An Interview by Marie Charpentier
Q: The mind chatters all the time. How to discipline it without actually repressing the thoughts?
Gurumaa: First of all, we do not have to discipline the mind – this is the worst thing anyone can do to it. In fact, I would say that the unfortunate condition the mind is in, has been brought about because of the so-called discipline imposed by family, society, priests, leaders and teachers etc. Everyone tries to discipline the mind so that it ‘learns’ to be moral, ‘learns’ etiquette, ‘learns’ knowledge skills, ‘learns’ social skills, ‘learns’ to pray and ‘learns’ to chant – all kinds of disciplines which are absolutely unnatural and unnecessary are imposed on the mind.
As you see, the result of this imposition is that the mind becomes more unruly. The repression you are talking about is already taking place because of the suppression! Suppression and repression happen because of this so-called discipline which is thrust on the innocent mind.
We do not need to discipline the mind; the moment we introduce the word ‘discipline’ into the picture, the mood becomes dictatorial. We do not need to repress or suppress the mind, and we definitely do not need to discipline it either. The mind does not work on its own – it is a very complicated instrument, intricate and multi-layered. We do not need to repress anything at all; if only we would learn to live naturally! It is important to live naturally, to live with awareness and to live consciously.
Somehow, somewhere, you made the mistake of believing that you are born with consciousness – this is absolutely untrue. You are born with the body of a human being, but it is not necessary that you have the element of ‘consciousness’ in you. Moreover, it may be so that you do not even have a mind! For you to live and sustain life, a biological clock regulates the body system. When it is hungry, all the instincts to acquire food come into play and the procurement of food becomes a priority. You do not need a mind for that. So you can be an absolutely mindless person and still be a human being!
Let me put it this way: The capacity to have a full-grown mind exists within you in the nascent form; given the right circumstance, it may or may not bloom into a full-fledged flower. The same is true for the intellect – you may or may not have it. Millions of people – if you look at their lives – just live to eat. They marry, have children, grow old and die. They do not have the thinking element called ‘mind’ which would make them ask questions. They do not seek anything other than bread, sex and the security of being in their body.
The entire mental sphere exists within the limits of this boundary. They do not think of what lies beyond, they do not thirst for knowledge and so in a way, these people resemble human beings but they are not! They are still associated with the material world. Thus their life, and the style in which they live and die, is similar to that of animals; it is not any higher than that. Animals have territories they fight for; they have their enemies and also their mates.
To put it simply, the mind has to be activated by the self. What I mean is that the mind has to be nurtured in order to help it grow – and even then it may or may not grow! If the right circumstances are not available, it will not grow. So you will be born mindless and you will die mindless – again and again; this is the cycle of samsara – the cycle of ignorance.
The right understanding of how to live naturally has to be learnt, and you cannot learn if no one teaches you. If you are surrounded by people who are blind, you will never know what it means to have sight. If you are born in a dark cave and everyone lives in that dark cave, then they will live, mate, produce children, grow old and die there.
It will be so difficult to explain the concept of light to a person living in that cave. How would you describe the sun, moon and stars? How would you describe a rainbow? How would you explain that rain falls from the sky and clouds float in the sky? How would you describe a beautiful starry night? Someone who has never come out of the cave will not even have a clue about these things, and if you try to teach him, he will say that you are fooling him!
Humanity lives in a cave – not a physical one, but one of ignorance. Therefore I say that they do not live – I say they seem to be living but life does not happen to them. Plants, animals and insects live, but they do not have a life! The mind has to be nurtured in order for it to think!
It may seem absurd that all the people who seem ambitious, thoughtful, intelligent and bright, and who work hard, do not have a mind! But it is true – they do not! What they have is an automated system given to them by society. In reality, a sudden shock – like a situation in which you know your car is about to ram into a truck – can create such a vacuum, that people lose the memory of who they are, where they were going, what their agenda was, what their dreams were, and for a moment everything stands still.
Whenever such a situation arises, you need a lot of time to come back to your senses, to recall your name, where you are and where you were going. For a moment, your whole identity dissolves right in front of your eyes and you behave as though are totally bewildered and aghast; as though you have lost your true identity.
This means that the mind and the ‘I’ which you carry is not the real ‘I’ or the real mind. And what to say of consciousness! A very small percentage of people have it; it is sheer grace if someone is born with consciousness, but take heart for there is hope of acquiring it.
The mind that you have now possesses nothing of its own. Everything has been given: your degree, your education, your identity, your name, your age, your house and even your family. When thoughts pertaining to these things arise, then you say that they are happening in the mind. But what you call a mind is the by-product of society and family; you don’t have a real mind! So if someone says that you are a mindless person, do not take it as an insult, for somewhere that person is not far from the truth!
Whatever you have now is not your own – it is borrowed, given by someone else – it is not yours. We are born to a strange kind of ignorance of which we are not even aware, and that is the reason why I say that people are unconscious. They seem to be awake, they seem to be walking, they seem to be talking, and they seem to be working, but even so are in deep slumber within. And due to this, you live a very unnatural life.
