Never basking in the spotlight,
He chose to shine
The light on others instead.
Thousands found a higher calling
Following his footprints
On the road that he once tread.
Despite growing up in rural India, Gurudev was one of the most contemporary men to have ever lived. He practiced a way of life that was a unique amalgamation of progressive and spiritual. This was quite evident in his evolved view of women.
VIEW OF WOMEN
Gurudev expressed disdain for the practice of dowry. He advised against wasteful expenditure on lavishly mounted weddings as he didn’t want the bride’s family to be burdened in any way. He often conducted simple wedding ceremonies for some of his disciples and devotees at the sthan where langar food replaced an eight-course feast. He once told Bittu ji, “Putt, we have to set an example in society so that no one considers a female child to be a burden.” He regarded the ritual of kanyadaan (the bride’s father giving his daughter to a man in marriage) as an act of a very high order.
Kanyadaan is considered a debt of great magnitude that is undertaken by the groom in favour of the bride’s parents, who have birthed, raised, and invested in their daughter’s upbringing.
As a brother, Gurudev encouraged his sisters to become financially independent. He told them that he would get them married only when they expressed a desire to do so. His daughter, Renu ji, remembered her father’s words, “If a prospective groom tries to judge if you will make a good wife, the marriage will not happen.” At first, Renu ji did not understand what Gurudev meant, however on introspection, she realized her father was echoing her views on marriage. Marriage isn’t about judging someone on looks and qualifications alone. It is a much deeper relationship as it signifies the union of Shiv and Shakti.
In Gurudev’s world, women were a manifestation of Shakti, and worthy of respect. In fact, during a certain period annually, he instructed his disciples to mentally touch the feet of their wives and accord them a place of seniority.
Another attitude that never found legroom in Gurudev’s world of Guruism is spiritual vanity. Gurudev refused to wear his spiritual greatness as a medallion around his neck. He expected his disciples to do the same.
Gurudev preferred to blend in rather than stand out. Raji ji recalled that after deputing his disciples to be the face of seva at Kathog, Gurudev would stand under the shade of a tree to oversee the proceedings. One day, when a group of women approached him and asked, “Guruji kahan hai? (Where is Guruji?)”, he pointed towards a disciple who was doing seva and said, “There he is.”
Gurudev shunned fame and performed seva in the most low-key manner possible. On one Guru Purnima, a few disciples put up a banner with his photograph on a crossroad near the Gurgaon sthan. When Gurudev heard about this, he walked to the road where this banner was hung, and muttered something under his breath. He then reprimanded his disciples and warned them to not engage in such forms of promotion.
When people took his photograph without his permission, they would find that the processed reel turned out blank. In some cases, cameras would malfunction at the time of Gurudev’s photograph being clicked and start working as soon as Gurudev was out of view. When journalists showed up at Gurgaon to interview Gurudev, he instructed his disciples to serve them tea and request them to leave thereafter. He preferred a life of obscurity.
F.C. Sharma ji, a senior disciple, recalled that Dr. Shankarnarayan ji once requested Gurudev to accompany him on a work-related matter of extreme importance. Even though Gurudev agreed to his request, the plan fell through repeatedly due to Gurudev’s unavailability. One morning, Shankarnarayan ji reached Gurgaon and fervently requested Gurudev again. Gurudev asked him to fetch a camera and click his photograph. He then instructed Shankarnarayan ji to carry the photograph in his shirt pocket when he went to attend to the important work. This incident marked the first time Gurudev allowed himself to be photographed after his advent as a Mahaguru.
A photograph is a 2D representation of a person that is used to establish connectivity. By instructing Shankarnarayan ji to carry his photograph, Gurudev was amplifying this connectivity. I have seen Gurudev carry his photograph in the pocket of his safari suit when he went to attend to spiritually complicated matters. In his case, the amplification was with the Guru roop (a form of a Guru) in his photograph.
Spiritualists also perform healing by concentrating on the photograph of a person suffering from a physical or mental malady.
Suresh Prabhu, a disciple, remembered, “Gurudev never craved attention. He never behaved like other so called God-men behaved. He was very casual, very relaxed and he was very inconspicuous.”
Gurudev believed spiritualism was not about self-promotion but about the dissolution of the self–moving away from ‘I’ness and embracing oneness. Ek se anek, anek se ek was the dictum he lived by.
Gurudev was extremely particular about seva being nisvarth. Even though his spiritual powers helped and healed countless life forms, he refrained from using the same powers for the benefit of his biological family. When Gurudev’s children suffered from an illness, it was the local physician who would prescribe a cure. When Gurudev’s mother came to ask for healing at the sthan, he asked her to stand in line like everyone else. Sometimes, his family became instruments of his seva. It is believed that he once transferred an illness from a young devotee to his daughter to heal the former.
On a Sunday afternoon in May 1989, Gurudev instructed Bittu ji to place the langar food for the farmhands in the trunk of a Maruti Omni van and be prepared to leave for the farm at Khandsa after lunch.
