Guru’s Words on ‘Guruvada’ – Part I

“I had the same kind of violent objection to Gurugiri, but you see I was obliged by the irony of things or rather by the inexorable truth behind them to become a Guru and preach the Guruvada.” – Sri Aurobindo
What is a Guru? In light of current events, it appears Indians desperately need to dig deeper into their spiritual traditions to understand this. Beloo Mehra’s insightful exposition drawing on the insights and wisdom of Sri Aurobindo makes for a must-read in this regard.

Be Simple

“One must be spontaneous in order to be divine.
One must be perfectly simple in order to be spontaneous.
One must be absolutely sincere in order to be perfectly simple.
To be absolutely sincere is not to have any division, any contradiction in one’s being.”

A View from the Window and the Harmony of Spaces

It was not the first time I saw this view of my small garden in the back of the house. I see it daily, both when I am out in the garden and when I sit at my desk. But that day was special.

It was special because that moment brought a sense of deep quiet and peace within as I let that view sink in to me. There were a few small birds flying around the champa trees and the bushes nearby, making lovely sounds, calling each other, playing, resting on the thin branches, enjoying their freedom.

I sat there, in my chair; just sat there. For several minutes. Taking in the view, enjoying the sounds of the birds, the peace of it all.

I don’t know for sure or perhaps I am unable to fully express what I was feeling in those moments. Perhaps it was some type of peace, a sense of harmony. Perhaps it was one of those moments when everything feels perfect, everything around you, everything within you, everything is just the way as it should be. There is no need to fuss over anything, no need to shift anything. As if there is nothing to disturb this moment, this sense of peace.

Have you ever felt that? Surely, you must have. We must thank all the gods for such moments, rare as they are in the noisy worlds we live in – within and without.

A few minutes later, a part of me wanted to go out in the garden and take pictures of the view. Even thought of taking the pictures of the birds who were still playing and singing. How foolish of me, I immediately said to myself. As if pictures would preserve the ‘feel’ of the moment for me.

Still I could not resist taking one shot on my phone, from this side of the window. The one you see above.

The moment passed. Only to be followed by another moment, of a reflection. Reflection on spaces and harmony. And on art.

Today, a few days later, as I sit by the same window, trying to give voice to that reflection I see the same tree and the same bushes, though there are no birds at the moment, I try to recall to my awareness that moment of quiet and peace from the other day.

Maybe writing out this reflection on spaces and harmony will bring its own harmony. After all, minds are spaces too, and creating a sense of harmony in our mental spaces is an art, a very important art that we all have to learn one way or the other if we want to experience more of these moments of peace and quietude.

So I begin.

You walk into a space — a home, a room, a garden, a temple, an ashram, a workplace or any other public place — and you instantly, spontaneously feel a sense of all-pervading harmony, a quiet ambience, an effortless beauty. Nothing is amiss, everything is perfectly placed where it should be. Nothing is obtrusive, nothing is jarring, everything is quietly at home in its natural place.

You walk into another space and instantly you feel that something isn’t right. There is a sense of disorder, an artificiality to the whole arrangement of the space, a feel of uncomfortable ugliness despite the outward prettiness and ‘designer-like’ placement of objects.

You must have experienced this, haven’t you? I surely have. Many times.

In fact, I have experienced this sense of harmony (or disharmony) even in empty spaces. For example, a few years ago when we were looking for a house to purchase, many times we would walk into an empty house for sale and just upon entering the house I would immediately ‘know’ whether or not I would even consider the house any further. Spaces, even empty spaces have their auras, sort of like an energy around them.

Personally speaking, how I feel in a particular space generally figures as one of the main criteria for deciding how much time I want to spend there. This could be a richly decorated home of a relative or a humble half-demolished temple in a village I am only visiting for an afternoon. I have experienced a discomforting sense of disharmony at a five-star hotel and felt a deeply calming sense of joy at an almost decrepit building that serves as a guest house.

This feeling or perception of order or disorder, a sense of harmony or chaos, is not about the physical appearance — the size of the space, the form, placement and outer charm and prettiness of objects or furniture in the space — though these things may be part of it. But only a very small part. The bigger part is about what the space makes one feel inwardly.

