Gurus resort to trickery and tomfoolery at times to shock the disciples’’ minds into transcending their conventional limitations so that they can explore deeper realms of consciousness
When gurus resort to trickery, the disciple must abandon judgement and move towards the wholeness of being where gurus operate from
It is barely nine in the morning. I am lost in the art of writing while immersed deep into a sushumna trance, words emerging at the speed of thought on the computer screen. Bhaja Govindam plays in the background, and it helps me achieve that rare meditative consciousness which makes writing such a deeply creative and satisfying endeavour. Suddenly, the rude sound of the doorbell yanks me back into present awareness, as I stomp to the door with an impatient frown.
He stands there patiently, modesty written clearly across his youthful mien, just a slip of a boy with a glowing, dusky complexion. A cheap nylon carry-bag slips out of his hands to the floor as though it is empty, soon as I open the door. He gives a gasp as he catches sight of me, a beatific smile spreading across his face, even as he joins his hands in a modest namaskar. “Too early, and also too young for a salesman,” I think to myself as I continue to observe him speechlessly as he stands there in great anticipation. He has that cheeky look with an ordinary baseball cap slung casually on his head. There are thoughts whizzing through my head in utter confusion, as I glare at him in a long frown, shake my head to indicate that I don’t wish to buy anything from him, and firmly shut the door to return to my chair, placing my hands on the keyboard once again. Imagine, what a smile of joy to have at last caught sight of me, as though someone separated from his mother in the melee of the village fair had just found his way back home after many years! Without admitting to myself how touched I am in reality, I know that if I had taken him in and offered him a chair, I would have ended up buying all his wares.
But then, suddenly, the trance breaks, and it is I who breathe in sharply, staring rigidly at the glowing monitor, tears beginning to rain down unchecked. The name of my trickster guru starts resonating inside a pounding heart. I sit immobile for a few long minutes, before I can gather myself sufficiently and rush to the door, hoping he’s still there. But he’s gone. I dissolve in a heap on the floor, berating him for being such a crooked guru. I visualise how I could have washed his feet, worshipped him with adoration, and then talked to him to my heart’s content. I mentally scold him for such a cruel trick. I cry for two whole days after that, and the memory of the visit is such a wrench even now.
I continue to scold him in my prayers: “Come and sit in front of me like a man! I want to talk to you of many things. You broke my heart that day.” All this goes on in futile litany, even as I know that he has made an utter fool of me and will not yield to my childish demands too soon. I know he is smug and self-satisfied about that sneaky trick. And inside, I am grateful to him, although unwilling to acknowledge it to myself. Behind seeming playfulness and trickery, I know that he is an implacable teacher. It is he who decides the time and nature of each encounter, non-verbally flinging challenges and setting unforgettable lessons as a tough taskmaster along the course of serious discipleship.
What could be the lesson in this incident of trickery, one might wonder. The guru’s darshan is meant to accelerate the evolutionary process in the disciple, like a quantum leap. The communication is non-verbal, completely bypassing the mind of the disciple. Although my mind was put in a limbo at that point, my inner, total reality was aware of the importance of the darshan. The exalted guru seeks to move the disciple towards becoming Whole, way beyond the capacity of the mind. The mind is up to its own games, as to how it would snare the attention of the guru with an outward show of piety and devotion, but that is immaterial to the guru. A darshan like that also helps the disciple to recognise the limitations of the puny mind, and that for real spiritual growth to occur, one must learn to live in the Whole consciousness, aware of all that is happening at a given time in one’s environment.
The exalted gurus don’t preach, don’t engage you in verbal gymnastics, because that is again giving additional power to the mind. Just a single look from the guru is sufficient to move you beyond several lifetimes of spiritual struggle.
The guru, at that level, doesn’t expect anything of you, nor does he demand anything. He doesn’t want you to become dependent on him, nor should you resort to ego embellishment based on your relationship with him. It is better if the disciple gets on with the hard work through personal effort, towards cultivating independence from any external agency and become Whole—the ultimate aim of spirituality and discipleship. It doesn’t matter to the guru how long you take to achieve this, whether a single lifetime, or several more.
