Please talk about the problems of possessive attachment. How do you help disciples who become attached to you?
I am able to help them because I don't have any attachment to them. If I were to play the role of a lover or a beloved in a film, I would certainly play it well. I would identify myself with the act and emotions, but once I was out of that role, what would I have to do with it? One should play the role of a friend, a father, a disciple or a guru properly. If I think all the time that, I was a guru, I am a guru and I shall always be a guru, then I am confusing reality with non-reality. You have to remember that attachment arises only in the absence of knowledge.
In India the story of Rama is performed in the theatre and it is called Ram Leela. I remember a Ram Leela in which someone prompted Hanuman to say to Rama, Sir, I want nothing except a bidi! Rama was confused. This world is a big theatre and you are playing a role. It is nothing more than that. Sometimes you become attached to a person for a period of time and suddenly something happens and you begin to hate him. What happened to the attachment?
You should be able to manage the mind and its behaviour. You should be the master or a friend of your mind and not a slave. When a thought comes you must know how to direct it, how to regulate it, because many thoughts come into your mind. For me, the simplest philosophy is, I am the medium, God is the doer. He makes you His disciple through me, but in your ignorance you do not know that it is God whose disciple you are. You do not know God, so you never think about it in this way.
You come to talk with me about God. You are ultimately connected with God. Your real relationship is with God, not with the person who is in between. If you send somebody a letter through the post office, the postman delivers that letter. Now, is that letter connected with you and the receiver, or with you and the postman? You send the letter but the postman only delivers it. You must remember that the guru is only an agent. He just comes in between for some time. Ultimately there should be no attachment, no dependence, no thought of relationships like those we have in the world. We get obsessed, we get caught up. The guru is somebody who comes and wakes you up, that's all.
Nowadays we are flooded with gurus. How should one go about searching for one? How does one know whom to accept?
When searching for a bridegroom for your daughter, you look for thirty-six qualities in the boy. In the same way, you have to search for certain qualities in the guru. The foremost quality is that he possesses not only scriptural knowledge but also experiential knowledge. Knowledge is of two types: one is scriptural, the other is experiential. The two are as far apart as reading about the life of a householder and actually being a householder!
There are many qualities to look for in a guru, of which I will enumerate a few. Guru is one who has acquired knowledge through experience, who has seen the world. Guru is one who has had some experience with God and can explain these things. Guru is one who is balanced and has control over himself. Guru is one who is not interested in cheating, and for whom gurudom is not a career, a profession or a source of employment.
Such gurus exist, they are not unavailable. However, one must be careful in selecting, just as during the monsoon one filters water before drinking. In this monsoon age, society is flooded with gurus. Therefore, filter the water before drinking it. Nowadays, however, many sadhus are not interested in attaching themselves to any particular tradition. They operate independently according to their whims and fancies, without commitment to any tradition. In this day and age there are some gurus who may cheat, but the majority are not frauds. Honesty has not yet taken a back seat. It is idealistic to expect that only saints sit under the huge banyan tree. Dacoits may come and sit there too, just as destructive elements also found shelter under the shade of Gandhi's huge tree. This happens because the destructive elements have an opportunity to breed there. The banyan tree gives shelter to all.
That is why in every situation which promotes truth and dharma, you will come across such elements. This world is a mixed bag, everything is a combination of good and bad. Just as a bird or an ant takes the sugar and leaves behind the sand, just as a swan drinks milk and leaves behind water, so one should use one's viveka, discrimination, and search for a true guru. A guru is necessary for satsang, the company of truth. It is not possible to deal with spiritual life without satsang because there are many nuts and bolts to be adjusted. You cannot always be sure how much each one needs to be tightened. When you sit down with your guru, he can tell you how to adjust which nut, bolt and screw. This is very important and, therefore, a guru is a must.
There are certainly very good gurus. I am not pessimistic about it. Gurus must teach principles which are neither fanatic nor lunatic, but intimately and immediately related to the divine. You cannot deny God, it is impossible. You may not be able to prove His existence but you cannot deny it. Therefore, our speech, our relationships, our meetings, our discussions should always begin with God's name.
Does the relationship between guru and disciple go back to previous lives?
You should ask a guru this question. I am not a guru and I do not want to be one. I am a disciple and I accepted my guru as a guide for a certain period in my life. When I saw that I could stand on my own two feet, I let go of his finger and he let go of mine. To begin analyzing whether he was my guru in my past life, and whether he will be my guru in my next life, is unnecessary. My guru left his body in 1963. Now it is 1994. He must be thirty years old now. Will he come to be my guru at this stage?
At a certain point in life, the guru enters as a guide. Just as a mother holds the child's hand and teaches him to walk, but lets go of it when the child takes off on his own, so my guru let go of my hand. I let go of his hand too. I stayed with him for twelve years, but then said bye-bye. Children who hang on to their parents forever become dependent and weak. Similarly, a disciple who hangs on to the guru becomes dependent, weak and does not learn to solve his own problems.
If the disciple is sincere, he works hard to put his guru's teachings into practice and to earn spiritual benefits. This is my theory. I cannot answer for you. A lot of things on the spiritual path are purely personal, just like people's emotional lives. If you believe that the relationship with the guru carries on through different lifetimes, you are free to have this opinion. I cannot negate it, but I do not believe it to be true. Nowhere does it say so in our Shastras, Vedas, Upanishads or Puranas.
Can one receive diksha and establish the guru-disciple relationship from a distance?
Definitely. When your guru lives very far away and you do not know where he is, but still you have fallen in love with him, that is mentally projected devotion. This is possible and it has happened to many people. But let me tell you one thing: the only basis of a relationship between guru and disciple is shraddha, faith. Guru is the image, the reflection of the disciple's faith. If the faith of the disciple diminishes, he will see less of it reflecting from the guru. If the faith of the disciple is strong, the reflection from the guru will be very strong. The personality of the guru is the image of the faith of the disciple. Mirabai has said:
Now I have fallen in love with the guru's feet.
I want nothing but the shelter of his sacred feet.
The illusory world has now become a dream.
For me the ocean of the world has dried up.
Now there is no anxiety to cross it.
The Lord of Mira is the clever Krishna,
And she is hopeful of the guru's refuge alone.
It has also been said in Ramacharitamanas that none can cross the world-ocean without the help of the guru, even if he is Brahma or Lord Shiva. No one can challenge this fact. If my faith is unshakable and my belief is deep and strong, my guru's personality will dazzle me. Tulsidas had great faith in his guru. He has said:
Victory to you, Master Hanuman,
Be kind to me like my Gurudeva.
Kabir Das has also said:
Guru is greater than God,
Because those created by God
Sink in the ocean of samsara
Due to their worldly attachment,
While those trained by guru
Are sure to cross over.
—Extracts from Bhakti Yoga Sagar Volume Two