Indian Ink
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Indian Ink

Things I learned from my online Guru

Or how Westerners and Indians view Gurus differently

To guru or not to guru, that’s the question

I’m not a guy who usually follows Gurus. However, I’ve have been recently experimenting with Sadhguru, a popular Guru with a huge online presence. The fact that he doesn’t know I exist makes it easier for me as it doesn’t clash with my anti-authority mindset. But I also have this sneaking feeling that my hands-off approach greatly reduces what I learn (as I work towards my yogic goal of being able to experience that single, unified unchanging reality that underlies all the many changing realities of every single human… hoo-hah).

So I sort of agreed when a friend, who lives in the West and also follows Sadhguru, claimed we don’t really learn anything from Gurus. My friend’s view (I’ll refer to him X) was though we may grasp the basic concepts that Sadhguru talks about, we don’t, or can’t apply it in real life. Because we don’t do this, we forget whatever the Guru explained in a few days. I initially agreed with X. But later after some reflection, I disagreed. Here’s why.

Why I agreed with my friend

To illustrate, let me go back to an example Sadhguru used in one of his talks. It’s a simple yet complex, rolled-in-one kind of thought, so bear with me.

Let’s say someone insults you by calling you an idiot in public. This incident can make us miserable for days. Sometimes the misery can linger for decades. But as Sadhguru explains, the source of this misery is our vivid memory and fantastic imaginative powers. Only humans have this. A dog would never suffer for this insult. This is where it gets interesting. Sadhguru points out that the only moment that actually exists is the current moment. The moment when we are insulted no longer exists, anywhere except in our memory. Likewise, the moment of once again facing that person who insulted lies in the future. So that moment also does not exist anywhere, except in our imagination. In short, we are being miserable about something that does not exist. We are suffering because we are misusing two of our greatest gifts, our memory, and our imagination (Put like that, I had to admit that calling me an idiot might not be far off the mark). Sadhguru says that if you understand this, you will never again be miserable in your life.

Now I understood this when Sadhguru explained it and was completely in awe of the simplicity of the concept. For a couple of days, I was in heaven. But I came down to earth pretty quick when I got caught up in the realities of everyday life and found myself once again miserable about what people had said or done.

The only difference is I now know it’s idiotic. But I still do it.

Why I disagreed with my friend

It helps to know a bit of the context. X and I go back a long way. He’s one of those rare combinations of successful businessmen and award-winning artist. Though we share some interests, our mindsets are very different. He’s a driven go-getter who settled down in the West many years ago, picked up their ways, and succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectation. Whereas I quit the rat race and am quite content with my laidback lifestyle in India. I must add that X disagrees with me about how living in the West has changed him.

With that perspective, let’s move on to a few of the things Sadhguru says in some of his YouTube videos. I don’t recall the exact videos in which he mentions whatever I have quoted below, as you can’t google for audios within videos. You’ll just have to take my word that Sadhguru did say it, and my recalling it proves I did get his message.

You should only do things by choice, and never by compulsion.

Sadhguru was talking about addiction. He says it’s not a moral issue. It’s just that we should be in control of our bodies, and not the other way around. That’s the first step to developing oneself.

Sadhguru used marijuana as an example. I always believed it’s a harmless addiction in moderation, but Sadhguru's explanation changed my mind. As he put it, if you are flying somewhere, and you know the pilot is high on grass, would you get on the flight? You won’t because you know his faculties Likewise, if you are about to have a surgical procedure done on you, and you find the doctor is high, would you let him operate on you? No, we wouldn’t, on both counts. So even though we claim marijuana is okay, we do know that being drugged is an impaired state, and ‘high’ is a misnomer as ‘low’ would be more appropriate. Seen that way, it makes no sense to consciously choose to opt for an impaired state.

He then went on to say addiction is an issue, no matter how insignificant it seems. It’s fine to drink coffee, but it should be by choice. If you can’t survive with your coffee, then it’s not a choice but a compulsion, and that’s not good.

Now I have been a lifetime coffee drinker, but I stopped drinking coffee that very day. I did have a headache for a week, but it eventually dissipated. So being able to discriminate between doing things by choice and compulsion and avoiding the latter is something I learned from Sadhguru.

In contrast, X has been saying he wants to stop drinking, but he hasn’t to date. That’s a compulsion, not a choice (I’m pushing it a bit to make my point. X is not really a drinker as there are long gaps where he doesn’t drink at all).

No doubt the societal pressures of living in the West play a part. Drinking is a social activity there, and fitting in becomes a bit of an issue if you don’t drink. Contrast this with India, where it’s no big deal. Even in college, my friends accepted me though I didn’t drink. They were aware I was a fitness freak. It did help that I had very little inhibitions and didn’t need to drink to let my hair down. In hindsight, I think I was always high, as exercise releases a chemical in the brain that has the same effect as marijuana (Good story on that here).

Focus on the process, and forget about the result.

When we first began discussing meditation, X complained about the Indian gurus hiding the secrets to becoming enlightened, instead of sharing it with the world. This left me a bit mystified until it struck me that was a very Western outlook. X needs to see results. If he meditates, he needs instant results. He says he sees lights when he goes into deep meditation. That deserves a bonus quote, but you can hear it from Sadhguru’s mouth.

