Never basking in the spotlight,
he chose to shine the light on others instead.
Countless found a higher calling
walking on the road he once tread.
Despite growing up in rural India, Gurudev was one of the most contemporary men to have ever lived. He practised a way of life that was a unique amalgam of practical and spiritual values.
Gurudev expressed disdain for the practice of dowry. He advised against squandering money on lavishly staged weddings because he did not want the bride’s family to be burdened in any way. He frequently held simple wedding ceremonies at the sthan for some of his disciples and devotees, where langar replaced an eight-course feast. “Putt, we have to set an example in society so that no one considers a female child to be a burden”, he once told Bittu ji. He regarded the ritual of kanyadaan as an act of a very high order.
Kanyadaan is regarded as a large debt owed by the groom to the bride’s parents, who have 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. Renu ji, his daughter, recalled her father’s words, “If a prospective groom tries to judge if you will make a good wife, the marriage will not take place”. Renu ji did not understand what Gurudev meant at first, but upon reflection, she realised her father echoed her views on marriage. Marriage isn’t about judging someone solely on their appearance and qualifications. It is a much deeper bond because it represents the union of Shiv and Shakti.
In Gurudev’s world, women were a manifestation of Shakti and worthy of respect. He instructed his disciples to mentally touch their wives’ feet and accord them a place of seniority during a specific time each year.
Gurudev refused to wear his spiritual greatness around his neck as a medallion and preferred to blend in rather than stand out.
Raji ji remembers the mahaguru standing under a tree at Kathog, overseeing seva, when a group of women approached him and asked, “Guruji kahan hai?” (Where is Guruji?). He pointed to a disciple performing seva and said, “There he is.”
Gurudev shunned fame and performed seva in the most low-key manner possible. One Guru Purnima, a few disciples erected a banner with his photograph near the Gurgaon sthan. When he found out, he went to the road where the banner was hung and muttered something under his breath. He then chastised his disciples and warned them not to engage in such forms of promotion in the future.
People who took his photographs without his permission would discover that the processed reel was blank. In some cases, cameras would malfunction when clicking the mahaguru’s photograph and start working as soon as he was out of sight. When journalists showed up at Gurgaon to interview him, he instructed his disciples to serve them tea and request them to leave. He preferred a life of anonymity.
FC Sharma ji 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 his unavailability.
Shankarnarayan ji arrived in Gurgaon one morning and fervently requested Gurudev once again. Gurudev asked him to fetch a camera and click his photograph. He then instructed Shankarnarayan ji to carry the photo 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 becoming a mahaguru.
A photograph is a 2D representation of a person used to establish connectivity. By instructing Shankarnarayan ji to carry his photo, Gurudev amplified this connection. I have seen Gurudev carry his photograph in the pocket of his safari suit when he attended to spiritually complicated matters. This heightened his connectivity with his own guru roop, as captured in his photo.
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 highly particular about seva being nisvarth. Even though his spiritual powers aided and healed countless life forms, he refrained from using the same powers to benefit his biological family. When his children suffered from an illness, the local physician would prescribe a remedy. When his mother sought help from the sthan, he told her to stand in the queue just like everyone else. However, sometimes, his family became instruments of his seva. He is known to have transferred an illness from a young devotee to his daughter to heal the former.
One afternoon, Gurudev told Bittu ji to load the langar into the trunk of a van and prepare to leave for the Khandsa farm after lunch. Having done so, when Bittu ji reached Gurudev’s room to inform him that they were all set to leave, he found him seated on the bed, eyes closed in deep concentration. Seeing this, he shut the door and waited patiently in the adjoining room. About thirty minutes later, Gurudev emerged and told him that he was ready to leave.
Gurudev, who usually sat in the front passenger seat, sat in the van’s back seat for some inexplicable reason. After a short distance, he suggested that Bittu ji offer a ride to an elderly couple who were walking on the side of the road in the sweltering summer heat. Bittu ji rolled down his window and offered to take them to their destination. Cautious at first, the couple sat in the van on Bittu ji’s repeated requests. They appeared sad and lost in thought, to the point where they ignored the mahaguru’s presence in the seat next to theirs. They revealed that the reason for their visit to Gurgaon was to meet Gurudev. Despite arriving at the sthan with high hopes, they left disheartened after a sevadaar spoke rudely to them. Their eyes glazed with tears as they narrated their story. Bittu ji, unable to look at their pitiful state, said, “Look to your left. Gurudev is seated beside you.”
Gurudev blessed them as they prostrated at his feet, asked them to take their seats, and said, “Your work is done”. The couple sobbed with gratitude. Since they hadn’t eaten in days, he directed Bittu ji to pull over in the shade and serve them langar. After they had finished their meal, the mahaguru handed them some money and told them to stock up on rations.