When Bittu ji reached Gurudev’s room to inform him that they could leave for the farm, he found Gurudev seated on the bed, eyes closed in deep concentration. Seeing this, he closed the door and waited patiently in the adjoining room. After half an hour, Gurudev informed Bittu ji that he was ready to leave.
For some unfathomable reason, Gurudev, who always sat in the front passenger seat, sat in the rear seat of the van. After driving a short distance, Gurudev asked Bittu ji to offer a ride to an elderly couple who were walking on the side of the road in the scorching summer heat. Bittu ji rolled down the window and volunteered to drop them to their destination. The couple, cautious at first, sat in the van after Bittu ji’s repeated requests. They seemed forlorn and lost in thought, so much so that they ignored Gurudev’s presence in the seat next to theirs.
During the journey, they revealed that the purpose of their visit to Gurgaon was to meet Gurudev. However, despite arriving at the sthan with great expectations, they left despondently after a sevadaar spoke rudely to them. As they narrated the story, their eyes glazed with tears. Unable to watch their pitiful state, Bittu ji said, “Look to your left. Gurudev is seated next to you.”
As they prostrated at Gurudev’s feet, Gurudev blessed them, asked them to sit on their seat, and said, “Your work is done.” The couple wept tears of gratitude.
Since the couple had not eaten for days, Gurudev instructed Bittu ji to stop the van in the shade and serve them langar food. After they had finished their meal, Gurudev handed them some money and asked them to stock some rations at their home.
After Bittu ji saw the couple off at the bus-stop, Gurudev told him, “Putt, the couple were kicked out of their home by their son. As they have no money to eat, they had come to the sthan for help. After the sevadaar at the sthan was harsh in his tone, they felt there was no hope hereon and decided to take their own lives. They were walking to the railway station to die on the tracks when we picked them up.”
Hearing this, Bittu ji realized that while Gurudev sat in concentration in his room, not only was he listening to the old couple’s interaction with his disciple a few rooms away but also rewarding their faith in him by answering their prayer. Gurudev always valued the bhav (sentiment) behind a prayer and rewarded it with his kripa (grace).
Gurudev stressed the importance of thinking beyond the self and of expanding one’s circle of compassion. He said, “Prayers and rituals are bound by limitations. Selfless service, on the other hand, has no limits. The more seva you perform, the more you align with the supreme consciousness. If you help others, you serve the supreme within and without.”
If you help others,
you serve the supreme
within and without.
Gurudev was so focused on seva that he hardly slept for 3 to 4 hours every night. His day began early so he could meet patients before he left for office. The evenings after work were also spent attending to those who needed his help. Some of us would try every trick in the book to manipulate an extension of the time spent in his company. To this end, we would ask him multiple questions and request him to resolve our spiritual misunderstandings. It was only after clearing the cobwebs in our head that he ate dinner.
Being someone who had mastered his senses, Gurudev ate whatever was prepared. He eschewed wastage of food and sometimes even though fresh food was prepared for him, he chose to eat leftovers from the day before.
There were 4-5 times every month when Gurudev refused to consume even a morsel of food. Once when Gurudev declined dinner for the second consecutive night, Bittu ji accused him of wilfully neglecting his health. Gurudev sat Bittu ji down and said, “Putt, you question me every day about my reason for not eating the food you serve. I may be physically present here in Gurgaon but if any member of my spiritual family anywhere in the world goes to bed hungry, I do not eat that night!”
Gurudev would close his eyes before every meal to scan if his spiritual family, scattered across the globe, had eaten their food. On days, when Gurudev intuitively sensed that a family member had gone to bed hungry involuntarily, he would refuse to eat food as well. This was probably his way of spiritually arm-twisting the destiny of those concerned by assigning his share of food to them.
SIMPLICITY AND INTEGRITY
Someone once said, “A great man is always willing to be little”, and this applied perfectly to Gurudev. Despite being a spiritual giant, Gurudev’s simplicity and humility were a sight to behold. He would behave like an ordinary man despite being an extraordinary Guru. More often than not, Gurudev’s simplicity would blind people to his reality.
When Gurudev was of marriageable age and before Mataji arrived on the scene, a sweeper offered to repay Gurudev’s multiple acts of kindness towards him by finding him a suitable bride. He believed Gurudev was too simple to embark on the bride finding journey on his own! Similarly, Gurudev’s friends were unable to wrap their minds around the idea of a simpleton like him eventually transforming into a spiritual guru to many.
A few years into my disciple hood program at Professor G’s academy, I realized that his simplicity though not contrived became an effective tool to deflect unnecessary attention.
Once when Gurudev and I were waiting for a taxi near a movie theatre in Lucknow, a man walked up to Gurudev and said, “Bhaisaab (Brother) what is the exact time?” I noticed the man was wearing the copper kada worn by disciples and devotees who visit the sthans. I was aghast that this man had not recognized Gurudev. As I began to vocalize my thoughts to make him aware of the man whose presence he was in, Gurudev touched my forearm, silently forbidding me from saying another word. After resetting his watch, the man thanked Gurudev and went his way.