A disciple’s tale
Roshan (name changed to protect privacy) is a Punjabi businessman with a colourful personal history. His life’s trajectory would have been different were it not for an exalted Yogi who took him under his wings at a relatively young age. Roshan lived a tempestuous life, suffering great inner turmoil and frustration, in what was a seemingly blessed birth as the scion of a wealthy family. As an impetuous youngster with debonair looks, he would pass time frequenting the by-lanes near a convent school, ogling at pretty schoolgirls. “You may not believe it,” he says, “but I used to carry a Rampuri (switchblade) in my pocket in those days. Members of my extended family would cross the street when they saw me approaching.” He had run away from home thrice because of a strong yearning to become a sadhu.
Then a wandering yogi arrived in his house to pick up the reins of Roshan’s life. “Don’t worry,” he’d declare nonchalantly to the distraught family, “He’ll return on his own next week. He’ll be okay.” Today, Roshan is a handsome pater familias with silvering hair, mature, dignified and courteous to the core. Even then, if you ask him about his departed guru, he turns into a fulminating adolescent. This despite the fact that the guru has come so close to him after taking samadhi, that he’s practically merged with Roshan, often prompting clear instructions in his ears about how to conduct his work and relationships, and admonishing him occasionally to give up smoking!
“Baba is ruining my life,” said Roshan one day. “You know how I loved to dance? I was a great social animal. He’s left me with the bare bones of living, and all I am is just a trustee of all this wealth on behalf of other people. People see me as mister so-and-so, but that’s not who I am. I don’t know when I will be called by the Guru to discharge my higher role in life. I’m pining, waiting for him to come to me in a more up-front way. He predicted so many things to me, what is to happen two years from now, and what will happen ten years later, how the great guru will himself appear before all the world.” In the meantime, Roshan meticulously functions as businessman, head of a large family, a philanthropist and a deeply spiritual man.
“It is not a joke when the gurus guide you on the spiritual path. They pound your ego into dust. They wring you like a cloth washed clean. They test you, and you can never relax, never be casual about things again. They will say one thing and do another. All you can do is be happy and consider yourself blessed that the great ones at all consider you worthy of all this perverse attention,” he continues to growl in a low voice, until I burst out laughing, and he has to join in perforce, at the absurdity of railing at the trickster who has transformed his life in such a major way. I have experienced similar frustrations in spiritual life, but the way Roshan describes it, with a typical northern lilt, it sounds as if he’s loosening a string of the most colourful Punjabi words at the perfidy of exalted gurus.
Recently a north Indian Sufi master insisted that Roshan occupy a special gaddi next to his own, as spiritual adviser for just one day. He returned to call me immediately to relate the amusing story of what a magnet he was for all the devout ladies who thronged over to him for blessings. The amazing part was when he visited the Sufi master the next time around, he told Roshan how people had reportedly received great solace through his blessings. At the time Roshan’s old Guru had whispered in his ears: “Saale ja, ek din ke liye baithke to dekh; main hoon na?” (Oh go on and occupy the master’s seat for a day, I’ll take care of everything). Roshan slyly admitted that he was happy in his current mundane role, and didn’t think that he was cut out for such exalted trickery! But an old desire must have been laid to permanent rest at the time, through the connivance between the two masters.
Vishnu and Krishna
The lineage of trickster gurus extends far into the legends, back to the divine trickery of Vishnu and his great avatar Krishna, who is famous for his playful lila amidst the gopis of Brindavan. It is thought that when Vishnu sleeps, the world of illusion or maya reigns supreme. The forces of egoism, selfishness, greed and darkness begin to disrupt the harmonious balance of the universe. Even the gods are befuddled in their purity and goodness about tackling the might of evil. At such times, it is essential to wake up the Supreme Godhead Vishnu, as he alone can cut through the fog of illusion and falsehood, resorting to elaborate trickery to destroy the evildoers and restore harmony in the three worlds of manifestation.
We see this in the case of Vishnu taking on the form of the celestial temptress Mohini, luring rakshasas away from their pursuit of amrit, the nectar of immortality. Then there is the attractive youth Krishna, playing on his flute to lure the milkmaids of Brindavan to the enchanted grove, forgetful of their domestic duties. He touches his followers with the awareness of a great realm on the borderlands, where a glimpse of the higher vision of merging with the Absolute is always possible.
Then we come to the cherished legends of Naradmuni, sage of the sages, who is an alter ego of Vishnu himself. He carries with him the celestial Veena, symbol of refined speech and intelligence, and his role is to stir things up in stagnant situations, to engage in subtle trickery to lure people out of mental traps and egoism. He is the beloved mischief-maker of oral traditions who brings about separation of lovers, or resorts to careless flattery to initiate chaos, change, and transformation and in the end, wisdom through grief, sorrow and separation.
