I questioned my spiritual teacher’s place in my life. I did this because I felt a stronger appreciation of who I call ‘Gurudev‘ would occur only if I took the effort to probe, reflect and discover him in my heart and head.
I have been pushed to contemplation on this subject, also, by some thoughts: why must Gurudev, who was a human being in the end of the day, constrained by the limitations that come thereof, be viewed as a sort of deity by me? It didn’t seem like an intelligent thing to do at all. Also, while I love most of his ideas, some of them are not in sync with my understanding (most of these unreconciling views are political. His spiritual philosophy continues to enchant me). I need to reconcile my understanding of Gurudev and this contemplation has grown necessary.
I must add, on a different level, that I have been dismaying myself so very often by on the one hand celebrating Gurudev in words and on the other scarcely in fact and living.
This cavern in my understanding suggested that my claim to cherish Gurudev was, really, a statement of gaping hollowness. The fact that I have a long way to go before I can taste even a glimpse of him was apparent and it shook my gut into a scurry.
These deficits in understanding must be bridged. I should start somewhere.
This letter is a reflective effort and it is my way of making an offering (to him and to myself). This is the unfolding story of my attempt to understand ‘Chinmaya’.
I met Swami Chinmayananda while at school. I had joined the Chinmaya International Residential School (CIRS) in Class 7. The year was 2004.
I visited the campus with my parents to write my entrance tests and to attend the interview. I failed in the Science and Math tests and just about passed in the English language test. Already robbed of my self-confidence, I was waiting to face the guillotine outside Swamini Amma’s cabin.
In those heavy moments, I was staring at a picture of a majestic personality in the lobby. I knew absolutely nothing about him. But I knew he was “The Founder”. In that moment when I was squatting in self-doubt and weakness, the majesty in that picture was overpowering me. It was too apparent to be ignored. Like a candle in darkness, a lotus in a swamp. I thought that the only way I could reconcile with this powerful presence was by appealing to it, by requesting it to rub onto me such that I can make sense of it in the fact of personal experience.
My name was called and I rolled-in, my mother accompanying me. Mr Principal and Amma welcomed me in. Not one question was asked about my ill performance on the tests, very surprisingly. Much to my embarrassment, my mother boasted that I’ve learned to chant some verses from the Bhagavad Gita. The truth is I only knew one – the very first one. So, like the trembling Arjuna, facing the glare of imminent annihilation, I too shuddered, and started to chant. I was complimented (I still don’t know why) and we were then served a commentary from Mr Principal on the Chinmaya Vision Programme and CIRS’s approach to teaching. He asked me if I connected with what he described. I did and I said so. Then Amma intervened and offered, “So that clears it. We have reason to believe that Anirudh could learn and improve on his academics should he be with us.” She then offered a prophetic question: “So what do you dislike eating, Anirudh?”. “Karela (bitter-gourde)”, I said. Amma removed a toffee from a draw, placed it in my palm and said, “Enjoy this while you can for there’s a lot of karela waiting for you when you come here.”
Astonishment overpowered my happiness. I can’t speak about my mother’s thoughts as I was frankly too stumped to infer. I looked at the majestic Founder. I could kind of see what he did there. I didn’t know how he did it. But, I stopped short of thanking him only because I didn’t know what I was thankful for, really. But I resolved to find out soon.
One week hence: I was packed and sent to CIRS.
Swamini Amma’s prophecy came true and I was enormously homesick. I was eating emotional karela. To make things worse, I had none of those qualities that would normally endear friends in that age group. I was fat, unintelligent, shy, scarcely articulate, and, the horror of horrors if one is a boy, I couldn’t bring myself to play a sport. I had very few friends – most of them fellow victims of loneliness.
During games’ time in the evening, to avoid boredom, I would sit in the library for that hour and a half and read random pieces of literature. I didn’t understand anything I was attempting to read. On one of those days, I chanced upon “At Every Breath A Teaching” by Rudite Emir. I picked it up because it had The Founder’s face on it. (By the way, this was the first time it sat in my scheme of understanding that his name was Swami Chinmayananda).
I started to read it and, on that very day, I fell in love with it. I was discovering a personality of such humanity and power that I waited to be in his exalted company, day after day, during those fated hours. His example rubbed onto me so much that I started developing a self-confidence that was completely alien to my personality at the time.
I could hear his voice roar in my head. My feebleness and timidity grew very apparent in the sound of this roar. I was compelled to want to shed this paleness (I know I sound harsh on myself but I’m being honest). I wanted to roar like him.
I decided to train in public speaking; it was only a few months till the talent leaped out of my slumbering gut. People’s attitudes towards me slowly started to change. They found something in me to engage with. I started developing friends and, as I kept engaging with writings on and off Gurudev, I was being subtly influenced. With awe, I observed new talents manifest in me – talents that I never knew I had.
His influence was both sacred and temporal. Gurudev’s writings were my first and strongest literary influence. If I can write today and if you have stayed with me till now in this letter, with interest, one can only see this as his graciousness at play. Without his remarkable facility with the English language as my example, my words would not be worth even a scribble today.
Six beautiful years ended at CIRS; my biggest take-back was this: I learned, genuinely, to relish karela.
Nothing can justify how grateful I am. I am repeatedly questioning the very recognition of this grace. How can grace — infinite in itself — be captured in an idea? After leaving me so grateful, I am so punished in not finding closure.
So if I can’t find grace here, where do I find it?
Where is Chinmaya? Who is Chinmaya? The majestic picture of his person stares mutely at me from my desk.
Somewhere down memory’s chords, Shri Guru Nanak’s benediction comes ringing in: “Kaam krodh mad lobh niraado, chaad de sab sant jana; kahe naanak shah sun bhagwanta ya jag main nahi koi apna.”
“Dispel lust, anger, jealousy and pride from your life,
leave this material world behind like the great saints;
Guru Nanak says: Listen oh Lord of all
in this material world [addressing the divinity in the listener], there is truly nothing that is our own.”
Thankfully this letter is coming to its end because I’m crying too much to be able to think straight.
I’m staring at Chinmaya’s benign majesty right now. Somewhere behind the preoccupations of form, image, personality, name and cult is, perhaps, a revelation. Let me try renouncing how apart from Chinmaya I am and make my life a living manifestation of Chinmaya.
Suddenly, it seems like a star has peeped-out from the sky to speak to this lost sailor. Is it staring at me with the promise of the shore?
Shiva, Shiva, Shiva: the waves beat against my boat.