Besides his simplicity, Gurudev was a man of deep integrity. He advocated earning one’s livelihood through sheer hard work. He once said, “Money earned through honest means will be used for good work. Money made through dishonest means will be spent dishonourably.”
When Gurudev formed the Himgiri Charitable Trust in 1984, Santlal ji purchased a lottery ticket worth 2 crores with the sole intent of giving the money to the trust. He placed the ticket at Gurudev’s feet and requested for his blessing, citing his belief that the money could be used to fund the philanthropic activities of the trust. Gurudev smiled but said nothing. Mistaking Gurudev’s smile for a blessing, Santlal ji was dejected when he did not win the bumper prize.
When he returned to Gurgaon, Gurudev said, “Putt, this trust was not created to make money but to serve others. I want my disciples to contribute towards seva with their hard-earned money, not lotteries. Remember we are fakirs, not gamblers.”
Gurudev chose a spiritual path abundant in frugality. Using his powers, he could have manifested an affluent life for himself, yet he preferred simplicity and minimalism, choosing conditions that most of us would have a hard time adjusting to. Till the mid-1980s, he shared his restroom with a dozen of us. His only extravagances were bare necessities like a Fiat car and a 250 sq. yard property.
When Gurudev landed in Mumbai on an official tour sometime in the mid-1980s, the number of his disciples, devotees and followers had grown exponentially. There was a cavalcade of cars waiting to ferry him from the airport. On exiting the arrival terminal, Gurudev warmly greeted those who had come to welcome him but chose to leave the airport not in the comfort of a luxury car but on a motorcycle driven by his disciple, Uddhav Kirtikar, a dashing Mumbai police officer.
Gurudev leaves Mumbai Airport with Uddhav Kiritikar, a Mumbai police officer
When a rich devotee insisted on Gurudev accepting a BMW car as a gift, Gurudev accepted it only to gift it back to the same devotee a few minutes later!
Gurudev was a man of wheels all right. At first, he would cycle to work on two wheels. His mode of transport then evolved to a scooter with two motorized wheels. Eventually, when he could afford one, he bought a Fiat with four wheels.
COMPASSION & EMPATHY
Gurudev treated everyone he met with respect. He was courteous, patient and compassionate towards people who came to the sthan seeking his help and guidance. He was so gracious and loving that everyone believed that he loved and cared for them more than others.
Gurudev was always mindful of the religious beliefs of those who visited the sthan. His tolerance, compassion, and humility left an indelible mark on everyone who came in contact with him.
Gurudev once told a disciple, “My job here is to serve everyone who comes to the sthan, no matter what they feel about me or how they behave with me.”
If someone was rude or obnoxious towards Gurudev, he would never react adversely. Nikku ji recalled, “Gurudev was very forgiving. I never saw him not forgive someone. If a person with negative vibes came to meet him, he would never discriminate. He would solve the person’s problems with love and care. I feel this is the most difficult task. If anyone abuses us, we are ready to pick a fight with the person that very second. But Gurudev was not like that. For him, every person was the same.”
Here was a spiritual Emperor among men! When comes such another?
Not only did Gurudev believe in aatmic equality, he also performed his seva with vairagya or detachment. Some of his favourite lines were,
Main sab ka hoon. Sab mere hain.
Lekin main kisi ka nahi. Mera koi nahi.
(I belong to everyone and everyone belongs to me.
Yet, I belong to no one and no one belongs to me.)
DETACHMENT AND ROLE-PLAY
Gurudev role-played affection to perfection. He manipulated us into believing he loved us more than the others. The truth is he loved everyone equally but without an iota of emotion. Watching him taught me to look at all my relationships through the prism of duty and what learning that was!
Practicing detachment from the result of the deed made seva a habit. That meant there was no joy to be sought from it and no pain to be felt doing it. It was a duty that had to be performed without emotion and with utmost humility.
Being a unique guru, Gurudev advised us to express gratitude to the hordes of people who came to the sthans for help and not the other way around. For him, these countless men and women presented us with the opportunity to perform seva thereby facilitating our spiritual evolution. Certainly, something to be grateful for.
As a Mahaguru, he was accepting of the many mistakes we made and of the antics of our past catching up to our present. He vocally expressed his displeasure and silently corrected our behaviour. Forgiveness came every night. Acceptance came every day. However, there were exceptions to this rule. Sometimes he pulled our ears to straighten us out. Even though these instances were few and far between, the punishments were reserved for those he considered his own. Malhotra ji, Rajpal ji, Santlal ji, Giri ji, and yours truly, were members of this privileged club. I am sure many others who have probably not shared their experiences with me yet. So, let the embarrassed be embarrassed!
Gurudev was the flag-bearer of simple living and high thinking. He lived the life he preached. His words and deeds continue to serve as a spiritual compass for those in search of the temple within.