Over the past few years, quite a few blog readers have written to me appreciating the manner in which I have presented the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I would attribute much of it to my Guru whom I met early in my teenage years. My experiences with him seemed to correspond closely with the manner in which the Sri Aurobindo and the Mother interacted with their disciples. It is this correlation which has enabled me to provide an alternative perspective on their life and teachings.
Yoga is a predominantly psychological process of conquering one’s weaknesses through the assistance of a Higher Light. As part of the surrender (samarpan) to the Divine, one is expected to reject deviant movements within oneself and offer them to the Divine for removal. This is a private exercise which does not require confessing in front of family, friends, priests or the public at large (…by writing a memoir or appearing on a TV talk show, as Americans tend to do these days). The exercise is undertaken not to gain social acceptance or to unburden oneself but to eliminate the depravities which occlude the inner light – the psychic being – from shining forth.
Growing up in a social milieu, we develop into gregarious beings who are accustomed to being praised, respected or at least acknowledged for being an individual. Humiliation in any form comes as a sharp blow to the ego. When our expectations are not met, we instinctively become resentful and hold grudges instead of handling the situation with dispassion. What do you do if the Guru, the very person you expected to be an epitome of boundless compassion, suddenly turns cold and hard? It can be a particularly acute test for the disciple as the two anecdotes here illustrate.
Genuine Gurus are rare these days, so this question shouldn’t arise, but for what its worth, these are some insights by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the question of multiple Gurus. The gist of the matter seems to be that as long as you don’t feel strongly drawn to any particular sage, it is permissible to draw inspiration (through reading and interaction) from multiple sages. But once you get initiated by a particular Guru, you must stick to that Guru, otherwise the spiritual energies of different Gurus can interfere to create a frightful mess within your consciousness. Furthermore, if you have reached the apex with one particular Guru, you can certainly look for another. The cases of Kapali Sastry and M.P.Pandit can be cited in support of this clause; they were initially disciples of Ramana Maharshi but later choose Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as their Guru.
The Mother Mirra Alfassa was a much misunderstood Guru outside the confines of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Some derided her as authoritarian presumably because she supervised parades in the Ashram(these were intended to instill the discipline required for yogic transformation). Others, after reading of her intimate involvement in the day-to-day decisions of the disciples, concluded that she had turned the Ashram into a cult. Men especially had difficulty accepting an European (not to mention French) woman as a Guru. Many hasty, as well as nasty, misconceptions arise because we superficially evaluate her external behaviour based on our own preconceptions and prejudices. A proper appraisal of her functioning as a Guru requires some patience along with a nascent psychic sensitivity to perceive the luminous consciousness behind her frontal personality.
“How would the lives of Western women have been different if they had been raised to believe that God was a Mother, all loving and all powerful?” It is with this thought-provoking question that Lisa “Prajna” Hallstrom opens her book Mother of Bliss on the life of the Bengali woman saint, Anandmayi Ma(1896-1982). Hallstrom, through this book, sought to understand the phenomenon of female spiritual Gurus in India. (See her website)
In an era suffering from an overabundance of Gurus and Avatars, it has become difficult to distinguish the real from the fake, especially when these Gurus are surrounded by a retinue of adoring, immature minions who tend to conflate coincidences with miracles and fervent imagination with spiritual experiences. Whose story should we believe? Various ancient Hindu scriptures speak of the different methods by which a Guru may initiate a disciple, and these signs can provide a test for discernment. We briefly cover the modalities of this initiation process (called Diksha in Sanskrit) with a few examples from some modern-day seers. Continue reading