, he refused, saying: “I have not attained anything.”
Swamiji takes care of his disciples like a mother taking care of her newborn baby. He forgets his body and works hard. He treats everyone alike and is a real communist in that sense. His mere presence is rejuvenating. Swamiji cannot tolerate his devotees’ suffering. In his compassion, he helps them overcome any difficulty. When one asks for his blessings, he says: “Papa’s (his guru’s) blessings.” He is still serving his departed masters, Swami Ramdas (Papa) and Mata Krishnabai.
When I saw him the last time, he told me not to see him in his photo or as physical form, but to see him in everything and to commune with him in my heart. With this, he is taking me from the unreal to the real.
V. Sreelakshmi, Trivandrum
Sheikh Farid said: “Vassi Rab hiyaliye, Bahar kya dhoondey,”(God resides within, why search outside?). These days, following a guru seems to be the badge one needs to be part of the ‘spiritual club’. Else you may be cast as an impoverished soul not on any ‘path’ and unworthy of interest. We operate our spiritual lives with a herd mentality, going by the growing number of gurus, yajnas, mantras, Kundalini awakeners and so on, in the spiritual marketplace. We are mesmerised by miracles. We weave fiction into facts to add the required zing to our experiences when we recount them to friends. After all, we must have ‘experiences’ to show for the path we have chosen.
If one examines all the spoken and written words on the subject, God resides within us, and God-realisation or self-realisation will only come with inward searching. Then it must be reasonable to expect the guru to take us to that goal ‘within’. For me, that guru is our own inner voice. Call it conscience, or the watcher, or what you will.
The inward Guru leads, and becomes for me—that which tells right from wrong, guides my actions, with whom I debate my indecisions, unfolds the truth, moves me to compassion, makes me think, sublimates my evil thoughts in rightfulness, moves me to understanding, builds relationships and teaches me how to hold them, brims with joy at nature’s mystery, moves me to serve and pray, and creates peacefulness in my meditation. That is my Guru, teacher, guide—within me, of me, who really makes the ‘me’ in me.
Usha Partap Singh, New Delhi
I took sanyas at an Osho Meditation Camp in 1998. After a few months of regular meditation, my entire lifestyle changed and I felt myself become wiser, happier, more aware. But something was missing.
My search for a living master ended when I met Osho Siddhartha. I attended the Osho Dhara Dhyan Samadhi programme at Osho Gangotri Dham in Chitwan, Nepal. The first three days focused on ananda pragya (wisdom to live blissfully) based on the Buddha’s eightfold path with science of spiritualism given by Paramguru Osho, modified and framed by Osho Siddhartha. Here I got sutras, tips, and samyak drishti to lead a blissful personal, professional and social life. I was not the same person.
On the eighth day of the programme, I got initiated into what is called anhad deeksha or naam daan and was introduced to one dimension of God—Omkaar. I was filled with tears and every cell of my body was in gratitude towards my guru. It was then that I understood Meera: “Vastu amolak di mere Sadguru,” (my Sadguru has given me a precious gift).
Swami Antar Daulat
(Karunesh Kumar), Dhanbad
A new life
In 2000 my wife signed up for the Art of Living course. I ended up attending it instead of her and then encouraged her to do it as well. Some months later, we visited the Ashram (the AOL international ashram located 21 km from Bangalore) and bumped into our AOL teacher there.
She insisted that we stay back for the pooja, but we decided to give it a skip. Though spiritually inclined since childhood, rituals put me off, and we had visited the Ashram more out of curiosity than for any specific purpose in any case.
The next trip to the Ashram was in early 2001. As we were wandering around, we came to the place where Guruji (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) was giving darshan. It was the first time I was in his presence. He gazed into my eyes and asked: “Are you happy?” The gaze was deep, penetrating; there was something magical in those eyes. And then something happened! I couldn’t say I wasn’t happy even though I was going through health and professional problems.
Since that day, my problems have vanished, even health problems that had dogged me since 1991 diminished by the regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya. Finances suddenly started to look up, and I am doing well professionally now. Things that used to bother me earlier, no longer do. It is as if I am living a new life. And all this just by being graced by his look, I never had to state anything explicitly to him. I never had to ask him—all changes were gradual.
We started visiting the Ashram just to be in his presence. We did the advanced AOL courses and started organising regular satsangs. Today, we feel his presence everywhere and in everything we do.
I have never heard Guruji say: “I am God, worship me.” It is always: “If I am God, so are you, recognise the divinity in everyone.” We are truly blessed to be touched by the grace of an enlightened soul.
Raj Waghray, Bangalore
Many questions remained unanswered in my mind through my life, as I grew up, got a good education and got married. I read a lot on positive thinking and spirituality. Yet I searched for a guru who would put things in the right perspective.
Then something happened that jolted me out of my comfort zone. At this time, I read Spirituality Made Simple by Vikas Malkani. Everything seemed to sort itself out, as if the dark clouds had disappeared.
One day, I was surfing TV channels and saw the name ‘Vikas Malkani’ in a programme. I felt a connection and wanted to explore further. Finding out that he lived close by, I started attending his weekly satsangs. As the weeks rolled by, things started changing for me. Now I realise what it means when they say that when the student is ready, the master will arrive.
Dr Bina Nangia, new delhi
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