Because you live this kind of unnatural life, there is so much happening which you have to suppress and repress in order to be part of a society where natural living is not allowed. It is allowed only till the time you are a child. Even then there are some ties and restrictions. Even so, if you look at a child you will see that it breathes naturally, whereas adults do not.
The focal point of the human being is not the heart or the brain but the navel which is the energy center. All of your life is suffused there and it is emitted from there. Taoists and Zen masters have said that you should be more concerned with, and more attentive to the navel center. Do not bother about what your mind and heart say. The day you are in touch with your energy center i.e. your navel, you will live a natural life.
So the first thing to realize is that because you do not live a natural life, you must watch your breath. You never breathe from your navel; your breath is shallow and because of this hurry, tensions and stress are created and accumulated. No external entity is responsible for this – this ugly job has been done by you yourself. Do not ever blame anyone else, do not come up with lame excuses and do not blame your unhappiness on another. It is you who has created this hell for yourself – and in this rushed and hurried mind, your breath is shallow.
Have you ever visited a hill-station? There in the mountains amidst cool breeze and refreshing greenery, suddenly when you find yourself under the clear blue sky, bathed in crisp sunshine, you realize that the restrictions of society are absent and you can now sing and dance right on the road! You can swirl and twirl around or just shout and sing with no one to say: “What the hell are you doing? Behave yourself!” Neither the trees, nor the mountains will say anything derogatory – they are so respectful of you. They will watch all your stupidities silently! Then you take a deep breath and say, “Wow! What a view! What a place!”
Have you ever given a thought to what makes this deep relaxation experienced in the mountains possible? It is not because of the mountains or the trees; it is not because of the cool breeze or the sunshine; it is also not because you can sing on the streets. It is due to one reason – you started breathing right! You are taking deep breaths and touching your energy center at the navel! The deep inhalations stir the reservoir of energy giving you a good feeling.
But very soon bad habits catch up and your mind strays. You start thinking about your office: ‘In a few days I have to go back to the same office so maybe I should call and check up on things there. Here everything is wonderful and I am happy, so let me check up on them or maybe make them jealous. After all I am in the seventh heaven of delight and they are in hell!’ Because of the bad habit of living a repressed life, a life which is dictated by others, very soon you will be drawn back to the same ugliness you had escaped from ever so briefly!
The mind does not need discipline – what it needs is the gift of consciousness. With consciousness you will be able to live and breathe naturally – just like a child. Have you ever seen a child who is asleep? Calm, quiet, and happy! And please do note the child’s breathing – it is always from the stomach. The movement of the stomach can be seen to rise and fall, not of the chest.
You are all chest! You beat your chest when you win something; you beat your chest when you are hurt and you even breathe from your chest. You never breathe from the navel or the stomach. Repressions and suppressions do not exist in a child, and that is why a child is all anger when it is angry – it does not hold back any anger. The child screams, yells, throws himself on the floor and maybe even smashes your expensive things on the floor!
When a child is happy, it is a hundred percent happy. There is no deception in the happiness or in the anger. If a child is feeling good, it will let the whole world know how it feels. And if it is unhappy, then it will cry out loud – sometimes so loud that any attempt to pacify it only leads to more screaming. And that is the reason why children look so spirited and happy; they look so ecstatic! They haven’t won any Golden Globe, or Oscar or Nobel Prize and yet they are on top of the world!
Living naturally should be the core principle of life. This means that we need to understand what our true nature is, because if you are not aware of your true nature, how can you live naturally? And to know what your true nature is, you need to be in touch with your own self – of which you have no clue!
The mind you have has been created and cultivated by society and family. It is not the real mind! Whatever you think, whatever you dream about, and whatever you yearn for, is of society or taught by society. If you take away all the inputs given by others, what will your mind think about? What will it hanker after? Nothing!
All the seeking, hankering and running about happen in that mind which is not your real mind. And this unreal mind is disciplined by society. If you are told to discipline your mind, then the first thing is to understand your mind in order to discipline it. If you want to discipline your mind, go ahead. But you have to first understand what the mind is. Do you have any idea what it is?
Knowing our own mind requires a state of consciousness. This means you have to create and build up consciousness within you. And once this happens, surprisingly, your mind which is now your worst enemy becomes your best friend! Once you begin to live consciously, you do not have to rein-in the mind all the time or keep a watchful eye on it all the time, for the mind then begins to obey and follow you. At present the situation is reversed – you follow the mind. But then the very opposite happens – your mind follows you like a tame dog!
It is extremely important to understand one thing of great significance: we have to cultivate consciousness within us; we have to develop awareness within us. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you have consciousness by default – you do not have it. It may seem very rude to say this so bluntly, but it is the truth and truth is seldom polite; it is never sweet. We have to be really foolish to believe that the truth is pleasant because it is not. The truth shows you your reality, and when reality is presented to us we rarely like it, and therefore attempt to cover it. We apply a lot of make-up to this reality in order to make it more acceptable, but you will have to accept hard reality – not everyone is born with consciousness; we have to generate it, create it. This is not possible without a thinking mind – not the mind cultivated and conditioned by society, but the real mind. So you have to search for the real mind.
