Beyond the mind lies the ecstasy of pure bhakti

How deeper than deep he is

How deeper than deep he is

My pain, my awareness owe their existence

to his fathomless touch

How deeper than deep he is

.

He brings enchantments to my eyes,

plucks my heart’s veena-strings

He brings enchantments to my eyes,

plucks my heart’s veena-strings

He awakens such rhythms

of joy, pleasure, sorrow, delight

How deeper than deep he is

.

How magical the robe he weaves

from gold, silver, green, blue

His feet stretch out from beneath it

When I touch them I swoon with rapture

How magical the robe he weaves

from gold, silver, green, blue

His feet stretch out from beneath it

When I touch them I swoon with rapture

.

Many days, many ages pass

as he secretly charms my soul

Many days, many ages pass

as he secretly charms my soul

Many are the ravishing names and identities

he constantly showers

How deeper than deep he is

How deeper than deep he is

.

(from ‘Gitanjali’ by Rabrindranth Tagore, translation by William Radice)

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Perennial joy or passing pleasure: Why it is so easy to fall off the spiritual path

Sharp like a razor’s edge, the sages say,  

Is the path, difficult to traverse.’ —  Yama to Nachiketa; Katha Upanishad

 nachiketa

You’ve probably heard the saying that the spiritual path is ‘just like a razor’s edge’. Already the Upanishadic sages spoke about the difficulties of negotiating the spiritual path, and I’ve heard numerous teachers talk about this, too. In the past, I’ve always taken this to mean that it’s a hard path, but without necessarily understanding why or without having a direct experience of the razor’s edge. I’d also often heard that Gurus test their disciples rigorously before bestowing higher teachings and often wondered what these tests actually consist of.

Recently, towards the end of a three month long anusthan (intensive practice of a particular sadhana), I had a first-hand experience of such a test by a spiritual Master and it truly and perhaps for the first time made me fully understand the famous saying. Without going into too many details, let’s just say that my resolve and my commitment to my spiritual path were rigorously tested with a life situation that had all of the abilities to distract me and throw me off-balance. This experience led me to reflect on the spiritual path as a razor’s edge and why these tests are posed to us by the Masters.

Indeed, why are the Masters testing us? Shouldn’t it be enough that we’re already on the spiritual path and shouldn’t they support us rather than throwing tests and obstacles our way? Alas, it’s not that simple. The Masters, in their boundless love and commitment to seeing us grow, are doing this to test our focus and our ability, to see whether we are serious and actually worthy of the higher teachings. To be worthy means having developed sufficient willpower to withstand the many distractions and temptations that flank the path and that can so easily destroy all of our spiritual attainments. In yogic terms, this is called vairagya, and it literally means dispassion. Nachiketa in the Katha Upanishad demonstrates vairagya par excellence when he refuses everything that Yama, the Lord of Death offers him – riches, beautiful women, fame, a long life – in order to learn what really matters to him: the secret of death. Yama tries to dissuade him with many worldly temptations until he is finally satisfied that Nachiketa is a worthy student filled with nothing but the burning desire for liberation, and thus agrees to teach him.

A Master has to be really sure how strong our commitment to achieving our goal of Self-Realization is. Without one-pointed commitment and focus that border on desperation, the goal is almost impossible to attain. The path is tough as it requires incredible amounts of inner purifications, and living in the world can be so much easier. The tests also ensure that we are not going to abuse the spiritual powers that eventually come with success in sadhana. Many aspirants get seduced by the siddhis, the supernatural abilities that come to them with intense practice: clairvoyance, charisma, ability to attract wealth or the opposite sex, and so on. All too often, a sadhaka or spiritual leader falls off the path because they still harbour latent desire for power, sex or money (which really needs transcending), and this can lead them to manipulate and even abuse others. This must never be done – spiritual powers must not be used for selfish purposes, but only for pure and selfless motives such as helping others.

The more advanced we get in our spiritual practice, the harder the tests become. The good thing about this is that you notice that you’re actually making progress. So what might such a test look like? You can be sure that it is your Achilles’ heel, i.e. your greatest weakness. For some people this might be money, for others it might be sex, yet for others it might be power or fame.It will be the very thing that you haven’t yet transcended and that which has the potential to make you sway from your path if Yama came and offered it to you.If you don’t like chocolate, the test is hardly going to be a chocolate cake!

