Transcendental Trickster

Swami Muktananda Saraswati

In India, when a seeker comes to meet a holy man, he usually brings some small offering of sweets, flowers or incense. The world over, most people also bring along strongly ingrained preconceptions of how they should feel towards a spiritual master. There are those who speak of meeting their spiritual guide in tones that are both amazed and reverential. Flashing lights, pounding hearts and ringing bells seem to be the standard accompaniment to this momentous occasion, which is in the best tradition of love at first sight. There is also the rare and privileged seeker who meets his guru under circumstances most mysterious or miraculous, and the awed humility engendered by this brush with cosmic power inevitably grows into unfathomable devotion. Although far from the norm, such spectacular accounts are largely responsible for the myth that there should be instant recognition and intense love of one's guru. Of course, in the majority of cases there are no fireworks, there is no clashing of cymbals, nothing climactic to stamp the event with the seal of sanctified destiny. By comparison with sensationalist literature, a saint in the flesh usually comes across as a rather ordinary stranger. And if you are in the habit of feeling instantaneous, overwhelming love for strangers you are either dangerously emotional or a saint yourself.

Who says you have to love your guru? Certainly Swami Vivekananda was not immediately besotted with even so great a sage as Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna lived in a Kali temple outside Calcutta, and for several years his wife also lived there in a separate apartment. Ramakrishna was in the habit of leaving his room late at night to meditate in a grove in a distant part of the temple, and Vivekananda spent several sleepless nights to ascertain that his master was not surreptitiously visiting the young and beautiful Sharadadevi. Such a vigil accused the Master of lust and hypocrisy, but these initial doubts did not prevent Vivekananda from becoming Ramakrishna's chief disciple. When Marpa, founder of one of the major orders of Tibetan lamas, first approached his guru, Naropa, it was strictly a business deal. Marpa offered Naropa a large sum of gold in exchange for knowledge of the secret doctrines of Buddhism. Naropa accepted and there was no talk of love between them.

For most of his discipleship, Marpa's own disciple, the illustrious Milarepa, must have felt anything but love for his guru. In return for Marpa's teachings, Milarepa had first to build his guru a house. Milarepa began four times, but just as each structure was nearly complete, Marpa would command him to tear it down on the excuse that he had allocated the wrong site, that he had been drunk when he ordered its construction and similar flimsy excuses. Four times Milarepa was beaten and ignominiously thrown out of the initiation ceremonies conducted by his guru. Not love, but rage and frustration were Milarepa's chief sentiments towards Marpa, whom he accused of faithlessness, cheating and exploitation. Milarepa had murdered before, and Marpa's behaviour must have tempted him to do it again.

The guru can awaken in us a whole range of feelings, none of which may be love, and though many devotees do feel immediate love, many do not. Even for those who do, this first flush of feeling may be an infatuation that doesn't last beyond the delightful days when guru and disciple are just discovering each other. It's debatable that we really know what love is anyway. After all, we don't want to bluff ourselves. The emotionalism we call love might not be a genuine giving so much as a disguise for our own need. We are conditioned to barter, even emotionally, and by loving we may be demanding to be loved in return. The longing we think is longing for the guru is, at some stages, simply a focus for all the indefinable longings that are the sum total of our frustration. We confuse love with affection and physical closeness, but a guru doesn't have to show affection to show the way.

The expectation that we must always and only love our spiritual guide is one of the obstacles to the spontaneous development of naked communication. It denies the negative feelings that occasionally arise in every deeply intimate relationship, suppressing them as heresy.

We seek a guru because we are looking for a way out of our delusion and discontent, yet the very ideas which we believe are vital to our survival and well-being are the ones causing our suffering. We are operating on certain basic assumptions, certain fixed ways of seeing and being in the world, that are so much taken for granted that we are totally unaware of them. These unacknowledged assumptions shape our patterns of perceiving and behaving, distorting our perception of reality. They are what constitutes our ego, located exactly at the blind spot of the personality. If we are directly to perceive reality, this bias must be recognised and transcended.