Once Rinzai, a well known Japanese Zen master went to his master and said, “Free me of my mind.” The master said, “Okay, bring it to me. Look for your mind, bring it to me and I will free you of it.” Rinzai went back and started meditating to look for his mind. After months he came back and said to the master, “I haven’t found my mind till now, yet I have a sense of freedom!” The Master said, “You were free even then, when you thought you were not.”
Looking for the mind – the real mind – should be the effort. That should be the core of your search – to look for the real mind which is your own shadow. What are you? You are pure bliss, and your real mind, when found, will be in a blissful state. The ugliness that you carry now and which you call the mind, is not the real mind.
Eastern mystics have always applauded the mind as a reflection of the Divine; as a source and lighthouse of the Truth. Those who understood the mind never condemned it. And those who did not, kept on castigating it not knowing that the real mind was yet to be found!
Q: While we continue with the process of looking for the real mind, what should we do to clear the clutter in the existing mind, the thoughts that come into it and the thinking it produces?
Gurumaa: The clutter of thoughts is the result of habits which you have created – the habits of sleepiness, lethargy and of always dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. A very simple exercise you can do is to stop your breath – the moment you stop your breath, your mind also stops. When the mind goes through any anguish – pain, suffering or jealousy etc. – just hold your breath. Although the entire Western world is taught to breathe deeply when angry, I feel that this is a very unwise thing to do. Do not breathe deeply, just stop your breath. Just hold it for a moment – and then an amazing thing will happen. The moment you hold your breath, your mind too stops. Why? Because to hold your breath, you have to be in the present. And the moment you come into the present – because of holding the breath – the mind too stops. Breath is like a horse on which your mind rides. So if you take control of the galloping horse, not only will the horse stop, but the one riding the horse will also stop bouncing up and down on the saddle!
Life is happening ‘now’, but you always live in the good, bad, ugly painful, mischievous and lustful memories of the past. This ugly habit that you have developed, always keeps you in your past; you live in the past while worrying about the future. This whole process of remembering the past and living in the future makes you miss out on what is most precious – you miss the ‘now’, you miss the ‘present’. And because you miss the present, you cannot live in it. When your mind is not in the present, how can you live in it – you are where your mind is. You are not in touch with your own self because you do not even know where you are right now – you are just identified with your own mind! Wherever the mind is, is where you are.
To stop this clutter in the mind and to stop the wavering and distracting thoughts, you need to learn the process of living in the golden moment called ‘now’. Pain, sickness, accidents, hurts and diseases happen on the physical or mental plane, but if you learn to be in ‘now’, and if you learn to live with awareness, you rise above the physical and emotional planes. This means that the disease or the sickness or the pain might happen to the body, but ‘you’ will be seated in a place where sickness and disease cannot even touch you.
Let me narrate a story to you about the days when I used to travel alone. I met a very interesting woman who was living alone in a jungle. I was young and she was a middle-aged spinster, one who had chosen to be a spinster and to live alone. I asked her if living all alone as she did, didn’t she fear any criminal or miscreant to come and rape her, with no one around to protect her. Because she lived absolutely alone in a secluded jungle, she did not even have a neighbour.
She laughed and said, “Women are being raped within their families and inside their own homes, in houses which are in villages, towns and big cities with all kinds of support systems like police, neighbours and family members. Yet such incidents are not unknown. So where is the surety that it will not happen to a woman anywhere – if it has to happen, it will happen anywhere.”
“I am not weak; I know how to protect myself; even so rape can happen. So what? The rapists cannot touch ‘me’. Their only reach would be to the flesh of this body, this bag of flesh and bones. They can only touch that but they cannot touch ‘me’. But I know how to protect this body too.”
She was quite a stout lady, strong and tall; I could call her handsome! She said, “I can protect this body, but if something like that happens, what then?” I really admired her spirit; she was not ready to bow down to the thought of something like that happening. “So what?” Accidents do occur; if you cut your hand, you put a band-aid and it heals – that’s it – you are as fresh and new as ever! The moment I talk about living in the ‘now’, some people, due to a low level of understanding, begin to ask: “What if someone dies? What if a woman is raped? What if there is poverty around us? How can we live in the ‘now’ and still be happy? Won’t our mind be bothered by all that? Won’t our mind be hurt because of all that?”
When I say ‘now’, it is not time that I refer to. I am not talking about the time on your watch; I am not talking about chronological time. I am talking about the inner time and about being in that timeless zone. Unless and until you are in the timeless zone, you are not living in the ‘now’.
I am not talking about the body, the mind or the intellect. I am talking about ‘you’, the one who is beyond these limitations. ‘You’ who are beyond the body, mind and intellect – is the ‘you’ that I am talking about. And I am talking about that time where there is no time.