To my Indian mind, the Gurus aren’t hiding anything. They give you a process. If you focus on that, you will eventually reach your destination. Maybe the more relevant question is, when will you get there? Well, Sadhguru says it took him three lifetimes of serving his guru before he became enlightened. Ouch! Now I don’t know if I believe in reincarnation, but if I did, I think it may take me fifty lifetimes as I have a flighty mind. But it doesn’t bother me. I just focus on the process. I make sure I work on my meditation every day, make time to listen to Sadhguru’s talks occasionally to stay motivated, and so on.

Surprisingly, I’m tempted to think I have been seeing results. Maybe not on the enlightenment front but elsewhere. It’s little things that make me scratch my head and marvel at how the stars are unexpectedly aligning in my favor. My mother’s house was damaged in the heavy rains and I needed some money fast. On cue, a client called up after seven years from the other side of the world with a quick-money job. Then right in the middle of Covid, another project that had been stalled for years took off.

However, common sense tells me these events may not be connected and are just the normal ups and downs of life.

Whatever. Focus on the process, people.

You are not seeing the world the way it is. You are seeing it the way it is projected within you.

When X heard my long-stalled project was a go, he was happy for me and commented that I would have something to keep me busy. He seems to believe that whatever else I currently do is pointless and boring as it does not generate much money. I was a bit nonplussed by his comment.

The reality is I like the creative parts of my project, but dislike the other parts like going to bureaucratic government offices to get permissions, keeping track of the financial side, following up with people. But I do a good job of both as I believe if you do something, do it well, or else don’t do it.

However, I resent the time it takes me away from my interests, like writing, even if it’s an article like this one, which has a very limited audience.

This aspect of my friend puzzles me. I know he’s an artist and can spend hours working on a piece. I have always known he enjoys it. Likewise, X is aware that I can get happily lost in my books and not stir out of my house for days. So why does he see what I’m doing as pointless and boring?

That’s when it strikes me this is exactly what Sadhguru is talking about.

You have to be able to see the world the way it is, and not the way it’s projected within you. X is seeing what I do through his Western perspective. And in the West, the value of anything you do is related to the money it makes for you. If it doesn’t make any money, it’s of no value and you shouldn’t waste your time on it. So though X is an incredibly good artist, he values his work more because of its potential to generate big money. And he devalues my writing because he doesn’t see it as having any monetary value.

X is right about the monetary value of my writing. Medium is not an inclusive platform and doesn’t pay writers from India and other poorer parts of the world. Obviously, it would be a good thing if Medium did pay us, but I’m not dependent on it, and would not like to be.

What X is unable to see is, in India, people are happy to be doing things they love even if these have no monetary value. I’m sure there are such people in the West too, but it’s probably rarer in that materialistic world.

All human genius has been smothered to death simply because everyone is thinking, “How do I earn a living?”… You must always be looking at what is the greatest thing you can do with this life.

I got out of the rat race some years ago when I could no longer make sense of the endless chase after money. Fortunately, I live in India where living cost isn’t too high for people who are content to live on what they have, and aren’t trying to keep up with the Jones. However, we too have been financially affected by Covid. But it’s no big deal. We just need to figure out how to generate some additional income without jumping back into that rat race.

X however believes I’m stressed because of the financial uncertainty. He just can’t wrap his mind around the fact that I’m content with what I have. Of course, there will be crises every now and then, but there’s nothing I can’t figure out. As Sadhguru put it, even an earthworm knows how to make a living so what’s the big deal? I admit I’m still trying to figure out how to do something the world needs, and I hope it happens. What X doesn't realize is his tremendous artistic output is a source of inspiration in my quest.

If you get into the unrealistic mindset of ‘I have found the right person,’ you will be soon disappointed

As X lives in the West, it was inevitable we got around to debating the existence of perfect soulmates. He believed in it, where I was more practical and believed a marriage is what you make of what you have. Recently, I heard Sadhguru express that thought much better than I had been doing.

The body is a supercomputer that has been given to us. But have we read the user’s manual?.

These days, people rush off to see a shrink at the drop of a hat. To use Sadhguru’s metaphor, I think that’s like complaining about a supercomputer being defective because you didn’t bother to read the instructions on how to use it. X and I are on the same page on this, but my daughter isn’t, and I think it’s partly because of the Western outlook of today’s kids.

Let me explain. She complained to me about struggling to control her temper with her mother. Now my wife is an extremely unselfish and loving human, but she’s emotionally highly strung. And my daughter like any kid is an expert at pressing her mum’s buttons. The solution of course is in understanding yourself. But no kid is going to accept that from her Dad. But I felt it might work if she hears it from an uninvolved third person. So I enrolled her for Sadhguru’s online inner engineering course where he does a good job of helping people understand themselves. Of course, she didn’t do Sadhguru’s online course, but she didn’t mind visiting a psychologist and getting tips on anger management, as that’s acceptable in her Western way of thinking.

Just after I wrote that last sentence, my daughter and I were having a chat, and she informs me out of nowhere that she wants to do Sadhguru’s online inner engineering course. Hmm, these coincidences are beginning to suspiciously look like non-coincidences.

Anyway, my apologies for that massive rant. I’m done for the day.

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