Each teaching has a utility, but no single teaching is right for everyone at any point in time. Sometimes the way is Bhakti (love and devotion), sometimes Silence, sometimes intellectual understanding, sometimes letting things be, sometimes none of these… sometimes the mere notions of a teacher, a teaching and someone to be taught is too much!
God/Life shows us ‘the way’ if we learn how to listen…
Hence the ‘true teacher’ is always with us
What is the role of the Guru and of God in spiritual liberation? What about devotion, bhakti and surrender? Faith in Jesus, faith in Ramana… This video was recorded live during a Satsang meeting with Tom Das
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The following are quotes from Nisargadatta Maharaj, taken from the book ‘I Am That’. The subheadings are my own additions; I have also added bold type where I felt emphasis would be useful:
Questioner: You were telling us that there are many self-styled Gurus, but a real Guru is very rare. There are many jnanis who imagine themselves realised, but all they have is book knowledge and a high opinion of themselves. Sometimes they impress, even fascinate, attract disciples and make them waste their time in useless practices. After some years, when the disciple takes stock of himself, he finds no change. When he complains to his teacher, he gets the usual rebuke that he did not try hard enough. The blame is on the lack of faith and love in the heart of the disciple, while in reality the blame is on the Guru, who had no business in accepting disciples and raising their hopes. How to protect oneself from such Gurus?
Maharaj: Why be so concerned with others? Whoever may be the Guru, if he is pure of heart and acts in good faith, he will do his disciples no harm. If there is no progress, the fault lies with the disciples, their laziness and lack of self-control.
On the other hand, if the disciple is earnest and applies himself intelligently and with zest to his sadhana, he is bound to meet a more qualified teacher, who will take him further.
Your question flows from three false assumptions: that one needs concern oneself with others; that one can evaluate another and that the progress of the disciple is the task and responsibility of his Guru. In reality, the Guru’s role is only to instruct and encourage; the disciple is totally responsible for himself.
On surrender to a guru
Q: We are told that total surrender to the Guru is enough, that the Guru will do the rest.
M: Of course, when there is total surrender, complete relinquishment of all concern with one’s past, presents and future, with one’s physical and spiritual security and standing, a new life dawns, full of love and beauty; then the Guru is not important, for the disciple has broken the shell of self-defence. Complete self-surrender by itself is liberation.
What if both guru and seeker are inadequate?
Q: When both the disciple and his teacher are inadequate, what will happen?
M: In the long run all will be well. After all, the real Self of both is not affected by the comedy they play for a time. They will sober up and ripen and shift to a higher level of relationship.
Q: Or, they may separate.
M: Yes, they may separate. After all, no relationship is forever. Duality is a temporary state.
Is meeting a guru a chance occurrence?
Q: Is it by accident that I met you and by another accident shall we separate never to meet again? Or is my meeting you a part of some cosmic pattern, a fragment in the great drama of our lives?
M: The real is meaningful and the meaningful relates to reality. If our relationship is meaningful to you and me, it cannot be accidental. The future affects the present as much, as the past.
How can I determine a True Guru?
Q: How can I make out who is a real saint and who is not?
M: You cannot, unless you have a clear insight into the heart of man. Appearances are deceptive. To see clearly, your mind must be pure and unattached. Unless you know yourself well, how can you know another? And when you know yourself – you are the other.
Leave others alone for some time and examine yourself. There are so many things you do not know about yourself – what are you, who are you, how did you come to be born, what are you doing now and why, where are you going, what is the meaning and purpose of your life, your death, your future? Have you a past, have you a future? How did you come to live in turmoil and sorrow, while your entire being strives for happiness and peace? These are weighty matters and have to be attended to first. You have no need, nor time for finding who is a jnani and who is not?
Tom: ie. knowing yourself is the chief aim, and this should be the focus of your attention, not concerning yourself about who is a real jnani/guru and who isn’t.
Q: I must select my guru rightly.
M: Be the right man and the right Guru will surely find you.
Questioner: Is it right to change Gurus?
Nisargadatta Maharaj: Why not change? Gurus are like milestones? It is natural to move on from one to another. Each tells you the direction and the distance, while the sadguru, the eternal Guru, is the road itself. Once you realise that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy.
Questioner: So, there is no need to worship, to pray, to practice Yoga?
Nisargadatta Maharaj: A little of daily sweeping, washing and bathing can do no harm. Self-awareness tells you at every step what needs be done. When all is done, the mind remains quiet.
Perfection of Faith in God/Guru/Self is the same as Jnana (spiritual ‘knowledge’ or ‘enlightenment’).
You could say that one leads to another – faith and surrender leads to knowledge, or knowledge leads to surrender and faith – and these are both true on one level, but ultimately they are one and the same – where is the difference apart from on the conceptual level?
For me Faith in the Guru, my Beloved, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, overcame me quite spontaneously, without my asking, and clinging to Him and Faith in his Word and dwelling in His Presence became the Way and the Law and my Self.
For me, whilst I like to learn a bit about Ramana’s life and I enjoy reading his teachings, gazing at His Image and feeling His Presence has often been more powerful than all the written teachings and all my efforts put together.
