In the last essay I spoke of how utterly monstrous individuals in both East and West are given a free hand to devastate the minds and lives of others just because they bear the title of “guru” or “avatar.” This is because of a complete miscomprehension of the nature of enlightenment and how it manifests in the consciousness and behavior of the enlightened. Krishna tells us everything we need to know–and which we should ever keep in mind when encountering supposedly enlightened people–in response to Arjuna’s question:
“How does one describe him who is of steady wisdom [sthitaprajna–steady in inmost consciousness], who is steadfast in deep meditation? How does he who is steady in wisdom speak? How does he sit? How does he move?” (2:54)
Krishna will take eighteen verses to give Arjuna and us the total picture. Here are the first eight of them.
“The Holy Lord said: When he leaves behind all desires emerging from the mind, and is contented in the Self by the Self, then he is said to be one whose wisdom is steady” (2:55).
Nothing could be easier to understand: an enlightened person wants nothing, finding total fulfillment in the Self–both individual and Universal.
Therefore when we see people with even “spiritual goals” such as “serving God in others” or exhibiting a veritable passion about a “world mission” or “saving” or “enlightening” others, we can know they are not illumined, and therefore incapable of doing any of those things in a real manner, however fine the exterior machinery might appear.
A true spiritual teacher has no expectation of others whatsoever, much less foisting demands on them. Knowing that all growth comes from within, never from an outer factor–including him–the worthy teacher knows that it is his duty to teach, and that is the absolute end of the matter. From then on it is up to the student to either follow the teaching or not. If he asks for help or advice from the teacher, it is the teacher’s duty to give the requested assistance and then leave the matter alone. (Swami Sri Yukteswar was a perfect example of this, as was Paramhansa Yogananda. They loved and cared deeply, but they also respected the freedom of those they taught.) In spiritual life as well as material life there is a division of labor that should be adhered to. Under the guise of “love” or “devotion” there should be no violation of spiritual law. And no authentic teacher will ever break any law.
It is virtually impossible to find any popular “guru” that does not live like “the jewel in the lotus”–both materially and socially. Although there is a pretense that their disciples are insistent upon it, it is really the guru that demands continual adulation and material accouterments that would have been considered extreme even for a Di Medici monarch. One guru in India has himself and his wife weighed every year and given their combined weights in gold. And the palatial living quarters of the gurus are like overdone satires of the houses of the most vulgar nouveau riche.
At the bottom of this outrageous aggrandizement on the psychological and material levels is a profound sense of insecurity and discontentment–and often self-loathing–on the part of the super-guru. I have had experience of this firsthand when visiting their ashrams and conversing with them. The pathology is very evident. Let me give a single example.
Once I was the guest of a super-guru after having spent several days at a yoga retreat sponsored by his organization. I had spoken to the retreatants several times during those days, and was being rewarded by being invited into the August Presence. (I had already been asked to sign a legal document stating that I would not be asking the institution for money in the future as payment for my speaking. I had refused to sign–and never asked them for money.)
As we sat at the table, being served by anxious, hushed, and devoted “gopis,” Super-G began to tell me about the well-known rock groups that had asked him to come speak during their concerts both inside and outside the United States. Since I disliked all popular music (especially rock music), and being aware of the negative character of the groups he was naming, I was listening with a mixture of amazement and disgust. And then I got the idea: he was trying to make me jealous! Did he really think that, having lived with great masters in India and having received the grace of so many other great saints, I would be impressed by a listing of these aberrant drug-addicted pandemonium peddlers?
More was to come. Since I did not swoon at the listing of the rock groupies, he passed on to speaking tours. He had been invited to speak in the Soviet Union! And also in a host of other gruesome places where there could not possibly be genuine spiritual interest. This list was peppered with the names of celebrities who would either be sponsoring or accompanying him.
