Living in Guru’s presence

How fortunate we all are to be in a Guru-disciple relationship, living so intimately with a Mahatma like Amma, who is ever established in the Supreme Consciousness.

We have so much personal contact with Her, and we are able to see the various ways in which She instructs and uplifts Her disciples and devotees. Many different types of people come to Amma, each needing the guidance appropriate for him or her at different times. Just as various Divine forms, with their different qualities, are needed to represent God, Amma assumes many bhavas (moods) and characteristics in order to lead Her children to the Divine State, beyond all words and forms.

Sometimes the Guru’s teachings and even the scriptures say contradictory things, and we may become confused upon encountering this. One moment Amma says, “God is the childlike innocence in you,” and the next moment She says, “God is Pure Consciousness, or Pure Love, or Compassion.” Well, which one is He? Our minds want to know. Or Amma will say, “God is in your heart.” Then She will say, “God is everywhere.” Where is He?

When reading the Bhagavad Gita, we are also confronted with many such apparent contradictions. For example, in the 10th chapter, Lord Krishna says that of the senses He is the mind; in living beings, intelligence; and of utterances He is “Om.” He is the power of the powerful, the goodness of the good, and so on. Thinking on the material plane, we will naturally wonder, ‘Well, which of these is He? Is He the power of the powerful or the goodness of the good?’

When we isolate just a few verses of the scripture or just a few words of the Guru, it is actually quite easy to become confused and start criticising. But they have to be read or listened to in their entirety, with faith and awareness. Otherwise Lord Krishna would have said only that one sloka and been finished. The context actually clarifies the meaning of Sri Krishna’s and Amma’s words.

In the Gita, Arjuna first asks the Lord how to come to know Him through constant meditation, how to contemplate upon Him. It is in response to this that the Lord lists those examples, but only after he clarifies, “I shall mention only the main ones, as there is no end to the detail.” After citing so many examples, Lord Krishna again says, “There is no end to my divine manifestations, so I have only mentioned a few by way of example.”

There is a deep, symbolic meaning to each of the examples that Bhagavan gives. He refers to Himself as the essence of each quality listed, to show that, as the Supreme Truth He is the underlying essence of all things. Similarly, “Om” is the substratum of all sound and speech. Because the senses cannot function without the mind, the Lord refers to himself as the mind, but only with respect to the senses. What makes a powerful person powerful? His power. It is not the power of a good person that makes him good, it is his goodness. Like this, in each example cited, the Lord shows how He is the essence pervading the whole, but is not limited or affected by any of its manifestations. In this way, He first helps Arjuna to focus his mind on the essential principle residing in material things with which he is familiar. Once Arjuna’s mind becomes more focused and subtle, it will more easily realise the essential Principle of his own Self and the whole Universe.

Amma constantly does the same thing with us. She uses various situations and teachings to draw our minds inward and make them more subtle. Many of Her words or actions may seem contradictory on the surface, but this is simply because the nature of God, or the Supreme Truth, is beyond our intellectual comprehension. As God is beyond the intellect, beyond the material world, we cannot expect any one form, method of explanation, simile, or theory to suffice. For such reasons, around a Satguru like Amma, contradictions and paradoxes become the rule rather than the exception. Contradiction is actually absolutely necessary. Why? Because contradiction goes against reason or logic. Logic is useful only up to a certain point in understanding the Guru and God. At some point it must be dropped, after which our only means of understanding is faith and surrender. It is for the sake of making us drop our mind and reason that the Guru creates the contradictions.

I have heard about an incident that happened many years ago at Amritapuri, when there was only one hut in the whole ashram. One day Amma decided that it was time to build two more huts, since more rooms were needed for the new residents. One of Amma’s senior disciples was in charge of supervising the work, and he designed a plan and showed it to Amma. The workers then erected the main poles to support the frame and started to tie the coconut leaves on to the frame. Amma came out of the temple and saw what was going on.

