Guru, Tradition and Freedom (Part 1 of 2)
Jun 24, 1997 05:03 AM
Here is an interesting piece on the subject. The participants in the
discussion are Krishnaji, Achyut Patwardhan, Swami Sundaram, and Radha Burnier.
Achyut Patwardhan was a freedom fighter for Indian Independence and was one
of the most sought after revolutionary during the British Rule and he was
underground for several decades. Swami Sundaram is a sanyasi well versed in
traditional Hindu Sacred Works.
I think this discussion brings out the issue of Guru. Some of you will find
Due to the length of the post, it is posted in two parts.
THE GURU, TRADITION, AND FREEDOM
In 1971 at Rishi Valley School in South India, a sannyasi asked Krishnamurti
a personal question that Krishnamurti would not normally have responded to.
The question was raised within the traditional framework which posits
renunciation as a necessary condition of enlightenment. The semilegendary
accounts of the life of the Buddha which have come down to us, to take only
one instance, vividly describe Prince Siddhartha's passage from the life of
a prince to that of an enlightened mendicant. Following these accounts,
sculptors and painters from Afghanistan to Java tell the poignant story of
Prince Siddhartha's renunciation; we see him stealing away at the dead of
night without bidding farewell to his wife and his newly born son, cutting
his princely locks, parting from his loyal horse and the mourning groom and,
finally, we see his wife, past associations written vividly on her face,
looking up at her husband, a compassionate and impersonal sage.
Even though Krishnamurti had willingly given up the ready-made role of World
Teacher and renounced the wealth and power attached to the role, his
autobiographical answer to the sannyasi's question did not refer to these
events of his life. Indeed, Krishnamurti did not consider that he had
renounced anything, because there was nothing to renounce. Neither
renunciation nor an awareness of life as sorrow, he felt, had informed his
discovery. He said that he did not know how he had come upon enlightenment
because he had not gone through the ordinary human experience of
becoming-envy, ambition, and competition. "And therefore," he replied,
"there was never any question of giving up." Krishnamurti's answer here is
reminiscent of the statement he made to Mary Lutyens, when, as his
biographer, she asked him who or what he was. This not-knowing was at the
mysterious core of the man who advocated self-knowledge as the only
instrument of freedom.
Krishnamurti (K): Could we relate the whole field of tradition to what we
are talking about to see the divergencies, contradictions, and similarities,
and also to see if there is anything new in what we are saying? Let us
discuss this, questioning it back and forth.
Achyut Patwardhan (A): Let us start with the four traditional purusarthas
(aims of life): dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (pleasure) and moksa
(freedom). The traditional approach to living begins with the fact that
existence has these four aspects, and each of them is vital for the
development of the human being.
K: Should we not start with the meaning of it all?
A: The traditionalists started with the four aspects as the meaning.
K: Should we not inquire what human existence, human sorrow, and conflict
mean? How do the professionals answer this question?
Swami Sundaram (SW): In the tradition we find two clear directions - the
orthodox direction which goes by verbal interpretation of facts, and the
breakaway tradition as seen in Dattatreya and the Yoga Vasistha. The seers
who broke away said, "No guru. We have discovered it for ourselves; we will
not swear by the Vedas. The whole of nature, the whole world is my guru.
Observe and understand the world." For the Buddha also, there was a breaking
away. His teaching represents the core of the breakaway pattern. Those who
broke away were closely linked with life.
If you read the Yoga Vasistha, it says that the mind is full of thoughts,
conflicts, and that these conflicts arise because of desire and fear. Unless
you are able to resolve them, you cannot understand. It talks of negative
thinking. Max Muller and some others misinterpreted the word nirodha. The
word does not mean suppression, it means negation.
A great deal is said about gurus. The Yoga Vasistha says that giving
initiations and such other actions are meaningless. The awakening of the
disciple in right understanding and in awareness alone is his primary
responsibility. These essentials are the core of the breakaway tradition.
Radha Burnier (R): And yet there are many places in the Yoga Vasistha where
it says that without a guru you cannot find anything.
A: Breakaway from what? Is it a breakaway from the social system? But the
breakaway tradition also continues the social system.
R: How is it that the guru tradition has become so important?
K: Shall we discuss this question of the guru? Shall we begin with that?
What does the word guru mean?
SW: Desika is the right word, not guru. Desika means one who helps to awaken
the disciple, one who helps the seeker to understand, one who learns.
R: The disciple is called the sishya, one who is capable of learning.
SW: Guru also means vast, beyond, great.
K: The guru is one who is great, beyond, one who is profound. Then what
relationship has he to a disciple?
SW: In the Upanishads, it is one of love and compassion. The Upanishads
maintain that compassion is the contact between the guru and the disciple.
K: How has the tradition now become authoritarian? How has a sense of
discipline, of following, of accepting whatever the guru says been
introduced into the relationship? The authoritarian, compulsive, destructive
relationship comes in the way of real thinking; it destroys initiative. How
has this relationship come into being?
SW: It is difficult to say. The two approaches must have existed for a long
time. In one tradition the guru is taken as a friend, as a person the
disciple loves; here the guru is not authoritarian at all. The other
tradition exploits. It wants authority and followers.
A: Swamiji's main point is that there has not been a homogeneous stream.
There is the outsider and there is the conformist. A nonconformist is one
who rejects society; he is outside society.
R: We come back to your first question: What is it all about? Apart from the
gurus, what is the fundamental answer to life?
K: I wonder if we could find out. Could you dig into it? Could you dig
everything out of me? Do you understand what I mean? You come to a well and
you get water according to the size of your bucket; whatever vessel you
carry, that is the amount of water you get. You have read a great deal of
ancient literature; you have practiced; you have read what we have talked
about; you are well equipped from the traditional point of view; and you
know what is happening in the world. Now, you and I meet. Dig out of me as
much as you can. Question me about everything, from the beginning to the
end. Question deeply - as the conformist and as the nonconformist, as a guru
and as a nonguru, as a disciple and as a nondisciple. It is like going to a
well with a tremendous thirst, wanting to find out everything. Do it that
way, sir. Then I think it will be profitable.
SW: Then can I be absolutely free?
K: Break all the windows because I feel wisdom is infinite; it has no
limits. And because it has no frontiers, it is totally impersonal. So with
all your experience, knowledge, and understanding of tradition and the
breakaway pattern, which also becomes tradition, with what you know and what
you have understood, from your own meditations, from your own life, you come
to me. Do not be satisfied by just a few words. Dig deep.
SW: I would like to know how you came to it yourself.
K: You want to know how this person came upon it? I could not tell you. You
see, sir, he apparently never went through any practice, any discipline,
jealousy, envy, ambition, competition. He did not want power, position,
prestige, fame. And, therefore, there was never any question of giving up.
So when I say I really do not know, I think that would be the truth. Most of
the traditional teachers go through all this - they give up, practice,
sacrifice, control; they sit under a tree and come upon clarity.
SW: In your teaching, sensitivity, understanding, and passive awareness are
factors that must saturate all one's living. I would like to ask how you
came upon all this.
A: You may have had nothing to give up, and, therefore, had no discipline,
no sadhana. But what about people who have something to give up?
K: I really could not tell you how I came upon all this. I wonder why you
bother about it. How is it important?
SW: It is curiosity; it is joy.
K: Let us go beyond that.
SW: When you speak of awareness, attention, sensitivity, one is filled with
wonder. How did he come to all this? How is a man able to talk this way? And
when we analyze what you say, we find that it is scientific, rational, and
so full of meaning.
K: You know the story of how the boy was picked up, how he was born in the
most orthodox Brahmin family, that he was not conditioned either by
tradition or anything in life - Hinduism or Theosophy; none of it touched
him. And I do not know why it did not touch him.
