Gurus of our time
In the last century, several Indian spiritual gurus and godmen amassed unprecedented followings in India as well as globally. The gurus of our times, quite a few of them now non-Indian, have also been unveiling hitherto secret doctrines and practices. Charismatic, great orators, motivators and organization builders, they are the glamour boys of contemporary spirituality. In Indian spiritual gurus many a restless soul find, an anchor, their queries dissolved and a path to self-discovery and salvation
Applied Jainism – Acharya Tulsi
By Parveen Chopra
Some years ago, when work in Parliament came to a standstill following a boycott by opposition parties protesting against the ‘whitewash’ of an official report on the securities scam, Acharya Tulsi, the most high-profile Jain guru of them all, was asked to mediate. He succeeded in breaking the impasse—which could have brought the government down—using an unlikely strategy: talking to the parties concerned about anekantavada. This Jain doctrine of non-absolutism holds that all human perceptions of truth are only partially valid, and that one must accommodate points of view other than one’s own.
”Both peace and war originate in the minds of men,” he said in his address to the World Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action held at Ladnun, Rajasthan, India, in December 1995. ”We have paid little or no attention to the question of transforming the human psyche.” It is this issue that cut his life’s work out for him. The answers came in the form of the well-known Anuvrat movement in 1950, and the introduction, later, of preksha meditation and the Science of Living course for students.
I met the Acharya in Ladnun. He looked remarkably fit and alert for his 83 years. A Sanskrit and Prakrit scholar, he spoke in chaste Hindi.
What inspired a religious head like him to launch the popular Anuvrat movement, aimed at social reform and moral regeneration? ”Human suffering,” he replied.
Since ordinary people find the five big vows (nonviolence, non-stealing, celibacy, non-acquisition and speaking the truth, common to Hinduism , Buddhism and Jainism ) too intimidating, he developed a ‘minimum moral code’. This contained vows such as: I will do my best to avoid contributing to pollution; I will observe rectitude in business and general behavior; and I will not resort to unethical practices in the elections.
Anuvrat became a massive movement in the 1960s and 70s.
Preksha dhyan was the next logical step. Explained Tulsi: ”I had started noticing that many people were unable to keep their vows, particularly about shedding addictions. What was needed was a method of inner purification that could give them the requisite strength.”
Preksha literally means looking deeply; the technique involves engaging your mind fully in the perception of the subtle internal and innate phenomena of consciousness to control your passions and purify emotion. Jeevan Vigyan (the Science of Living) aims at the all-round physical, mental, emotional and moral development of the student.
During his tenure as head of the Terapanth sect, Tulsi showed great organizational ability and the mind of a progressive man. Among other things, he instituted a rigorous training program for the monks and nuns of his order. And to obviate the injunction against monks using mechanical means of travel, he created a new order of semi-monks called Samans who routinely fly to other countries.
At the core of his teachings is his slogan: Jain bano na bano, good man bano—it doesn’t matter whether you become a Jain or not, aspire to become a good man, a moral man.
The Last Resort – Ramesh Balsekar
By Suma Varughese
”There is no me,” asserted the voice.
”What you see is a body-mind organism called Ramesh Balseker.”
”All that is, is Consciousness.”
”An individual has no free will.”
”Everything happens according to God’s will.”
”There is no birth and no death . The final truth is that nothing has happened, there is no creation. There is no seeker and no sought. We are dreamed up creatures.”
Each statement hits the mind like a bullet, ripping through and shredding your conditionings, convictions, attitudes, and thoughts, destroying every comfortable crutch, every attribute of identity. Such ruthless negation can be frightening, even disorienting. Yet Ramesh Balsekar’s students cannot have enough of it.
Balsekar is not a guru for the masses, but his popularity has been growing among a select band of people in India and abroad, kindled by the seminars he has conducted in the USA and Germany between 1987-93, his annual fortnight-long seminars at Kovalam beach in Kerala, India, and his talks. Lately, however, he has restricted himself to daily morning sessions at his home.