What is it that makes one space feel harmoniously beautiful, even though it may be very simply arranged with most inexpensive objects? And what makes another space, sometimes even the best-designed space, furnished with most expensive ‘designer’ furniture and object d’art, feel jarring, out of order almost?

Is it the aura of the person who lives, works, moves in the space? Or the aura of the person who looks after the space, its cleaning, upkeep, etc? Is it something about the way in which things are arranged in the space? Or the consciousness of the space itself, the consciousness hidden in everything that is there in the space?

Or is it the state of the mind of the person walking into the space? The sense of harmony he or she brings to the space?

It is perhaps everything, each of these things. And more.

It takes an artist to make a space harmoniously beautiful.

“If you ask me, I believe that all those who produce something artistic are artists! A word depends upon the way it is used, upon what one puts into it. One may put into it all that one wants. For instance, in Japan there are gardeners who spend their time correcting the forms of trees so that in the landscape they make a beautiful picture. By all kinds of trimmings, props, etc. they adjust the forms of trees. They give them special forms so that each form may be just what is needed in the landscape. A tree is planted in a garden at the spot where it is needed and moreover, it is given the form that’s required for it to go well with the whole set-up. And they succeed in doing wonderful things. You have but to take a photograph of the garden, it is a real picture, it is so good. Well, I certainly call the man an artist. One may call him a gardener but he is an artist….

“All those who have a sure and developed sense of harmony in all its forms, and the harmony of all the forms among themselves, are necessarily artists, whatever may be the type of their production.” 

 – The Mother, CWM, Vol 8, p. 324 (emphasis added)

It perhaps takes an artist to ‘know’ a space. To feel a space. To experience the harmony.

But what is this sense of harmony? Can it only be felt? Can we grow in our sense of harmony? Of perceiving? Of creating harmony? In our spaces, outer and inner?

Maybe in some other moment of grace, sitting by the window in front of the garden view, when my mind is in a state of harmony I shall be blessed with an insight into some of these questions.

The article was first published on the author’s blog and later contributed to LWP.

See also: Remembering Annapurna

An Evening of Dance (Reflections on Art)

Sri Aurobindo once wrote:

“The first and lowest use of Art is the purely aesthetic, the second is the intellectual or educative, the third and highest the spiritual. By speaking of the aesthetic use as the lowest, we do not wish to imply that it is not of immense value to humanity, but simply to assign to it its comparative value in relation to the higher uses. The aesthetic is of immense importance and until it has done its work, mankind is not really fitted to make full use of Art on the higher planes of human development”

– Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA), Vol. 1, p. 439

A dance-drama titled, Beyond Names triggered the following reflections. Produced by a Secundarabad-based organization, Our Sacred Space, the performance “celebrates the paths by which we seek the Essence. Whatever way we choose to acknowledge it. It is but One Energy – to which we assign the name of our choice.” (programme brochure).

The title Beyond Names sounded highly appealing – a movement through the various forms to the essential one, the formless; going via and beyond the varied names to the one eternal nameless. The performance featured Odissi dance by Nayantara Nanda Kumar, storytelling and poetry recitation.

The performance began with the traditional invocation to the gods, the universe and the audience, with the dancer performing Panchadevata Mangalacharan (salutations to five deities – Ganesha, Jagannatha/Vishnu, Rudra, Surya, and Shakti). This was followed by Sthai Nato, a pure nritta piece.(1)

For the abhinaya (2) component, a Hindi poem about a barbaric act of violence committed during inter-religious communal riots was evocatively recited by the dancer’s mother, a librarian and storyteller, while the dancer portrayed the emotions of the story. The combination of dance and storytelling was meant to evoke a certain kind of educative experience. But somehow it failed to do so, at least for me. Only on a couple of brief occasions I felt momentary emotional pull, perhaps because of the story’s emotional content. Overall, this particular performance failed to move me.

