“I am open to spirituality, but I don’t think I can surrender myself or commit to any one particular path or guru or approach or teaching…that’s just not me.”
“I think I am more of a universalist in my spiritual approach, I prefer being open and wide. No narrow religious type commitment for me.”
“I feel when we bind ourselves to any one specific guru or tradition, we tend to become close-minded or maybe even fanatic. No, that’s not the right thing at all, I feel, at least not for me.”
“I just can’t see myself surrendering to any human guru. Period.”
Do these statements sound familiar? I am sure many of you have heard similar sounding things from people in your acquaintance/friends/family circles. Or perhaps you yourself have said something similar, at some point in life.
Perhaps it is a sign of the postmodern (or post-po-mo) times we live in! Perhaps an outcome of the training of our minds through the kind of ‘rationalistic-utilitarian-industrial’ education we are given. Perhaps a hint of the struggle of our mental ego-self which can only deal with partial truths, and that too the truths that it prefers. Perhaps a result of some wrong or partial or incomplete understandings of the terms ‘being religious’, ‘being spiritual’ or even ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’. Perhaps a mix of all these and more.
I’ll admit for years I never questioned much about committing or not committing to particular spiritual path. Simply because I never felt or realised that what I needed or what I might have been seeking – unconsciously or subconsciously – was a particular path. That is, until I did. Or rather, until it happened to me. As the wise say, we don’t choose a Guru, the Guru chooses us; the path chooses us or rather opens up for us. Whether we walk on the path or not is up to us.
Who can know for sure? Or maybe we can…
The other day when organising some files on my computer I found myself reading/re-reading/browsing through several articles that had once upon a time helped me – and since then time and again continue to help me – gain tremendous clarity on many questions that constantly come up for many beginners on the path, questions that many times we aren’t even aware of in our conscious minds. The clarity we seek is not only intellectual but perhaps something more. And the words – rather the force and consciousness behind the words – of great spiritual masters and sadhaks point us in the direction of the answers we seek, or the answers we need. Often the answers too are within us, but we need the help of someone to show us the path to those answers. These words can be, or rather must be, read over and over, every time even an iota of doubt begins to hover around one’s mind.
One such reading that helped me find some answers for myself is this wonderful, succinct and absolutely to-the-point essay by Nolini Kanta Gupta (known as Nolini-da to everyone in the Aurobindonian community). Perhaps some readers of Matriwords may also find this essay speaking to them.
Modern culture demands that one should not be bound to one creed or dogma, swear by one principle or rule of life or be led blindly by one man. Truth, it is said, has many facets and the human being is also not a Cyclops, a one-eyed creature. To fix oneself to one mode of seeing and believing and even behaving is to be narrow, restricted, sectarian. One must be able to see many standpoints, appreciate views of variance with one’s own, appraise the relativity of all standards. Not to be able to do so leads to obscurantism and fanaticism. The Inquisitors were monomaniacs, obsessed by an idée fixe. On the other hand, the wisest counsel seems to have been given by Voltaire who advised the inquirers to learn from anywhere and everywhere, even Science from the Chinese. In our Indian legends we know that Uddhava did not hesitate to accept and learn from more than a dozen Gurus. That is as it should be if we would have a mind and consciousness large and vast and all-encompassing.
And yet there is a question. While attempting to be too liberal and catholic one may happen to turn a dilettante. Dilettante is one who takes an interest, an aesthetic, a dispassionate and detached interest in all things. His interest is intellectual, something abstract and necessarily superficial; it is not a vital interest, not a question of his soul, an urgent problem of his living.
A spiritual interest is nothing if it is not in this way a question that touches life to its core. That means a definite goal and appropriate means to reach that goal, and that again necessarily involves a choice, a process of acceptance and rejection. The goal is also called the ista, the godhead that one seeks, the Divine that is fulfilled in oneself. Being a personality, an individual, one has to choose, one can best follow the line of evolution and growth and fulfilment of that personality and individuality – that is the call of the Psyche, the direction of the Jiva. In other words, one has to be loyal and faithful to one’s nature and being. That is why it is said: Better to perish while fulfilling one’s own law of life than to flourish by fulfilling another’s law. By being curious about another’s Dharma – it is this kind of curiosity that led to the original fall of man, according to the Bible – that is to say, if one is vitally curious, allows oneself to be influenced and so affected and diverted by what is an outside and foreign force, because not in the line of one’s own truth and development, one asks for a mixture and intervention which bring confusion, thwart the growth and fulfilment, as that falsifies the nature.
It is not only bad influences that affect you badly, even good influences do so – like medicines that depend upon the particular constitution for their action. In ancient times this was called varnasankara or dharmasankara, as for example, when a Kshatriya sought to follow the rule of life of a Brahmin or vice versa. This kind of admixture or mésalliance was not favoured, as it was likely to bring about an obscurity in the consciousness and in the end frustration in the spiritual life. That was the original psychological reason why heresy was considered such a dangerous thing in all religions.
It is not sufficient to say that God is one and therefore wherever He is found and however He is found and whoever finds Him one must implicitly accept and obey and follow. God is one indeed: but it is equally true that he is multiple. God is not a point, but a limitless infinity, so that when one does reach Him one arrives at a particular spot, as it were, enters into only one of his many mansions. Likewise, God’s manifestation upon earth has been infinitely diverse, his Vibhutis, Avataras, his prophets and viceregents have been of all sorts and kinds. Precisely because God is at once one and infinitely multiple and because human nature also is likewise, if one in essence, infinitely multiple in expression, each one, while seeing and finding the one God, seeks and finds him in and through a particular formulation. That is the original meaning, the genesis and justification of creeds and dogmas. Only, it must be borne in mind, that one can be faithful even to a particular creed and dogma and yet transcend it, live a particular mode of life and yet possess at the back of it and as its support the very sense and consciousness of infinity itself. Where there is this synthetic and transcendent experience dogmatism has no place, nor conflict between creed and creed.
One can be as catholic and boundless as infinity, still one can and has to bow down to a special figure of it, since or if one who approaches it has a figure of his own. Just in the same way as when one is in the body, one has to live a particular life framed by the body, even the mind as well as the life are canalised in the mould of the body consciousness, and yet at the same time one can live in and through the inner consciousness immeasurably, innumerably in other bodies, in the unbarred expanse of the cosmic and the transcendent. The two experiences are not contradictory, rather they reinforce each other.
Uddhava might have had numberless teachers and instructors, but the Guru of his soul was Sri Krishna alone, none other. We may learn many things from many places, from books, from nature, from persons; intuitions and inspirations may come from many quarters, inside and outside, but the central guidance flows from one source only and one must be careful to keep it unmixed, undefiled, clear and pure. When one means nothing more than playing with ideas and persons and places, there is no harm in being a globe-trotter; but as soon as one becomes serious, means business, one automatically stops short, finds and sticks to his Ishta, even like the Gopis of Sri Krishna who declared unequivocally that they would not move out of Brindaban even by a single step.
Reference: Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta, Vol. 3, pp. 99-101