Many people, however, would know him through his books. Starting with Pointers From Nisargadatta Maharaj, an expansion of his guru’s philosophy, he went on to write A Duet of One, an analysis of the Ashtavakra Gita, Experiencing the Teaching, The Final Truth, From Consciousness to Consciousness, Consciousness Speaks, Ripples and Consciousness Writes.
Ramesh Balsekar is an unlikely guru, somewhat in the mold of Jiddu Krishnamurti. He hasn’t systematized his teaching nor set up an organization to promote it. A former general manager of the Bank of India and a golfer, he lives in the up market Warden Road area of Mumbai, India.
Balsekar sums up his philosophy in four words: ”Thy will be done.”
This acceptance of the absoluteness of Divine Will is based on the non-duality of Advaita Vedanta .
Surrendering to Divine Will eliminates all sense of personal doer-ship, of pride in success , of guilt or shame in failure, or enmity at another’s actions.
Isn’t the trap of fatalism lurking here? ”No,” explains Balsekar. ”Because the energy inside won’t let you do nothing.” The best plan of action, he recommends, is to continue doing whatever you are doing, safe in the knowledge that what you do is what God wants you to do, otherwise the thought would not have entered your head.
This reasoning preempts the existence of individual soul or personal karma. ”When we die, we go back to the pool of Consciousness, which sends forth other body-mind organisms to continue the cycle of cause and effect. Where is the question of reward or punishment when there is no ‘you’?” he asks acerbically. His own life is proof that even spiritual seeking is due to God’s grace. His quest started when he was just 12, but in fulfillment of a prediction, he found his only true guru, Nisargadatta Maharaj, only a year after retiring from his job.
Nisargadatta was a beedi shop owner whose book, I Am That, a compilation of his talks by a foreign disciple, Maurice Friedman, is a spiritual classic of our times.
Even before Nisargadatta Maharaj’s death from throat cancer in 1981, Balsekar was authorized to speak on his behalf. In due time, Maharaj’s mantle fell upon him.
His approach, however, is individual. Nisargadatta prescribed ways to reach enlightenment, such as staying in the ‘I am’ or practicing desirelessness and fearlessness. But for Baleskar, there is no question of getting there since we already are there. All we need is to know that. No spiritual practice can speed up the process. ‘If meditation is to happen, it will happen,’ he says.
Such a rigorous approach seems to be producing results. According to one of his disciples, at least five or six of his students have realized whatever they had to realize. Balsekar himself, however, says that there is no way to judge if a person is enlightened or not from his behavior. This is because the experience may or may not bring any change in the body or the mind.
What then is the benefit of enlightenment? None, because there is no one left to enjoy it, he points out.
The Making of a Master — H.W.L. POONJA
By Paula Horan
Around the time I met Papaji (H.W.L. Poonja) in 1992, I was so disappointed with my experience with gurus that I was planning to write an anti-guru book. The first question I asked him was: ”Please help me alleviate, once and for all, my miserable monkey mind.”
During that first interaction, he skillfully brought me from the head to the heart, enough to make me admit to him, tears in my eyes: ”I need you.”
Many years ago, Papaji was a seeker himself, visiting every known guru. His quest began at the age of eight and continued to haunt him through his householder years. Eventually, he gave up his army job after Independence and returned to the worship of Krishna to whom he was passionately devoted.
He went on a tour of India, seeking a guru, but returned home unrewarded. Back in Punjab, he asked a mendicant who appeared at his door: ”Is there a master who has seen God and who could also show him to me?” The mendicant directed him to Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai.
Papaji found that there was a job going for an ex-army officer in Madras. On his way, he made a stop at Ramanashram. He peered through the window of the hall where Sri Ramana sat—and behold, it was the same mendicant he had met earlier! Just as he grabbed his bag to leave, a resident asked him why he was going away so soon. Papaji said that he wasn’t interested in any guru who was out ”collecting” disciples. The resident said that it couldn’t have been Sri Ramana whom Papaji had met in Punjab because he hadn’t left the area in 48 years!