Jesus used to say, “In my father’s house, there is no time. Time does not exist there.” Why? Because it is a timeless zone. So when I talk of the present moment, I am not talking about the present hour, minute or second. If you look at your watch, even if it is a digital one, you will see the present time, and yet, you can never accurately speak the time on it, because the moment you do, the display would have moved on to the next digit! The watch would show a different time – the hand moves so fast!
‘Now-ness’ is very subtle. The present moment is extremely delicate and you really have to harness the art of sensitivity and awareness in order to be in the moment. And once you have learnt to be in the moment, you are in a timeless zone; you are in a mindless zone, but here mind-lessness is not a negative state of being. Here the mind-lessness I am talking about is a positive state.
Q: We are asked to be aware every moment and not just at the time of meditation, which may be for just an hour in the morning and evening. Is awareness developed by just watching one’s breath every moment?
Gurumaa: This is the best tool we have been gifted with – the breath. Breath is always happening; when you were born you were breathing; right through your life you breathe – rather breathing happens to you. People are so forgetful – if they were in charge of breathing they would probably forget to breathe! So God never gave them the authority to regulate breathing. Right from the moment the body is in the process of being formed, breathing happens through the agency of the mother. You take birth and start breathing – the sign that the child is living is that it cries. And the child cries only when it takes its first breaths.
I am not asking you to practise yoga or to learn specific techniques of breathing; of holding in the breath, or holding it out or any other way. I am not asking you to observe a particular technique because that will be difficult – how long can you follow a particular technique? It is something artificial; you cannot do it naturally. Natural breathing happens spontaneously, so we should make the right use of it.
The seer Patanjali used to say that your breath is a horse and your mind is a rider. If you control the reins of the horse, the rider will also be controlled. That is why yoga insists on learning the methods of controlling your breath – how to inhale and exhale and how long to retain the breath – because in this whole process, your mind will reach a point of stillness. But this stillness is artificial, for you cannot hold your breath forever? You can be a great yogi and hold it for a minute or two, for a month or six, for a year or ten, but ultimately you will have to breathe! Because breathing is most natural, and only if we use it to our benefit, then this very breathing can help us to live in awareness and with awareness. The moment you are aware of your breath, it will cease to be just breath!
Very slowly, awareness will begin with the nose, move to the chest and then go right up to the stomach. The stomach is connected to other organs, so somehow, the area of your awareness will expand. It will spread to the hands, head, legs and then to the whole body. Your very breath joins ‘you’ to the entire body. When we are aware of the breath, two things happen: first you will be aware of the body, and then you will be aware of the not-body! This is a stage where you are not a body, because you are not a body!
To put it another way, the breath joins the body to the not-body. I could call it no-body also, but I prefer not-body. You feel insulted if someone says, “Who are you? Nobody!” You get angry. But now if someone says that you are a nobody, just turn around and say, “Yeah, you too! It applies to me as much as it does to you! We are all nobodies!”
Breath is the glue that unites, so we start with the breath. Slowly it will take you deeper to the area where a gap occurs between breaths. Between an inhalation and an exhalation, a small pause occurs. An unconscious person is incapable of seeing that pause. Once you begin to work with your breath, you will be able to locate this pause. Then you are required to concentrate on the gaps. Why? Because in these gaps, your bodiless-ness will be so evident that it will become a fundamental, phenomenal truth for you. For the first time you will be able to see that indeed you are not the body. The breath itself becomes the medium that gives you your first glimpse of bodiless-ness.
Working with your breath, a day will come when you will see that there is a turning point between the incoming and outgoing breaths. So it is that the cycle moves on. The day you are able to see this cycle of breath – the going in and coming out and the turning – a window will open up for you – one that will show you your true essence, your true nature.
In Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, Shiva teaches Devi Parvati one hundred and twelve meditation techniques, and the first and foremost one says: ‘O Radiant One, Devi, watch your breath when it goes in and when it comes out. Stay with the breath and beneficence will happen.’ The eight other techniques that followed, also concerned just the breath. And remember, Buddha gained enlightenment through this very technique. He had been practising yoga, memorizing various sutras and pondering over philosophical texts, and then one day he dumped everything and picked up just one thing – the study of the breath. Today, in the Buddhist world it is called Anapanasatti Yoga. Somehow the whole world believes that Buddha gave this technique to the world – this is not true. It is Shiva who gave this – the oldest meditation technique ever created – to mankind.
Watching your breath might seem a very simple thing to do, but do it for three minutes and you will know how tedious and arduous it is. Again and again your mind will create a wall of thoughts. Again and again your mind will bring forth unpleasantness from the past or will speculate about the future – and you will miss the flow of your own breath, the breath which gives life to you. We do not value our breath enough.
Once Mulla Nasruddin was the guest of a sheikh who laid out a sumptuous buffet for him. And Mulla too was very hungry, so he started eating. He ate and he ate – such an enormous amount of food that his host was baffled. “Did I make the right choice in calling this glutton for lunch? He eats like a pig! Who says he is a great thinker and a mystic or a Sufi? He just seems to be a pig! Just see his face, how he is eating! Not even wiping his moustache all smeared with food!” Finally when he could hold back no more, he said, “Mulla, I have heard that when we eat, one-fourth of our stomach should be filled with food, one-fourth with water, and half should always be left empty for air to mix in. So would you like to have some water?”