That left me unaffected, so he moved on to the subject of living accommodations. First I got a recounting of what centers of his organization were engaged in providing luxurious apartments and houses for him, even stocking a complete set of his tailor-made silk clothes so he would never need to travel around the country with luggage. I dislike travel and being away from our ashram, so that moved me not.
Finally he resorted to real estate. First of all, a road for his exclusive use was being made into a local forest where some disciples had managed to purchase a large tract of land so he could be totally isolated. (No matter how “loving” and “giving” the super gurus are, they like to have inaccessible retreats away from their disciples, some of them–usually the Americans–even doing some kind of “early retirement” so they will not have to maintain contact with their adoring devotees. Some of them claim to need solitude so they can “write,” though little or nothing is ever published. However one super-guru emerged every week from his state of retreat to travel some hours to a major vacation-playground to take saxophone lessons from a well-known jazz musician.) After the road was put in, a renowned architect was going to come and study the land and design a house specifically to fit in with the landscape and (of course) the ecology of the forest. Then the house would be built by “the devotees”–or at least by their money.
He had come to the end of the line. I was not impressed. I was appalled. He was miffed. I was glad to get out of there to never return. Fortunately I had many memories of simple, even barren, rooms in which I had sat with great saints in India, rooms where they stayed in joyful contentment, living the simplest of lives. Before going to India I had seen the two tiny rooms in which Paramhansa Yogananda, head of a world-wide spiritual organization, had lived for over a quarter of a century, as well as the simple little kitchen where he had so often cooked for his beloved students.
“Contented in the Self by the Self, then he is said to be one whose wisdom is steady.” I had seen Krishna’s words verified in the lives of the true yogis.
“He whose mind is not agitated in misfortune [duhkheshu: situations that case pain or stress], whose desire for pleasures [sukheshu: happiness] has disappeared, whose desire [raga, intense yearning for something], fear, and anger have departed, and whose mind [consciousness] is steady, is said to be a sage” (2:56).
“The kingdom of God is peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). Living in the inner kingdom of infinite peace and joy, the enlightened are not affected by fortune or misfortune, for nothing can change their spiritual status. “The one to whom pain and pleasure are equal, dwells in the Self” (14:24). Even for us, “he who finds his happiness within, his delight within, and his light within, this yogi attains the bliss of Brahman, becoming Brahman” (5:24).
Desire, fear, and anger are manifestations of what we may justifiably call “raw ego.” Other emotions are further removed from the source and their character not so easy to detect. This unholy trinity is thoroughly intertwined. They are ego-based responses to stimuli of differing character. Desire arises when we think something external can change our inner or outer status for the better (or at least more enjoyable), fear arises when we feel endangered, and anger arises when we are mistreated or our desire thwarted. All other responses are permutations of these three, their “offspring.” The enlightened is free of them.
Please be wary of those who pretend that when they manifest these passions they are “just lilas,” “mere appearances,” “writings on water,” etc. How can they benefit you by deceiving you or causing you pain and confusion by their seeming negative behavior? Lesser teachers may do so, erroneously thinking it is the only way to help you–as a kind of psychological shock treatment. But a truly illumined person will do no such thing. Their very presence can work in you the necessary changes. I have both experienced it and witnessed it.
“He who is without attachment on all sides, encountering this or that, pleasant or unpleasant, neither rejoicing, nor disliking; his wisdom stands firm” (2:57).
There are some key words here we need to look at.
Sarvatra means “on all sides,” “everywhere,” and “in all things.” Anabhisnehas means “without affection” “unimpassioned,” and “nondesirous.” So Krishna is saying that at all times, in all places, and on every level of existence, the wise one has no attraction toward something, no emotional reaction toward anything, and absolutely no desire for anything. Further, he is neither elated nor disturbed when prapya–encountering, obtaining, attaining or incurring–that which is shubhashubham–pleasant or unpleasant or a mixture of both. Shubhashubham can also mean lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate. In other words, nothing moves him, for tasya prajna pratishthita–his consciousness, his awareness, and the wisdom that arises therefrom is established, standing firm at all times. For nothing can be added to him or taken away. For him pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, are all one and the same (2:38). “Content with whatever comes to him, transcending the dualities, free from envy, constant in mind whether in success or in failure, he is not bound” (4:22). “He has no purpose at all in action or in non-action, and he has no need of any being for any purpose whatsoever” (3:18). He is free indeed.
