The First Exposure to the Guru
by Chariji, April 17, 2009, Tiruppur, India.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our expectations always lead us, if not astray, at least along divergent paths which don't lead us anywhere, certainly not to what we expect. I had an opportunity of meeting Babuji Maharaj in Chennai itself. Our friend Mr. Vira Raghavan was apparently an abhyasi and Babuji had stayed with him for two days, when there were no abhyasis at all in Madras, as it was then called. He never told us because he didn't think we would be interested. Incidentally, that shows you what a good preceptor should not be. He should not be reticent about talking about his spiritual life or about his Master, because that is how we can tell people what we are doing, how we are doing, and why we are doing it. It was only the next year that we had that opportunity, but that is just a remark, by the way, on how a preceptor should conduct himself.
I remember the first time I went to Shahjahanpur I missed an opportunity of seeing Master, because I did not have the address. I just passed through Shahjahanpur, and later on I found I had passed within a hundred yards of his house. On my next visit through Shahjahanpur I discovered, by one question to the policeman at a T-junction: "Do you know of this place?" He said "You go on this road. There is a sweet shop there. Ask that man, he will tell you." From here (junction) to the sweet shop, was about thirty yards. And when I asked Ramlal (as he was known), the shop man, he said, "Go down this gali [lane]" - as simple as that.
Now what happened was, my expectation. I had been told of a guru and I assumed he had an ashram. And in my mind, an ashram was a huge square structure with a central courtyard open to the sky, three storeys, all rooms, with an enormous arched entrance through which an elephant could walk; and such a structure did not exist. In fact there was no ashram. There was only his house. And when I saw the gate and the simple structure inside, it was not a disappointment, but it was certainly what the French would call dénouement, a sort of a let down. But my bag was in my car on the junction because the lane would not accommodate a car; it was only fit for rickshaws. And I went into the room. There was only the chik [bamboo curtain] covered door and I walked in, and there he was lying down on the bed, turned towards the wall with his face there. I didn't know what to do, whether I should wake him or..so I sat. It was a simple metal cot, simple bed, and this person who was Babuji Maharaj, about this much on the bed. Anyway I sat there wondering what I was getting into or what I had already got into, when he suddenly turned and looked.
Now I was speaking of this experience of being ‘struck by lightning’. I do not know how it happens to other people but in my case I just looked; he was looking at me, with his typical unfocussed look as if he is looking through you like that. You can't really explain it; and I felt it was [like] looking into infinity. So that was how it happened in my case. Not some thunderbolt from heaven or things like that, but just drawn into something like a vortex - of course there was no movement and you just looked and looked and looked and... That was a moment in which I could have entered spirituality and evolved out of it, into eternity.
But in some way I withdrew my eyes and I lost that moment. You see, the first opportunity was always the best. But I don't know why. Was it etiquette? It certainly was not. Was it politeness? It was not. Was it fear? It was not. It was something like you look at a tiger and, you know, however fierce the tiger is, it turns away. So if I had not turned away, I mean I would have been right through; like you see in one of these science fiction movies - Arthur Clarke, 2001. That moment was lost and we are still waiting for it now. This was 1964, forty-five years have gone.
So, you see if the moment comes and we miss it, as Babuji said, it may not occur for thousands of years again. It did occur but the opportunity was lost. I still don't know the reason how and why. Probably in his estimation it was not the right thing, because after all, he judges, you know. And later on there was a sense of - I don't know how to call it - apprehension or fear or disappointment or … "What am I doing here?". I was the only one; the family was inside the domestic quarters, and Babuji called somebody and said, "Bring his luggage." I had no say in the matter. You know I had only come to pass through on my way to Lucknow. I did not know I was going to be there for perhaps three days. So always, if the first moment is not grasped, we do not know when we will be able to do it again. This is how the spiritual life begins and how it could have ended; and because it did not end then on that first meeting in Shahjahanpur, we are still on the road - the only difference being that he is no more there physically. Later on of course my relationship was quietly but surely deepening.
I remember now the first Basant Panchami I attended in Shahjahanpur. In '64, Basant Panchami had already finished. My father had in fact been made an abhyasi during Basant Panchami. Because unfortunately on that occasion, from Chennai I had to go to Bombay on my company work, so I missed. This was before my visit to Shahjahanpur. So I became an abhyasi only after I returned from Bombay.
