In an earlier post I laid out my views, and the views of various teachers I have been with, on the phenomenon of temporary glimpses of the Self. The posting arose in response to an account by Broken Yogi on an experience he had had in the presence of one of his former teachers. Here is an extract from the experience he narrated, followed by a query abut the nature of the Guru-disciple relationship when such experiences take place.
I have had exactly one such experience in my life, back when I was a teenager. It occurred during my first meeting with the teacher who was to be my Guru for many years thereafter. I came into a small room with him, very nervous, waiting I thought for the “big moment”. I kept chastising myself for being so crassly craving of having “something happen”, but before I could control myself he was looking me right in the eye, and it was as if he could see everything I was doing. I felt caught red-handed, and I could hear his inner voice speaking to me, saying, “Well, here we are. I’m looking at you, and you’re looking at me, and nothing is happening.” I felt crushed, but then all of a sudden he repeated the words “Nothing is happening!” and it was as if I was suddenly slapped in the face. I saw instantly that nothing was happening, that the universe wasn’t happening, that there was nothing happening anywhere, at any time, in any place. The only thing that was real was the Guru, and I was in eternal relationship with the Guru….Which is my other question. In my experience, the Guru was the only thing “present”. Is that only because I was not truly realised, or is there something in the experience of ajata that leaves the Guru untouched as eternal Presence?
I would say that the goal is to arrive at the state wherein there is no difference whatsoever between the Guru and the disciple. If any sense of distinction or separateness remains, then one’s sadhana is not complete. After realisation, one may maintain outer respect and reverence for the form of the Guru, but internally there will be no awareness that the abiding true nature of the Guru is different from one’s own. The following three verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai emphasise this same point:
Guru and disciple are only described as different through the imaginary feeling of upadhi [limitation]. In the mauna union, the summit of jnana in which these two ideas [Guru and disciple] merge through the true experience of the Self, is there even a trace of speech and breath? As the ego, the cause that creates the sense of difference, is destroyed, the minds of the two become one through their real nature, pure being, and cease. In such a situation the talking and listening that consist of spoken words, which take place between the two, are of no use.
What is the place where the minds of the two [Guru and disciple] merge once they have reached and dwelt there? When one investigates this, the arrival and the abidance in that place [the Heart] is the true conversation that goes on, without a break, between the two who converse through auspicious and extremely sharp consciousness.
The state of being the best among the noble disciples is this: a constancy of mind whence springs forth the feeling of supreme devotion [parabhakti] that manifests when the ‘I’ is lost in the radiance of the state of silence, the Supreme. Know and keep in your mind that this is itself the state of being the Guru.
The following sequence of verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai comes from a section entitled ‘Worshipping the Guru’. The theme of the verses is that true worship of the Guru necessitates becoming indistinguishably one with him:
You may, through body, speech and mind, perform, without leaving any out, all the possible varieties of worship to the jnana Guru, he who is the walking Supreme Siva who has accepted with delight the disciple. However, [for the disciple,] losing the idea that he exists as a distinct entity, separate from that Guru who shines as the soul of his soul, completely dissolving, like ice in water, his individuality in his [the Guru’s] supreme swarupa, and becoming one with him as love alone – this is the perfect and complete worship that he should perform.
Bear in mind that the true puja to the jnana Guru is only the Self-abidance in which the vasana-free mauna surges once the disciple-consciousness that proclaimed itself as ‘I’ is destroyed by the raging fire of the consciousness of the jnana Guru, he who is God Himself.
The true puja performed to the Guru by worthy disciples is the complete destruction of the false ‘disciple-consciousness’. This is brought about by firm abidance in the state of ‘Guru-consciousness’, the experience of fullness that arises through the Heartward enquiry, ‘Who is the “I” who has been accepted as a disciple?’
The limitless perspective, Guru-consciousness, sees everything that appears as ‘I’ and ‘this’, which are dependently interlinked, as the swarupa of one’s own jnana-Guru. Gaining this perspective through the way of virtuous conduct is indeed the puja that is worthy of being performed by the true disciple.
