It is easy to ridicule the followers of the convicted self-proclaimed messenger of God, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh as naive, and easily duped for dancing to the tune (at times literally) of a con man. It is easy also to begin making ill-informed extrapolations that draw parallels between this criminal acting under the garb of social service and spirituality and genuine people working in these fields. Putting the matter in a broader context, we must realise two things: 1) Spirituality cannot begin until the stomach is full and 2) a large number of Indians don’t understand what a ‘guru’ means.
The first point goes to the fact that one cannot talk spirituality to someone who is worried about where his next meal is going to come from. People living in poverty, who don’t have their basic needs met, are vulnerable to being led astray by anyone that promises them the basic necessities, of food, clothing, shelter and medical care. This appears to be the case for Ram Rahim’s followers who were apparently provided many social services by their leader and were either unaware of his deplorable and gory activities or chose to ignore them.
One cannot ignore the failure of our governance/administrative systems that provide no social and economic welfare nets for the large mass of deprived people. In ancient India, the dharma of kings was the welfare of the people. For instance, the emperor Ashoka (3rd century BCE) declared in many edicts, that he desires the good of his people as a father desires the good of his children. Had we had this spirit of governance in India these last few decades, we wouldn’t have the heinous corruption and crimes we have witnessed in the country including those of Gurmeet Singh.
Following a spiritual leader must be a choice without any strings attached. This obviously cannot happen when one is still deprived of basic material necessities. This is the reason why many Indian spiritual leaders have a large following from affluent foreign countries where a mass of people have moved beyond their basic survival and are looking to explore other possibilities of life. In India, even aside from the poverty-stricken sections of society, people have to a large extent lost touch with the tradition of following gurus for their spiritual well-being because their material needs still predominate. Many still hold a bigger house and car as priorities, trying to emulate Western living standards. This brings us to the second point.
What is a Guru?
Most Indians have forgotten many of their own traditions including what a ‘guru’ is or represents. The word ‘guru’ is today loosely used to allude to anyone who calls themselves spiritual and gathers a group of people around themselves. This debasement and misunderstanding of what a guru is is truly saddening.
The word ‘guru’ comes from the Sanskrit roots ‘gu’ meaning darkness and ‘ru’ meaning dispeller i.e. guru is one who dispels darkness. A guru is someone who offers a method or tool for people to realise their ultimate nature. Not every self-realised human being is a guru. There are also for instance, saints, seers, and sadhus who may be enlightened but who do not offer people tools and methods.
The Guru is both external and internal. From the exterior he gives a push to the mind to turn it inwards. From the interior he pulls the mind towards the Self and helps in the quieting of the mind. That is the Guru’s grace. There is no difference between God, Guru and the Self.
– Sri Ramana Maharshi full quote
The physical form of the guru is only for people to be able to gain the right understanding more easily and be guided onto the spiritual path. The ‘sadhguru’ however is One and not physical. It is the one Master in all hearts, the God-Self that guides each soul. The outer manifestations may be many and varied depending on different temperaments of people and textures of life.
The physical form of the guru is necessary because for almost all human beings, the mind needs to hear the right words and the body needs to perform some action so that one’s attention can be turned inward. The guru doesn’t wish to impart a teaching or gather a following of devotees, but only to show the way to realising the Divine within each being.
For one who is very receptive, attentive and sensitive to life, everything can be one’s guru. The Avadhut (one who has cut all attachments and lives in the bliss of the Supreme; see on Avadhut Gita) Dattatreya (also referred to as the Guru of Gurus or the Adi Guru) considered himself to have had 24 gurus: earth, air, sky, water, fire moon, sun, pigeon, python, ocean, firefly, bee, elephant, honey-gatherer, deer, fish, a courtesan called Pingala, sparrow, child, a girl, archer, snake, spider and wasp (bhramara keelaka). However for most of us in modern times struggling with attention deficit disorders, we not only need human gurus who can constantly talk to us to fix our minds and remind us why we’re here, but also do that via easily accessible means like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
How to find a Guru?
Until about two or three generations ago, most Indian families were affiliated with a family guru who gave them simple methods for dhyana (meditation) and well-being. Today however, most Indians have so forgotten their spiritual traditions that they either fall prey to false spiritual leaders or are completely oblivious to the role of a guru in their lives.
As with everything in life, one must indeed use one’s discrimination to seek out the genuine even when it comes to following gurus but to come with a checklist of your own expectations like for example to as-a-rule, expect a guru to confine himself to a little cave somewhere sufficiently inhospitable is an unnecessary projection of the mind that limits the possibilities of life.
One must use one’s logical reasoning and discrimination to identify a true spiritual master who satisfies one’s questioning and probing. In fact when the search for Truth is earnest and pressing, a guru himself appears in your life in some form to guide you.
In conclusion, economic development is essential to ensure that no-one is taken advantage of in the country either on religious or political grounds. Further, more than rushing to heap abuse on all ‘gurus’ because of a few unfortunate incidents where unscrupulous people tried to mislead and exploit people, we should get more clear and certain about what a guru really is. Perhaps we’ll then not only be less likely to be exploited, but also better able to take steps towards our own ultimate well-being.
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