To use an example, when Swami Rama of the Himalayas was a young man called Bhole Baba, his Master assigned him a practice which consisted of repeating the Gayatri mantra 2.4 million times in the course of sixteen months. The Master drew a line charged with protective spiritual energy around Bhole’s hut and instructed him not to cross it except to perform his morning and evening ablutions. Bhole began his practice, and soon the people of the city came to know about him and began to visit him, impressed by how calm and tranquil he was, and at the same time how vibrant and energetic. The less attention Bhole paid to visitors, the more impressed they were. But there was also a group of hecklers who came to visit him, determined to disturb him.

bhole baba

The young Swami Rama

One day, after he’d been doing his practice for eleven months, they challenged him to a debate. Bhole remained silent, but they persisted. Finally he lost his temper, crossed the boundary line, caught hold of someone’s neck, and pushed him toward the Ganga. The hecklers dispersed, but soon afterward the pandit who supplied Bhole with food appeared and handed him a telegram from his Master. It read: ‘You have ruined your practice. Start over.’ A similar incident happened a second time after many months of Bhole having done the same practice, and it was only at the third attempt that he managed to complete it. Anger was his weakness, and only with a lot of practice he managed to control it.

Another common example is that of (often male) spiritual leaders who end up having sex with their students. We’ve all heard these stories, and my Gurudev once said ‘at some point, lust is going to come knocking at your door.’ Just when you think you’ve made progress and you’re about to become enlightened, a huge temptation or a highly negative situation will come your way that will push you to the very edge. And to stay on a razor’s edge or on a tightrope, you need incredible amounts of focus, concentration and skill. If you’re on it and your attention is even slightly diverted by a beautiful woman or sparkling diamonds, you are going to fall. You might even break your neck. At the very least, it is going to take some time for you to get on the razor’s edge again.

So we have to be very aware of what Swami Rama calls the ‘four primitive fountains’, the driving forces of humanity. These fountains are food, sex, sleep and self-preservation, and they determine most, if not all of our actions. Sure, we all have these drives and they are natural, but on the spiritual path our goal is to become free of them to the extent that we are not ruled by them. We still have to sleep, but do we have to sleep eight hours a night? Could we not instead learn to sleep five hours of better quality sleep without all of the tossing, turning and dreaming that is actually unnecessary? We still have to eat, but we can also learn to increase our intake of prana, the life force, and therefore eat less – and most importantly, not eat motivated by greed, boredom or lust. Yes, the sexual drive is a very strong force, but how about learning to sublimate it and taking the kundalini force upwards to sahasrara chakra rather than downwards to mooladhara chakra where our vital energies get wasted? Or alternatively, making the sexual act into a prayer and meditation that helps rather than hinders our spiritual practice?

The question for me as a sadhaka is always: ‘does this help or disturb my spiritual practice? Does it distract me from my goal?’ Of course, spiritual practice is not the end in itself – the goal of realizing the true Self is. But sadhana is the means to realizing this goal. And at this stage, whatever distracts me from this goal has to leave my life, unless I can learn not to be distracted by it.

All this doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy life- not at all! But whatever we do in life, we have to learn to keep our minds focused on what matters. The trick of inner renunciation is to keep our minds fixed on the ultimate Reality while living in the world, though this can be hard and it is all too easy to forget who we truly are while entangled in worldly enjoyments. Sadhana keeps bringing us back to our centre, it shows us what is right for us and what isn’t, and that is why it is important to keep a regular meditation schedule.

I can now vouch for the sharpness of the razor’s edge. Let’s just say that I failed the test that my Master posed me. Though I knew in my heart that I was being tested and had great moments of clarity during meditation, I still fell off the razor’s edge. Admittedly, it was a tough test, but still I failed it. And I might even fail it again. But on the positive side, I realized my mistake immediately. I recognized my weakness clearly, which has brought me more humility, caution and a better understanding of what to look out for in the future. So, even though it can be hard sometimes, don’t become disheartened or beat yourself up when something throws you off the path momentarily. It’s normal. We’re human. The important thing is to pick yourself up again and to start over with greater zest. The moment we don’t repeat a mistake, we are free.

