We accumulate trash in our homes every day, every minute. But what would happen if the trash collector did not come for a week? And imagine if he did not turn up for weeks or months together, or… God forbid… what if there was no trash collector at all and no place to take the trash to??!!
Our homes would be entirely dirty; they would overflow with garbage; there wouldn’t be a clean spot for us to even stand on. Our houses, streets, neighborhood, the entire town would simply stink and we would live in complete misery, breathing foul air and suffocating amid all the filth!
But now, thanks to the garbage collector, our homes are spotless and we breathe fresh clear air. What would we do without him?
Now let’s compare this to our inner trash. Every act we perform, every tiny move, every desire, every thought that arises in us adds to our already accumulated karma vasanas (latent impressions that direct our actions). It is simply mind-boggling! It is this that drags us on this unending cycle of birth and death and birth and death, experiencing suffering and misery in birth after birth for millennia. Only if we remove and wipe out the mounds of mounds of all our accumulated vasanas can we escape this misery of constant rebirth, become clean, and breathe the fresh, fragrant air of communion with God.
But how can we do that? We have accumulated vasanas over millions and millions of births. Further, we are even now continuously, every moment, accumulating them. It is necessary to wipe out the vasanas earned but even as we try to do it we only add to it! So when and how is this going to end? How is this going to stop? It is not possible for us to sit frozen and not do anything. The mind is always at work. Thoughts are gushing all the time, in all directions. So how are we going to bring this to an end?
Logically, there are three ways in which it can be done.
One, accept whatever experiences life gives you, positive or negative, wholeheartedly, with neither complaint nor jubilance. In other words, undergo whatever effects of karma we have to face, calmly, and thus complete whatever karma has in store for us. But in reality, is this ever possible for a normal person? No, not at all! Because even as we undergo life’s experiences, we keep accumulating more and more karma vasanas that generate further consequences; so we continue in the unending vicious circle.
Two, by tapas (penance) – through Nama kirtan, the chanting of Divine Names, our vasanas can be wiped off. Srimad Bhagavatam says, ‘nAmasankIrtanam yasya sarva pApa pranAshaNam praNAmO dukha shamanah tam namAmi Harim param.’ Chanting the Divine Names of the Lord roots out all sins – big and small.
This is true, no doubt. But for those of us who only chant over the weekend or do occasional Nama kirtan, while indulging in sense activities the rest of the time, our chanting does not fall in the category of tapas! If our aim is to destroy all our vasanas through Nama kirtan, then Nama kirtan should be our life, our very breath. Only then all our vasanas will be erased, lock stock and barrel. But are we capable of this kind of penance? No, it is certainly not possible for a lay person.
How then can we wipe out all the vasanas accumulated and free ourselves from this cycle of birth and death?
There is a third way. If only someone can take away all our vasanas and clear out our garbage, then we can become completely clean and escape the misery of rebirth. There cannot be a simpler solution for us. However, it would be a completely unfair deal for the one who takes it all from us, because whoever takes them will have to suffer the effects of those vasanas. So is it even possible to find someone like that?
But there is one such. He is ready to take our trash. Moreover he does not expect anything in return. And he takes it consciously and happily from us. In fact, he considers this is his primary job; to take away our accumulated garbage and to clean us up. He is our inner-garbage collector. And who is that HE?
He is THE GURU!
The Guru says, “I have come only to take all your dirt from you. Give it to me!” and he takes it with delight. If not for the compassionate Guru there is absolutely no way for us to free ourselves from this shackle. If not for the Guru we will forever remain caught in this snare of birth and death. How fortunate we are that our Guru has accepted us into his fold!
What does ‘take it away’ mean? Each and every action of ours – good or bad – has its reward or punishment, which has to be faced only by us. We cannot escape that with any tricks. But our Guru, transferring all our karma vasanas unto Himself, pays the penalty on our behalf! Therefore, only when this factor called ‘Guru’ enters the scene, does a solution to the unending cycle come about. But for this factor, this equation would remain unsolved.
If the totality of the compassion and love of God were to take a form and descend in our midst that truly is the Guru. The Guru is thus the concrete form of love and compassion of God that has come to live in our midst. The incarnation of the Love of God is the Guru. Guru is not an entity different from God. He is God.
Why does God incarnate in this way? Only because He discerns well the difficulty we face in solving this great puzzle of ending our karma vasanas once for all. It is like a child jumping hard to pluck a fruit that is out of reach on a tree. The child wants the fruit and keeps trying hard to pluck it, but in vain. The Guru comes there and bends the branch to the child’s reach so that it can pluck and relish the fruit. And if the child is unable to do even this, the Guru himself plucks it and feeds the child with the delectable fruit. And He feels delighted seeing the child’s delight!
Once a man who called himself a sinner sat in front of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi and cried his heart out. He asked, “What is the way for me?”
The Maharshi said to him, “Give me all your merits and sins.”
The man said amidst tears, “I have not a single merit to my account and all I have is a huge load of sins.”
Bhagavan said, “Just say ‘I give all my merits earned to Bhagavan’.”
The man did as he was told.
Bhagavan then said, “Now give me all your sins. Say ‘I give all the sins accumulated to Bhagavan’.”
The man was aghast. “O, Swami! You know not what you are asking for. I have committed all kinds of sins. You name it and I have committed it. You will not be able to bear it.”
Bhagavan said, “I can take care of myself. Just do what I say.”
After much coaxing, the man uttered, “I give all my sins to Bhagavan.”
Bhagavan said, “Go now. You are pure. You have nothing in your account.”
In India there are poor peddlers who collect old newspapers, magazines, cans, bottles, etc. and also pay for those. When a peddler comes to take away the junk from our home we even bargain with him over what he pays for all the junk that he actually frees us from!
People hold on to everything that they have. They do not desire to give up anything that is in their possession – even their junk! We accumulate the junk of karma vasanas and are not ready to give them up. We read and hear about it in discourses when we go to satsang, and the Guru also tells us to get rid of this garbage. He says that it is not good for us. But we are so happy and content to have it with us that we cannot bear to part with it. We do not practice what the Guru advocates.
But there comes a time when we go neck deep into it and begin to feel suffocated. At that point of time, very unwillingly, as if we are doing a great favor to the Guru we take up and begin to practice what he has advocated. This is like bargaining with the garbage collector. We give all the junk to him. Even there we try to make something out of it! We try to make money even out of this move. We desire fame; we desire attention; we desire compliments. It is like the quick buck that we try to make out of our junk.
The Guru gladly takes on our karma vasanas. Does he not? It is sheer filth! Garbage at home is nothing compared to the garbage of karma vasanas within us. It is absolute filth! No one other than the Guru would dare touch it. Even we fear it as we know our own selves. We may try to disguise ourselves, put on an act and also think that we are great. But in the heart of hearts we do know our standing, don’t we? We would certainly not want to touch it ourselves. But the Guru does it very gladly and eagerly! The Guru does his job of cleaning and makes it appear as if we are doing him a favor! He would say, “O my child! You have chanted Nama! What a great favor you have done me!” The Guru stretches out his hand begging – to take all the filth of our karma vasanas and free us forever of the load, thus cleaning us and preparing us for acceptance by the Lord.
That is where the Guru fits in. That is His compassion. Where would we be without Him?
Nirmala Giri, Chennai, India
Based on various discourses of Dr. A. Bhagyanathan, personal secretary of Maharanyam Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamiji.