Guru Gazing

Spirituality is all about God-realisation through a process of self-realisation. But is self-learning the most appropriate mode for that? Is it an option at all given an individual’s intellectual limitations? Bharath’s spiritual systems and scriptures unambiguously prescribe taking a preceptor’s guidance in one’s other-worldly quest.

Of course, atheists, rationalists and sundry other detractors have always seen in this scriptural sanction a priestly plot to ensure the sustenance of that clan for posterity. But the fact is Gurus from the non-priestly classes or hailing from no hierarchy (parampara) have also emerged and earned the people’s reverence, giving a lie to the ‘vested interest’ argument. And ironically, most rationalists themselves draw inspiration from their own rationalist ‘gurus’ which proves that their objection is only to a particular religious or cultural tradition while the idea of a Guru itself is unassailable. So if bands of unbelievers, despite being smart rationalists, need hand holding by a higher human mind in their ideological paths, what if the much larger community of believers seek out their own guides? It is, therefore, that whatever the force of rational polemics, spiritual Gs have proliferated, persevered and prevailed down the ages in this land. Sadly, quite a few even prospered in a very material sense, lending credence to the devil’s advocates.

Let’s now confine ourselves to the spiritual spectrum and its own Gs and get back to the core question of self-learning vis-à-vis the need for a Guru. It is undeniable that a spiritual self is embedded deep in everyone’s psyche. It is only a matter of time before it emerges. The agent provocateurs for the spiritual up-swell could be anything ranging from an innate yearning to know the unknown to the many material challenges thrown up by the phenomenal world. As one progresses on the time line through no personal effort, one realises that life’s arithmetic is not very consistent. At twenty, when the blood was still warm and gushing, two plus two made four, but at forty when that red liquid hits many roadblocks, it simply does not add up to the same. And it is when repeated attempts turn futile, that you begin to look for the missing link. The scientific, self-confident mind now desperately seeks out the scriptures, sacred places and even horoscopes, courtesy that embedded spititual gene. Even those trained on a religious routine from childhood confront deeper spiritual questions that may actually challenge their inborn or inbuilt beliefs only on the thorny path of life. And it is when the individual inability to fathom the scriptural tomes or find meaning in the happenings around becomes apparent that the need for expert help arises. More so to a distraught mind. Enter, Guru.

Even secular knowledge, which can be compartmentalised for easy grasping, and which is constantly being revised, even rejected by newer wisdom, needs to be taught. Things metaphysical, which call for abilities beyond learning by rote, like introspection, meditation and perception, certainly cannot be understood by ploughing a lonely furrow. And then there is the problem of unloading much of the accumulated mental junk. In Bharath, there has always been a formal teaching tradition in the realms of spirituality. In fact, spirituality here has been a science with the ashrams and gurukulas acting as learning centres and laboratories for both the material and supra-material. A product of that ‘school’ was certainly better placed to face the challenges of the world as well as questions beyond than the present professional degree holder who seeks out true knowledge quite belatedly or tentatively. But once the question arises and the quest begins, the Guru becomes indispensable. It is said that in such a case the Guru will find you, instead of you looking for him. Whatever, but only ignoramuses or the self-conceited will believe they can traverse the spiritual path without a benign benefactor.

The Gurudom has its woes too. In Bharath, respect and reverence for Guru, like spirituality, is also hardwired into our system. This regard for kaavi, the saffron attire, is our people’s natural first nature and transcends caste and sectarian differences, besides surviving political and scandalous onslaughts. While there are paramparas galore with a parallel lineage of the devout looking up to them, random gurus do pop up from time to time and place to place, claiming to be reincarnations of earlier ones or of even God. This gells well with the people for whom the vacancy left by the absence of a visible God is now filled. So in a country where the need for a Guru is also supplemented by an instinctive ‘believe first’ approach, charlatans do thrive cheek by jowl with the good men amidst the fraternity of godmen. Also, a Guru’s prime job is to understand the aspirant’s nature and guide him towards realising higher truths through saadanas and/or service to society. Instead, material benefits and instant gratification are what most followers seek, which many Gurus pamper to. Even the good Gurus with honourable intent are sometimes forced into making blase blessings or performing petty miracles just to keep the flock interested and growing in the hope that good sense will dawn some time.

And then there is competitive religiosity. In Bharath’s tradition, giving and serving others is a natural part of one’s spiritual life, unlike the ostentatious, condescending charity of the West. Athithi devo bhava, is the age old mantra. Yet, thanks to provocations like conversions and the machinations of a secular government, many Gurus have been forced to institutionalise their charity work. Gurus, who are basically spiritual heads and therefore, beyond material shackles, now get entangled in the worldly web of taxation, accounting and other official trappings. And worse is the necessity to rub shoulders with, and even bless, unscrupulous politicos for favours that building an institution calls for. Many Gurus have come to grief owing to such associations. And thanks to the wealth that flows in owing to the godman’s goodwill, albeit for honourable purposes, these institutions involve high stakes and therefore vested interests. The last ember of spirituality dies down when renounced relatives of purvashrama come back for the hunt and to haunt!

The true legacy of a Guru is his teaching. Instead there is much talk of wealth, wills and inheritance. Small wonder the lofty spiritual world of many a Guru risk turning into nasty material playgrounds!

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Jawahar T R