I remember being in tenth grade, in chemistry class, and learning the word entropy. At last, I thought, I had found a term for what it was that we all (or at least I, as a teenager whose concepts of the world and myself were rapidly growing and changing) seemed to have some vague and lingering trepidation about, what we were always avoiding with a kind of dogged persistence. It was the prospect, the fear, that this world was ultimately one of randomness, even disorder.
It was not a reality I was willing to accept, glad as I was to finally have a name to put to it. I had that passion and optimism which is characteristic of people in their teens: a well-intentioned—if somewhat unfocused—zeal to change, to correct and improve, all those things about the world and life that seemed wrong or unfair or that I simply could not understand. I was sure that there was—there had to be—some method to the apparent madness of this existence, and my certainty was driven at least in part by the alternative being too unsettling to consider. For if the world itself was marked by randomness, then what exactly was my place in it? What was anyone's place? What purpose did my life serve? What could I do that would matter?
In the years that followed, I became more dedicated to my study of Gurumayi's teachings, and I came to understand that fluctuation, if not necessarily randomness, is the nature of samsara, of life in this world. There are ups and there are downs. There are unexpected joys, moments so special, it's as though someone had lit fairy lights under your skin, and every part of your being, every hidden crevice and sunken corner, turn warm in their glow. And there are the unanticipated sorrows, the moments that humble you, the grief that has no name, whose presence is so big and awkward and lumbering that it never seems to fit neatly into any of the little rooms you have carved out within yourself.
I learned from Gurumayi the concept, originally from the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, of akrama-krama. In Sanskrit, akrama-krama means “nonsequential–sequential.” It refers to the simultaneous existence of the structures by which we live and measure our lives (that which is sequential) and the vast, nonlinear, cosmic landscape that is the backdrop for these structures (that which is nonsequential). When Gurumayi explained akrama-krama to me, I had the same kind of “Aha!” moment as when I had first learned about entropy. For here was a term that helped me understand the dynamic that I, and no doubt many other people, had long struggled with: the need to find order in (or restore order to) an existence that at times felt fundamentally entropic. What was different now, however—some ten or fifteen years after that memorable chemistry class—was that I had a clearer sense of how I could effect the change that I sought. I no longer felt the undercurrent of worry I once had—that whatever small attempt I made to do good might ultimately be rendered fruitless in the face of this unknowable illusion engulfing us all. I had found real recourse; I had seen what my path forward was.
I often wonder how I got so lucky as to be introduced to the Siddha Yoga path, how my kismet is such that I can be a beneficiary of Gurumayi's guidance. Time and again, I have found answers in Gurumayi's guidance to the questions that I had as a teenager, and that I've continued to mull over in the years since. When I have heeded Gurumayi's words, I have, without fail, been better equipped to navigate the waves of samsara, and more appreciative of the times when its waters are calm. I have experienced firsthand how Gurumayi's guidance—receiving it, contemplating it, implementing it—is integral to my sadhana on the Siddha Yoga path, and the backbone, the merudanda, of a good and purpose-driven life.
In August and September of 2021, we all—Siddha Yogis and new seekers—had the immense blessing of receiving Gurumayi's guidance in the form of six practices, aptly named “Gurumayi's Guidance.” Gurumayi's intention with these practices is that they prompt us to find and experience stability within our own body; that we discover the quietness available to us within our own mind; and that we develop greater trust in and reliance on our own Self, so that at any time, no matter what is happening in our lives or in the world, we can feel assured that we are, as Gurumayi says, “good to go.”
Ever since the first of these practices was featured on the Siddha Yoga path website, I've found that there's something about them that hits home. At first I couldn't put my finger on what it was. Was it the nature of Gurumayi's instructions, their singular combination of gentleness and lucidity? Was it their eminent doability? Was it how Gurumayi is inviting us to draw upon so many diverse faculties of our mind and body—our senses of sight and sound, of touch and smell—to access a truth that at once undergirds and transcends our sense perception?
