Email interview published in
the Indian magazine Life Positive,
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.
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
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.
Satakam, his One Hundred
Self-Instruction, Narayana Guru explored in depth the nature of reality and how
we should relate to it. Guru Nitya’s commentary entitled That
Core of Wisdom, should be
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
each kind alone, it exists;
each excludes the other;
this is remembered, body and all such
are neither real nor
unreal; that is indescribable.
is real in itself; one who grasps the basic truth
understand all this as one;
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
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
caste and ideological divisions?
mortals, the unity is always there. It isn’t something that needs to be
obtained. But it is something that
needs to be recognized.
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.
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
The great dictum
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
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
initiated by Narayana Gurukula internationally
India to promote the guru's ideals?
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.
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
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, (dkprint.com). 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,
naryanagurukula.org for more info.
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.