‘Perennial joy or passing pleasure? This is the choice one is to make always.’ – Yama to Nachiketa in ‘Katha Upanishad’

My book ‘Meeting Shiva – Falling and Rising in Love in the Indian Himalayas’ is out now on Changemakers Books and BPI India

Why self-responsibility is so important in sadhana, healing, and just about anywhere else

hummingbird 2

The tendency of the world is to drag you down. The objects stimulate your senses and call your attention to the outside. This produces thoughts, which may or may not be in alignment with your internal drive, whether you are driven by a belief, an image, or even the Being’s yearning itself. Therefore, the first step towards uncovering love is to withdraw the mind, even if it is only for short periods of time throughout your day. Unplug yourself from the sensory world to connect yourself with the internal world. Only in this way will you be able to hear your heart.”

Sri Prem Baba

I just finished translating a wonderful book called ‘Simply Love’ from German into English language. Written by German psychotherapist Katja Sundermeier, it is one of the best books on healing I have ever come across. Though on the surface it is a book that investigates why so many people end up with failed relationships and how to change this, it’s really so much more than that. Katja proposes that everything in our current reality is but a reflection of the beliefs that are already inside of us.

Just pause for a moment to take that in. Everything in our current reality is but a reflection of the beliefs that are already inside of us. When I first read this statement several years ago, I thought it to be quite radical – but it also made total sense. If we constantly have problems with people in our lives who don’t appreciate us, then this is merely a reflection of an old belief system that tells us that we are not good enough. If we keep attracting unreliable people, this might just reflect back to us our ingrained belief and old wound that we are not important. So everything we are currently unhappy with in our lives is a reflection of these inner, often unconscious beliefs – and we can change this by becoming aware of them and re-writing our ‘script’, as Katja calls it. Every conflict in our lives is an opportunity for healing and growth.

This philosophy goes hand in hand with the yogic concept of avidya: not seeing things as they truly are because we are seeing them through the filters of our limited perception, based on the experiences we have made in life.The reason I am writing about this here is that Katja proposes one key ingredient to the healing of such faulty beliefs, and that is self-responsibility. Taking responsibility for our belief systems, for the injuries we have experienced in childhood, and for healing them. Healing, once we have awareness of where our misery comes from, can actually be very simple, if we are prepared to go deep within and do the work that is required. It’s not always easy, that’s for sure, and it often takes time, but it can be simple nonetheless. In ‘Simply Love’, she proposes an easy method that involves paying attention every time we find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation or with ‘bad’ feelings, in order to find out where it originates (often in childhood). Once we have that piece of information, we can then ‘re-parent’ it: a metaphor for taking responsibility for ourselves and giving ourselves what we need now. This very swiftly takes us out of the game of blaming another person or situation for our misery.

But we don’t always like to take responsibility for ourselves. It’s so much easier to blame the other, the angry boss, the nagging wife, the distant husband, the spouse who cheats on us. That this may have anything to do with us, and that we may be able to heal the situation if we take responsibility, is often only a strange concept at first, and an uncomfortable one at that because it requires us to take a good, honest look at ourselves.

With sadhana, it is similar. We may find a spiritual Master and then hope for him or her to take all of our bad karmas away from us. While Guru’s grace is very much possible, it’s likewise also true that Guru’s grace tends to descend upon students that are deserving of that grace. It’s like the aphorism of ‘God helps those who help themselves’. Swami Rama, one of the greatest yogis of all time, once said about this subject: ‘I was instructed by my master not to drink from or bathe in the water of the Ganges with any idea that by doing so my sins would be washed off. He taught me the philosophy of karma and said, ‘One has to reap the fruits of his karma. The law of karma is inevitable and is accepted by all the great philosophies of the world. Learn to perform your duties skilfully without aversion or attachment, and do not believe that anything can wash off your bad karma. Taking a bath in the river and making pilgrimages from one shrine to another will not free you from the bondage of karma.’’

