By Parveen Chopra
Many of us look for a guru, a spiritual advisor, to help us improve this life, and possibly future ones as well. It is said that if a seeker’s yearning for God or enlightenment is intense enough, a guru appears to guide and also to smoothen his journey. True initiation entails shaktipat. The spiritual master master knows exactly how much energy the disciple can bear, so he calibrates it carefully. There are various ways of initiation: by intention(Kabir) recollection ( Shirdi Sai Baba ), mantras (Mithran Namboodiripad). Or touch (Lahiri Mahasaya) or sight (Swami Muktananda). You could get initiated in your dreams (Bahena Bai) or even with the aid of an idol (Meera). Getting initiation or finding a guru is not, however, an absolute must—consider the case of Krishna and Gautam Buddha
What lila is created by the thirst of the disciple to reach the fountainhead called guru! A fine example of this is Kabir’s initiation.
Kabir was born a Brahmin, to a widowed woman, but he was brought up by a Muslim weaver couple, Neeru and Neema. When he grew up, Kabir found his guru in Ramanand, an enlightened master of the time. But the brahmins of the time would not have tolerated a Muslim being initiated by a Hindu. So, Kabir found a unique way out.
Every day at dawn, Ramanand went for a dip in the Ganga. One morning, Kabir wrapped himself in a blanket and lay down on the ground in the guru’s way. Ramanand stumbled over his body and exclaimed: ‘Ram! Ram!’ Kabir promptly caught hold of Ramanand’s feet and said: ‘I’ve been initiated. I’ve got my mantra—Ram. Now bless me.’
Referring to this incident, Kabir wrote later:
I was born in Kashi
And given awareness
What is not so well-known is how Kabir’s mother became pregnant. She was depressed with her lot as a widow. One day she went to pay her respects to a saint. He was deep in meditation and didn’t even open his eyes to look at the woman who had touched his feet. Reflexively, he blessed her: ‘May you beget a son.’ The blessing had emerged deep from a pure heart and couldn’t go waste. So the woman did give birth to a son. But too ashamed to face society, she left the newborn near a pond where Neeru and Neema found and adopted Kabir.
The saint was none other than Ramanand from whom Kabir had his initiation later. Osho’s comment on the story: ‘While giving his blessing, Ramanand didn’t notice that the woman was robed in white, was not wearing bangles on her wrists or a red bindi on her forehead. But a saint doesn’t speak for himself; God speaks through him. A saint is just a flute in God’s hands.’
Hiranya means gold (also a deer) in Sanskrit and garbha is womb or core. But hiranyagarbha usually refers to the karana(causal) body in a human being. It is believed that only a highly purified karana body can bear infinite power. Thus, only very evolved souls are entitled to the hiranyagarbha initiation. In other words, some high power instructs their karana body.
Meera is believed to have been initiated this way. The medium became an idol of Krishna, which came to life to initiate her. Meera was a child of six or seven when a sadhu (mendicant) showed up at her father’s palace. Every morning he used to take out an idol of Krishna from his bag for puja. Once Meera saw the idol and insisted that she wanted to have it.
Though Meera’s parents knew of her persistent demand, they did not find it fair to ask a guest, and that too a sadhu, to part with the idol. The sadhu also thought that Meera was just a child and children want to have any new thing they come across. So he left a crying Meera and went his way. A couple of days passed, but Meera kept crying interminably.
She stopped eating and kept up the refrain that she wanted that Krishna idol. Her distressed parents didn’t know where to look for the sadhu. But that night, when the sadhu was resting under a tree in the forest, the idol came to life. The sadhusaw Krishna himself standing before him. Krishna smiled and told him: ‘Give this idol to the girl, it belongs to her. ‘
The sadhu was happy that he had Krishna’s darshan (divine glimpse), which had eluded him even after a lifetime’s worship. But he was also sad that now he had to part with the idol. In any case, he went back to the palace and gave the idol to Meera. Later, it was Sant Ravidas who guided Meera and whom she called her guru. But it was the idol incident when she had her hiranyagarbha initiation and recollected her past life as a gopi named Lalita in Krishna’s time.
Bahena Bai was born in 1628 in a village in Aurangabad district of the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Being poor, her family married her when she was just three to a 30-year-old man. On coming of age, she developed a yearning for God. Those days there was a saint named Jairam in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. His kirtan (devotional music) made listeners ecstatic, Bahena was one of them. Once when the saint was singing Sant Tukaram’s abhangas (a verse form most favored by Maharashtrian saint-poets), Bahena Bai went into a trance.
