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Lifepositive Magazine Interview 2007

 Email interview published in the Indian magazine Life Positive, 2007


What do you think is the essence of Sree Narayana Guru's philosophy? Though he was an advaitin, does his role as a social reformer illustrate that he didn't consider the world to be an illusion like Adi Sankara?


         The essence of Narayana Guru’s philosophy is famously stated in his dictum One Kind (Caste), One Religion and One God for Man. On the surface we appear as different individuals, but the inner reality is that everything is created the same way from one common material. Our common ground is very much like the cloud of subatomic particles that comprises our universe—what kind of creature do we see that isn’t made up particles? They all are, without exception. But unlike inert matter, the unifying ground is conscious and even benevolent. There is a mysterious yet undeniable pressure towards perfection and happiness everywhere we look, if we look carefully enough.

          Much of all the Gurus’ efforts have been to redirect our vision from hopelessness and meaninglessness to the wonder and beauty that are the true nature of existence. Social arrangements have very often played the role of obscuring this awareness of our natural freedom of mind. They tend to serve a few manipulators at the expense of the majority, who are assigned a servile role. Awareness of the oneness of humanity effortlessly topples this arbitrary construct. Thus any social reform associated with the gurus is a happy accidental byproduct. Once your mind is freed of its illusory projections, obstacles to happiness melt away or are knocked down as you flow along with your life. Your heart recoils at the possibility of oppressing others, so you are very careful to give each person their due. Justice becomes the norm.

         Narayana Guru and his followers work from the whole to the part, rather than trying to build the whole from separate parts. Pressing for social reform will always fall short of the goal as long as it’s addressed to one problem at a time. But if you first attune to the One Beyond, all else is added unto you, as the Bible puts it. Social reform will never produce seers. Compassionate people, yes, but also frustrated people. But seers can and do produce social reform, justice, kindness and all the rest as corollaries to their balanced state of consciousness.


         Determining the reality of the world is one of the greatest mysteries to intrigue the mind. It can never be nailed down. What is certain one day is seen as false the next. Maya or the world is defined as an amalgam of real and unreal elements. Much of spiritual—and for that matter scientific—work is designed to identify and discriminate between the real and the unreal. We all agree that operating on unreal assumptions is a bad idea.

         In Atmopadesa Satakam, his One Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction, Narayana Guru explored in depth the nature of reality and how we should relate to it. Guru Nitya’s commentary entitled That Alone, the Core of Wisdom, should be read by anyone seriously interested in understanding the mystery of maya. The short answer is yes, Narayana Guru considered the world to be as real as anything can be. Here’s what he wrote in verses 87 and 88, toward the end of the Hundred Verses:


         Taking each kind alone, it exists;

         mutually, each excludes the other;

         when this is remembered, body and all such

         are neither real nor unreal; that is indescribable.


         Everything is real in itself; one who grasps the basic truth

         will understand all this as one;

         if not known introspectively,

         maya's great enmity certainly creates much confusion.


         As many are aware, dismissing the world as unreal may be a good temporary meditation technique, but it’s a very poor attitude toward life even when you are doing nothing more complicated than crossing a busy road. Life is a continuous meditation on what is real and what is not, and the more we sort it out properly the better our life becomes.



How can we apply Sree Narayana Guru's philosophy to attain unity in diversity, and for the uplift of the underprivileged in India and the world increasingly troubled by religious, caste and ideological divisions?


         Luckily for us mortals, the unity is always there. It isn’t something that needs to be obtained. But it is something that needs to be recognized.

         Practically speaking, we have always to restrain ourselves first. Everyone wants to correct the other person and think of themselves as not needing correction. So we have to examine all the ways that we are partisans of limited groups, such as nations, religions, castes and so on. We may think, “If everybody did yoga or meditated, the world would be better off,” or “if everybody would just be nice to each other, what a great world this would be!” Thoughts that imply a right and a wrong way of doing things, or even a better or worse way, are the subtle beginnings of divisions among people. So we should be sure that we aren’t setting ourselves up as superior to others. In my experience, very few people have even taken this most basic step toward unity and peace. They are mostly excited about other people’s faults. The Guru’s suggestion, in the light of the Gita, is to attune first to the Absolute and then you will see its light in the hearts of all. People as people may be hard to love but their essence is very easy to love.

         The next step is to practice kindness and just plain friendliness. Have you ever noticed how when you are nice to people they respond by being nice, and when you are in a bad mood people want to argue with you? There really is a kind of electromagnetism between people, invisible but potent. So work on making your dynamo hum with peaceful, loving thoughts.

         Actually, changing the world “out there” is very difficult, but changing it right in your heart is profoundly simple, and much more effective. Whatever you learn and put into practice in your own life will radiate to everyone you encounter. If you are an evangelist for unity, you could then go out of your way to meet different kinds of people and befriend them, but it’s not necessary. What you are is already meeting them.