One of the main things our spiritual Masters tell us all the time is to do our sadhana, our spiritual practice, because it’s this – the practices that help us to still the mind and thus access the flow of intuition within us– that can help us more than anything else. A good Master leads us to the path of self-responsibility: s/he doesn’t want us to be dependent on him/her, because s/he knows that the Guru is only a catalyst that helps us to find our own truth within: the deepest truth and divinity that is already inside of us, covered by layers of avidya and the glamour of maya. But how many of us do our sadhana regularly, on time and with sincerity and dedication?

It is easy to get distracted in life, especially when we are busy and live in the world, and personally I have only found one way out of this: tapas. With tapas, austerity, I mean discipline in this context. Making our sadhana, whatever that may mean for us, a priority in our lives, can work wonders. If we do our meditation haphazardly and always at a different time or skip it when we don’t feel like it, we mustn’t be surprised if we don’t yield results. But if we set an intention and do our sadhana no matter what, the rewards will come to us sooner or later. It’s like with anything you take up: the more your practice, the better you will become at something. It’s easy to stick to this intention once you have had a taste of the sweet nectar of the Divine and realize what the purpose of life is. Then sadhana is no longer a discipline: it becomes pure joy. But until that happens, a certain amount of tapas is important.

It was similar when I was writing my book ‘Meeting Shiva’. When I sat down to write it, with no idea of how to accomplish such a mammoth task, only one thing kept me going: repeated sankalpas (vows to myself). I said: ‘I am going to sit down at this desk every day at 2pm and will stay there until 6pm, no matter what happens.’ And this tapasya really helped me. It became ingrained, even though sometimes I would literally just stare at the screen for four hours and perhaps write one sentence. However, on other days, the words simply flowed from a place beyond my little self, and I learned that you never know when grace comes to you – but that you have to show up for it to happen! It’s the same with meditation: you may sit there day in and day out and think you are wasting your time, but then one day you might enter samadhi and realize that all the ‘pointless’ sitting has prepared you for this very moment.

This concept can also be applied to healing modalities. As an Ayurvedic lifestyle & diet consultant, I have generally noticed one thing: everybody wants to be healthy, and many people come to me who’d like to improve their health. When, however, they find out that for this to become a reality, they might have to change their diet, start exercising, practice yoga and/or meditation and let go of some destructive lifestyle habits or relationship patterns, the interest often wanes rapidly. We all want a quick fix, and best if that fix is in the form of a pill or herbal formula (or shaktipat from our Guru, right? :)). But the problem is that this is not sustainable and causes yet another dependency.

One of my teachers, Tony Crisp, always drummed into me: ‘Everything we need is inside of us already. We only need to learn to access our own inner wisdom.’  And I found this to be true: when we really take responsibility for ourselves and our well-being and take the necessary steps, our lives begin to transform. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t get support when we need it, because that can be very important, but we must equally realize that we are powerful beyond our wildest imagination and that we are only using a fraction of our true abilities. Spiritual practices, and most particularly going deep into silence and solitude, can remove this avidya and help us to see who we really are. We need to empower ourselves and access that wisdom within us. Each of us is an aspect of the Divine – it’s just that we have forgotten it momentarily.

I realize that discipline is very hard for some people. Some of us may have been disciplined in childhood and therefore now resist anything regulated. But what can really help is to tell yourself what you are doing it for. Is it your goal to write a book? To become happy? Healthy? To become a good meditator? Then focus on that, and tell yourself that the discipline (or self-responsibility, if you like this word more) is only a route to achieving your goal. Promising yourself treats at the end of each small goal along the way can work wonders, too; as can making a commitment to another person, such as a friend, a coach, to your Guru or a favourite deity that you will stick to your intention for a set amount of time. As with anything, don’t be hard on yourself and try to have fun with it, too. Everything is a process.

And remember:

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On Love

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When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

(Kahlil Gibran – excerpt from the book “The Prophet”; shared by Sri Prem Baba in a letter to his sangha on the last day of Navaratri )

Focus on the road – some wisdom from Mooji

Mooji

An encounter with Mooji

‘A man has been taking driving lessons and can now tackle the main road. One morning, he is driving on the highway alongside his instructor and it begins to rain. The instructor advises the man to switch on the windscreen wipers, but as soon as the wipers start moving, the driver’s attention begins to follow them and the car is now swerving from side to side along the road. Other drivers begin tooting their horns thinking the driver is drunk!