Curious, Papaji decided to stay. In a private interview, he challenged him: ”aren’t you the same man whom I met in Punjab?” The Maharshi kept his counsel. Finally, Papaji asked him: ”can you show me God?”
Brutally truthful, Sri Ramana said: ”God is not an object that can be seen. God is the subject. He is the seer. Don’t concern yourself with objects that can be seen. Find out who the seer is.” And then he uttered the words that would transform Papaji’s perspective and spiritual focus for life: ”You alone are God.”
The Maharshi looked into Papaji’s eyes and a bolt of energy ran through his body. He became aware of his spiritual heart. Papaji felt ”something like a closed bud opening and blooming in the heart of the heart, which was neither inside the body nor out of it.”
Yet, Papaji was unprepared for surrender and left for Madras and returned to his Krishna japa (chanting).
One night when he was in his puja (prayer) room, he heard people outside his door. When he opened the door he was both shocked and thrilled to find the Hindu deities Ram, Sita, Hanuman and Lakshman standing there. He invited them in and spent the rest of the night with them; the hours seemed like minutes.
The upshot of this visitation, noted Papaji, was that he not only became incapable of repeating Krishna’s name, but also doing any form of sadhana. The Maharshi then appeared to him again in a vision.
Papaji went back to his ashram for help, and unburdened himself entirely.
The Maharshi said: ”Your japa, your reading and your meditation have brought you to your spiritual destination. You do not need them anymore. You did not give up your practices; they left you of their own accord because they had served their purpose. You have arrived.”
Under Ramana’s gaze, Papaji felt that his body and mind were being washed with waves of purity. A process of transformation was going on. Then Papaji understood: this man was, in reality, his own Self, what he had always been. The ‘I’ who had been looking for a God outside of itself perished in the direct knowledge and experience of the Self. Papaji’s quest was over.
Like Sri Ramana before him, Papaji has had a series of his devotees experience self-realization in his presence.
The advice he always gave was simply: ‘Keep quiet. Do not let a single thought arise.’ Further, drop all doing for the identification as a separate doer to disappear. He told his devotees to ‘direct inquiry inward with the question: ‘Who am I”
The seeker simply disappears.
Wake-Up Call – Osho
By Amit Jayaram
Trying to define Osho is like trying to imprison a rainbow or catch a cloud that’s floating through your room. Like sand, he slips through your fingers; like a sparkling drop of dew, his magic vanishes with the rising sun of definition.
Like most enlightened masters, Osho was continuously misunderstood by small minds soaked in prejudice and fell prey to the gratuitous violence of man—like Jesus, Socrates and Mansur before him. His truth was too incandescent, his candor too blinding for men who had lived in darkness all their lives.
What did Osho do? He told us to give up our phony adherence to an ossified past that haunted us, and live in the moment, use the alchemy of meditation to transform ourselves—to become Christs, not Christians; Krishnas, not Hindus; Buddhas, not Buddhists. His crime was that he spoke the truth.
Osho’s basic message is no message. His basic teaching is no teaching. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of one’s own experience and the danger of imitating others, no matter how enlightened. This applied as much to him as to anyone else. Although he emphasized the need for a guru, he stressed that it was not the truth, but a necessary evil. That, after crossing the river, the raft became a hindrance if still carried. That, when more gross and mundane obstacles have been overcome, the guru becomes the obstacle and has to be transcended.
He repeatedly said that there is only one world, one space, the here and now. That it is journeying from one place to another, not this so-called phenomenal world. Osho always said that divinity is not separate from existence, it is immanent in existence. As Blake said, all that lives is holy. Osho argued that if there is such a thing as the divine, it is not a noun but a verb; not a persona but a process; not a creator, but creativity .