Unfortunately, we cannot simply be talked out of it. The guru must by-pass reason, for reasoning itself is pre-structured by the ego. If we are to loosen our embrace on our cherished delusions, the guru must entice us into a game where we act consistently on the assumptions we hold to be true until we find out they are not true. We must be disillusioned, stripped of our illusions, before we can see the truth. The guru as inspired jester tricks the disciple into insight by forcing him to extend his assumptions to their illogical conclusions. If I am convinced that the earth is flat, I can only be disabused by being tricked out of my 'rationality' so that I walk to the edge and jump over.

This benevolent trickery is exemplified by the old swami who lived in a thatched hut by the side of a river.

One day a blind man was brought to him, begging to be cured of his affliction.

-The remedy, said the swami, is simple. You have only to bathe in this river on full moon night. You are lucky, for the moon is full this very night.

-But... but, stammered the blind man, this river flows deep and fast and I cannot swim. Besides, it is forbidden in my religion to bathe by the light of the full moon.

-Well then, replied the swami, there is nothing I can do for you, but it is getting dark so you may stay the night in my kutir.

Much later, when the moon was riding high, the swami got out of bed and set fire to the hut. His guest awoke shrieking and ran straight out the door, stumbling towards the river bank.

-Quick! Jump! yelled the swami. The blind man jumped, sank into the river, and re-emerged sight whole.

The guru must use whatever means are necessary to induce us to take the leap into greater awareness, and because we can't see the reasons for what he asks us to do, or the way he behaves towards us, we might feel he is misusing our affection, which quickly turns to disappointment or hurt. The more successful his ploys, the more quickly our props and pseudo-securities are kicked from under us, and this naturally leads to anxiety and fear for which the guru is often the target.

When we come to the guru, we come with all our worldly attachments, our ambitions and desires. Gradually the energy that powers these drives is redirected for spiritual growth, but this might be painful at times. When our ambition is thwarted, when our desires are left unsatisfied as part of this re-channelling process, we are bound to feel some frustration, some anger or some resentment. Ideally we merely witness the ebb and flow of this emotional tide, or at least minimise our involvement by being aware that such feelings are natural, and temporary, fluctuations of mind. Nevertheless, the ego is tenacious and devious, and we might find these rampant emotions diverted towards the guru.

In the early stages particularly, becoming a disciple is more of a love-hate affair than a stable and sublime communion. On one hand we are genuinely drawn to our spiritual guide. We admire and respect him, we really do want to learn and grow by becoming worthwhile workers in his mission. At the same time, as the less likeable aspects of our personalities are revealed to us, we are embarrassed, perhaps guilty and even ashamed.

Certainly the disciple becomes more or less self-conscious, for he realises the guru knows more about him than he knows about himself. Of course, as we grow in self-acceptance, we realise that the guru is also more accepting and compassionate towards us than we are towards ourselves, and we relax again.

On the other hand, as we begin to realise our identity with the guru we might feel overwhelmed. The relationship threatens to be too close, we become defensive of our individuality and want to push him away. So we have to be cajoled into trying as hard as we can to discover the truth for ourselves, until we come to the point where we realise we are powerless to go further alone. We must abandon the illusion of our own self-sufficiency.

This merciful disillusionment does not depend on love, it does not depend on reverence, it does not depend on devotion, although these might be the outcome. The crux of this cosmic sleight-of-hand is the disciple's constant awareness of the guru and obedience to his instructions. It is irrelevant if the disciple is loving the guru or hating him for the moment, as long as the guru is kept vividly in mind. It does not matter if the disciple feels just now that the guru's psychic presence is oppressive or uplifting, as long as he is vitally aware of that presence. The emotional reactions come and go, but as long as there is constant awareness of the guru, the channels of communication are kept open and communion must eventually take place. Inevitably our delusions and frustrations give way to insight and surrender, and the disciple is transported out of his confusion by the guru's transcendental trickery like a blind kitten carried in its mother's mouth.