Mulla smiled and said, “Oh dear one, you can offer me water but don’t ask me to stop eating, let me fill my stomach. Who says that we should fill only one-fourth of the stomach? That is not my rule! It is against my principle! My principle is: fill your stomach. Water? It can just seep between the layers of food!”
“But Mulla, what about air? We do have to keep some space so that we can breathe air!” Mulla laughed again and said, “What about the breath? Who cares whether it comes or not? Do not bother about that! Food is more important than the breath!”
Isn’t this the reality of every human being? Mulla is a person willing to take potshots at himself; ready to be the punching bag of humanity. But he gives us a very important message, that we do not value our breath. Breath is the most important thing and if you begin to work with it and watch it, you will soon realize this.
If you begin to work meticulously with your breath, within a week or so all your stress will be gone. You will become a living definition of relaxation. You will be spirited, energetic, happy and stress-free. You cannot be stressed while you are observing your breath. Do it any time; if you keep on working on your breath, your anger will just go away and lust will evaporate. Your ties of attachment and all your shackles will fall off, because the more you work on your breath, the better you will understand that you are far more than just a body. But this ‘more’ has to be explored, and the breath is the best medium to do so.
Your master cannot always be with you; your mind cannot always be with you, but your breath always is. As long as this body exists it breathes, so hold on to your breath! When anyone says, “Hold your breath!”, he is saying something very important. And that is that we should always hold our breath with our awareness. Normally, when someone says, “Hold your breath!” you literally hold your breath. But the real mystical meaning of ‘Hold your breath’ is to hold it with awareness, because if you are aware of your breath you cannot be angry. Anger cannot even come close to you, and you can never be egoistic.
Observing the breath is the most important meditation any seeker should aspire to. You can afford to leave aside all chanting and idol worship. You may or may not read books but never ever forget to observe your breath. This very breath will show you the divinity of the body and of your own self. Your first ever deep experience of meditation can occur, will occur and always does occur just by being mindful of the breath – because breath is the bridge between ‘you’ who is a ‘not-body’, to that ‘body’ which is not your true identity.
Breath is the string which ties you to the body. If you are able to see and observe the breath, then you will understand the ties and the knots of the body. So whether you call it Anapansatti Yoga, or Vipassana, or simply an observation of the breath, it means the same thing. And again, let me tell you that it is neither a Buddhist meditation nor a Hindu one, because Shiva gave it to mankind. It is a scientific way followed by seers for understanding the inner mysteries of the spiritual world. So anyone who seeks the Truth and who seeks Reality, should not waste his time, but should immediately start observing the breath. The more you practice this method the better your life will be, because those who live with the awareness of the breath live naturally. And those who live naturally do not need to suppress or repress the mind; they do not need to tame the mind or to discipline it because they are aware of what the real mind is. The real mind – as understood with awareness – is just your shadow, and shadows do not hurt.
Q: What was your spiritual environment when you were growing up? Do you think it had an impact on your spiritual life?
Gurumaa: An interesting question! People can grow up in diverse environments which may not have any impact at all on them in terms of what they are today. In a way, our home environment does have a great effect on the psyche of a person, especially that of a child. The slate of the mind is very clean and ready to receive all kinds of imprints, yet, we are what we want to be. So it doesn’t matter in which environment you grew up. The important thing is what you are. At the basic mortal plane, the kind of parents you have and your upbringing definitely has a great impact.
I can tell you only about my case; my mother was a normal housewife, busy with household chores. Yes, of and on various mahatmas and sages did visit our home. I used to see them coming to the house, but as such I was quite uninvolved, living in my own world. And when you live in your own world with your feet very much on the ground – the ground of Truth – it does not matter who comes or goes. My family was like any other normal family where the father earns and the mother runs the home. And the siblings do what siblings should be doing! Quarreling, studying, going to school, spending time with friends, playing pranks – just a happy-go-lucky normal set of people! So I don’t think any input from the family contributed to my spiritual growth as such.
Q: When did you realize that you were not meant to live an ordinary life?
Gurumaa: Okay, let me first comment on what is meant by an ‘ordinary life’. You see, even today I lead a very, very ordinary life. It is so hard to live an ordinary life within the definition of society, because we are always looking for something extra-ordinary! But in my case, I was never looking for something extra-ordinary. So I cannot identify any stage in my life when I had a great revelation that I was not ordinary or that I was a very special being and a daughter of God! Or anything like that!
Nothing like that at all. I am still very much an ordinary person and would love to remain so. I will not ever change into an extra-ordinary person, because extra-ordinariness happens when something extra is added to ordinariness – and whatever is extra always drops off – it is never a part of the whole. It cannot remain, it cannot be permanent. The extra will always be an extra!