“Who told them to do this?” asked Amma. Everyone pointed at the brahmachari, whom Amma then questioned. “Who asked you to place the huts like this?” “Why Amma, you saw the plan and approved of it,” he replied. “I don’t remember seeing any plan. Tear this down! Nobody should build huts facing each other. All you think of is how to be comfortable, how to get a good breeze! Don’t you care about scriptural rules? No! The rules don’t allow huts to be built like this.” Having said this, Amma went back into the temple. The brahmachari helplessly turned towards the workers and asked them to tear down the work that they had been doing since morning.

But after two minutes, Amma again emerged from the temple. She looked at the workers who were starting to dismantle the huts. “What are they doing? Tell them to build them the way they originally planned. Otherwise, how is the breeze going to enter the huts?” said Amma. “But Amma, what about the scriptural rules?” the brahmachari asked. “Rules? There are no rules for building huts. That’s only for regular buildings.” After this, Amma went back into the temple once again. So what would an average person observing this whole drama have thought of Amma? Unreasonable or perhaps even crazy. But such a way of dealing with the disciples’ minds is quite in line with tradition. It is reminiscent of the story of the famous Tibetan yogi, Milarepa, and how his Guru made him build and rebuild a seven-story tower many times before he finally approved of Milarepa’s work and granted him initiation.

All such actions are simply to help the disciple develop the surrender needed to go beyond his mind. Amma says that the nature of the Supreme is not bound by reason or logic. Likewise, the Guru, whose sole purpose is to guide us to that Truth beyond, cannot be bound by reason or logic either. In Awaken, Children! Amma says, “Don’t try to judge the Master with your intellect. Your understanding of him is bound to be completely wrong.

Because you dwell in the mind, and your habits and tendencies are very strong, you will insist on trying to solve the mystery of the Master’s ‘strange moods’ through logic and reasoning. But you will fail to understand until, at last, it will be revealed to you that the Master cannot be understood through the mind or intellect. You will realise that faith alone is the way.”

So, we may look as long as we want for reasons to explain the Guru’s mysterious conduct, but we will never find them. We look at the Guru, analyse, judge, and guess, but we will never find the reason, because the reason is inside us. Everything the Guru does is based on our present condition and needs. When we observe the infinite Master, or God, and try to understand Him or Her with our limited intellects, we become like the six blind men that gave varying descriptions of the same elephant. But it is even worse when we think we have understood the Master and then we become totally narrow-minded and intolerant in our views. This is the reverse of the story with the blind men. This time there were six blind elephants who couldn’t agree on what humans were like, so they decided to try to understand what a human was by feeling with their feet. The first blind elephant felt the human with his huge feet and declared: “Humans are flat.” The other blind elephants, after similarly feeling (or squashing!) the human, agreed and the problem was solved. Just as the elephants lacked the subtlety to be able to understand a human with their feet, our minds too are not subtle enough to grasp the Guru’s mystifying ways.

So we should remain aware of this fact and do our best to broaden our view, and remain open and receptive to the Real Amma. In the Gita, Sri Krishna says, “Without any insight into my transcendental nature, men of little understanding look upon Me as a mere human individual.” So, like Lord Krishna, Amma in Her Real Nature is transcendental, but She is constantly assuming many different roles and bhavas to remove all our preconceptions about how the Guru or God should be, and how a disciple/devotee should be. Only after She removes all of our preconditioning can She recondition us.

Whether it is Krishna, or Amma, the various ways that the Guru utilises are all for removing the subtle ego from the disciple. Because it is so subtle, it is also powerful and pervasive, and very hard to remove. It’s impossible to do it alone. That is why it is said that there is nothing that can be given in return when the Guru removes the disciple’s ignorance.

Let us remember that we are receiving great gifts from Amma every day. Amma gives in the real sense. On the surface, She may only give a hug and a toffee, but the giving is taking place on a much deeper level. It actually consists of both giving and taking. On the subtle level, She is filling us with all good qualities, and at the same time She is taking our negativity and prarabdha karma. Since there is no way for us to truly repay Her, we can only strive to emulate the ideal of giving that Amma sets, the ideal of giving selflessly.

When we give something, it is usually a rather superficial process. We make some token gift, but on the inside we subconsciously desire to somehow take back something else or get rid of our dissatisfaction within. The way that we give is like the story about the man who had borrowed $50 from his friend Bill. One day they were together in a grocery shop, shopping for their food, when a robber came in and shouted, “Everybody put up your hands! This is a stickup!” The robber then instructed everyone to take out their wallets and throw them on the ground in front of him. The man took the opportunity and said to Bill, “Hey, Bill, remember that $50 I owe you? Here, keep the change!” and he threw his wallet to Bill. This is not real giving; it only amounts to taking from others.

One story from a few years back describes the type of giving that Amma really likes. During one of Amma’s birthday celebrations, a group of students came with a big, neatly wrapped box. They presented it to Amma, saying that it was their birthday gift for Her. Amma accepted it with a smile and thanked them. Then She told them, “I don’t want such a gift from you. I want another type of gift. Will you give it to me if I ask?” They agreed to try to give it the next time. They were youngsters and Mother knew they were in the habit of smoking cigarettes. So She told them, “Next time when you come, I want you to give up your smoking. Renounce cigarettes. This is what I want as a gift from you for my next birthday.”

This is the type of gift Amma really wants from everyone. She doesn’t want anything material from us. She wants only the gift of renunciation from Her children. Our gift of tyaga actually becomes a gift to the whole world, because Amma has no individual ego, She is the Totality. As a result, when we strive to surrender our ego to Amma, though we may get back nothing materially, our spiritual harvest is infinite.

Regarding giving, the Bhagavad Gita says, “Giving simply because it is right to give, without thought of return, at a proper time, in the proper circumstances, and to a worthy person, is enlightened giving. Giving with regrets or with the expectation of receiving some favour or of getting something in return is selfish giving.” Two quotes from Buddhism show how enlightened beings give. “Enlightened beings are magnanimous givers, bestowing whatever they have with equanimity, without regret, without hoping for reward, without seeking honour, without coveting material benefits, but only to rescue and safeguard all living beings.” And: “‘If I give this, what shall I have to enjoy?’ – Such selfish thinking is the way of the demons; ‘If I enjoy this, what shall I have to give?’ – Such selfless thinking is a quality of the gods.” All of these descriptions seem to describe Amma perfectly. Through Her example, Amma shows us the proper attitude of giving.

Only someone who has something can truly give to another. Naturally, the greater his wealth, the more capacity he will have to give. But Amma says, “Spirituality is the real wealth. It is the inner wealth that helps us to renounce all outer wealth, through an understanding of the eaninglessness of external riches. Spirituality is the wealth that helps us to become ‘wealthier than the wealthiest.’ It is the realisation that God alone, the Self alone, is the real wealth.”

By this definition, Amma is and always has been truly the wealthiest person in the world. Not even Bill Gates can compare. And She has been distributing huge quantities of this spiritual wealth throughout the world for over twenty-five years, but Her supply still hasn’t diminished even a bit. Everyone who comes for darshan walks away with a gem or a gold nugget, though they sometimes don’t even realise its value. And Amma gives it away so freely, her spiritual wealth is inexhaustible. In our present condition, however, we cannot give in the real sense, as Amma does, because we are spiritually poor. In order to give as She does, first we must acquire some spiritual wealth. This is the whole purpose of the Guru-disciple relationship, and of all the sadhana and selfless service that Amma instructs us to perform.

By observing Amma’s example, we can learn how to give to all equally, without any expectation. In the same way, if we want to see Amma on a deeper level, see the Real Amma, the incomprehensible Master beyond the intellect, we must remain open and receptive. Let us drop our preconceptions and expectations, and simply be in Her holy presence, with surrender and the openness of a small child. Once we remove the obstacles within our own minds, then all of the Master’s actions become meaningful guidance, and She can take us deeper within to understand Her Infinite Divine Nature.

Br. Shantamrita Chaitanya