To a person who exists in the here-and-now of this awareness, both the prisons disappear—the prison of repression and the prison of indulgence. A person like him has eyes to see. He can see that there is only one energy. It can be blocked or freed. The energy freed from the repression of sex, or indulgence in it, can become the ladder to super consciousness.
He dared to tell us that sex was the first rung of the ladder to super consciousness; that unless we accept the rung and use it as a stepping stone, we would be stuck forever—the very energy that is sex is transmuted into super consciousness. We continued to sweep sex under the carpet or indulge in it, and called him a Sex Guru.
In his masterpiece, A Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake says that if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite… but man has closed himself up till he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern. But it is never too late.
That’s what Osho said again and again in his life, but our conditioning didn’t let us hear. He said we were all Buddhas, gods in exile; only God is and all is God.
Osho may not be in the body , but his spirit is ever present, ever available. Never born, never died—just visited Planet Earth.
Mind Your Mind — Thich Nhat Hanh
By Dipankar Das
At a modest gathering of press persons and social luminaries in New Delhi, Thich Nhat Hanh sits on a slight elevation, a picture of quiet repose. Focus, he says, on your breathing. This is mindfulness meditation .
Thich Nhat Hanh is at home everywhere, and is both comforting and comfortable being comforting. He is 71, but could easily pass off as a man in his forties. His disciples call him ‘Thay’ which translates as ‘spiritual teacher’.
Author of over 60 books, he is fluent in French and English besides Vietnamese. Yet, Thay is best known the world over for popularizing mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is one of the eight principles in the path charted by the Buddha himself.
It calls for the student to be aware of every breath he takes, which in turn enables him to be aware of being alive, which is the greatest miracle of all. Mindfulness, Thay explains, is the heart of Buddhist meditation. It is the practice of taking care of the present moment. That’s why when you practice mindfulness, you take care of life .
The first function of conscious breathing is to let you stop thinking. The second is to allow you to be in touch with life. The third, to give you a chance to rest and resolve yourself. The principle is that when you breathe consciously, you become your breathing. If your breathing becomes peaceful, you become peaceful.
Adds Thay’s principal assistant, Sister Chan Khong: ”When the mind and the body become one through awareness of the breath, it is then that you are one with the universe.”
Thay was born in 1925 in what was then the French colony of Indochina. He made the momentous decision to be a monk when he was only 11 years old and in the middle of a picnic at the Na Son mountain range. He heard of a hermit who lived atop one of the mountains.
”People said that a hermit is someone dedicated to becoming peaceful and happy, like a Buddha.” So he climbed the mountain, the hermit eluded him, but realization knocked nevertheless.
A few years later, he was initiated as a novice monk at Tu Hieu Pagoda, near the imperial city of Hue in central Vietnam. Today, Thay’s vision is manifest in the sprawling 82-acre monastery named Plum Village, located in the Bordeaux province, the heart of France’s wine district. It gets its name from the 1,250 plum trees that line the monastery.
The idea of a commune evolved early in Thay’s life. As the Vietnam War escalated, Thay formulated what he calls Engaged Buddhism, which teaches that no individual can have peace as long as all people all over the globe are not at peace. He gave Zen Buddhism, generally regarded as a path to inner illumination, a new, extroverted dimension.
In 1964, Thay organized the School of Youth for Social Services, which served as Vietnam’s main training program for Buddhist peace workers. The group espoused a philosophy of decentralization for solving problems of agriculture, health, sanitation and education, which had become endemic in Vietnam.
Hundreds of volunteers helped build schools and health clinics and rebuild villages destroyed by American saturation bombing.
His plan, however, was thwarted when he went to the USA to plead for peace. He was banned from returning to Vietnam.
But they couldn’t stop him talking. There is, in particular, a phrase that has become part of posterity: ”Liberate us from your liberation.” Martin Luther King Jr. was so impressed that he nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize and for the first time publicly voiced his opposition to the war. The war ended but, not Thay’s exile.