To put it in another way, an extra player in a football game always waits in the arena. He is seldom called, and if he is, it is only to fill in for a player who has hurt himself. Very soon, when the player comes out to play again, the extra goes back and again waits in his seat. Extraordinariness is actually ordinary, and the truly ordinary is extraordinary. So I love to be ordinary and do not want to change a bit!
Q: I have conflicting information regarding your initiation. One is that you have not received any kind of initiation and the other is that you have been formally initiated into sanyas. Please clarify.
Gurumaa: Ah yes! This information is contradictory and yet it is very much true! Yes I have been initiated; and no I have not!
Let me clarify. There was no formal training given to me. In most cases, a man is the guru and he trains the disciple to be a guru and to take his seat one day. In my case I was never christened or baptized or prepared for this guruship. So in that manner of speaking, I would say that I was not initiated or trained. But yes, I was initiated in another way. The ochre clothes which I am now wearing are usually not worn by householders like yourself. Someone has to bestow them upon you; someone has to ensure that you are prepared for this journey; some master has to perform the ceremony and to fulfill and carry out the complete process of initiation into sanyas.
In my case, I was in love with this colour – it is as simple as that. I was not looking for renunciation – you have to possess something to renounce it. I did not have anything, so there was no question of renouncing anything. Whatever we have is already owned by God. And whatsoever belongs to God cannot be renounced by me because I am not the owner. So in my point of view, no one can say, “I have renounced.” What? What have you renounced? All possessions – house, wife, family – are a gift from God. The body too is a gift from God; the thinking mind is a gift from God. What do you possess? What do you own? Even your very ‘I’ is a gift from God! So what can you renounce?
In the Indian context, the ochre colour is worn by renunciates who are called sanyasis. The ceremony of taking sanyas is bestowed by another sanyasi or guru. I was in awe of this colour; initially I used to wear white, but I loved this colour so much, that in order to pay homage to the tradition, I thought I should receive it from someone. So I went to this great master – a silent master – who never spoke to congregations, never propagated any school of thought and never advertised himself. He was like a flower that blooms only for itself. A remarkable man was he, as simple as a child and as wise as a Buddha.
So I approached him and I told him that I wished to be initiated into sanyas. He laughed and joked that he himself had never been initiated! He said that he just went to the Ganga, and in the presence of the river and the Himalayas, he initiated himself and gave this colour to himself! So how could he initiate me? And I said, “Well Sir, that is your story. Maybe you never found anyone, but I have found you! So will you initiate me?” There is an elaborate ceremony involved in the whole process. Again he joked and said that there was no need! Indeed, where is the need!?
Then, on a serious note he added, “You are already enlightened, so why do you want to play this game?” I said, “Well, life is a game, so let me play it!”
This was the entire conversation that went on for more than half an hour. He was a master of words and would just laugh and crack jokes; otherwise he was as silent and somber as a stone! But with me he was jovial and childlike, like a jester! Finally, we both agreed that there wouldn’t be any ceremony; he just touched the clothes I had taken along with me – and that’s it! “You are free to do whatever you want to do,” were his words.
I remember him sitting on the first floor; it was winter and he was enjoying the sun. I still have those blessed clothes with me. As per custom, I should have worn them right away. But then, crazy as I am, I just came downstairs. My companions asked, “Why aren’t you wearing the initiation clothes?” I said, “I am not going to wear them now because I want to play a different game; I will wear them on Rama Navami – the day when Rama was born – a great festival for all hindus. I would like to wear them on the banks of the Ganga at a sacred spot I have already chosen for myself.”
So I waited for another four days and then traveled all the way to Rishikesh where I lived at that time. I had a small hut over there, and on the self-appointed day I wore the ochre clothes, the saffron clothes. So, in a manner of speaking I have been initiated and in a way I am not. That is the whole story.
Q: I read somewhere that you got enlightenment when you were sixteen years old. What was the experience like? What happened?
Gurumaa: What happened when I got enlightened? To know that, you will have to get enlightened! It is not something that can be explained in words. The ineffable experience of enlightenment is beyond the limited purview of words. The experience is of beyond-ness, whereas the mind lives on the periphery of the earthly plane. The experience of enlightenment is one of great transcendence, whereas the mind is bound by its own constraints. All language skills fail to capture and enunciate the description of enlightenment.
People are free to make their own definitions: that it is an altered state of consciousness or it is a state of samadhi. But none of these words suffice to explain the experience; the experience happens when there is no mind. All explanations are given by the mind. It is like the darkness which has never seen the sun and the sun which has never seen the face of darkness. If you ask the sun what darkness looks like, the sun will say: “What darkness? What are you talking about?”
The experience of enlightenment is beyond the realm of the mind – the mind is not there to analyze or describe it. The definitions you hear are just expressions used by various mystics in an effort to try to define the experience. They try, and go on trying, but you have to be in that moment to know what that moment is. That moment is in fact quite similar to death, and yet it is like being born again into that very death. So you die, and yet you feel you are born again. Let me quote Jalaluddin Rumi; he writes in the Mathnawi:
I was seeking you, the one who resides in me. You were never away from me and yet I was seeking you. And one day, while seeking, I was exhausted. I halted, I rested, I died and I found you. But when I found you, there was no ‘I’ to claim that I had found you.