Someone recently approached me at the end of one of my Satsangs/meetings and asked me which book would I recommend as being the best one to understand Ramana’s teachings. I told him that Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi and Be As You Are are two wonderful books, but when you open the book, the most important page is the one which has a photograph of Ramana on it (most of Ramana’s books contain a photograph of him in the first few pages).
Instead of reading all the teachings and trying to figure it all out, just look at His Image, feel His Presence!
We can read and listen to the teachings as much as we like, but I have found there is power in something else, something intangible – the Guru’s grace, the eyes of the Guru, His Divine Grace…
So, cling to the Guru, cling to His Teachings. For me, that means Sri Ramana Maharshi. If it suits you, if you are drawn to Him, Ramana, take Him up as your Guru. Look at His Image, give yourself to Him, if it feels right for you. Of if you have another Guru/God you are drawn to, do the same with him/her. Or if you cannot relate to a Guru or God, try relating to Life or the Universe or Universal Energy or something similar. See what happens and feel free to let me know too!
Ramana said that life often brings us to have faith in God, then God brings us a Guru, and the Guru then directs us back to our Self and we realise all is One. Of course, we do not really realise, rather the ‘we’ or the ‘me’ that is seeking Union disappears or ‘merges into Him’. There was only ever Him/Self/Guru/God/Oneness…use any word that suits you.
Ramana also said that if we are lucky enough to be blessed with faith in something, that is a blessing to us and we should seize that faith and lean on it with loving devotion, and not to allow it to wither away.
So I encourage you to look at His Image, surrender to Him, and let me know how it goes!
‘Perfection of Faith in God/Guru/Self is the same as Jnana’
With love and best wishes
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi was often said to have had no guru, but he himself considered the mountain-hill Arunachala to be his Guru.
Ramana considered the actual form of Arunachala to be the divine Self, the Pure Consciousness dwelling in the Heart. This is a very strange notion for the rational Western mind, but for those who have tasted Bhakti, or devotional love, it makes complete sense.
Maybe some of you have experienced this: the Guru grips you, magnetically pulls you towards Him (or Her or It) and showers you with His Grace – you have no choice but to Obey. You somehow become convinced that the Guru’s form is itself the Absolute, the Pure Consciousness that Alone Is, and have no choice but to fall at His feet in Loving Devotion.
Ramana wrote very little himself, but of his written works he did write several devotional poetic works effusively praising and thanking Arunachala, his Guru, for bestowing the Guru’s Grace and swallowing him whole.
Grant us the good fortune to fall in Love with Thee!
To experience your Grace!
I am blessed with knowledge of your form!
May I spend my days contemplating your form!
May your Grace continue to pull me towards you and consume me in Divine Love!
May I attain that Great Peace, my Own Very Self, in your Loving Embrace!
You are Arunachala!
You are the True Guru!
You Dwell in me as Me,
Unchanging Pure Consciousness Love!
Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya Om
Nisargadatta Maharaj often spoke about his own spiritual journey and practice, and how his guru’s teachings led him to his own eventual self-realisation. In his most widely read book, ‘I Am That’, Nisargadatta speaks many times of his practice and the profound effect his own guru had upon him. The following are direct quotes from I Am That focusing on what Nisargadatta spoke of his own sadhana (spiritual practice) and the teachings of his own Guru.
I have not added any commentary as I think the excerpts speak for themselves, but I have added bold text to emphasize specific points I thought would be of use for seekers in terms of making the sadhana practical.
I hope you find the following quotes both instructive and inspiring for your own sadhana,
It so happened that I trusted my Guru. He told me I am nothing but my self and I believed him. Trusting him, I behaved accordingly and ceased caring for what was not me, nor mine.
Questioner: Kindly tell us how you realised.
Maharaj: I met my Guru when I was 34 and realised by 37.
Questioner: What happened? What was the change?
Maharaj: Pleasure and pain lost their sway over me. I was free from desire and fear. I found myself full, needing nothing. I saw that in the ocean of pure awareness, on the surface of the universal consciousness, the numberless waves of the phenomenal worlds arise and subside beginninglessly and endlessly. As consciousness, they are all me. As events they are all mine. There is a mysterious power that looks after them. That power is awareness, Self, Life, God, whatever name you give it. It is the foundation, the ultimate support of all that is, just like gold is the basis for all gold jewellery. And it is so intimately ours! Abstract the name and shape from the jewellery and the gold becomes obvious. Be free of name and form and of the desires and fears they create, then what remains?
M: Yes, the void remains. But the void is full to the brim.
Q: Please tell me which road to self-realisation is the shortest.
M: No way is short or long, but some people are more in earnest and some are less. I can tell you about myself. I was a simple man, but I trusted my Guru. What he told me to do, I did. He told me to concentrate on ‘I am’ – I did. He told me that I am beyond all perceivables and conceivables — I believed.
I gave him my heart and soul, my entire attention and the whole of my spare time (I had to work to keep my family alive). As a result of faith and earnest application, I realised my self (swarupa) within three years. You may choose any way that suits you; your earnestness will determine the rate of progress.