Returning to the world of gurus, there are the great legends of the Navnaths, the nine immortal masters of the psychic and worldly realms, with their absolute control over yoga, the elements, and sacred warfare. Most loved among these are the stories of the recurring face-offs between Macchindranath and his disciple Gorakhnath. One is the slippery, elusive buffoon born to wisdom and maturity in the stomach of a fish, while the other is the effulgent spark nourished under the fertile heap of cowdung and ashes, until he is reclaimed by his guru for rigorous discipleship at age 12. Gorakhnath is the product of a boon granted to Macchindranath, himself a sage emanating from the primordial guru Shiva, that he would find a disciple who would excel him and become the greatest adept ever.
Throughout his discipleship, Gorakhnath is at the receiving end of elaborate mind-expanding charades and trickery perpetrated by his guru. Touchingly enough, the very basis of this relationship full of trials of supremacy, is the simple emotional bond of love and surrender between a vulnerable child who has known no parent other than his master. Thus when Macchindranath declares one day that his disciple is the complete adept who has nothing more to learn from him, and must hence leave the ashram, Gorakhnath is utterly heartbroken. He sits at the feet of his master, loudly weeping, to ask: “How can I leave you? How will I live without you? Where shall I go?” And the master sternly asks him to return to him only after completing a pilgrimage throughout the length and breadth of India.
Gorakhnath departs, to test the strength and knowledge he has gained at his master’s feet through the rigours of harsh pilgrimage, returning to the ashram after a gap of six years. There are newer disciples who don’t know him. They tease him mercilessly, asking him what claim can he have on the great guru after such a long absence, since others are now dearer to his master’s heart. Gorakhnath falls silent and goes into deep samadhi so that there is a famine and suffering, until Macchindranath is forced to emerge from the ashram to embrace his dear disciple with greater love than ever before!
Other tales of unmatched power emerge in interaction between the two siddhas. Each tale has its own twist that brings illumination and mind expansion for the deluded disciple, who at first suspects his master of depravity or senility. He is then led to greater appreciation of the unsurpassed wisdom on the part of his master, through understanding the hidden motivation behind his seemingly irrational behaviour. But then there is ample opportunity for the disciple to display his powers at their zenith, honed to perfection through years of practice. Thus Gorakhnath adequately makes up for the disrespect shown towards the patient master, to make him proud of this worthy disciple, reclaiming his original place at the feet of the great Macchindranath.
Fooling the mind
It seems that spiritual growth demands circumventing the limits of linear logic through drastic measures to fool the mind, which is the greatest trickster in a world of illusions and attachment to desires. The trickster guru delivers shocks that will bypass the mind and all its weaknesses. In the resulting chaos and emotional pain, the disciple becomes free of the conventional limitations enforced by the mind, to step beyond into liminal areas, to touch unsuspected strengths from the deeper realms of consciousness. Repeated practice brings greater knowledge and power over self and beyond. The beauty of the scheme lies in abandonment of logic and rationality in judging the trickster, who has placed himself way beyond, in the realms of the unifying absolute Wholeness. It is entirely up to the disciple, at that stage, if he or she can also transcend to the exalted realms of power and wisdom implied by striving towards becoming Whole.
I myself experienced trickery from my three gurus acting in accord with each other, when I was informed a couple of years ago that I would soon die, and be taken to another realm in pursuit of greater discipleship. I found myself cursing all of them to the high heavens when the blessed day of release came and went and I remained where I was. Gradually, I let go of my attachments to the material world, stripping down to bare bones. Many old friends vanished, fearing for my sanity, even as new ones walked in, people who truly appreciated me for what I was in each particular moment of interaction. I found myself living the life of a sadhu, setting the terms of interaction without hankering for either the past or the future. Until, at this point, I find myself unconcerned about life and death, standing firm on my ground with power and presence, a transformed being!
This shloka from the Ishavasyopan-ishad perfectly sums up the ultimate lesson trickster gurus would have us imbibe:
Aum purnamadaha purnamidam purnatpurnamudachyate
purnasya purnamadaya purnamevavashishyate.
(That is Whole; This is also Whole; The Whole evolves from the Whole; Taking the Whole out of the Whole, it is the everlasting Whole that remains.)
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