When the ice of the ego-consciousness that is limited to the form of the body dissolves in the ocean of Guru-consciousness that is the experience of the Self which exists and shines as the one savour of love, know that this is Guru-puja.
The polluting ego-view causes the fullness of the Guru, which is present everywhere, without any absence, to be limited. Only the behaviour in which this does not appear is the shining puja to the Guru who stands out like a mountain in a plain.
A few years ago I wrote a commentary on Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham verse 39 in which I pointed out that while Bhagavan taught that oneness with the Guru was the experiential goal, in one’s outer behaviour one should always treat him with respect and reverence. This article has been on my site for several years but I am reproducing it here, with a few minor modifications and additions, because it discusses in some detail the distinction between the experience of the Guru’s true nature and the attitude one should have towards his physical form. This is the verse as it appears in the current edition of Collected Works. The translation is by Prof. K. Swaminathan:
Keep advaita within the Heart. Do not ever carry it into action. Even if you apply it to all the three worlds, O son, it is not to be applied to the Guru.
Annamalai Swami has given an account of how this particular verse came to be written. It began with the following remarks by Bhagavan:
‘Advaita should not be practised in ordinary activities. It is sufficient if there is no differentiation in the mind. If one keeps cartloads of discriminating thoughts within, one should not pretend that all is one on the outside.
‘Westerners practise mixed marriages and eat equally with everyone. What is the use of doing only this? Only wars and battlefields have resulted. Out of all these activities, who has obtained any happiness?
‘This world is a huge theatre. Each person has to act whatever role is assigned to him. It is the nature of the universe to be differentiated but within each person there should be no differentiation.’
I [Annamalai Swami] was so moved by this speech that I asked Bhagavan to summarise these ideas in a written Tamil verse. Bhagavan agreed, took a Sanskrit verse from Tattvopadesa [by Adi-Sankaracharya, verse 87] which expresses a similar idea, and translated it into a Tamil venba. When he was satisfied with his translation, I also managed to persuade him to write the first fair copy in my diary. This verse was eventually published as verse thirty-nine of Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham. (Living by the Words of Bhagavan, 2nd ed. p. 99)
Maurice Frydman, the compiler of I am That and Maharshi’s Gospel, questioned Bhagavan about the first half of this verse and received the following explanation:
Question: Sri Bhagavan has written [Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham, verse 39] that one should not show advaita in one’s activities. Why so? All are one. Why differentiate?
Bhagavan: Would you like to sit on the seat that I am sitting on?
Question: I don’t mind sitting there. But if I came and sat there the sarvadhikari [the ashram manager] and the other people here would hit me and chase me away.
Bhagavan: Yes, nobody would allow you to sit here. If you saw someone molesting a woman, would you let him go, thinking, ‘All is one’? There is a scriptural story about this. Some people once gathered together to test whether it is true, as said in the Bhagavad Gita, that a jnani sees everything as one. They took a brahmin, an untouchable, a cow, an elephant, and a dog to the court of King Janaka, who was a jnani. When all had arrived King Janaka sent the brahmin to the place of brahmins, the cow to its shed, the elephant to the place allotted to elephants, the dog to its kennel and the untouchable person to the place where the other untouchables lived. He then ordered his servants to take care of his guests and feed them all appropriate food.
The people asked, ‘Why did you separate them individually? Is not everything one and the same for you?’
‘Yes, all are one,’ replied Janaka, ‘but self-satisfaction varies according to the nature of the individual. Will a man eat the straw eaten by the cow? Will the cow enjoy the food that a man eats? One should only give what satisfies each individual person or animal.’
Although the same man may play the role of all the characters in a play, his acts will be determined by the role that he is playing at each moment. In the role of a king he will sit on the throne and rule. If the same person takes on the role of a servant, he will carry the sandals of his master and follow him. His real Self is neither increased nor decreased while he plays these roles. The jnani never forgets that he himself has played all these roles in the past. (Living by the Words of Bhagavan, pp. 216-7, 2nd ed.)