Enlightenment is like that – it cannot be talked about. It is the one experience that you have to gain first-hand in order to know it; it cannot be trivialised by confining it to words. Even if I want to, and even if I can, I won’t do this for you, for the simple reason that the moment we describe great experiences in words, the listener fools himself into believing that he now knows what the experience is – and this is something I cannot allow. At least I cannot allow it to happen that just by listening to my words, you come to the conclusion that you now know what enlightenment is. It is not that frivilous an experience; words are too vulgar to express this gracious knowledge.
Q: It has been written and said that enlightenment happens in a split second. In that split second, were you aware of what was happening?
Gurumaa: Yes, definitely you are aware of it when it happens. It is not that you do not know and it happens; it does not happen in your sleep! Of course you know it! You were looking and striving for it. You were waiting and the wait was a long one. Every second, day and night, you are working for it; you were working on yourself for that one moment of explosion which propels you into infinity, into eternity. How can you miss it? There is no way you can miss it!
A young girl was pregnant with her first child. She was very curious and anxious to know what would happen when the baby arrived. She worried about the date; what if the doctor’s calculations went wrong and she was in the market-place with no help around? How would she know that this was her moment of delivery? So she very innocently asked her mother, “Mother, when the baby is to arrive, how will I know?” The mother said, “Well dear, not only you, but all our neighbors will know as well!”
So is the case with enlightenment; you definitely know because you are the one being delivered. You die and yet you are born; this birth which takes place is a birth that you give to your own self. The negative self dies and the real self is born – this is such an explosive experience that it is impossible to miss it! You just cannot miss it!
Q: So you worked hard for it.
Gurumaa: Well, the amazing thing is: yes and no! You can work for hundreds of lifetimes and still miss the door. And yet, when you find the door, it is not because of your effort but because of Grace. But Grace does not descend on those who do not work! So it isn’t your effort alone; you may make the greatest effort for enlightenment and yet be bogged down by ignorance and darkness. It does not ever happen to the lazy ones. Even so, you can never claim to have attained it – it is always bestowed by Grace. The ego can never boast of having earned it – although you have to earn it.
The inner world is really very mystical and it is very difficult to explain in words what exactly happens. Words fail; that is the reason I seem to make these highly contradictory statements. You have to make an effort, and yet when you reach the goal, you cannot say that you have reached because of your effort. Because if you say that you have reached due to your own effort, it means that a big ego is still lurking somewhere and you cannot be enlightened if your ego is still intact – the ego has to be dissolved.
Q: Then how to let go in order to reach the goal?
Gurumaa: By working hard! By working hard on yourself!
Q: When you started meeting your followers, did they initially come to you as a guru? What was your family’s attitude?
Gurumaa: Actually I never spent too much time at home. I was always a wanderer and so was always moving around. I was always out in the company of like-minded people, from whom I loved to hear about the beauty and glory of God. As such no proposition was made by anyone asking if I was ready to accept disciples – it was not like that. I happened to be in places where some people who were seeking the truth were already present.
Those days I was pretty young – I still am and will always be! – and I used to attend religious congregations where sages, sadhus and mahatmas were present. I was very inquisitive and wanted to know whatever they were talking about; had they really achieved realization or not? It was not a test of the sadhus, but a search for those hidden friends who had actually tasted the nectar and were not just indulging in empty propaganda and meaningless propagation of philosophies. I loved being with individuals who had had a glimpse – it is so hard to find such people! And so, wherever I went, because of my age people would get interested. They wondered who I was and so they would follow me. And then they would get interested and wish to be with me – which I allowed.
For the family it was very odd to have hordes of people standing outside the house waiting to come in for darshan and for answers to their queries. These were old men and women, and women who came along with their children. For the family it was odd, but not so odd that they would protest. They were neither offensive nor defensive – they were pretty neutral – and so I got my space. I always knew that we have to create our own space, which I was doing. But yes, it was somewhat odd for the family.
Q: Do you give initiation? If so, of what kind?
Gurumaa: I give the initiation of love. This is so difficult to receive that I have to give a toy – a mantra – along with it. And people are so happy with the mantra alone that they do not understand they are not ready. That is why I have to talk, I have to speak, I have to explain, I have to make them understand. With all the singing, teaching and speaking I do, I am in a way preparing them for the final initiation of love. Somehow our society has the tradition of having a guru, and so people are always on the look out for a guru, without understanding who a guru is. Any Tom, Dick or Harry who comes their way is accepted as a guru, because ‘there has to be a guru.’
Due to this sheer stupidity and lack of understanding of what true initiation is, people take being given the mantra as initiation. Thousands and thousands of people listen to me in my programs, congregations and open sessions; I explain to them what true initiation is, yet most are ready only for the mantra initiation. So I do give it to them, because it is a beginning for them, and for me it is the beginning of a hope that one day, they will rise and be ready to receive the real initiation – that of love, which can be given only to a true devotee. To be a true devotee you need to be sincere. And how will that happen if you don’t know the tools with which to equip yourself in order to prepare for higher experiences?