In '65, I attended Basant Panchami. I had only heard of it, that it was Lalaji's birthday, the day on which (as Babuji said), this divine personality came down to earth. We were very few; I think in those days Madras had three abhyasis (my father, myself and one Reddiyar - a tall person who lived just opposite to Mr. Vira Raghavan) and some people came from Tirupati I think, where there had already been a centre. In fact, it was one of the first few centres. So we were about half a dozen people getting into the train, the Grand Trunk express in Chennai, in Madras. But there was a great deal of you know, almost intolerable excitement in the heart, longing, in Madras itself. Then as we went on, the train went on. Two or three here, two or three there, and we reached Delhi. And I will tell you what I told Babuji later, that as soon as the other train which we got into in Delhi crossed into Uttar Pradesh, I felt a, you know, not a blow but some sort of impact [on the heart], and that led me to believe that I had lived in Uttar Pradesh before. Because even today, I am very much at home in Uttar Pradesh. I may criticize the way people live there, the filthy way in which they conduct themselves, and lack of manners, their arrogance, their pride, you know - all things which generally people who have nothing, have.
It is a strange thing, but one who has nothing has more arrogance than one who has everything: more arrogance, more pride. I have known beggars being very proud and when somebody gives them a little more than they expect, they look at the fellow and say, it must be black money, you know things like that. They have no respect for the giver because they know what they are worth, what they deserve. And when they get too much out of charity, they hate the charity. So you will all have experience in life that when you try to do good you are always hated, people don't like you, people avoid you, people calumnise you, talk evil of you. But therefore, should we stop doing good? I don't think so, because if it is your nature and not a put-on, not artificially adopted attitude, you can't help doing what you have to do because it is your nature. Like birds sing. You can hear them here. They sing not to please us but they sing because it is their nature to do so. And in the world, human world, poets eulogise this sort of bird behaviour and say, how sweet is the song of the bird, or things like that. You just have to read some Shelley to know what they talk about nature.
The first Basant when we entered Uttar Pradesh, my heart was literally, you know, it was like a balloon being pumped with more and more air and about to burst. And of course when we got off the train in Shahjahanpur, it was at fever pitch. And in those days Basant was held in Babuji's house. On my first Basant, I have said there were about forty people including Babuji Maharaj, but you know the atmosphere that lasted those three days! If you talk of human comfort, physical comfort, there was none. Basant was always in the dead winter.
My first Basant, I think, was on the sixteenth of January - bitterly cold. None of us were prepared for the cold and we did not have equipment, we did not have beds. And Babuji Maharaj, in his love for us, used to give us sweaters, blankets. Don't think of blankets like we have luxurious blankets nowadays; they were just little more than sacks. We slept on the cuts from the field after the grain had been harvested. It was spread on the floor and a thin carpet or something like that on top, moth-eaten generally. We had no pillows and most of us had no blankets except these things, and we gave that to the person who could least bear the cold. Four-thirty, we were at the hand pump: tedang tang, tedang tang, tedang tang, tedang tang, you know. All night we had been brhmmm [wind blowing] like that, because the doors never closed; they had those chains in those days you know, for going into a ring on this other side. And of course when you put it, there was a six-inch gap, the wind blowing through, bitterly cold, but we were enormously happy though the body perhaps was suffering in its own way. As Babuji used to say, it suffers in its place. For him, everything in life had its place. If there was pain in the finger, the finger is suffering. He never said I am suffering. "Look here. There is pain in the finger." "But, Babuji, don't…?" "Haan, haan." That was all you see. He never said yes or no. "Haan, haan," was what he gave us.
But this attitude, you know, of intense longing, craving, excitement, almost always the people, the few people, on the verge of tears when they heard Babuji speak, when they heard Kasturi sister singing. It was almost as if there was an emotional dam, you know, waiting to burst. And there came into the abhyasis, a sense of awe, not fear - awe. Awe is nothing but a perception of something which you don't understand, towards which your heart expresses a sort of a worshipful attitude, and where there is a great deal of love. Nobody knows how that love comes because, as I have said so often, he was an old man, bearded, in 1964 he was sixty-five years old, artificial teeth. I mean nothing that you could fall in love with. Yet this miracle happened and out of that love there was a natural respect, a worshipful attitude, you know, which I have seen progressively declining and of course in many parts of the world it doesn't exist at all. This attitude of holiness, of a reverence which comes from your heart and not from your head - we don't find it now. Perhaps it is the comfort that we have in our ashrams today.
I remember I told Babuji several years later, that we should have a bus to bring abhyasis from the station. And by then the ashram was built, so that we could convey them to the ashram. He said, "Parthasarathi, minimum comfort." Minimum comfort in his language meant enough to live; the danger that you will die is left behind. That's all! Comfort has always been the enemy of a proper spiritual life, because when you have a good mattress and you have air conditioning and you have blankets, sleep overpowers you. When you eat too much, you start snoring in satsangh. You cannot get up in time, or you have to run away to the toilet while the satsangh is still going on. So this attitude you know..I remember the tea, and if you had to pay for it outside Master's house you would have thrown it away. But it was like nectar in that house. We had food on these leaves stitched together with sticks and most of us sometimes had trouble because we picked up the stick inadvertently and we had to spit it out. Dry chapattis - although we were only forty people, the chapattis were made during the day and so in that cold… I mean, we don't talk of palatability or taste. It was food. The truth was borne in upon us that food is for sustenance to keep your body alive; simple, so that it kept you healthy; no fat, so that it kept you lean and able to walk to wherever you had to walk, and nothing in its taste to draw your senses away from your goal.
I remember some people who used to sit and eat with total concentration on the food. And Babuji used to whisper into my ear, "Look, they are eating like pigs." Only food! They have forgotten Master, they have forgotten spirituality, gulp gulp, like that, you know, and talking to themselves: "Chapatti is cold, daal is cold." What the Master gives is amrit (nectar). To think of it as food, makes you go into the error of thinking that this is cold, this is hot, this is chapatti, I am a South Indian, I would have liked rice, or things like that you see, "There is only one small piece of aaloo [potato] in the daal.."
You know how much we suffer from our sophistication, our civilization. It has led me to believe that civilization is an enemy of spirituality. In a sense which western people may not understand, the more sophisticated, the more educated, the more civilized, the more we are out of touch with God and more in tune with science. Tentatively (and purely as a matter for discussion and future thought), we can almost say that knowledge is the devil. Because knowledge makes us lose faith in what we should have faith in, and makes us have faith in what we think we know, forgetting the fact, which as a famous saint or lady of South India called Avvaiyar said: what you have learnt is but a fist-full of mud; what you have not learnt is the Himalayas - even to the best educated.
And of course modern neurosciences confirm, especially brain, science of the brain, knowledge of the brain, the greatest people have said that, the wisest human being has not used more than nine percent of his brain capacity. And with that we are so proud, we are haughty, we talk of Nobel prizes, we talk of intellect and stimulation and foolishness, ill-educated beggars - pointing to Indians on the street. And unfortunately this attitude came when judging or trying to judge the guru himself. People talk you know, "Arre," and they would shyly ask Babuji, "How much have you studied?" He would say, "Maybe fourth or fifth class," and laugh hilariously. The laugh was, I later understood, telling them, try to understand what you can do with the barest education. It is unnecessary. Even that is unnecessary! It was not derisive laughing at your education or your eminence. He said, "If that is all I have, you see, it is enough." And he laughed like a child which picks up some bone or piece and brings it to daddy with utter glee and says, "Daddy, look what I found."
We looked at his stature: he was a short man, very thin weighed forty-two kilos or so. Everything that you saw there was against your accepting him as a guru who could guide you in the things that mattered most in your life: the spiritual, the human goal of divinisation. And of course, later on, people came from all parts of the world, and they had no respect for him. Some people even called him, "Ram Chandra, what do you think of this?" and he said, "Haan, haan, [Yes, yes,] I am telling you," and suddenly he said, "I forgot. I am telling you, I forgot what I was going to tell you." And people were very impressed, because in some way he fitted their template of what they have brought with them: that he is a simple man, he is illiterate, he is living in a simple place like Shahjahanpur, he was never much in life, he never earned anything in life; and they were happy because their judgement or rather I should say, prejudice, was being fulfilled.
I find unfortunately that most abhyasis are happy when their prejudices are fulfilled. You know, Babuji would stoop and pick up a piece of paper on the grass. "How wonderful Babuji is, you know! He keeps the garden clean." He ate half a chapatti, sometimes one. And he told us that when he went to Fatehgarh, in Lalaji's time, he said he had met him hardly ten times in his lifetime. Hardly ten times! And he said, "I used to eat only once a day, and that, half a chapatti. Because we should not strain the guru's resources." Our people nowadays, they eat six chapattis. "Arre, Guruji is giving us. It is all prasad." They are willing to eat two lunches, forgetting this principle that the guru's physical, material resources maybe very little, and in that he has to feed too many, and therefore we should eat the minimum that we need. Not look for taste, not look for satisfaction, but just to keep body and soul together - eat what is necessary. This was the first principle of etiquette, or shall I say, civilized behaviour, because this is true civilization, in knowing what to do, where to do and how to do it. Lost!
Even to Fatehgarh once he landed up rather late, nine o'clock at night, winter. He slept on the granite step outside Lalaji's home. He did not knock on the door and say, "Why don't you open the door sooner? I am freezing here." And when Lalaji opened the door at four-thirty or five in the morning, he found Babuji sleeping there - or lying there. And he said, "Ram Chandra, why did you not knock?" And Babuji kept quiet. He did not answer.
Don't strain your guru's resources - civilized behaviour. Don't disturb him unless it is absolutely a matter of life and death - second principle. Third principle, of course, is even more civilized: don't ask questions about things about which you don't know what questions to ask. "Does the soul exist? Does God exist?" Sometimes he would just laugh off some questions. He said, "If God did not exist, you would not be here to ask this question." But then the people who wanted to show off: "Yes, yes, but, Babuji, how do you mean that I would not exist? Am I not a product of the biological condition in human beings, that the union of the two produces the third?" et cetera, et cetera.
When we ask questions we exhibit two things. One is of course our ignorance, which he knows! He knows that we have no wisdom at all, except perhaps some vestige of wisdom from past lives which brought us to him, because it is a matter of good fortune. Good fortune, whatever it is, we say it is God's grace that brought me to the guru's door, or vice versa. More, it betrays our desires. "Babuji, do you allow smoking?" Nobody who does not smoke asks such a question.
You know, Babuji's eyes, I told you, they were like the deepest you can look into - no end. And when he looked at you, there was no curiosity in what he saw, what he looked for. It was just an unfocused look. And I think he was able to penetrate into you through your eyes. That was why most people turned away, even when asking questions. "Babuji, do you think we can meditate three times a day?" And Babuji says, "Haan, haan, if you have time, you may do it," and he [the abhyasi] is looking this side. "Babuji, is it all right to meditate five times a day, only ten minutes each time?"
In turning away from the Master's gaze, in our fear of looking or having him look into our eyes, we betray our animalism, animal instinct. No animal, be it a tiger or a lion, can look at you and bear your look. You look and, growl, it goes. You can see it in the circus. Strangely, the gentler animals are able to do it. So all our fierceness, all our power, all our arrogance, and ‘belief in myself', all that goes. People did not like Babuji looking into their eyes, even the highest evolved of those days, except a few. So we should have the courage, if not to look into his eyes, at least to let him look into ours. Because, it is like you go to a doctor, and he says, "Strip," and you can't say, "No, no, I am very shy." He doesn't want to see what you don't want to show. He wants to see for diagnostic purposes, and unless you permit him, he cannot do his diagnoses. It is as simple as that.
So Babuji's first look was enough. He knew everything about you: past, present, and of course, the future was always known to him, because the future for all of us is the same - evolution into the highest. But whether we would do it or not, was always for him a big question mark. I was surprised that Babuji said, "You know, I have given to him but I don't know what will happen." I said, "But you must know." He said, "I know what should happen, but I do not know what will happen, what can happen. And of course I know what must not happen. You see? But how to protect?" He said, "We can protect animals. We can tie them up. We can put them in enclosures. But you cannot tie up a human being." "So, Babuji, what is the way?" He said, "This is where their destiny will come into play. If they use this opportunity without diversion, without deviation, I am telling you their goal is certain in this life. But I can only help, I can only guide, I can also pray for protection. But if their will power is stronger, the more stronger the will, the more damage they can do to themselves, if they are on the wrong path."
So you see, we have to not pre-judge the guru. In fact we are not to judge him at all. Like we should not judge food, or evaluate its taste. "Not enough sugar, not enough salt." It is for sustenance, it is to help us to keep alive, and in that attitude of knowing, understanding, acceptance, if you eat, all food is good for us, even the simplest. Not to judge him as a human being, because our capacity to judge is only with measuring tapes and weighing machines and blood samples. It does not mean I do not respect the medical profession, but even the best doctor knows that one evening he can judge a patient to be in good health and one hour later, hear that he had a heart attack and died.
Life and death are beyond a doctor's purview, and if they are making efforts to understand, they should understand that body parameters do not have anything to do with life, because life is intangible, it cannot be known, it cannot be felt, it is eternal, but apparently it is short when in a human body. And so in that span of time (which Babuji said is like going to school), whatever be the length of your life, it is school, and we must learn the lessons of that school so that we evolve out of the school and either go on to higher institutions of knowledge (which there are infinite) in a disembodied soul's state, or unfortunately if you have to do it, return for a fresh year of education.
The first thing is: the guru is the guru. Tradition says, the guru is higher than God because God cannot show Himself to you but the guru can show Him to you. And as Babuji said, "Other than life and death, in between the guru can do anything. But always with the proviso that his guru must permit or Nature must permit." We see utter humility in the guru, and we see total lack of it in abhyasis. We see utter simplicity in the guru, lack of it in the abhyasis. Guru has no prejudice. Even when he knows what you are, there is no question of liking you or disliking you. But unless we train ourselves.. Everybody says, you know, "Babuji I want to become like you." He says, "Haan, haan. It is good." Praising the idea or praising the intention, but waiting to praise the achievement.
So the first exposure to the guru was very important. It was the door opening to eternity which, if you had just stepped across, would have taken you away forever, lost. First bhandara, Basant Panchami - he has taught us so many things, but strangely, most of us forgot when we left. After the ashram was built, Babuji was always there till the crowds had gone on the final day. And then at about ten o'clock - because morning six-thirty was meditation, it was over by seven-thirty, breakfast over by eight, eight-thirty, nine; people leaving. Then he would leave for home (after the ashram was built). I have gone with him in the same rickshaw from the ashram to his house, passing hundreds of abhyasis on the street. Nobody even looked up or recognised him. Nobody!
So what do we go there for? Are we serious about what we are looking for? Or are we just going to re-evaluate this phenomenon that we call the guru, judge the sitting, but by what? "It was cold and you know there was a kankad [stone] under my… we sat mostly on stones, and..", you know. And judging the physical environment: the lack of comfort, the simplicity of the food, people even criticising it. "Yeh kutta bhi nahi khaayega [Even a dog would not eat this]," I have heard people say.
So these two things we must always remember. What should be our attitude when we are with him, in his presence? If we don't imbibe or imbue ourselves with those very absolutely essential qualities of this feeling of awe, looking at him. (Awe is nothing but love and utter respect and worshipful attitude mixed together, it is not fear. Unfortunately from awe has come awful which has a totally different connotation.) And what we take out of that house when we come out, do we, in a sense, make it permanent within us? Does it show in our respect for everybody, in our love for everybody, in accordance with Babuji's teaching, ‘ Love all whom He loves'? ‘ Love Him who loves all', in a sense, many people are able to do to some extent, maybe minimal. But He loves all. Do we love all? He respects all. Do we respect all? He lives simply. Do we live simply? He speaks the truth very nicely, very lovingly. Do we do it? He doesn't ask questions; "What are we doing?" I have never seen him asking, "What are you doing? How much money do you earn?" "You come." He did not know the names of most people, but he knew you. Today we know names of people but we don't know the person.
You see, invertendo is manifesting itself in every aspect of human existence and behaviour. He was knowledge-less, but all wisdom. He was emotionless, but all love. If you are serious about wanting to become like him, should there not be this emulation? You may live like a king, you know. It is said of Raja Janak (Janaka the great, the father of Sita) that he was the simplest being even though he lived in a palace and was a chakravarthi [emperor], because here [the heart], there was no attachment to anything.
There is a well-known story of the young boy Shuka (who was a saint, who was the grandson of Vyasa), that he was sent to Janaka for education. So he came with his palm-leaf book tucked under his armpit, entered the palace and sat next to the king in his bedroom. The king was on a royal bed of gold, sat in silk cushions, and girls all around him fanning him, applying sandalwood paste to his body and all sorts of things. And in his mind came, "Where have I come and what for? Is this fellow going to teach me anything?" (The thing which I also experienced, I told you.) And at that moment one of the palace attendants came and said, "Majesty, there is fire in the city." The king did not respond. Ten minutes later another attendant of the palace came and said, "It is around the palace itself, Majesty." Then somebody came and said, "The palace itself is on fire." And suddenly the bedroom and its curtains were on fire and Shuka took up his bundle and was running away.
So Janaka said, "Come here. To where are you running?" He said, "Fire!" He waved his hand and the fire disappeared. So Shuka said, "What is this?" He said, "You were thinking I am a very ordinary human being, which of course I am, but you judged me from wrong parameters. You thought because I am in a palace and I am resting on satin and there are girls all around me, I could not be this and that and that. And you, who claim to be the wise grandson of Vyasa, et cetera, et cetera, with this bundle of palm leaves, you are running away!" And Shuka was brought to his senses, you see. So a wise youth like Shuka could not judge what he saw.
And then in the tradition, there is the story of Brahma and Vishnu trying to judge Divinity, and it is like a pillar of fire - one goes this way one goes that way, there is no end to it. So we cannot judge what cannot be judged even by the greatest. We cannot know what even the highest cannot know. We can only accept as an entity. We can only accept with love and gratitude the assistance that we get, and make that bond closer and closer until we fuse.