The other day I got an email from a lady whom I had initiated last year. She has been extremely devoted in imbibing spiritual values in her life and spreading the word to help others. Lately though, her faith shifted to another guru who is no longer in his body. She got connected through a set of devotees who recounted their experiences and all. Naturally, this got her thinking about the powers of this guru and soon thereafter she started experiencing his presence in her life. So far so good.
Recently, she felt the need to share her experience with me and to tell me that she still looks up to me. That she sees me at par with the other guru and that she’s very happy to have two gurus. “I’m still surrendered to you,” she wrote. With the other guru there is a vibrant community of devotees and there’s a place to go to in her city. She asked me if I was okay with it.
She is not the first person to go through something like this and hers is not the first email. I meet many people who come to me from other gurus and those who leave me for others. And then there are those who have more than one guru. At any rate, if it matters to you, I’m totally fine with it. You don’t have to see me a certain way. Before I tell you what I said to her, let me share a popular Zen koan from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (1919).
When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.
At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!
In commemoration, she wrote a poem:
In this way and that I tried to save the old pail
Since the bamboo strip was weakening
and about to break
Until at last the bottom fell out.
No more water in the pail!
No more moon in the water!
I wrote to her that Swami neither proposes, nor imposes or disposes. That she must feel free to follow her heart. I have never called myself a master. I don’t refer to myself as a ‘guru’ except for the four people who I initiated on the path of renunciation. To the rest, when I initiate them, it’s only a pseudo-initiation. A step before the real initiation, I tell them they are free to see me however they like. But, that they must discover their own truth eventually. Out of the seven levels of initiation on my path, the most anyone has reached till date is the third level (including those on the path of renunciation).
Thereafter, they either lose steam or get distracted getting caught up in trivial matters irrelevant to their own liberation but extremely important to individual ego. To someone who once got offended by my views on the blog, I said, “Please, just look upon me as a blogger. Take what you like and leave the rest.” I can’t help you if you have already formed an opinion or if you want to filter me out based on your (or mine) religious or spiritual preferences. When it comes to faith, you must feel free to make individual choices in your life and not let anyone dictate that to you. If your belief makes you more responsible, compassionate, kind, it’s working for you. Follow your inner voice. You shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling peace.
Go where your faith takes you. Be where you want to be. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).
Ultimately, it all boils down to one thing — the old pail. Human ego. It is painful to break your ego, but it is the path to immense freedom. Like a caterpillar you crawl out of your cocoon and fly out a butterfly. If you find the vessel more important than its bearer, you are bound to misdirect your energies. This temple or that shrine, this guru or that master, makes no difference in the final analysis. Eventually, you must lead a responsible life to walk any path — spiritual, material or both.
The laws of nature are the same for everyone. No guru, no matter how you see him or her, can pluck a mango from an apple tree if you see what I mean. Your own life is the greatest miracle, you are a miracle. Just like a honeybee takes the pollen from a real flower and goes back to its hive, feel free to take wisdom from wherever you get, regardless of its religious or ethnic source, and deposit it in your own repository of knowledge. There is no harm in taking learning from any source you so fancy.
A sense of individual existence you carry in your mind is as temporary as the reflection of the moon in your vessel. One ripple in life, one tiny shake, and the whole image gets distorted. Just like the real moon is not an object that can be held in a pail, the real you can’t be held down by a guru or a belief (read religion). It’s when you limit your own infinite existence to a small receptacle that the reflection starts to feel the real thing.
You break the vessel and all that you are holding within you pours out. In that state you go beyond even emptiness. There is no pail and there’s no water. You are free. Individual consciousness, expanding beyond infinity, merges in the cosmic consciousness then.
No water. No moon.
Or no water, no moon. It’s how you look at it.