Once Bittu ji had left the couple at the bus stop, Gurudev told him, “Putt, the couple were kicked out of their home by their son. They had come to the sthan for help because they did not have enough money for food. When the sevadaar was harsh with them, they felt dejected and decided to commit suicide. They were walking to the railway station to die on the tracks when we picked them up”. Hearing this, Bittu ji realised 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. The mahaguru always valued the bhav (sentiment) behind prayer and rewarded it with his kripa (grace).
Gurudev stressed the importance of thinking beyond the self and 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 consciousness supreme. 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 barely slept. He began his day early to meet with patients before heading to the office. He also spent evenings after work attending to those who required his assistance. Some of us would try every ruse in the book to extend our time in his company. To that end, we would ask him a series of questions and request him to resolve our spiritual misunderstandings. It was only after clearing the cobwebs in our head that he ate dinner.
He ate whatever was cooked because he had mastered his senses. He avoided wasting food, and even though fresh food was prepared for him, he preferred to eat leftovers from the day before.
Four to five times every month, he refused to consume even a morsel of food. Once when he 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!”
Someone once said, “A great man is always willing to be little”, and this applied perfectly to Gurudev. Despite being a spiritual giant, his simplicity and humility were a sight to behold. He would behave like an ordinary man despite being an extraordinary guru. More often than not, his simplicity would blind people to his phenomenal reality.
When Gurudev was of marriageable age, and before Mataji arrived on the scene, a sweeper offered to repay Gurudev’s numerous acts of kindness by finding him a suitable bride. He believed Gurudev was too simple to embark on the bride-finding journey on his own! Likewise, Gurudev’s friends couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of a simpleton like him becoming a spiritual guru to many.
A few years into my discipleship programme at Professor G’s academy, I realised that his genuine simplicity was effective in deflecting unwanted attention. Once when he and I were waiting for a taxi near a movie theatre in Lucknow, a man walked up to him and said, “Bhaisaab, what is the exact time?” I noticed the man wore a copper kada, just like all disciples and devotees who visit the sthans. I was aghast that this man had not recognised Gurudev. As I began to vocalise my thoughts to make him aware of the man whose presence he was in, the mahaguru touched my forearm, silently forbidding me from saying another word. After resetting his watch, the man thanked Gurudev and went his way.
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 find difficult to adjust to. Till the mid-1980s, he shared his toilet-cum-bathroom with a dozen of us. His only extravagances were bare necessities such as a Fiat car and a 250-square-yard home.
By the mid-1980s, the number of his disciples, devotees and followers had grown exponentially. Once when he landed in Mumbai on an official tour, a cavalcade of luxury cars waited to pick him up from the airport. When he exited the terminal, he warmly greeted those who had come to welcome him but chose to leave not in the comfort of an air-conditioned car but on a motorcycle driven by his devotee, Uddhav Kirtikar, a dashing police officer. Another time, when a wealthy devotee insisted on gifting him a BMW car, the mahaguru accepted it only to gift it back to the same devotee a few minutes later!
Gurudev was, indeed, a man on wheels! He used to cycle to work on two wheels. His mode of transportation eventually evolved into a scooter with two motorised wheels. When he could afford it, he purchased a four-wheeled Fiat.
Gurudev rides out of Mumbai airport with Uddhav Kiritikar
Gurudev showed respect to everyone he met. He was courteous, patient, and compassionate to those who came to the sthan for help and guidance. He was so gracious and loving that everyone thought he loved and cared more for them than others.
The mahaguru was always mindful of the religious beliefs of those who came to visit the sthan. His tolerance, compassion, and humility left an indelible impression on everyone who met him. “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”, he once told a disciple. If someone was rude or obnoxious towards him, he would not react adversely. Nikku ji recalls, “Gurudev was very forgiving and would never discriminate. If a person with negative vibes came to meet him, he would tend to that person with love and care and solve the person’s problems. And I think this is the most difficult task. If anyone abuses us, we are ready to fight them right then and there. Gurudev, on the other hand, was not like that. Everyone was the same to him.”
DETACHMENT AND ROLE-PLAY
Not only did Gurudev believe in aatmic equality, but he also performed his seva with vairagya or detachment. Some of his favourite lines were,
Main sab ka hoon aur sab mere hain.
Lekin main kisi ka nahi aur mera koi nahi.
(I belong to all and all belong to me.
Yet I belong to no one, and no one belongs to me)
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. Observing him taught me to view all my relationships through the lens of duty, and what a lesson that was! Practising detachment from the outcome of a deed helped make seva a habit. That meant there was no joy to be found in it and no pain to be felt while doing it. It was a duty that needed to be carried out without emotion and with utmost humility.
Gurudev, being a unique guru, advised us to express gratitude to the hordes of people who came to the sthans for assistance rather than the other way around. These countless men and women, in his opinion, provided us with the opportunity to perform seva, thereby facilitating our spiritual transformation.
As a mahaguru, he was accepting of our many mistakes and the antics of our past catching up with us. He voiced his displeasure and silently corrected our actions. Every day, acceptance came. Every night, forgiveness came. There were, however, exceptions to this rule. He would sometimes pull 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 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.