‘Can we turn the wipers off? They are distracting me,’ asked the learner.

‘Keep your eyes on the road alone and the wipers will not distract you,’ the instructor advises.

‘I think I need to go at least to the slow lane,’, requested the driver.

‘No,’, says the instructor firmly. ‘Only focus on the road.’

‘I can’t!’ says the man frustrated. ‘My eyes go involuntarily with their movement. Could we switch them off?’

‘No. You must learn to drive with them on,’ the instructor points out. ‘Focus only on the road.’

‘But it’s too dangerous! I can’t keep the car straight!’ says the man.

‘No. Stay focused on the road only, ignore the wipers.’

‘But it’s too dangerous! I will crash!’ the man exclaims.

Other drivers are now shouting and swearing at the man, ‘Get off the road, you drunk!’

The rain is now torrential, and the instructor pushes the wipers up to full speed. ‘Simply focus on the road. Relax.’

The driver, although very anxious, trusts the instructor’s calm voice. Gradually, the car straightens up as the driver is somehow able to hold his attention on the road despite the wipers swishing at full speed. The driver relaxes; now there is no distraction caused by the moving wipers.

It is the same here with you. Focus on the road means to stay focused as the neutral observer rather than focusing on your thoughts, surrounding conditions or apparent problems. Remain as the observer. Don’t follow the mind flow. You are not this mind flow. Keep the attention inside the awareness.’

‘What a beautiful example!’

‘The driver did not learn to focus by adopting a technique, by chanting mantras or by practising  yoga and meditation. He simply trusted his teacher’s advice, applied it, and focus simply happened. Initially, trust, effort and grace are all required for the attention to remain merged in the Self.’

Mooji, from ‘Before I am – The direct recognition of Truth’

 

Melting like frozen butter in front of fire: Reflections on the Guru-disciple relationship

The lotus feet of the Guru

‘What chance does frozen butter have in front of fire?

If the fire is real, the butter will melt automatically.

The right guru, with the fire of truth in his heart,

with the warmth of compassion in his being,

with the heat of tapas, penance,

and his direct knowledge will melt you in no time.

He will leave you with no option.

Let alone just surrender, you will find yourself willing to do anything for him.

He can inspire you to give up your life for a cause,

with his mere presence he can empty you so you may be filled,

he can soften you so you may be molded,

he can transform you,

with his one glance, he can wash ashore all your bottled up negativity, anguish and pain.’

 — Om Swami

Inevitably, there comes a point in the life of the spiritual seeker when surrender becomes an important subject. I’d go as far as saying that at a certain point, surrender comes to be the greatest spiritual practice.  I have written about the subject of surrender on this blog before, but what I want to talk about specifically today is surrender to a Guru, as seen from the yogic perspective.

First of all, what or who is a ‘Guru’, and why do we need to surrender to him or her? In the yogic tradition, the Guru is a spiritual Master who has realized God, i.e. the ultimate Reality, and has thus become a flow of unending love and compassion. Because of this compassion for the human condition, the Guru works ceaselessly to help others reach this state of divine realization, too. A realized Master has the ability to enlighten the mind of his/her disciples, and this often takes place through an initiatory mantra. The Guru is thus seen as the one who ‘dispels the darkness of ignorance’.

In Hinduism, the Guru is actually believed to be God in human form and is often worshipped as such with offerings of flowers, lights and pranam (bowing down to the Guru’s feet that are said to transmit powerful energies). This is because it is hard to relate to a formless God which we can’t see – it is much easier to have a divine incarnation that we can see and touch in front of us. In India, serious disciples surrender themselves, heart, soul, body and mind, to their Guru. Ego, self-will and the limited self are all offered to the transformational fire of the Guru. By doing so, the Guru’s grace can start to flow through the disciple: by surrendering, the disciple becomes an empty vessel for the Guru’s work. This surrender on behalf of the disciple is portrayed beautifully in Swami Satyananda’s poem that I posted a few days ago.