Thay spent several years on a small farm, 150 km from Paris, before founding Plum Village has grown into what he calls a practice center, a place that offers people a chance to look at their life deeply, at their real problems. Plum Village is home to 100 monks and nuns.
A theologically syncretic outlook is Thay’s calling card. Though a Zen Buddhist himself, he does not discriminate between religious denominations. When Christians and Jews go to Plum Village, they are encouraged to water the seeds of their own religions, not spurn them. His emphasis is: Jew or Christian or anyone else, be good.
Lightness of Being – Sogyal Rinpoche
By Ajay Ahuja
The auditorium at the Hungarian Cultural Center in Delhi is packed to capacity by a select audience assembled on an evening to receive what is described as a ”teaching” from the renowned Tibetan Buddhist master, Sogyal Rinpoche.
”What is the mind?” someone asks.
”Something that knows,” replies Rinpoche. ”But unfortunately we misuse it for grasping. Its goal is to let go of grasping, and realize its true potential.”
The Buddha’s teaching, he says, is both vast-comprising 108 Tibetan volumes-and profound. ”Vast is the approach of the pundit and the learned.” The lamas and monks sometimes devote 13 years to studying it. ”Profound is the path of the yogi.” Yet the teaching can be summed up in three lines:
• Commit not a single unwholesome action.
• Cultivate a wealth of virtue.
• And tame this mind of ours.
He lists the Ten Unwholesome Actions. They are of body (stealing, killing and sexual misbehavior), speech (lying, harsh words, slander and gossip) and mind (malice, avarice and wrong view).
”Who decides what is unwholesome?” someone wants to know.
”Your mind,” he responds. ”They are considered unwholesome because they are the cause of suffering, dukka, of oneself and others.” To abandon unwholesome acts, and adopt the wholesome ones is, then, dhamma.
Born and brought up in Tibet, Rinpoche was taught by some of the great masters and lamas of the Buddhist tradition. With the Chinese occupation, he went into exile. In 1971, he went to Cambridge University to study comparative religion. Since he began teaching, he has become increasingly popular among seekers in Europe, USA, Australia and Asia.
”Samsara is the mind projected outwardly, lost in its projection. Nirvana is the mind turned inwardly, recognizing its true nature.”
Water, if you don’t stir it, becomes clear, says a Tibetan proverb. Similarly, the mind, if you don’t stir it, finds peace. ”The trouble is, we stir it,” he says, amidst laughter. If you leave the mind in its true natural state, it’ll find peace or bliss. Settling the mind is called kshamta; removing the dirt is called vipassana, or meditation. Allow the mind to settle, then in that quiet you can experience goodness, which is our true nature.
As the mind settles, gradually all fragmented aspects of the mind become whole, all inner conflict ceases, the ego and grasping dissolve, hope and fear dissolve, and the mind settles in peace. In that space, you discover your true nature and peace.
Sometimes, he says, we have to go through suffering, attachment, to realize that it’s all completely worthless. Suppose you are bewitched, fall in love with somebody, lose your dignity and go through all that. Then one day you meet the same person and say to yourself: ”why did I fall in love with this person?”
With a puckish sense of humor, he says then: ”I’m really impressed by you all-especially by those of you who did not speak.” There is laughter, and he adds: ”I’m just teasing, sometimes we have to tease each other.”
Let me spell it out, he continues. First, just be spacious. Teaching is important, it removes ignorance. Then create the right environment of the mind-incense, music, lighting, if possible, proximity to nature. Then you practice, it’s not really meditation, but creating the right environment for it.
Sometimes, dying is difficult if you’re attached to life. Often, we associate dying with losing, which can create pain. But the truth of life is that we cannot hold on to anything. ‘You cannot wash your hands in the same river twice,’ goes a Tibetan saying. Sometimes letting go is kind, enjoyable; it brings a different kind of appreciation, not of attachment but of letting go.