A: This question which he asks may be put in another idiom. How did it
happen that a person who was in the midst of an environment which laid
maximum stress on phenomenal life did not get caught in that life?
SW: K came to it. He is not able to explain how he came to it. But in his
talks the whole logic of it is clear. And it is a wonder how, without any
practice, he came to it.
K: How is it that a man like K, not having read the sacred books of the East
or the West, not having gone through the whole gamut of experience - of
giving up, of sacrifice - says these things? I really could not tell you, sir.
A: You gave the answer a minute ago when you said that wisdom is not personal.
K: But he asks how one came upon wisdom without all this.
SW: I am not asking how he came upon it, but I find a cogency and a
rationality in his talks; it comes and the listener finds beauty and joy. It
is in his heart.
K: When you say that it has come because it is in his heart, I do not know
how to respond. It comes - not from the heart or from the mind. It comes. Or
would you say, sir, that it would come to any person who is really not selfish?
SW: Perfectly so, sir.
K: I think that would be the most logical answer.
SW: Or is it that you saw the misery of mankind and then got it?
K: No. To answer this question properly, completely, one has to go into the
whole thing. There was that boy who was picked up; he went through all kinds
of things: he was proclaimed the Messiah; he was worshiped; large properties
were given to him; he had a great following. None of this touched him - he
gave up land as easily as he accepted it; he did not read any sacred books;
he did not read any philosophy or psychology; he never practiced anything;
and there was the quality of speaking from emptiness.
K: You understand, sir, there is never any accumulation from which he
speaks. So the question - How do you say such things? - involves a larger
question: whether wisdom, or whatever you might like to call it, can be
contained in any particular consciousness, or whether it lies beyond all
Look at this valley, sir. Look at the hills, the trees, the rocks - the
valley is all that. Without the content of the valley, there is no valley.
Now if there is no content in consciousness, there is no consciousness - in
the sense of the limited. When you ask the question: How is it that he says
these things? - I really do not know. But the question can be answered. When
it happens, the mind is completely empty. This does not mean that you become
SW: I conclude from this that infinity is beauty and rationality.
K: Sir, having said that, what is it that you want to find out?
You have capacity; you have read a great deal; you have knowledge and
experience; you have practiced and meditated. From there, ask.
SW: Consciousness is bondage. Only from the emptiness is there an entry into
K: So you are asking how a human being can empty the mind.
SW: There is the traditional idea of the adhikari, a person who can learn.
And the traditional idea is that there are levels or differences in the
person who can receive or learn. What he can learn depends on that
difference. The three levels mentioned in the orthodox text are: sattva,
rajas, and tames. Those who belong to the first category, sattva, can have
understanding without listening to a teacher of understanding. Those who
belong to the category of rajas have to listen and recollect when they face
a problem of life. The tames cannot learn because their minds are too gross.
In order to make the mind subtle, there are many upasanas, or methods. Yoga
starts with breath control and standing on the head. The asanas (postures of
the body) are meant as a cleansing. It is said: Whatever you do, be passive,
K: You say that the way human beings are constituted, there are levels or
gradations of receptivity. Is it possible for people who are still in the
process of becoming to come upon this?
SW: That is one part of it. The other is that for most people there are
moments of understanding. But these slip away, and there is a constant
struggle. What are such people to do?
K: Knowing there are levels, is it possible to cut across these levels?
A: Is that a question of time?
SW: Can we cut across these levels, or are there processes by which we can
transcend these levels?
R: Tradition says that a long process of time is necessary.
SW: I do not agree with that.
R: One must have the competence to understand.
A: I say my life is a life of becoming. When I come and sit with you, and
you say that time is irrelevant, I say yes because it is clear. But then I
am back again in the field of time, effort, etc., and this thing which I
feel, I understand, slips away.
=========================== end of part 1 of 2 =================
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