Coming from a Western background, it has taken me quite some time to comprehend the mysteries of the Guru-disciple relationship. About six years ago, I was living in a Hindu ashram in the remote Indian Himalayas, teaching English at the ashram school. This ashram was presided over by a Guru who was no longer in his body, and Rudra, the sannyasi in charge of the ashram, was completely surrendered to him and his mission. At that point, though I was living in the ashram, I found it really hard to understand this level of devotion. Rudra had given up everything – his job, his family, his possessions – at a young age to follow his Guru into the Himalayas and to serve him for the rest of his life. Guruji was everything for Rudra, even God couldn’t reach his status. I remember looking at the picture of Guruji during the twice-daily arati and wondering about the great love and trust that exists between Guru and disciple, and about the level of sacrifice and surrender it often entails. With my Western mind, I found it hard to fathom and even thought it was a bit extreme.

Until it happened to me.

In recent years, before I met my spiritual Master, I’d been pondering the Guru-disciple relationship with a mixture of curiosity, resistance and inklings of desire. Why was it important to give up one’s free will? I used to wonder. I read a few books on the subject and they all seemed to say the same thing: a) that a Guru is absolutely necessary for the more advanced stage of sadhana (spiritual practice) and b) that once you had found this Guru, surrender to him/her was just as important. I had been initiated into a spiritual lineage several years ago by a Guru and loved the tradition – but devotion and surrender? Not really. I felt respect, admiration and gratitude–but that was about it.

Still, slowly, slowly through the use of mantra and other spiritual practices, a desire to surrender myself to a Guru grew in me almost unnoticed. It felt almost as though I had gone as far as I could go in my sadhana without this element of surrender, but I didn’t know how to. It even seemed absurd to me: surely one couldn’t surrender at will, just like one doesn’t fall in love at will: it just happens when the time and the circumstances and the karmas are right.

And then the unexpected happened. At end of 2012, I was in Rishikesh, India for my YTT500 yoga teacher training. For years I had been hearing about a Brazilian Guru called Prem Baba who comes to Rishikesh every year to give satsang, but had never felt the urge to go and see him. This year was different somehow, and I decided one fine December morning to go to see him, out of sheer curiosity.

At the satsang, a beautiful, slight man with long curly hair and a long white beard entered the hall in white robes. Seeing him instantly brought a warm glow to my heart – he had a radiant smile and his eyes literally sparkled with love and light as he took time to look at everyone who had come to sit in his presence. Sitting in satsang with my eyes closed and listening to his gentle voice, my heart suddenly opened, and I started to cry from a very deep place within me. A sweet feeling of recognition and the exquisite pain of the heart melting took hold of me. It was as though I was in the presence of a divine Being, like I was sitting in the very presence of Jesus or Krishna. My mind became calm and peaceful. I had never felt like this in the company of anyone else before.

When Prem Baba stopped speaking, I opened my eyes and saw that some people lined up to speak to him and to do pranam (bow down to his feet). Something very strong pulled me up from the floor, too, and still with tears streaming down my face I staggered towards Prem Baba, literally fell to his feet and remained there sobbing. When I pulled myself up again, he looked at me with so much love and compassion that my heart wanted to tear.

I went back to my seat and meditated for a while. Something huge had just happened. Who was this man? What was my connection to him? What had he done to my heart? I had never bowed to any human person like this before, so what was this?

Just as the inherent sweetness of honey never fails to draw bees, Guru, by the magnetism of his personality, never fails to draw people to himself. In the presence of such a personality, the seeker has no option but surrender. When we approach such a person, a spontaneous link is established. It is something like love at first sight. Once magnetized, the disciple discerns a transformation within. If you have felt this way in the presence of anyone, then you should know that this is your Guru.’

— Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati, in ‘Light on the Guru and Disciple Relationship’

This is what happened. I had met my Master.

Nevertheless, it still took me a year to surrender fully to him. I wanted to be absolutely sure that it wasn’t just my mind and my emotions playing tricks on me, as after all, I was already initiated into a tradition, and spiritual initiation is not something to take lightly. It is the most important thing in a person’s life. So I returned to India the next year to spend time with my first tradition and Guru as well as with Prem Baba. Things became very clear soon. With his mere glance, Prem Baba melted me. After a few days in his presence, there were simply no questions left in my mind. Surrendering to him was not a decision any longer. It had already happened by itself, and I was soaked in an ocean of nectar sweeter than anything I had ever tasted before. I was intoxicated with the bliss of his darshan.  I had never felt so much love for anyone in my life, nor did I know that I was actually capable of that much love. His unconditional love acted like a mirror in which I recognized myself, my own divinity and that of all creation. I started to understand that surrender to the Guru is the ultimate freedom.