Sometimes, in the presence of your masters or during practice, you become aware of the mind beyond your mind, and in that moment you feel, ‘even if I die now in this state, I’ll be happy.’ And in that state there is letting go. But the problem is, it doesn’t last. So keep having these little glimpses. And in that practice there is letting go, like losing the cloud but gaining the sky.
New Age Hero No. 1 – Deepak Chopra
By Ajay Ahuja
There’s a traffic jam outside Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium, the venue for a talk by Deepak Chopra. As the hall, filled to capacity, overflows, Deepak Chopra makes his entry.
”What I’m going to share with you is part of our cultural and spiritual heritage. It’s nothing new. So what you’ve really done is brought me here to remind yourselves of something that you already know.” With this unexpected, but perspicacious, comment, he recounts the contribution of India to world civilization through the ages, in different fields of knowledge and activity.
A gift for oratory and flair for words, coupled with a thorough grounding in the Indian tradition has helped him reach where he has.
Chopra, the elder of two sons, was born into an ‘extremely Westernized’ family in New Delhi in 1947. As a senior student in Delhi’s St Columbus School, Deepak was a good writer and an eloquent speaker. He wanted to be a journalist. Later, he changed his mind and chose medicine. Having graduated from AIIMS in 1969, Chopra migrated to the USA.
After seven years of advanced training, which included positions at prestigious hospitals, Chopra began a private practice in endocrinology and internal medicine. The practice thrived; in addition, he became chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital in Stoneham, Massachusetts. He and wife Rita started a family and bought a home in the quiet, woodsy Boston suburb of Lincoln.
Then came that fateful day. Browsing in a used bookstore one Sunday afternoon in 1980, Chopra stumbled upon a book on transcendental meditation. Reading the book that evening, he told Rita: ”This looks fantastic!”
The following day, they enrolled for a TM class and, two months later, they took the advanced TM-Siddhi program. ”At first I did TM mainly to relax, but it changed my whole life— my diet, my work, my relationships with patients and other people,” he says. ”I became 10 times more efficient in my work.”
He soon lost his taste for alcohol, and other self-impairing habits spontaneously fell away. His worldview began to change. ”There are three ways of understanding reality,” says Chopra. ”The least reliable is through the eye of the flesh, or seeing through our five senses. The second way, which is a little deeper, is through the eye of the mind. That takes me a little deeper into the heart of nature’s secrets. And the third way is through the eye of the soul. That takes us really into the heart and soul of reality.”
The defining moment arrived in Dr Chopra’s life in 1985, when he met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the TM movement, who had come to Washington DC for the inauguration of the Maharishi Vedic University.
Maharishi spoke to Chopra about ayurveda, which Maharishi was reviving and purifying as an approach to perfecting health in the modern world. He told Chopra that he should study ayurveda, understand it, and explain it in scientific terms. He was certain that Deepak would be successful with ayurveda.
Prophetic words, indeed. Dr Chopra is, today, the leading exponent of holistic health, New Age spirituality and human potential. His 25 books, including Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Creating Affluence, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, The Return of Merlin and The Path to Love, have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. His teaching blends physics and philosophy, ayurveda and modern medicine, timeless wisdom and personal insight with dynamic results.
His story echoes his words: ‘Life is a field of infinite possibilities.’
But growth is an ongoing process; in time it took him away from Maharishi. On Guru Purnima in 1990, Maharishi indicated he was uncomfortable with Chopra, who he felt was too eclectic. Chopra moved away to chart his own course. ‘ I am too free a person to belong to an organization,’ he says. ‘I also wished to explore my creativity.’
What is it that makes Deepak Chopra tick? Poonam Malhotra, director of Full Circle says: ‘ His success can be attributed to his single-minded focus on spreading ancient Vedantic wisdom in a contemporary idiom and style.’
With Chopra pointing the way with his books and talks, the awakening appears that much more close.