Editorial: Guru Dakshina

Dharmakeerti (Dr Usha Sundaram), Bangalore

Silver and blue, the Ganga seemed to dance as she flowed irresistibly on to the vast ocean. As if the last of her inhibitions had melted, she ran on, stumbling on pebbles, her flowing robes entangling on trees and shrubs. Even as Radha, in the past, had, at the call of the flute, lost remembrance of all but the flute player; even as she ran oblivious of her falling tresses, her dishevelled upper garment, untouched by the thorns at her feet, so also did Ganga rush to join her beloved, the ocean, in total surrender. Having passed the morning, noon and evening of life, the sky stood resplendent in sannyasin colours. Orange streamed from the dying sun and set on fire the sky above, the river below. Orange and gold - it seemed as if a maha-yagna (ceremonial sacrifice) was being performed. In silence - the world seemed hushed in prayer.

A future vision, a future mission

As the wandering sadhu sat on the hillock, gazing at the broad expanse, a strange and awesome energy seemed to flow into him. This was the hill on which had stood the palace of the legendary Kama, eldest of the Pandavas, himself a Mahayogi, favourite of Shakti, to whom he offered worship every night. Here again the footsteps of Siddhartha, the Buddha, had echoed, sanctifying it with his compassion. Few know today that Munger was once a hallowed land. Not very far away was Ayodhya, the kingdom of Rama. Its sacred earth had felt the vibrations of avatars and yogis. Here too had come, this parivrajaka on his wanderings; Satyananda was his name.

As the energy flooded into him, revelations unfolded in front of his inner eye. His mission was clear. This manifestation of energy as visions he knew to be a darshan of prana the cosmic energy that in each individual flows in a path called the pingala nadi, surya nadi or the inner Ganga. The burden of knowledge lay heavy within and like a mother who yearns to give of herself to her children, he knew his destiny was now to stop and wait for his disciples. It was this vision and the realisation of the inner Ganga that was the inspiration for an ashram - Ganga Darshan - where, in the years to come, he would train men and women to face life fully and totally. He knew they would come; tired of their social identities, their desire for power, for wealth, and finding a surfeit of these and yet empty within themselves - they would seek him out.

Dakshina for the disciple

Years had passed by. It was Guru Poornima. Thousands of devotees had come, braving the Bihar railways, the heat, their own fears. Many grumbled at the inconvenience as sweat poured down their bodies. 'Was it worth this?' one asked, drinking water by the bucketful. 'The food is not like we have at home,' another added. 'I do not like crowds. I do not know what prompted me to make this trip,' said a third, as they came for a three day stay.

On the second day, closeted together in a large hall, one of the travellers asked at satsang - 'What is dakshina? Why does a guru need dakshina?' Swami Satyananda raised his eyes to the audience. It was a look of deep understanding. The questioner was referring to the fact that disciples and devotees give money and material gifts to spiritual masters. He was asking what people question in their hearts so frequently - 'Why does a man of God need material benefits?'

Perhaps Swamiji remembered the years of freedom when he had roamed as a parivrajaka, untrammelled by organisations or devotees pouring in, in hundreds, as they did today, each wanting to press his feet and apply tilak to his forehead. The years of personal freedom that he had renounced out of infinite compassion for the many suffering souls he had seen as he walked; even as the Buddha had spent his years after realisation so he may bring solace to tormented hearts. If a guru had to transform the consciousness of his disciples where could he train them? How many who suffered could give up their attachment to bodily comforts and learn the lessons of life under trees and on hills as in the years of yore?

He had had to come down in order to help. Knowing the limitations of people, Swamiji had built an ashram - where they came to live a simple life - often grumbling and frequently criticising the lack of comforts. Slowly - even as the flowers open in the spring; noiselessly, gently, unseen he stole into their hearts and, unknown to themselves, they realised that their attachment to luxuries had really been their limitation. They were quite at home with plain and simple living. When they left, they took this message back with them, to their families, to their communities. And unknown to them they had left behind a mental concept of feeling limited, and were freer within themselves. They did not know that the buildings were for them and not for him. The land was for them and not for him. For him it was enough to have 'two dhotis and two rotis'.

'Dakshina,' he said smiling, 'is the disciple's offering to the guru, the inner guru. The material gifts he gives are symbolic of the 'ahamkara' of the disciple; which is the only thing the guru asks for - the limited identity of the disciple, so he may leave it behind and grow into the limitlessness of the supreme. But how many know the way?'

Your money or your ego

Everyone is attached to something in themselves; that which gives them an inner security. Out of this attachment is born an identity. This covers up a helplessness that is common to human nature, for the mind that seeks the identity is limited. Sometimes in our lives, situations arise in which some parts of ourselves seemingly transcend this helplessness at a superficial level and we feel confident, secure, once more in control. We then identify with the role that handled the situation for example, the helplessness in poverty changed by amassing wealth; the limitations of illiteracy changing with the gaining of degrees and doctorates.

While these roles may give temporary relief, deep down they have not resolved the emptiness within. We do not realise that it was not the role but a certain consciousness behind it that gave an impetus to the forming of that role in that situation. Consciousness is limitless although the role itself is limited. Often one is not aware even of the attachment to the identity. But in the external act of placing what one considers important to oneself at the guru's feet, one gives a bit of oneself to a higher source. In giving one feels lighter within, less limited. Those whose identities centred around their wealth, kept money before him. Those who identified with their emotional selves gave him their tears, those who identified themselves as being ritualistic performed the rites as in the shastras. Everyone gave a bit of themselves in the external act of guru pooja.

A vision realised

As the crowds milled out they spoke to each other. 'It was worth coming all this way.' 'The inconveniences were nothing.' 'One never appreciates something beautiful unless one suffers a little.' And as the sweat rolled down their bodies in the sweltering heat of Bihar, they did not even notice an inner glow of beauty in themselves. They felt uplifted and forgot their difficulties.

As I saw the transformation in them I thought to myself - 'The greatest guru dakshina offered that day was that by a quiet person who, having renounced all, sat and allowed his devotees to go through the motions of their pooja, heard their praises and criticisms, felt their tears, received their flowers and coins with equanimity. He surrendered his all at the innermost shrine of his devotees- to the divinity in them- so that they went away each carrying something precious according to his capacity, each feeling a certain love and beauty in themselves - a flow as if a lamp were lit. And many did not know the source. 'O Rukmini,' said Krishna, 'I run behind my devotees so that the dust of their feet may purify me.'