         As to the underprivileged, Nitya wrote in his autobiography, Love and Blessings, that Nataraja Guru never liked the idea of calling someone poor or pitiable. “We are as poor as anyone else and really pitiable,” he would say. Of course, he was speaking as a sannyasin, but the point was for everyone. Nataraja Guru also distinguished between abundance and opulence. Nature is abundant, providing enough for all, but people have become opulent in their lifestyles. Opulence entails taking more than your share and hoarding it, which means someone else will necessarily have less. We have reached the point where Mother Earth may recycle the whole human species due to our untempered appetites. We have to turn to the Absolute for our happiness, instead of searching for it in material goods. Then we can be satisfied with mere abundance and eschew opulence.


What do you think was the Guru's message when he consecrated a mirror as idol?


         The great dictum Tat Tvam Asi (That thou art) is not mere idol chatter. Everything and everyone is the Absolute through and through, and realizing this is a great leap forward according to Narayana Guru. Devotees are always reminded that the siva lingam or whatever statue is the focal point of a temple, is an indicator of the truth, not the truth itself. All are waves on the ocean of the Absolute. But we continually fail to keep this in mind, and so become partisans of Krishna or Siva or Buddha or Christ.

         Narayana Guru blew everyone’s mind when he installed a mirror in a temple. Look: right there in the mirror is one of the Absolute’s most magnificent expressions. You.

         Is it sacrilege? Not at all. It is a great wisdom transmission from one of the world’s greatest mystics. Is it idolatrous? By no means. It is a way of expanding consciousness by reflection, and the mirror is not to be worshipped as if it were a divine object in its own right. Narayana Guru is asking each of us to have reverence for what we see in the central icon: ourself. We need to sit before that image and ask ourself just how am I the Absolute? Am I the best it can do? Yes. And can it be better? Yes, sure, why not?

         If everyone could accept that they were a spark of the Divine, just as everyone else is a spark too, they would be empowered to live up to at least some of their vast potential. Then they would never allow themselves to be beaten down as something worthless. There is no danger of becoming egotistic either, if everyone is the Absolute, only if you believe some are saved and some are not. We are literally one gigantic family. But when we think of gods we unconsciously defer our own independence to those “wiser” beings. We may rapidly stop valuing ourselves if we don’t remember our central role in the game.

         The neutrality of the mirror is very important. It cannot be mistaken for the icon of any particular religion. However beautiful is the symbolism found in temples, synagogues and churches, it unintentionally excludes anyone who doesn’t grasp its significance. On the other hand, a mirror reflects everything that comes before it, and in exactly the same way. It does not pass judgment. It is a highly refined witness. And no one can claim it belongs only to their group.

         On a secondary level, it is hard to look at yourself in a mirror honestly and without shame. We should be able to, but we hide from ourselves in so many ways. Narayana Guru wanted us to live so that we were never ashamed of our actions. And who knows what those are better than we do ourselves? So look at yourself squarely in the mirror once in awhile, and keep yourself honest.

         There are any number of other implications to the mirror that readers can divine for themselves. It was a most inspired idea for the Guru to substitute it for a more localized icon.


What are the activities initiated by Narayana Gurukula internationally and in India to promote the guru's ideals?


         There isn’t much activity. There are a few ashrams where the wisdom of the gurus is scrutinized, and the gurus travel around a bit and give classes wherever they go. Mainly we publish books, a few of which are spectacularly good. In Portland we hold a weekly class where we dive deep into the writings, and I teach the Gita once in awhile. The class notes are circulated via email, and that has become a kind of worldwide classroom. We also struggle to put out Gurukulam Magazine twice a year, and are always impressed that others can do it monthly or even weekly.

         The Narayana Gurukula is likely to always remain obscure, because we don’t cater to simplistic solutions or have advertising. We may even fade out before long. It’s too bad, but there are so many slick operations of different religions and sects elbowing each other for attention, and we just aren’t willing to enter the fray. Plus, we don’t promise instant results. Narayana Guru’s philosophy can start to change your life right away, but to really sink into the meaning of it takes years and years. You have to love it before you start.


Also include a brief bio and designation of the Gurukula office bearers and the person answering the interview questions to be mentioned in the article.


The Narayana Gurukula is an openminded fraternity of seekers of truth, loosely affiliated via the philosophy of Narayana Guru and the parampara of Nataraja Guru, Nitya Chaitanya Yati, and Muni Narayana Prasad, who is the current guru. Most of the books are published by DK Printworld in New Delhi, ( A few of the best, like Love and Blessings and Meditations on the Self are only to be found at a few Gurukulas, mainly Varkala and Ooty and the US. Contact us via the website, for more info.

         Scott Teitsworth, who was the person interviewed for this article, and his wife Deborah hold classes at the Portland Gurukula in the western United States. They were disciples of Guru Nitya for nearly thirty years. Scott has edited many of the major works of both Nitya and Nataraja Guru. 

Scott Teitsworth