For me the initiation is an initiation of love. The initiation is of Shakti and of even more than Shakti. It involves giving a taste of the same nectar I drink; that is the initiation. It is sharing my cup of wine and offering it to them – but people are so blind. They are so blind that they miss the cup of love offered by me, but are ready to accept the mantra. Poor people; it is sheer blindness! I do not want to leave them blind, so I give them the crutch of a mantra. But I always warn them that this crutch is only to reach my operation theatre, where I can operate on their blindness and restore their sight so that they can receive the light – the light of love.
Q: How is the nectar shared with the disciple? Is it while speaking to them or…?
Gurumaa: It can happen with just a look, a touch or just by being in the presence – the thick-skulled ones need more! They need years of listening. They have to listen and listen and I have to shatter their ego, supply them with great knowledge and great experiences, and while they listen, I wait for them to reach that point where they can surrender totally. Only when they surrender in totality can something be shared. If you are already filled with something, then I cannot offer you anything, because you do not have the space to hold it. So the space has to be created first. For some, that space is created very quickly, but for others it takes long years. Long years of listening, serving, chanting, remembering and doing several other things which are required to be done. But it can happen in more than one way – by a word, a touch or a look. Masters have more than one way of killing a disciple! It may be just a smile – so beware of my smile!
Q: What is the core of your teaching?
Gurumaa: The core of my teaching is – die. Die so that God can live in you. This is the core, the hidden core. Die, because when you are no more, then the Truth is. As long as ‘you’ are there, no matter how wise, knowledgeable, great, sacred, sanctified or pure, it is still ‘you’. As long as ‘you’ live, God will be oblivious of you. So die and kill the ‘I’ in you. I would like to quote Rumi again:
‘Die. Die, O heart in love, just die. Don’t utter a murmur while dying. Die silently. Die, so that Allah can be born and those who seek should know. As long as you live, God stays away. The day you die, God is here, right here.’
This is the core of my teaching.
Q: So you help your disciple to die.
Gurumaa: Oh yes, yes, yes I do! I do help them, but people are really very strong and they do test my patience. So they pretend to die but actually they do not. Again and again I have to sharpen my weapons – I hope no one takes my words literally!
It is the job of the master to help the disciple die. But this death is not a sorrowful death, it is not a death to be mourned – it is a death to be celebrated. It is a death one should long for, because in this death a sheer blissfulness covers you and then you live eternally. Then you go beyond the realm of birth and death. This is the core of my teaching; this is the objective. So do not ‘be’, let that one ‘be’ which is the real ‘being’. That ‘being’ and experiencing that ‘being’ cannot happen with the shallow I and the shallow ego which one carries along. That has to go!
Q: What does it mean for you to be called Maa?
Gurumaa: Nothing, it is just a word. I can be called by any other name; I can even be called without a name. It does not hold any meaning or significance. It is just a way of opening the channels of communication. You have to say something, so people say ‘Gurumaa’. They can use any other word; it does not matter, because none of these words actually describe me. People do not know me but they still have to relate to me, so they have to use a word. They use a word which they like and I have permitted them to use this one or any other they like.
I just remembered a muslim police officer who came to meet me with his security man. He used to call me by a different name – not Maa or Gurumaa or Guruji – he called me Saheb. Translated into English it would mean Sir. S-I-R, Sir. That is fine with me. It is not that by hearing the word Maa, maternal instincts are aroused in me; nothing like that happens! It is not that any greatness is associated with this word – it is just a word, nothing more than that.
Q: Have you met with resistance, being a woman and a guru?
Gurumaa: As long as I know what I am, there is no room for resistance. And those who seek the Truth have to be wise enough to understand that guru is above the body. Sexist biases do not apply to a seeker; I am for the seeker and not for the world. It does not matter to a true seeker and it does not matter to me that I am a woman. Those who find it a problem don’t matter to me. That is it!
Q: I have heard about your daily programme on Sony TV. Can you tell me something about it?
Gurumaa: Yes. Sony TV is a channel seen in more than a hundred and sixty-five countries; millions of people sit with their TV sets on, waiting for me. I always joke that you cannot reach me personally but I reach you personally every morning waking you up with my program. All those who understand the Hindi language in which most of my discourses are aired, can watch the programme around the globe. I assume they get some benefit out of it; it is hard to believe that everybody is benefitting, because people are so sleepy and do not know how to extract the real essence from what is transmitted early in the morning.
Even so, all those who are hungry for knowledge, and all those who are present with their good luck, or good fortune or Grace – whatever the case may be – many hearts are touched. With satellite transmission, I am able to work more extensively and distances do not matter now.
Another important thing we are doing now is that I am also in touch through the Internet. So once a month, we have a video chat so that you can ask any question which is in your mind, or you can just share your love with me and have a very personal interaction with me. So it is not just a one way communication but a fairly comprehensive interaction.