To the student of Vedanta, the Guru is the embodiment of his goal. – Chinmaya
How should one look upon one’s Guru?
Bhagavan Shankaracharya starts His literary classic Vivekachoodamani by prostrating to His Guru and describing him thus:
सर्ववेदान्तसिद्धान्तगोचरं तमगोचरम् । गोविन्दं परमानन्दं सद्गुरुं प्रणतोऽस्म्यहम् ||
(My prostrations to my Guru – Govinda Bhagavadpadacharya – who is not the externally perceived body, but who is none other than Lord Himself, the ultimate Truth, the supreme Self, the very subject matter of Vedantic scriptures.)
In Guru, the disciple sees the words of the scriptures coming alive. Through his Guru, he comes to realise that the goal pointed out in the scriptures is not a mere idealistic state, but it is something which can be lived and experienced. Hence the company of a living master becomes a great inspiration for the spiritual seekers.
After taking Sannyasa deeksha from Swami Shivanandji Maharaj, the intense desire to learn the scriptures from a competent teacher took Swami Chinmayananda to Swami Tapovan Maharaj – a great Tapasvi, an erudite scholar and a famous mahatma of his times.
Very few seekers could remain with Swami Tapovanam as he was a strict disciplinarian and an embodiment of austerity. During the winter season, he would stay in Uttarkashi, and in the summer season, he would pack up his begging bowl and one set of cloth and climb higher to Gangotri to avoid the flood of pilgrims.
Gangotri was totally removed from the comforts of civilisation. Nutritious food, warm clothing, adequate shelter etc. were unavailable there. One attached to worldly pleasures could never remain there for long. The glory of the place was that it could render the mind naturally peaceful. The place was well suited for contemplation and meditation. Therefore Chinmaya braved the difficulties without complaint as he had an intense desire to study and understand the philosophy of Vedanta.
Each morning the students began the day with a bath in the icy waters of the Ganga, a feat that caused excruciating pain to the human body, but woke it up for the morning class at 6.00 a.m. like no other exercise could. The students then assembled in front of the cedar hut of Swami Tapovanam. The class began with a prayer chanted in unison by the teacher and the students to attune themselves to the omniscient God Principle and to invoke the best effort from both the teacher and the taught.
The first text taken was Panchadashi. This lengthy text gave Chinmaya clear understanding of the fundamentals of the scriptures as well as the Sanskrit terms used in scriptures. Swami Tapovanam would read out one verse of the text, then give the equivalent meaning in Hindi. Word by word, he explained the Sanskrit, giving the rules of grammar and the meaning as well as possible misinterpretations of the meaning. He would follow with commentary and often an example to illustrate the meaning. As the Guru spoke in Hindi, Chinmaya would meticulously translate in English because he wanted all his notes to be in a language familiar to him. While other students did not dare to question the Guru, Chinmaya would put so many questions to Swami Tapovanam. He would not willingly move on to the next topic until every doubt on the present subject was removed by the teacher.
There was no electricity for reading and no talking was allowed among the students. According to Swami Tapovanam, talking was a waste of time and that no one had any time to waste in the great pilgrimage to the Divine Goal. With the exception of the class time, if the students ever approached him while he was sitting on the veranda of his hut, he would chide them: “What are you doing hanging around here? Don’t waste a minute. You go, do your own reflection. It’s all in you.”
With the setting sun, Chinmaya would retire to his humble shelter – an old cow shed, walled in only the north side to hold back the drifting snows in the winter. The straw-thatched roof was so low that Chinmaya had to stoop over when inside. He would spend long, cool nights contemplating upon the words of his Guru, meditating on the truth revealed. In this manner he would pass his days, delving deeper and deeper into the Truth hidden within oneself.
As the cold winter winds would begin to blow, around October in those altitudes, the group would undertake the journey back down to Uttarkashi. Only Chinmaya would accompany Swami Tapovanam on the return trip as the other students would go to another pilgrimage site en route. As the Guru and student stopped in the shelters along the route, the student would cook the food and serve his teacher. Following the course of the Ganga, as she slips through the mountain valleys, they would walk along conversing in their native language, Malayalam.
Swami Tapovanam was such a pure soul that he saw God in everything. Along the way, he would stop and point out the majestic scenery. “Look at those clouds, Chinmaya! So beautiful is all of nature. How can anyone not believe the grace and beauty of the Lord when they see His form manifested in this wonderful world of nature?”
Try as he might, Chinmaya could not see what it was that Swami Tapovanam was seeing in those clouds.
Chinmaya later wrote about those blissful days with his teacher:
“When we used to move back and forth from Uttarkashi to Gangotri, Swamiji would stop abruptly in the trail, alert and thrilled, tense and silent. I watched him: now lost in wonder at the snow peaks, now aghast at the thundering laughter of the Ganga in her panting speed. Even a long-tailed tiny bird fluttering across the path was sufficient to tickle Swamiji into a visible rapture. At these times he would stand still, bathed in a vivid glow of joy, whispering silently his homage to the Creator.
“In the early years of my study, he had once stopped en route to point out a spot in the distant sky where the golden colour had suddenly changed in a mighty stroke of an inscrutable artistic inspiration into a blue splash! On another occasion, he cried out to me, ‘Why can’t the man see the Divinity behind the ecstatic Artist who has painted this inspired beauty?’
“I could fill up a big volume with the instances when he took such effort to point out to me the scenes from the divine play of the Creator – a crab returning to its hide-out or a spider weaving its web under our feet, leaves dancing in the passing breeze while embracing an open flower bud, the mighty pines secretly whispering and nodding to each other in an eloquent rhythm, the majestic peaks of snow-capped mountains divinely glistening above the lower hills, here an insignificant bull, there an uninviting herd of tired sheep, elsewhere an ugly rustic singing a disgusting tune with a joyous abandon – at a thousand such instances he rejoiced and laboured to direct my attention to SEE.
“But Alas! Immature, unpoetic and intellectually sophisticated as I considered myself to be then, in all these instances I must have sadly disappointed him in all my blindness.
“But I sensed what he felt, for I felt the warmth of his ardour, the thrill of his ecstasy, the serenity of his mad joy. I often watched his breathless expectancy, his trembling lips and his eyes welling with tears, as he stood dissolved in a visible divine harmony with nature. At such inspired moments, an unearthly tranquillity used to descend around him in which I have vividly basked many a time.”
These are the rare moments when the seeker craves from the depth of his heart, “If only I could see what my Guru is seeing! When will the day come when I start experiencing what my Guru is experiencing! O Lord, please bless me, that I also may become what my Guru has become!!”
This is the greatest blessing from a teacher – that through his life divine, he kindles a desire in us to experience the Truth Divine.
And the law of life is – we must get what we intensely desire.
O M T A T S A T