Guru Purnima is a Day for Reflection, a day to meditate upon not only the meaning and the inner significance of both Guru and Purnima, but also to offer our gratitude to all those who have inspired and guided us along the path.
We all are familiar with the following opening verse of the Guru Stotra in praise of the Guru:
Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu Gururdevo Maheshvarah |
Gurur Sakshat Param Brahma Tasmai Shri Gurave Namah ||
Guru is the very Manifestation of Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Sustainer; and, Maheshvara or Shiva, the Recycler. Indeed, Guru is The Para Brahman, the Supreme One. Salutations to That Guru.
But, for Those who have long forgotten their ancestral wisdom, culture or samskriti, such praise, adulation or glorification of a “living being” can be considered blasphemous.
We are not talking about those not familiar with our traditions, but our own youth, our youngsters – they have a huge problem bowing down to the elders. The television anchors in Bharat not only would call their elderly guests by name, but also shout and scream at them, forgetting the very Ethics of Journalism. Namaskar and Namaste have lost their meaning. They are used as lip service.
So, how can a Guru be The Very Manifestation of Para Brahma? How can the parents be revered as the Embodiments of the Divine? Do we still remember the dictum Matru, Pitru and Acharya Devo Bhava? Revere your mother, your father, and your teacher, nay, even your guest, the atithi as the embodiments of the Divine.
Time to Return to the above quote by Ramana Maharshi, part of a conversation between him and a disciple as documented by Arthur Osborne… here are some extracts:
Disciple: Bhagavan says he has no disciples?
D: He also says that a Guru is necessary if one wishes to attain Liberation?
D: What then must I do? Has my sitting here all these years been just a waste of time? Must I go and look for some Guru in order to receive initiation seeing that Bhagavan says he is not a Guru?
Bhagavan: What do you think brought you here such a long distance and made you remain so long? Why do you doubt? If there had been any need to seek a Guru elsewhere you would have gone away long ago.
D: Then Bhagavan does have disciples!
Bhagavan: As I said, from Bhagavan’s point of view there are no disciples; but from that of the disciple the Grace of the Guru is like an ocean. If he comes with a cup he will only get a cupful. It is no use complaining of the niggardliness of the ocean; the bigger the vessel the more he will be able to carry. It is entirely up to him.
D: Then to know whether Bhagavan is my Guru or not is just a matter of faith, if Bhagavan will not admit it.
Bhagavan (humorously, through the Interpreter): Ask him, does he want me to give him a written document?
* * *
I was not Fortunate Enough to be blessed in person by Shri Bhagavan, not physically by the form that was His, but blessed to have met Gurus like him. Gurus who were above elaborate initiation and empowerment ceremonies, and had no business with certificates and certifications. That is, “no written documents” in the words of Ramana Maharshi.
My First Gurus were my Parents. My mother was a simple woman. Her literacy skill was limited to signing her own name in Sindhi, whereas my father was an avid reader. His library shared the same room with the family altar for daily worship.
I was born in Surakarta (Solo), Central Java – not a very big city, but an important one – a city of royalties, where ancestrals values mattered. Here, they showed their respect to their parents by offering sungkem – bowing down to them.
The Tradition Lives on, the ancient values are still held in high esteem by many. Look at the pictures above – the first one is of President Soekarno, one of the Founding Fathers of the modern Indonesian Republic, and the other one is of the current Head of State, President Joko Widodo.
Coming back to my Gurus…
My Father, Baba as my sister and I would call him in the Sindhi fashion, was a warrior. I saw him falling to the lowest ebb, financially and socially, but he never gave up. As the legendary phoenix he rose again from his own ashes.
This lesson given by him would help me repeatedly in my own life. Every time I was in distress or facing hardship I would simply look at his picture, and got infused with his energy!
An Ardent Devotee of Thakur, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, he firmly believed in what the Great Master said: Yato Mat – Tato Path.
Commonly translated as “As many faiths, so many paths”, he interpreted the phrase quite differently:
“Mat is not the same as faith, mat can be an opinion, a perception. As per my understanding, Thakur was not referring to faith, but to ‘the way people understand, the way we perceive, the way we interpret our faith’.
“So, to me Yato Mat – Tato Path means: As many ways of understanding there are, as many opinions and perceptions there are, so many paths there are.”
With passage of time I understood him better. After his demise – I wrote extensively on the subject. His interpretation continues to light my path!
Mummy, as We Called our Mother – so as not to confuse her with our Grandmother who was called Amma in the Sindhi Fashion – had an incredible power of memory. She could recall all the stories and events from the immortal epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Well, actually any story from the scriptures. Once heard, the stories became part of her memory bank.
On the other hand not only did she forgive her offenders, but also forgot their offences. It was so very easy to her, and came about quite naturally!
On weekday evenings she invited all the Indian ladies in the neighborhood for satsang. My sister would read out a passage from one of the scriptures, and they would discuss the same. It was like a study circle. In between, there would be bhajans and light dancing in the Sindhi Bhagat style. For her religion was never a serious affair and spirituality was about singing and dancing.
Now, Why Weekdays Only? Because Sunday evenings were reserved for family outing. In those days, Saturday was still considered a weekday, so six evenings a week for satsang and one evening for family-sang – hahahaha!
When we were traveling, invariably within Indonesia, the satsang would accompany us. I do not remember staying in a hotel because here were friends with whom we stayed. And, they would stay with us when visiting Surakarta.
They, those family friends, shared the same interest. So, bhajans and satsang would continue. In fact, the Sunday evening outing would often change into satsang gathering during such outings.
During such gatherings, my father would share from the books he read including Sufistic poetries of Sindhi Saints like Latif, Sachal, and Sami. A sample:
“Wave is no different from the sea…Chanrai Bachumal Shikarpuri
Creation lives within the Creator,
and Creator within creation…”
Popularly Known as Sami (1743-1850)
Thus, my First Gurus: My Parents.
In 1965 We Moved to Lucknow (India) where we lived for a little over 5 years. Much of the events have been recorded in my autobiography, “Soul Quest: The Journey from Death to Immortality”.
It was in Lucknow where I met an ice vendor whose real name was unknown. Some called him Sheikh Baba out of sincere reverence whilst others considered him a charlatan in the garb of an ice vendor posing as Baba. Yet, some others rejected him outright as an infidel, for he would quote shlokas from Gita with the same passion and reverence as the Quranic ayats.
He nurtured the sapling of love and compassion within me, the seeds for which were sown by my parents and first Gurus. I saw embodied within him the same spirit of Ramakrishna, the Great Master, albeit unknown to anyone outside the lane where he lived.
Four Years after We Bade Farewell to each other I returned to Lucknow in 1975 and visited the same lane where he lived. Everything was the same, but he was no longer living there.
Some of the neighbors told me that he had gone to his home village and died there. Others were sure that he was alive but, kahin pahaad vahaad par chalaa gayaa, thodaa sanki to thaa hi (“he has gone to the mountains,” implicitly referring to the Himalayas, “he was a little mad anyway.”)… None could give me his address.
I was left with some memories, some teachings of such a revolutionary nature that to this day I dare not pen them down….
“The Letter A is for…..; but it can also be for…..;
the meanings of those two words are distance apart….
Yet, A remains A.
Without A, those words have no existence.
But, A can exist without those words.”
Sufi? The message of Gita simplified? Pure Vedanta, the essence of the Vedic wisdom? The Ice Vendor Baba despised such debate: “Go to Aminabad (then one of the main markets in Lucknow) get yourself some kulfi falooda (homemade ice cream served with vermicelli). Eat it, taste it for yourself. What is the use of discussing what is kulfi and what is falooda?” He was my Second Guru.
Back in Jakarta around 1971 I was blessed by the presence of Swami Chidananda Saraswati, the then President Swami of the Divine Life Society and the renowned Sindhi Saint Swami Lilashah.
I attended every session of theirs, morning and evening, must be more than a week where I was exposed to the subtleties of Yoga, the Yogic practices, and the basic principles of Ayurveda.
Theirs was a unique way of teaching. While making us do different postures of Hatha Yoga, Swami Chidananda would also be talking about Vedanta, about both the Upanishads and the Puranas. In those, rather informal talks than formal discourses, the Non-Dualistic philosophy of Advaita and the Dvaita or Dualistic base of the Puranas intertwined, intermingled so harmoniously and naturally. They did not belong to the tribe of Gurus who would hold their perspective of truth as The Only Truth.
I Vividly Remember Swami Chidananda telling me in a more intimate interaction after one of the sessions: “Asanas will make your body fit, your mind clear and sharp – so you can use them to serve others.”
A similar message was given by Swami Lilashah:
“Eating, drinking, sleeping – all these are necessary for the body. But, too much of any of them will destroy your body. Instead of pleasure, you will invite pain. So, discipline yourself. Moderation is important in everything.
“You must also know that true happiness (Ananda) is not the result of eating, drinking, sleeping, and hoarding wealth. You can only experience true happiness when you serve the poor, the needy.”
With the Grace of God, during 1971 to 1991, I was blessed to have personal interactions with several masters, genuine Sadgurus. To name a few of them: J. Krishnamurti, Acharya Rajneesh, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Swami Chinmayananda, Maharaj Charan Singh, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi. And, many other lesser known, yet highly evolved ones, not to mention some mysterious Siddhas – the Accomplished Ones.
It was those meetings, interactions and teachings that ferried me across the rough seas of fear, anxiety, and worry when in 1991, I was dying of Leukaemia.
Someone once asked me, “Who among them would you consider as your Guru?” A difficult question, for all of them contributed to the making of who I am today. Having said that, following the age old Tibetan tradition, if I were to mention one name as my Moola or Root Guru then it would be Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
He said, “But he was a charlatan, he fooled people. He was a Pedophile.” I asked, “Did you ever meet him?”
“Why should I, All Those Stories are Everywhere.” And, his understanding of “everywhere” meant searching the net.
I replied, “My experience with him is my own experience, having met and personally interacted with him several times. I choose to believe, to trust in my own experience…”
Looking at the quality of most of the Gurus today busy building their empires and corporations, chasing popularity and political correctness – I am reminded of an article in the Times of India after his demise in the year 2011.
Some Extracts Here:
“The rich, influential and powerful who counted themselves among Sathya Sai Baba’s devotees do not seem to have tempted the godman to essay a political role or be a mover or shaker behind the scene.
“Today as VVIPs travel to Puttaparthi to offer homage, the Baba’s political neutrality is seen as a rare virtue.
“This aspect was a good thing about the Swami. He kept away from the political controversies….
“By staying apolitical, Baba’s influence became more pervasive across political lines…. Baba kept away from political machinations. He never set one politician against the other or helped a political party….
“…. in the late 1990s, a large political party tried to woo him,… it was declined with an effervescent smile but heartfelt blessings…”
Where do we Find such a Guru Nowadays?
Guru, a genuine Guru, a Sadguru is extolled as the One who Dispels the darkness of delusion and ignorance. Purnima symbolizes the enlightenment that a disciple attains as the clouds of delusion and ignorance disperse.
Having done all that, having guided us all the way, the Guru, Sri Sathya Sai Baba says: “The Master is Your Heart,” meaning our Inner Heart, and he adds, “Follow the Master” – meaning “follow the Inner Voice for that is the Voice of God.
“Face the Devil….” – the tricky mind; and, “Finish the Game!” – Become victorious by gaining victory over your mind…..
Confronted with a Question about His Claim of Godhood by R K Karanjia, the editor of Leftist Journal Blitz, Baba said, “But, I also say that You are God. I remember, you do not.”
The edited version was first published by esamskriti.com. This is the uncut full version of the article.