One can have the idea that everything is a manifestation of the Self, and one can attempt to incorporate this idea into one’s daily life by treating other people in an egalitarian way. However, all this would all be theoretical since it would be based on an idea of reality instead of stemming from a direct experience of the Self. From the standpoint of the Self ‘practising advaita’ is an oxymoron since in that state there is no longer an entity who can make choices about what should or should not be done. In that state action arises spontaneously from the Self, unmediated by the I-am-the-doer idea. Sadhu Om has elaborated on this important point in his commentary on this verse:
Advaita is the experience of clearly apprehending that, in reality, the Self, being-consciousness, shining continuously as ‘I am’, alone exists, and that all that appears in duality, consisting of the body, mind and world, is entirely unreal. Therefore, since doing belongs to the dualistic state, where the mind and body appear to be real, non-duality cannot be expressed through doing. On the contrary, should anyone think that non-duality might be expressed through doing, they would [be showing themselves to] be bereft of the experience of the truth of non-duality. (Sri Ramanopadesa Nul Malai – Vilakkavurai, pp. 314-15, 1987 ed.)
If, as Bhagavan instructed in the first quotation I gave from Living by the Words of Bhagavan, ‘Advaita should not be practised in ordinary activities,’ how is the sadhaka to relate to the world, which he still sees as separate from himself? Lakshmana Sarma, who received personal lessons from Bhagavan on the meaning of the Ulladu Narpadu verses, answers this question in his own comments on this verse:
… it is established that, until the I-am-the-body sense is removed, advaita cannot exist. It is fitting then that all the behaviours that occur in this state should respect the rules of duality, and one should act accordingly. It is not possible to implicate advaita in these behaviours. If any such attempt is made, impurities will arise through the power of the ego, and man’s dvaitic vasanas will wax greater. We observe that even a jnani who is established in the advaitic state will not, in his conduct, infringe the rules of dvaitic respect. Bhagavan’s view is that advaita is the direct experience of the jnani, whilst for the ajnani, it is useful for meditation and so on. (Ulladu Narpadu, p. 162, 1979 ed.)
It may be difficult to make out the reason for these injunctions [not to attempt to put advaita into practice]. But if we remember the power of the ego to pervert and frustrate even honest efforts to realise the truth – which would mean its own death – we need not be puzzled. Reflection on the truth of advaita tends to dissolve the ego and develop devotion to the truth. But action from the advaitic standpoint is suicidal because the enemy [the ego] would be in charge of such action. While ignorance is alive, duality persists in appearing as real, because of the ego sense, and truly advaitic action is impossible. The sage alone can put advaita into action, because he is egoless. Hence the sacred lore and also the sage advise us to restrict our activities and not to extend them, so as to give as little scope as possible for the ego to frustrate our efforts. (Maha Yoga, pp. 175-6, 2002 ed.)
… theoretical knowledge of the truth of non-duality does not avail to destroy the primary ignorance, so as to raise one to the egoless state in which wrong action would be impossible. So, until that state is won, the ego would be in command of actions, and this warning is therefore necessary. (This is a comment by Lakshmana Sarma that he appended to verse 416 of Sri Ramana Paravidyopanishad. This particular verse was a translation of Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham, verse 39. )
That is to say, one should strive for advaita in the Heart, but in outer activities one should adhere to the dualistic rules of dharma. There are two ideas present in this Anubandham verse: the first, which has just been dealt with, is that one should not attempt to practise advaita in the day-to-day activities of one’s worldly life; the second is a much more specific injunction that one should never practise advaita towards one’s Guru. That is to say, one should never think, ‘All is one. My Guru is the same as I am. Therefore, I don’t have to treat him as someone special since in essence he is just the same as everything and everyone else.’
