When you are ready and willing, you will always be pointed in the direction you must take.
“Do we necessarily need a Guru to initiate us into Self-realization,” asked a reader yesterday. I have myself asked this question before; and I keep getting asked this question often too.
We must first understand the meaning of Guru. Guru really means ‘remover of ignorance’ – ‘Gu’ means ‘darkness of ignorance’ and ‘Ru’ means ‘remover, one who removes’. So, as I have experienced and learnt from Life, anyone or anything, that removes your ignorance, or helps you to become aware, or that which awakens you to a truth, is a Guru. So, a Guru is not necessarily a someone who has matted hair, is ritualistic, has a followership and has an ashram or a retreat. To me, a Guru, is a teacher. And since I am really, continuously, learning from Life’s experiences, I consider Life my constant Guru, my ever-present Teacher!
Now, to the next part of the question. I feel the word and the concept of ‘Self-realization’ is over-rated, and therefore, unnecessarily complicated. ‘Self-realization’ is simply the awareness of the transient nature of Life. I have written on writer Shreekumar Varma’s idea of happiness in my Sunday column, The Happiness Road, for DT Next. While conversing with Shreekumar, who is a scion of the Travancore royal family, he shared what his grandmother, the erstwhile ruler of the state of Travancore, used to say about Life: “I once had a kingdom, then I had a palace, then I had a house and now I have a room.” “This awareness”, pointed out Shreekumar, “is key to leading a simple, happy Life – that nothing and no one is going to be yours or with you permanently.”
I will add to his learning that this awareness is what ‘Self-realization’ is. Which is, you are not this body, you are not this human form, you are not the qualifications you have, you are not your position, your title, your bank balance, your relationship, your property, your grief, your worry, your health – you are none of those. In a basic, practical, simplistic context, you are just your breath. Everything and everyone who is around you is with you only because you are alive, you are breathing. Once you die, where does your breath go? It just becomes one with the Universal energy. I wouldn’t even complicate this discourse with the concept of soul, atman, and such – I am just sharing what I understand. To me, everything matters only because of this breath, only because of the fact that I am alive. Life is only jab tak hai jaan! This means, live your Life to the fullest, as long as it lasts. Utilize the opportunity of this lifetime within the lifetime of the opportunity. When you go, you are going to take nothing with you. So, don’t cling on to anything or anyone – practice detachment in every moment. This realization, this awareness is what ‘Self-realization’ really is. As you can see, it is downright simple.
Now, do you need a Guru to awaken you to this truth? The answer is simple. Do you need an alarm to wake up in the mornings or do you wake up on your own? Both possibilities exist. Those who are used to bio-rhythm, will be woken up by their body clocks. Those who need a wake-up call will respond to an alarm. And then, there’s the third category, those who are not sleeping at all, they are pretending to be asleep. They can never be woken up. So, a Guru really steps into your Life when you are ready and willing. As the Buddhist saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And that Guru will not necessarily be a scholar or a religious leader or a God-person. It need not even be a person! A book can be your Guru, a movie can be a Guru, a Life experience can be a Guru. And there can even be a combination of Gurus – different people, things, events coming together to remove your ignorance, to wake you up and to point you in the direction you must take.
A genuine Guru will not advise that you follow him or her, will not insist on any ritual or prayer, will not champion that you fear a God. A true Guru awakens you to understand the impermanence of Life, and therefore invites you to celebrate yourself and to be happy. A Guru is an enabler, who helps you unshackle yourself and sets you free.
I used to regularly visit a hairdresser named Ramalingam at the erstwhile Taj Residency (now Vivanta by Taj) in Bangalore. I was a lot younger then and had a lot of hair. I was also an angry man – aggressive, impatient and quite rabid. One day, when Ramalingam was working on my hair, I received a phone call from my accountant saying a particular client payment, which was overdue by six months, was unlikely to come in for another week. I just took off on my colleague over the phone – I raved, ranted, screamed and literally shredded my colleague verbally. Ramalingam stepped back as I went ballistic. And when I got off the call, I gestured to him brusquely to continue with his work. As he resumed, Ramalingam whispered into my ear: “Sir, losing your cool like this is no good. This is not the sign of a mature leader. You are a very capable man. But you are letting your anger ruin you. Intelligent living doesn’t call for big intelligence. It requires common-sense. If you can learn to be in this world and yet be above it, untouched by its pulls and pressures, then you are a true, evolved leader.” Ramalingam’s words strangely did not anger me or hurt me. In fact, they gripped my conscience and woke me up from my stupor. It has been over 15 years now. I am still a work-in-progress. But my journey of channelizing my anger and my spiritual quest – both – began that day sitting in that salon chair. I was Arjuna that day and Ramalingam was my Krishna. He was my first Guru – he removed a part of the ignorance that I was steeped in and, set me off on glorious path where I have experienced freedom, inner peace and happiness – despite my excruciating material circumstances. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal)
On this path, whoever I meet now or whatever comes my way, is a Guru. I know I have miles to go, but I know there will always be a Guru to light up the path, every step of the way.
It is when you feel love, loss, joy and pain, that you can even know that you can’t ever understand Life!
A reader of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Westland) reached out to me a couple of weeks ago wanting to send me a book of his choice. The book, My Little Epiphanies (Bloomsbury), by Aisha Chaudhary, arrived over the weekend. I finished reading it in one sitting last evening. Aisha passed away, at 18, on 24th January 2015. She had S.C.I.D (severe combined immune deficiency). Before she left this world, Aisha shared her most intimate thoughts – her joys, her inspirations, her fears and anything that told her more about herself and Life – in the form of My Little Epiphanies. All of 70 pages, the book is a rare, and profound, collection of very mature perspectives on Life. Coming as it does from an 18-year-old, it amazed me. The book does not tell a story, it is not a biography, it is not an account of her pain and hopelessness, fighting as a she was, a losing battle against Life, for her Life. To me, My Little Epiphanies, is a way for you, the reader, to discover the opportunity to be the light yourself, when you are going through a dark, seemingly endless, tunnel.
Sample here my selection of Aisha’s most profound thoughts from the book:
Are we living to die? Or are we dying to live? I want to do the latter.
If Life is a stop in the station, I must admit I don’t want to get on to the coming train.
I think we are the truest versions of ourselves at night before we go to sleep, just before we close our eyes.
If you feel like things aren’t moving, there is a cure for that, and that is time.
Happiness comes in all shapes and sizes; you just have to find the one that fits you best.
If you can’t change your own Life, there’s always someone else’s.
Pain lingers in the mind longer than it really lasts.
What was, is not.
My Little Epiphanies will stay with me for a long, long time. Not because I feel sorry for Aisha. But because I am grateful to her.
She reiterates what I have always believed in – that it is very important to be honest with your feelings. You don’t have to always be strong in the face of a Life situation. You just have to be yourself – even if it means you are being vulnerable! In sharing her deepest thoughts, Aisha helps us connect with the way we often feel when pinned down by Life. Reading her book, I felt that she was telling us that it is fine if you feel low and miserable some days. It is fine if you feel beaten and burnt out. It is fine if nothing makes sense. Most important, Aisha makes no claims about knowing more about Life either or how it must be dealt with. At almost her parents’ – Aditi’s and Niren’s – age, I couldn’t agree more. I certainly don’t know what Life is all about. So, to me, being honest and wearing your Life on your sleeve, is the only way forward in living this inscrutable Life!
I consider it a blessing that I came across My Little Epiphanies. I found inspirations in Aisha’s reflections there. Inspirations, that I believe, will give me enough energy to last longer on my journey. They say, when the student is ready, the teacher shall appear. I guess this is true of a seeker too. Almost always, an Angel will lead the way…helping you be the light that you are seeking!