Q: No hint for me?
M: Establish yourself firmly in the awareness of ‘I am’. This is the beginning and also the end of all endeavour.
Q: How did you come to it?
M: By my trust in my Guru. He told me ‘You alone are’ and I did not doubt him.
…my Guru too taught me to doubt — everything and absolutely. He said: ‘deny existence to everything except your self.’ Through desire you have created the world with its pains and pleasures.
Put in all and you will get all. I was doing it. All my time I was giving to my Guru and to what he told me.
Q: Still, you have a body and you depend on it.
M: Again you assume that your point of view is the only correct one. I repeat: I was not, am not, shall not be a body. To me this is a fact. I too was under the illusion of having been born, but my Guru made me see that birth and death are mere ideas — birth is merely the idea: ‘I have a body’. And death — ‘I have lost my body’. Now, when I know I am not a body, the body may be there or may not — what difference does it make? The body-mind is like a room. It is there, but I need not live in it all the time.
I trusted my Guru and he proved right. Trust me, if you can. Keep in mind what I tell you: desire nothing, for you lack nothing. The very seeking prevents you from finding.
‘One can give food, clothes, shelter, knowledge, affection, but the highest gift is the gospel of enlightenment‘, my Guru used to say. You are right, enlightenment is the highest good. Once you have it, nobody can take it away from you.
I am now 74 years old. And yet I feel that I am an infant. I feel clearly that in spite of all the changes I am a child. My Guru told me: that child, which is you even now, is your real self (swarupa). Go back to that state of pure being, where the ‘I am’ is still in its purity before it got contaminated with ‘this I am’ or ‘that I am’. Your burden is of false self-identifications — abandon them all.
My Guru told me — ‘Trust me. I tell you; you are divine. Take it as the absolute truth. Your joy is divine, your suffering is divine too. All comes from God. Remember it always. You are God, your will alone is done’.
I did believe him and soon realised how wonderfully true and accurate were his words. I did not condition my mind by thinking: ‘I am God, I am wonderful, I am beyond’. I simply followed his instruction which was to focus the mind on pure being ‘I am’, and stay in it. I used to sit for hours together, with, nothing but the ‘I am’ in my mind and soon peace and joy and a deep all-embracing love became my normal state. In it all disappeared — myself, my Guru, the life I lived, the world around me. Only peace remained and unfathomable silence.
When I met my Guru, he told me: ‘You are not what you take yourself to be. Find out what you are. Watch the sense ‘I am’, find your real self’. I obeyed him, because I trusted him. I did as he told me. All my spare time I would spend looking at myself in silence. And what a difference it made, and how soon! It took me only three years to realise my true nature. My Guru died soon after I met him, but it made no difference. I remembered what he told me and persevered.
Q: The mind is so absolutely restless. For quieting it what is the way?
M: Trust the teacher. Take my own case. My Guru ordered me to attend to the sense ‘I am’ and to give attention to nothing else. I just obeyed. I did not follow any particular course of breathing, or meditation, or study of scriptures. Whatever happened, I would turn away my attention from it and remain with the sense ‘I am’, it may look too simple, even crude. My only reason for doing it was that my Guru told me so. Yet it worked! Obedience is a powerful solvent of all desires and fears.
Just turn away from all that occupies the mind; do whatever work you have to complete, but avoid new obligations; keep empty, keep available, resist not what comes uninvited.
In the end you reach a state of non-grasping, of joyful non-attachment, of inner ease and freedom indescribable, yet wonderfully real.
My Guru, before he died, told me: Believe me, you are the Supreme Reality. Don’t doubt my words, don’t disbelieve me. I am telling you the truth – act on it. I could not forget his words and by not forgetting – I have realised.
I lived my life, plied my trade, looked after my family, and every free moment I would spend just remembering my Guru and his words. He died soon after and I had only the memory to fall back on. It was enough.
Q: How did you get it?
M: I found it all in the holy presence of my Guru — I did nothing on my own. He told me to be quiet – and I did it – as much as I could.
Q: You made no efforts whatsoever?
M: None. Believe it or not, I was not even anxious to realise. He only told me that I am the Supreme and then died. I just could not disbelieve him. The rest happened by itself. I found myself changing — that is all. As a matter of fact, I was astonished. But a desire arose in me to verify his words. I was so sure that he, could not possibly have told a lie, that I felt I shall either realise the full meaning of his words or die. I was feeling quite determined, but did not know what to do. I would spend hours thinking of him and his assurance, not arguing, but just remembering what he told me.
Q: What happened to you then? How did you know that you are the Supreme?
M: Nobody came to tell me. Nor was I told so inwardly. In fact, it was only in the beginning when I was making efforts, that I was passing through some strange experiences; seeing lights, hearing voices, meeting gods and goddesses and conversing with them. Once the Guru told me: ‘You are the Supreme Reality’, I ceased having visions and trances and became very quiet and simple. I found myself desiring and knowing less and less, until I could say in utter astonishment: ‘I know nothing, I want nothing.’