With my beloved Master Sri Prem Baba

With my beloved Master Sri Prem Baba

It is said that sometimes, a Master sends you to another Master. I feel this to be true in my case, and I am very grateful to my first Guru for preparing me and transforming me sufficiently to meet the Master I could surrender to. The connection to her and her lineage will always be strong and present in my heart.

I can see clearly now why this devotion we feel to the Guru is so important. Without it, we would not trust him or her sufficiently to help us cross the ocean of samsara. Without it, we would never do what the Guru tells us. Only when somebody melts us like this, only when Krishna makes his lover’s flute heard in our hearts and bestows us with the intoxicating sweetness of his divine nectar, will we be able to surrender to him/her and say ‘May thy will be done.’

The ‘being in love’ with the Guru and the reverence for him/her is actually not important in itself. It is just the initial stage which ‘binds’ you to the Guru. Obedience is, for the spiritual path is razor-sharp and full of dangers. The Guru has walked this path before you and knows its pitfalls. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that you follow all his/her instructions without question – because if you can’t obey the Guru in simple things, how will you obey him/her on the path to enlightenment?

Though my understanding of the Guru-disciple relationship is still limited, I experience it as something very subtle and sublime. It is almost impossible to understand and even harder to explain. It takes place on a transcendental level between your soul and the soul of the Guru. The personality of the Guru is irrelevant here, as s/he communicates with you through his/her unconscious mind, and you need to develop an inner connection that is strong and sensitive enough to hear the instructions s/he transmits. The Guru often communicates through dreams and intuition, even though sometimes s/he will communicate through words, too. Therefore it is important that we practice our sadhana as instructed by the Guru and strengthen our connection and trust in that way.

Of course, just like in any relationship, once the initial ‘glamour’ wears off and when the honeymoon period is over, the Master will present you with the challenges and tests you need to grow and leave the limitations of the ego behind. This is why we have entered into this relationship: we give the Master permission to work on us, to chip away on us like a stonemason chisels away on a piece of stone to make us into a masterpiece, to transform base metal into gold. And for that, surrender to and trust in him/her is paramount.

If you’d like to read more about the Guru-disciple relationship, I recommend the following books:

Mere Aradhya – My beloved Guru’ by Swami Dharmashakti Saraswati

Light on the Guru-disciple relationship’ by Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati

At the feet of a Himalayan Master – Remembering Swami Rama’ by Prakash Keshaviah

Guru and Disciple’ by Swami Abhishiktananda

Fire of Transformation’ by Gaura Devi

‘My spiritual journey with Swami Satyananda’ by Vishwaprem

And here is a beautiful article by Sri Prem Baba about the Guru-disciple relationship:

http://www.sriprembaba.org/en/guru-disciple-relationship

If you are interested in reading more about my time in the Himalayas, my book ‘Meeting Shiva – Falling and Rising in Love in the Indian Himalayas’ is out now on Changemakers Books

Guru’s grace, and the power of surrender

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‘My Guru has shown me the path.

He desired my body. 

I gave it to him unflinchingly.

He asked me for my prana

I offered it, unhesitatingly. 

He said, ‘Will you give me your mind, too?’

I replied, ‘It is yours forever.’

I was left with nothing,

Empty and desolate.

The dark blue sky dotted with stars, and the moon,

That was all I had now.

Then all at once,

The sun burst upon me with a song,

The restless ocean bathed me with its waves,

The thundering clouds burst upon me with rain,

The snow-white swan danced before my eyes,

A flash of lightning illumined my soul.

My Guru came to me once again.

He said, ‘Will you give me the samskaras

You have collected life after life?’

I looked into his deep brown eyes,

Into the dark and deep abyss of his Being.

For what seemed aeons, he stood before me.

Everything else began to dissolve before my eyes,

To melt and fade away.

There was unity within and without.

It is the grace of my Guru,

He who has extinguished my being,

And absorbed me into himself.

My Guru has shown me the path.’

Swami Satyananda Saraswati