It was all of this, I eventually realized, and more. An ineffable something more, a sum total amounting to more than the constituent parts, where those “parts” are all the individual subtleties and nuances that make “Gurumayi's Guidance” so distinctive and special. The best way I can describe how I feel when I read “Gurumayi's Guidance,” when I listen to her instructions and follow them, is by giving a comparable example, from a darshan I received some years back.
It was summertime, and I was coming forward to Gurumayi's chair after satsang. I was one of many people who were in line to do the same. I offered pranam, and as I lifted my head up from the ground, I saw Gurumayi smiling at me. Except… her smile, I could have sworn, was made of sunlight. It was as though someone had climbed up to the sky, collected the best and most beautiful rays from around the sun, and now that light was here, in front of me, beaming down upon me.
Everything in me became light too, weightless and golden. I gazed up at Gurumayi from within the sun-drenched bubble in which I now found myself, some far-off part of my brain registering, with mild surprise, that my face was still capable of movement: the corners of my mouth had lifted into a smile of their own. It was all so utterly inexplicable. I hadn't, to my knowledge, done anything of note. I hadn't had anything scintillating to say, I hadn't “proven” myself in any of the ways I was accustomed to doing (and thought I had to do in exchange for such things as acceptance, or love). Still, there I was, receiving sunlight all the same. The moment couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds, and no words passed between us. Yet I had never felt more seen for who I was, more appreciated, more respected and valued.
This acknowledgement of the inherent value of people, this fundamental respect for human life, is, to me, at the heart of what Gurumayi teaches. It is the signature of how she teaches. And it is this ethos that I perceive, and experience so vividly and viscerally, in the practices of “Gurumayi's Guidance.”
Recently, Gurumayi was speaking with a group of people in Shree Muktananda Ashram. Someone had mentioned that they had stopped reading the news because, according to them, it was all just death, death, death, dying, dying, dying, killing, killing, killing—an incessant drumbeat signaling humanity's own destruction. In response, Gurumayi said, “Don't ever lose sight of the value of a human life, or your purpose.”
Gurumayi also spoke about how the body is the temple of God; that as far as we know, it is only in the human body that one can attain liberation, that one can make the steady effort to experience and become established in the light of God. In my study of the Indian scriptures, I've found elaboration on this teaching. The Kularnava Tantra says, for example:
विना देहेन कस्यापि पुरुषार्थो न विद्यते ।
तस्माद्देहधनं प्राप्य पुण्यकर्माणि साधयेत् ॥
vinā dehena kasyāpi puruṣārtho na vidyate ।
tasmāddehadhanaṁ prāpya puṇyakarmāṇi sādhayet ॥
No embodied form other than that of a human
can pursue the purpose of life.
Therefore, one endowed with the treasure of a human body
should devote oneself to performing virtuous deeds.1
Through the centuries, “virtuous deeds” has been interpreted to mean different things. Depending on the religious or spiritual traditions to which people belong, they will endorse approaches to knowing God that are of varying degrees of intensity. Many will choose a route that is arduous and self-flagellating (figuratively and literally). They will starve and bleed and subject their bodies to a whole range of hardships, believing that in doing so, they are making themselves worthy of the goal they seek. Even a number of ancient Indian texts espouse such severe tapasya, the classic image being that of the yogi who stands on one leg for thousands of years at the top of a mountain.
The Siddha Yoga path, however, is one of moderation, and the practices of “Gurumayi's Guidance” are no exception. We don't need to escape to a mountaintop or commit the Vedas to memory in order to experience the shrine of the heart. We already have everything we need. I am reminded of a teaching that Gurumayi gave during the live video stream of Sweet Surprise on January 1, 2019. She had brought with her to the satsang hall—the Siddha Yoga Universal Hall—a coral-colored rose in perfect bloom. Gurumayi explained that she had wanted to write a poem about this rose for the global Siddha Yoga sangham; however, no words had emerged. And then the rose had spoken to Gurumayi, and it had said: “I am a rose, and I am good enough.”
Like the rose, then, we too are good enough. Right here, in the bodies we have been endowed with—whatever those bodies may look like or be capable of doing—we can know God. We can know our own Self.