When her desire for the divine became unbearable, Sant Tukaram came in his subtle body to initiate a sleeping Bahena in her dream. From then on, Bahena Bai was permanently intoxicated with God. Bahena was 18 then and Sant Tukaram was still alive but lived far away in a village in Poona district. Bahena had never met him.
After a few years, Bahena passed by Tukaram’s village and saw him in person. Tukaram blessed her: ‘You will have the gift of the muse.’ Bahena started writing poetry and went on to pen 732 abhangas In a divine coincidence Tukaram himself was initiated in a dream by Baba Chaitanya. Tukararam never met his guru, which was impossible in any case, because by then Chaitanya had left his body. The link was through their subtle bodies.
People know that Ramakrishna initiated Vivekananda by touch. But outside the eastern Indian state of Bengal, few people know that Lahiri Mahasaya—Paramahansa Yogananda’s guru’s guru and a prominent karmayogi of Bengal—was initiated in a similar fashion. Shyama Charan Lahiri was born in a village on the bank of a river in 1828. Whenever his mother went to the temple, the child went along and used to sit there in a meditative state.
And every time she left him to play by the riverside while she finished her domestic chores, he used to paste wet sand all over his body and sit with closed eyes, mimicking Lord Shiva. Shyama Charan finished his education, raised a family and in 1868 was posted to Ranikhet in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Roads for the army’s use were being laid then, cutting through forests and hills.
One day he went out with some soldiers to supervise the work. Suddenly, he heard a voice call his name from the nearby hill. Shyama Charan looked up and saw a monk walk down towards him. Close up, the monk looked radiant. It was Mahavatar Babaji, an immortal being, according to Yogananda: Babaji told Shyama Charan: ‘After finishing your work, come here. I will wait for you at the hilltop. ‘ Shyama Charan was a little scared, but Babaji’s order captivated his mind. He came back and climbed the hill.
Nature’s beautiful expanse was spread out all around him, but he was afraid that on his way back, it would be pitch dark, making it difficult to find his way. Babaji met him as if he was a long-lost friend and asked him; ‘Didn’t you recognize me?’ Evidently, he hadn’t. Babaji then touched his forehead. Shyama Charan felt a strong electric current d pass through his body. He also recalled an earlier life in which Babaji was his guru and he had stayed at this same hill.
Babaji took him to a hut and showed him a deer skin and a monk’s bowl, items that belonged to Shyama Charan in that earlier life. Shyama Charan also came to know of the divine miracle which let Babaji, who had discarded his body, to move around in his astral body. He had taken the gross body again for a while only to initiate Shyama Charan.
>Shyama Charan wanted to renounce his householder’s life and stay on in Ranikhet but he was told: ‘No, don’t renounce. Your way is karma yoga, sahaj yoga. You have to teach sahaj yoga to the world. That is why you have been given this divine initiation. ‘
History is ignorant about who initiated Shirdi Sai Baba. May be he was initiated by a divine power or that he was born enlightened. He was in the prime of his youth when Chandbhai met him in the deep forest near a village in Aurangabad district. Chandbhai instantly knew that he was a divine person. But Sai Nath perhaps wanted to give him a proof of his powers.
In a playful mood, he picked up his chillum (local pipe) and asked Chandbhai for a matchstick. Chandbhai didn’t have one, so Sai Nath kicked the ground with his heel and out came a flare of fire. He lit his chillum and doused the fire with his hand.History records Chandbhai as the first person who recognized Sai Nath as an accomplished yogi. Later, on the occasion of the wedding of a relative, he asked Sai Nath to accompany the barat (bridegroom’s party) headed for Shirdi. The request was granted.
Outside the Shirdi village, there is an old temple of Shiva, where the barat was lodged. But the priest refused to let in Sai Nath who was wearing a faqir’s (a muslim holy man) robes and a white scarf on his head and looked like a Muslim. After the wedding, Sai Nath stayed on in Shirdi. There he lived under a neem tree for years. Gradually, a group of devotees gathered around him and started calling him Sai. One day, one of them asked him: ‘You have been sitting under this tree for so many years, is there a special reason for this?’