For the arts to be an education for the soul, two things are necessary: the artist’s ability to evoke a certain kind of experience through the chosen art form; and the learner or spectator’s readiness and receptivity. Maybe I wasn’t receptive enough that particular evening, maybe I couldn’t open myself enough to take ‘in’ the experience. Or just maybe I couldn’t ‘feel’ a movement beyond the outer phenomenon to the Essence, beyond the names and forms to the Nameless and Formless, beyond the seen to the Unseen, beyond the violence to the Peace.

All the pieces following the abhinaya (Prayer for Peace – Moving Meditation, Transforming Anger, Jung ya Aman) relied exclusively on words, gentle movement, poetry recitation, and a video clip of an interview with a spiritual teacher, and had no dance component. According to the brochure the performance hoped to address the following:

“We are witnessing a revival of fundamentalism of various hues. We are encouraged to believe that the religion we profess is the “best”, unlike the “other” that is rabid/discriminatory/primitive, little realizing that it is the notion of “best” that contains the seed of violence.

“War is but the orchestrated version of the violence that we allow in thought, word and deed. War brutalizes both victor and vanquished and makes violence acceptable, leaving a trail of broken homes, broken families, broken lives…

“Beyond Names asks: Can we not evolve ways that are non-judgemental, inclusive, loving? For, in truth, there is no “other”. To hate another is to hate ourselves….to embrace another is to embrace ourselves. Is that not the Essence that all of us seek…to be able to live in peace with ourselves?”

 I was hoping that the performance would somehow gradually and gently ease the audience into a quieter place of awareness – even if only for a few moments – of the Essence beyond all names and forms, into a place where such questions of violence, war and fundamentalism would be silenced, just for those moments.

Sadly, that never happened. The experience didn’t take me to that place. Even the concluding dance piece titled Moksha and Shanti Mantra failed to do so, perhaps because it ended rather quickly before I could really ‘immerse’ into it or ‘flow’ with the vibration of Peace that it was meant to evoke.

The experience just kept me mentally engaged with questions such as: a) why an exclusive focus on only one particular “name” of religious fundamentalism – Hindu; b) why use a sensationalist-headline type of story to illustrate the deep-rooted violence hidden in the imperfect human nature; c) why not use dance and movement to express the idea of mindfulness instead of a spiritual teacher’s words; d) why use a video featuring more words instead of dance; and a few more.

More questions came later, particularly about the educative role of art (the second purpose of art, as per Sri Aurobindo). What kind of educational experience should art evoke, and in what ways? Are there possible ways through which art can take the audience to a deeper place within or a higher place beyond mind, even if for a split second, where the questioning mind is silenced and a subtler learning begins?

Many artists and art forms take on an ‘educative’ role as their raison d’être these days. But are they really able to do so? Art definitely has an educational purpose, but not through dry intellect or through a sensationalist-vitalistic provocation or activism. Art educates by a subtle training of the intellectual faculty as it helps make the mind quick to grasp at a glance, subtle enough to distinguish shades and deep enough to reject shallow self sufficiency. Art raises images in the mind which it has to understand not by analysis, but by self-identification with other minds, thus helping the mind become mobile, subtle, delicate, swift, and intuitive (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 1, p. 449).

Art is suggestive and can arouse a sense of sympathetic insight. The intellect habituated to the appreciation of art becomes quick to catch suggestions, mastering not only that which is positive and on the surface, but also that which leads to ever fresh widening and subtilising of knowledge. (ibid.)

But to truly fulfil even its educative role, Art must first discover its essential purpose.

“…the highest Art is that which by an inspired use of significant and interpretative form unseals the doors of the spirit. But in order that it may come to do this greatest thing largely and sincerely, it must first endeavour to see and depict man and Nature and life for their own sake, in their own characteristic truth and beauty; for behind these first characters lies always the beauty of the Divine in life and man and Nature and it is through their just transformation that what was at first veiled by them has to be revealed. The dogma that Art must be religious or not be at all, is a false dogma, just as is the claim that it must be subservient to ethics or utility or scientific truth or philosophic ideas. Art may make use of these things as elements, but it has its own svadharma, essential law, and it will rise to the widest spirituality by following out its own natural lines with no other yoke than the intimate law of its own being.”

– Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 25, pp. 229-230

Art may be inspired by or make use of any aspect from Life and Nature, from current events to timeless tales, from social issues to eternal truths, but in order for it to rise up to its aim in opening the door to the Spirit, it must express what it sees in their essential truth and beauty, beyond and beneath what is on the surface. The essential law, the svadharma of Art is to express through a specific form the formless essence, the very ‘is-ness’ of the thing it chooses to depict.

Even in its educative role Art must not steer away from its svadharma and reduce itself to being merely provocative, reactive, sensationalist or sentimental. When Art becomes Activism and stays only at that level, it may cease to be Art.

“The highest and most perfect Art, while satisfying the physical requirements of the aesthetic sense, the laws of formal beauty, the emotional demand of humanity, the portrayal of life and outward reality….reaches beyond them and expresses inner spiritual truth, the deeper not obvious reality of things, the joy of God in the world and its beauty and desirableness and the manifestation of divine force and energy in phenomenal creation.”

– Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 1, p. 450

(1) Nritta: abstract dance, where the body makes patterns in space with no particular meaning attached to any gesture or movement. While various mudras are used in nritta, they are not meant to convey any story.
(2) Abhinaya:  a tradition of story-telling in Indian classical dances, Abhinaya is a word which literally means ‘leading towards’, that is, leading the audience towards an experience of a particular rasa. These stories may be puranic, mythological, legends or even contemporary.

Details of the Infinite

by Beloo Mehra


The intricately carved pillars lead you into the chamber of Beauty and Divinity. Beauty in Divinity; Divinity in Beauty.



Your eyes want to linger on the details of the pillars, take in every piece of carving and beauty. At the same time the inner quietude pulls you in.



Your footsteps slowly take you in, quietly, with a sense of awe and quiet anticipation. No rush, no hurrying through, you just walk through the space slowly, purposefully or with no purpose at all but just to experience the majesty and glory that is all around you.



Or you don’t walk at all. You just stand still. Quietly, in silence, you just stay there. For as long as you must. For as long as you hear the poetry of those stones, the music in that silent space.

The experience is not merely an aesthetic one, for that would last only as long as you are in the physical presence of the art. This is also not only your mind’s or heart’s journey back into the glorious past of India of thousands of years ago when thousands of Sun-worshippers would have gathered in this temple dedicated to Lord Surya, the Sun God.

This is more than that.

This is a journey within. A journey into the chambers of the inner you where you want the Light of the Sun God to shine, into all those corners from where you want those pesky little darknesses to be gone. A journey that gradually leads you to a bright and vast openness, that makes you, the inner you, more receptive to the new Light that must fill those spaces within.



It is in this aspiration and appeal to the Infinite that all details find their rightful place and purpose. You begin to know intuitively why and how the detailed abundance of the majestically carved pillars and the intricately elaborate gateway are steps to experiencing the sublime beauty of the divinity within, and also the divinity of beauty within.

A certain type of critical mind, which often fails to see the inner significance of what the outer eye meets, looks at the profusion of artistic detail on the ancient Indian temple walls, gateways and pillars, on the hallways of old palaces and other buildings and asks – why is everything so crowded, why is every little space filled up, where is the blank space, how can one take it all in?

But to an Indian heart and mind,


And long after you come back, the beauty of that experience still lingers within, quietly and often without your awareness. It is not really a memory, maybe something more, something subtler. It is a vibration, perhaps. And you know what you need to do to re-experience that vibration.

You just need to go back, no not to the physical space, but that space within where you first felt that touch of delight. You sit quietly and go to that space and recall it.

And the words begin to resonate –

As the Infinite fills every inch of space…

…with the stirring of life and energy…

…because it is the Infinite…

These words reverberate inside, quietly. You let them. You stay in gratitude for that experience, for that vibration.



Images are of the Sun Temple at Modhera, Gujarat, India.
All photographs by Suhas Mehra. Please do not reproduce or copy without permission.
The article first appeared on Beloo Mehra’s blog.