Of course, we'd be wise not to underestimate the effort required to make progress toward our goal. But we learn from Gurumayi that there is enjoyment to be had in the journey as well as in the destination, and that at each step of our endeavor, grace is perceptible if we have the eyes for it. There is beauty to be found in the gradual blossoming of the rose—in the unfurling, at once tentative and intrepid, of every last petal.
Effort, in Siddha Yoga sadhana, can be as simple and profound as learning to hear the resonance and vibration in our being as we sing AUM. It can be as subtle as paying more attention to how our feet meet the ground as we walk—how we choose to step, knowing that the earth itself is living, that it is home to so many living beings, that it is woven through with the same elemental Consciousness that makes up our own person.
In Shri Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, “The body is the field.” The body is the plane on which all the action of our lives plays out; everything we understand, perceive, and experience is filtered through the body and through the mind. According to Ayurveda, there are seven layers to our skin, seven barriers of protection between what's inside and what's outside. Yet even then, we're constantly absorbing and emitting energy. We're coming into contact with innumerable stimuli. The effort we put forth—to enhance our awareness of our body and mind, and to shape the manner in which they interact with our environment—is therefore key. This effort is what helps us transform a seemingly mundane experience (walking, for example, or sitting by a lake in quiet contemplation) into something potentially transcendent. It is what allows us to assume greater agency over our own person, to become more active and engaged participants in our lives and more empowered creators of the reality that we inhabit.
That day when the group of us were having satsang, Gurumayi explained: “It's about recalibrating everything you are already acquainted with—to access your own goodness, acknowledge your own greatness, understand your God-given abilities, and harness your own strength. This is an affirmation for you to take to heart, and to practice with humility. Humility—because there is no end in sight to how good you can be, how great you can be, how capable you can be, how strong you can be.”
Sometimes, when we bring renewed attention to the body, a funny thing happens: we overdo it. I know that when I start to become more aware of some aspect of my physicality, I suddenly start to notice everything. And these observations are rarely neutral. They're accompanied, more often than not, by criticism and judgment: things I wish were different about how I look, or about how my body feels or moves. Given that this is an easy place for the mind to go, it's helpful to remember that we're not doing the practices of “Gurumayi's Guidance” to feed our own vanity, or to find yet another metric against which to evaluate our physical abilities or appearance. We're doing the practices to regain access to a deeper and more authentic part of ourselves. The body is the medium in this context; it gives us insight, at once honest and compassionate, into what is happening within us. It helps us to unearth something about who we truly are.
In one of the practices, for example, Gurumayi guides us to experience laughter—to give full permission to the latent mirth that waits, whether we're conscious of it or not, to issue forth from within us. I spoke to several people after they'd done this practice, and they shared with me that at first they'd felt self-conscious about laughing—and not just laughing, but laughing fully and with abandon, as the instructions indicate. It wasn't altogether surprising to hear this; most of us have been conditioned to stifle our laughter. We've learned to hold in our chuckles, to cover our mouths, to flatten the quirks out of our laughter, any idiosyncrasies that might make it unique to us. Yet when it comes down to it, laughter—full-throated, prana-filled, uninhibited laughter—will always be what we incline toward. It is one of our natural states of being.
Young children are great evidence of this. They could be in the throes of the fiercest tantrum, deeply committed to voicing their displeasure about whatever they feel has gone awry. But as soon as their parent says or does something amusing, what happens? Their crying and screaming come to an abrupt halt. They fix their eyes on their parent, who—if they're quick enough to seize the opening—will double down on whatever goofy sound or expression they're making. And then slowly, from amidst the sniffles and the tears, a smile will emerge. A giggle. A gurgling laugh. The child's discontent simply cannot last when met with joy, because joy is the more instinctive place for them to be.
Most of the movements that Gurumayi is leading us through—the mudras and physical techniques that she details as part of her guidance—are like that: they are natural to us. They were, at one time, the innate tendency of our bodies before we acquired new behaviors to override them.