Before I begin to deal with this topic I should like to discuss what the phrase ‘three worlds’ might mean in ‘Even if you apply it [advaita] to all the three worlds…’. Sadhu Om, in his Tamil commentary, has equated the ‘three worlds’ with the heavenly realms of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Having raised this possibility, he then elaborates on its implications:
Though we might speak of a man going to Brahma Loka and addressing Brahma with the words, ‘You and I are one,’ or going to Vishnu Loka and addressing Vishnu saying, ‘You and I are one,’ or going to Siva Loka and addressing Siva saying, ‘You and I are one,’ yet it would never be permissible to address one’s Sadguru, saying, ‘You and I are one’. Why? Because someone in the individualised state, though he might, through the power of his austerities, acquire even the powers of creation, preservation and destruction exercised by the Trimurtis, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, it would be an entirely impossible task for him to obtain the power that belongs [only] to the Sadguru, that of destroying the ignorance of others. Thus, the action of destroying ajnana … is vastly more powerful than those three operations that are present in [the state of] ajnana. Thus, the power of the Sadguru’s grace is vastly superior to the powers of the Trimurtis. (Sri Ramanopadesa Nul Malai – Vilakkavurai, p. 315, 1987 ed.)
While I agree with the sentiments expressed in this commentary by Sadhu Om, I am not convinced that the term ‘three worlds’ used in this verse really does denote the realms of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. The three worlds are generally taken to be the physical one that we live in and the two spirit worlds that are held to exist above it and below it. In a more general sense the phrase ‘three worlds’ is just an emphatic way of saying ‘everywhere’, or ‘in all possible places that exist’. Consider, for example, verse 167 of Guru Vachaka Kovai:
The jivas, who are all bound to total ignorance, experience the ego life in the three worlds. This is nothing but the dance of a zombie who has possessed a corpse on a funeral pyre in the cremation ground.
Here ‘the three worlds’ clearly means all the places that the ignorant jiva can manifest in and suffer. Saying that these three worlds, these three places of suffering, can be equated with the realms of the gods seems highly inappropriate. However, while I feel that Sadhu Om may not be justified in saying that the three worlds are the realms of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, I do accept his central premise that the Guru is more powerful than the gods on account of his having the power to destroy the ignorance of devotees. The greater power and authority of the Guru was alluded to by Bhagavan in verse 800 of Guru Vachaka Kovai:
If a person offends against God, it is possible to rectify the matter through the grace of the Guru, but it is impossible even for God to nullify an offence committed against the Guru. This is what the declarations of the great ones assert.
Muruganar’s comment on this verse states, ‘Devotion to the Guru is therefore more powerful than devotion to God’. The ‘declarations of the great ones’ in the final sentence of the Guru Vachaka Kovai verse may be a reference to famous verses from the Guru Gita that express the same sentiments. The Guru Gita is a portion of the Skanda Purana. Here are two of its verses on this theme:
If Siva is angry, the Guru will protect you, but if the Guru is angry, no one can save you. Therefore, with all your efforts, take refuge in him.
Even gods and sages cannot save one who has been cursed by the Guru. Such a wretch soon perishes, without the least shadow of doubt.
Verse of Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 799, has a similar theme:
Even if those great ones who have firmly embraced the means to redeem themselves from the miseries of samsara happen to deviate from conduct enjoined by the Vedas, either due to forgetfulness or any other reason, they should on no account transgress the command of the Guru who has told them about the ultimate truth.
Muruganar’s comment on this is: ‘To those who deviate from vedic conduct, there is [a possibility] of atonement, but for those who transgress the command of the Guru, there can be no atonement. It has therefore been said, “Though one may transgress the Vedas’ commands, one should never transgress the Guru’s command”.’
Lakshmana Sarma has noted that there is another important reason why one should revere the Guru as a living manifestation of the Self, and as an embodiment of the divine power that can bestow liberation.
Only that devotion to the Guru is good which is rendered to a sage-Guru, and which regards him as identical with God. Only by such devotion does one attain freedom from delusion. Truly the sage is not other than God.
[Also] there is the text of the Upanishads, that one who wants deliverance must worship the knower of the Self. If he thinks of him [the sage, who is the Guru] as other than God, that thought will obstruct his path. (Sri Ramana Paravidyopanishad, verses 25 and 237)