Significance of a spiritual Guru and how to identify one
Q: One thing that many people find hard to understand is the role of a Guru. Nowadays, when you say Guru, people say that my teacher is my Guru. Teachers, in their own way, are Gurus, no doubt. What is the significance of a spiritual Guru and how do I identify one? Will I reach anywhere if I don’t have a spiritual Guru? If I do manage to find my Guru, then apart from his seva (service), what else should I be doing?
Sri M: According to what I believe, the person who seeks Moksha (salvation) or the one who desires the Lord’s darshan (sight) hasn’t even started his journey until his heart is overwhelmed with the hope of what he seeks. If in his heart there is intense longing for the Lord’s darshan – as a hungry man longs for food and a thirsty man longs for water – then there is no need to run around looking for a Guru. It is not that the Guru is not there, he is. The person, whose heart has so much thirst for darshan of the Lord that he cries for not being able to behold the Lord, and offers to give up everything in order to get a glimpse of Him, for him a Guru will come on his own. God himself can come as a Guru. I have no doubt about that. When the Lord comes, he stays near the seeker, never far off. It is the true disciples that are a scarcity.
How will you identify your Guru? From his attire? From his Rudraksh? Or from his long hair? Or by his long beard? How will you identify a Guru? All the above said things are outward criteria that anyone can flaunt. It is not necessary for a Guru to have any particular paraphernalia. Remember what I said before – if there is longing, then a Guru is not far away. There are authentic Gurus. It is not that they do not exist but they do not advertise outwards.
I shall narrate a Sufi story about a Guru, so that you get an idea. Since you ask the criteria for identifying a Guru, I shall tell you what I feel in my heart. This is my ‘Mann ki baat.’ In case of a spiritual Guru, you first need to stay with him for sometime and see what he wants. Does he want something from you or does he want to give you something? If he is an authentic spiritual Guru, then all he will want from you is affection and one-pointedness. Nothing else. If you want to do service for him, then that is your call. A Guru will not tell you to serve him. This is the first thing. If you see someone with an fancy staged atmosphere, lights radiating from behind, long silk curtains, expensive clothes, one who dances while he talks – you look at all these attributes and, in two days, decide that he is your Guru. How is that possible? You need to stay with him and find out about his nature. If he is a true spiritual Guru, he will want nothing from you. This is the first criterion. Secondly, as I said before, if there is enough thirst inside you to reach there, then a Guru will appear from somewhere. Even if a wrong Guru appears, it would be training and a learning experience.
Now, for the Sufi story. Somewhere in the Middle East, there was someone who was spiritually inclined since childhood. He was zealous towards spiritualism and since he was very poor, he was also zealous towards making money. He saw rich people who were happy and he wanted the same for himself. Moving on in life, the tiny lamp of spirituality inside him diminished with the the pursuit of earning more money. He worked a lot and earned a lot. He had many caravans. When he was fifty, he realized that he had whatever things money could buy, but what he lacked was peace and satisfaction. The spiritual appetite had not been quenched. He had so much of money that he could buy anything he wanted. I can get anything except satisfaction, peace and harmony, he thought. There was no happiness despite the wealth he had. So, he called his wife and children and told them of his decision to retire into an oasis, leaving behind all his business. He asked them to distribute everything amongst themselves. Hearing this, there was, at first, some resistance from the family but everybody was happy with – due to the prospect of all that they would receive. The man said that he would bequeath all to them except for a small sum of money to make a hut in the oasis. In that hut, he decided to keep all the books that he had read over the years. No one shall come with me, he ordered his relatives. ‘I shall be on my own and will spend time in spiritual pursuits with all my heart.’ But there was a problem. Since he had been a wealthy man for so long, he had even forgotten how to make a cup of tea for himself. So they searched around in the village and found a man who claimed to be a good cook. They both stayed in the hut in the oasis, all by themselves. Seven years passed by. The man read books, meditated and did whatever meditations were mentioned in those books. These days people read two books and start teaching meditations to others.
After reading those books for seven years, the man realized that the one thing that he was searching for was still missing. He realised that he needed a Guru, or a Sheikh or a Murshid. He searched in all directions, but for whatever reasons, he was not satisfied with what he found. One day, he came across a man with a long beard, a green turban, and loads of beads around his neck, with a tasbih or a rosary around his fingers. This man wore long green robes and was greeted by the seeker. The rich man asked him to be made his disciple since he seemed to be a holy man. The holy man said, ‘How can you say that I am holy man? You ask me to make you my disciple, but my problem is that for the last seven years, my Guru is missing. I have to seek his permission before I can take you on as my disciple. I do not even know where he is.” The rich man asked for the description of his Guru, so that he could help find him. The holy man started describing his Guru as a short man who was not too tall, bare-chested with just a cloth around his waist and a towel over his right shoulder. And, that he was a great cook! The rich man wondered about the description and realized it fit his cook’s looks. He invited the holy man home to check if he was the same person. As they reached home, the kitchen door opened and the cook came out. The holy man immediately prostrated and asked, ‘Where did you vanish for seven years, Guruji?’ The cook replied that he had been living with the rich man all this time, trying to teach him. The holy man said, ‘For seven years you were trying to teach him, and he is looking for a Guru!’ The cook cum Guru replied, ‘It took seven years for him to realize that he needed a Guru and he is still searching! Please make him your disciple as I have more work to do. I am going now.’
Since this is a Sufi tale, there are many angles to it. Most of all, it is thought provoking.
Selected excerpts from “Sri M in conversation with Sharat Bhattatirippad”, RJ of Fever 104 FM, recorded during Sri M’s Nirahar Satyagraha at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi on February 25, 2016.