Earlier, I spoke about akrama-krama and the struggle to bring balance and alignment to a world that can seem to be hurtling inexorably toward the opposite. What I have learned, from following Gurumayi's teachings, is that this rebalancing starts with ourselves. When we are in touch with our own Self, we can more readily see that Self in others. When we are feeling centered and settled in our body, and when we are thinking more clearly, we are more equipped to bring about stability in our surroundings. It's like when we recite the words Om shantih shantih shantih (“Om. Peace, peace, peace.”) at the conclusion of the Upanishad mantras during the Arati. Each of the three repetitions of shanti is a supplication for freedom from a specific kind of worldly affliction: adhyatmika, or affliction caused by one's own person (the body, the mind, the emotions); adhibhautika, or affliction caused by the forces of nature and other living beings; and adhidaivika, affliction caused by forces unseen, by the powers of the planets and realms beyond our own. We begin by asking for inner peace, and from there, very naturally, flow the prayers for outer peace.
I had many questions as a teen about what to make of this life, and how to be certain that the life I lead is imbued with purpose and meaning. As I've gotten older, my study of Gurumayi's teachings has led me to discover many wondrous answers to these questions. Yet I've found that with each answer comes another question, another facet of this existential dilemma to comprehend, another perspective I hadn't considered before. It's been an ongoing effort—a daily effort, in fact, and a continually humbling one—to understand and appreciate what it means to live purposefully. There's always something more to learn, and sometimes I am astonished by the sheer volume of knowledge that I have yet to acquire. In such moments, I take comfort in remembering what we recite in Shri Guru Gita: “Someone who thinks they know not, knows; someone who thinks they know, knows not.”2
One thing I can say with certainty is that the urgency I feel behind these questions has only become more pronounced as the years have gone by. Gurumayi has often cited this teaching imparted by the saints of many traditions, including those of India: The body is dust, and one day dust merges into dust. We, none of us, know how much time we will have on this earth. It's a good thing, really, a truth that immediately snaps into focus the preciousness of our time on this earth. More and more, I find myself wondering how I can make the best use of the time that I do have, how I can better make each moment count.
Sadhana—and effecting change, prompting transformation—begins with us, but it doesn't end there. Gurumayi has always taught that we seek liberation not just for ourselves; that if we have the good fortune to be set on a path toward enlightenment, we use what we learn to help others. In the informal satsang I spoke about earlier, Gurumayi mentioned to the group that someone had recently shared a quotation with her. This quotation was from a journalist who covers the environment. Inspired by a conversation he'd had with a Cherokee elder about the difference in mindset between Western settlers (as encapsulated in the statement “I have rights”) and Native Americans (“I have an obligation”), this journalist had said: “Instead of thinking that I am born with rights, I choose to think that I was born with obligations to serve past, present, and future generations, and the planet herself.”
If we were to apply the spirit of this quotation to sadhana, we might understand that although being in a human body affords us the opportunity to become enlightened, that opportunity is not something to take for granted or feel entitled to. Recognizing the magnitude of the opportunity we have been given means assuming the responsibilities that come with it. I am reminded of something I learn anew every time I am with Gurumayi: If you have, then you give.
In explaining the wisdom of the saints, Gurumayi has taught that since the body returns to dust, it is our duty to leave the place our body has inhabited better than it was when we first came to it. In other words, while we are on this earth and in this body, we can put that body to good use, to uplifting use. This is a principle that finds a counterpart in the traditions of many cultures of the world. We might, for example, refer again to the philosophy of the Native Americans, and specifically to the concept of seven-generation stewardship, wherein the actions of the current generation are believed to influence the lives of the next seven generations. It is a concept that we'd do well to take to heart. The choices we make now are of tremendous importance; in one way or another, they will have an impact on those who come after us.
Gurumayi has said:
When that day arrives for the soul to depart this physical body,
let that soul be an enlightened one.
Let that soul have been used for the betterment of this planet.
Let it be gold dust that merges into the universe.
Leave this universe a shining place for future dwellers.