Shirdi Sai Baba replied: ‘My guru’s samadhi is here.’ Their curiosity whetted, people started digging the ground around the tree. They found a tunnel and, true enough, a grave. They were more surprised to notice an offering of fresh flowers and burning oil lamps at that underground grave. Who was Sai Baba’s guru? For how long had the grave existed? And since when did Sai Baba know about it? Nobody knows. But the people of Shirdi were a witness when Sai Baba told the world about the grave. This is an example of initiation by recollection which totally defies understanding. Sai Baba ‘s birth year is estimated to be 1838—he was around 80 when he left his body in 1918.
Often, the guru himself creates the yearning for God in the disciple and follows his journey through many years before taking him to the goal. A good example is the initiation by sight of Swami Muktananda (founder of the Siddha Yoga movement, now headed by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda) by Swami Nityananda. This happened in Mangalore.
Muktananda was in his early teens when, returning from school one day, he came across a dervish. The dervish looked deep into his eyes, touched his head, caressed his back, and gave him a sweet. This was the initiation that started Muktananda’s quest at a very early age. The child didn’t know who the dervish was. But he became acutely aware of an unfathomable yearning in his heart. So much so that one day while watching a play about Shiva-Parvati, he suddenly cried out: ‘No, no. I want to have the real Shiva’s darshan and not of the one in this drama.’
Inevitably, one day after school, instead of returning home, he went in search of the real Shiva. It was a long journey that took him to many ashrams and maths. Forty years passed but the goal was nowhere in sight. Finally, it was an avadhuta named Jipruanna who advised him to go to Vajreshwari: ‘Your guru is waiting for you there.’
Muktananda followed this advice, met Nityananda and recognized him to be the dervish he had met as a child. The guru knew of his years of wandering through difficult terrain and also knew that love ripens in the fire of separation. To raise Muktananda’s kundalini to the sahasrar chakra, Nityananda gave him another initiation by sight.
This time it was so intense that a shaft of light pierced Muktananda’s being. This divine light took on many hues. Afterwards, Nityananda gave him his wooden sandals, some flowers and incense. Then, chanting Om Namo Shivaya, he draped a blue shawl around Muktananda’s shoulders.
There are innumerable preceptors who give mantra initiation and a still larger number of people who take it, but I will write about only one outstanding example. This is taken from the life of Mithran Namboodiripad, who was born in 1929 in Kerala’s Triponitura village. Mithran studied in a gurukul. He learnt Sanskrit and studied the Vedas, the Upanishads, even tantra.
As for spiritual practice, he used the mrityunjya mantra. Then, in a sun temple, he practised the gayatri and bala mantras. But when he went to the Mookambika temple to be initiated in the devi’s mantra, the resident priest refused. Mithran begged for it again and again, but to no avail. The bija (seed) mantra of this devi (goddess) is not written down in any scripture; it is handed down orally.
Incidentally, the Mookambika temple’s uniqueness is that the deity here is worshipped as Saraswati (goddess of the arts and learning) the morning, Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity) in the afternoon and Kali (signifying the primordial female) at night. A dejected Mithran left the temple and went into the forest nearby. After taking a dip in the river and still wearing wet clothes, he sat under a tree. As the night darkness descended on the forest, he started sobbing.
The only word that left his lips along with the sighs was: Devi, Devi (goddess). The night wore on while he remained in this state. Then, in a true miracle, a woman manifested before him. Her forehead was adorned with a tilak (mark) of sandal wood and sindoor (auspicious red powder). She was carrying a monk’s bowl in her hand and an ochre cloth wrapped around her back. She appeared to be barely 25 to 30 years old.
Mithran gaped at her in utter astonishment and confusion. ‘So, the priest didn’t give you the mantra?’ she asked and then added with a smile: ‘I’ve come personally to give you that same bija mantra. ‘ She whispered the mantra thrice into Mithran’s ear, as is customary, to help him memorize it, and made a covenant that he would not reveal it to anybody.
The devi disappeared and Mithran, dancing in ecstasy, ran towards the temple. The temple door was closed. He sat outside waiting for dawn. Eventually the priest arrived and Mithran caught hold of his arm. ‘I’ve got the mantra,’ he exclaimed and said it aloud. Since only the priest knew the mantra, he was convinced that Mithran was speaking the truth. Then, the priest told him: ‘ According to this temple’s tradition, anybody who is blessed with the devi’s darshan has to be worshipped.’
This was in January 1961. The priest called for other priests from neighbouring villages. They robed Mithran in silk clothes and worshipped him amid much fanfare. Soon after, Mithran went into the Ganapati cave in a nearby hill and practised the mantra for four-and-a-half years.
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