“And when he withdraws completely the senses from the objects of the senses, as a tortoise withdraws its limbs into its shell, his consciousness stands firm [remains or abides]” (2:58).
This is not referring to just control of the senses in a mechanical way, but to the fact that the enlightened person lives thoroughly within himself. Although we usually think of the senses as the material organs of perception, in reality they are astral and causal, and their main purpose is the perception of higher things. So the liberated person truly lives “according to nature” on all levels. Seeing with the inner eye, hearing with the inner ear, etc., he sees and hears “true.” Also, it means that when he withdraws the senses he does not become inert and unconscious in what the yogis jokingly call “jada samadhi”–a state of mental inertia which is neither meditation or samadhi. Rather, he is more conscious than otherwise. And it also means that when an accomplished yogi withdraws his senses he does not fall asleep as a consequence–something I expect we have all done to our embarrassment.
“Sense objects turn away from the abstinent man, but the taste for them remains; but the taste also turns away from him who has seen the Supreme” (2:59).
Prabhavananda: “The abstinent run away from what they desire but carry their desires with them: when a man enters Reality, he leaves his desires behind him.”
How much is said in this simple sentence! The truly enlightened are not simply “free” from desire, but have become incapable of desire. This is extremely important to know. We must apply this to ourselves, and not foolishly think that just because we avoid the objects of desire and thereby experience no desire, that we are truly desireless. For just being without desire is not the same as having passed into the realm of consciousness where desire cannot exist.
“The turbulent [pramathini: tearing, rending, harassing, destroying, tormenting] senses carry away forcibly the mind even of the striving man of wisdom. Restraining all these senses, disciplined [yukta: steadfast in yoga], he should sit, intent on Me; truly, in him who is in control of the senses, his consciousness stands firm” (2:60, 61).
People get fooled in relation to the senses, too. I knew a little girl whose parents tried for years to keep her from sucking her thumb. Even in the primary grades she sat around with her thumb in her mouth. One day, when she was visiting our house, she was watching television with thumb in mouth. At one point she pulled out her thumb and called to my stepmother who was in the kitchen: “Guess what! I don’t suck my thumb anymore!” and put it right back in. Business as usual. (My father used to say: “When she is twenty-one her parents will buy her a Thunderbird if she promises to quick sucking her thumb.)
It is amazing to see the difference between the ascetic approaches of exoteric and esoteric religions. Exoteric religionists blame everything on “demons,” claiming that every evil thought and impulse comes from evil spirits. The esoterics, on the other hand, understand that these negative thoughts and impulses come from within us–that we are totally responsible for the folly that foams up in our minds. Exoteric ascetics wear themselves out battling and driving away demons. What can they achieve by living out this fantasy? Certainly negative spirits exist, but what can they do to us in the final analysis? It is the enemy within–our own ego and its ignorance–that really harms us and none other.
A religion that does not teach its adherents to recognize and deal with their own culpability is right to be obsessed with sin, for what else can it produce? No wonder that exoterics welter in fixation on sin and evil in contrast with the esoterics who focus on innate holiness and perfection.
There was a great saint in the West–a Pope, actually–who tried to bring some darkness into the light of exoteric Christian sin-consciousness, but instead was condemned for heresy. Poor Pope Pelagius is immortalized only in exoteric Christian fulminations against the “Pelagian heresy” that man is essentially good and capable of holiness. Unintentionally, Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus gives an insight on this. Under the heading of “obsession,” the first entry is “attraction.” There you have it. Obsession with sin is attraction to sin; preoccupation with holiness is attraction to holiness. You get what you want.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
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Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.
Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary