Thursday, May 21, 2015

On Guru's Grace

An elderly relative asked me this question a few weeks back, and I believe a response to it might be illustrative to many others.

The question is, in my own words: If, as per many scriptures, one gets enlightened only with the grace of a Guru, then how and when will that grace happen?  Do we need to do something to be enlightened, or should we just wait?

Let's look at some answers to this question from the big shots of the last century:


Grace is not something that happens sometimes and does not happen other times; grace is always happening. It is the very nature of existence. The existence is grace-full. But sometimes you get it and sometimes you miss it. The rain is falling; sometimes you are showered, sometimes not. But the rain is continuously falling, So something has to be searched within you. Sometimes you are sheltered against it. Grace is the very nature of existence. And ego is the shelter. You protect yourself, even against grace. Unknowingly, you create defense measures around you, you create an armour. The grace is available but you become unavailable -- that's why rarely it seems to happen.

J Krishnamurti:

You must understand it, go into it, examine it, give your heart and your mind, with everything that you have, to find out a way of living differently. That depends on you, and not on someone else, because in this there is no teacher, no pupil; there is no leader; there is no guru; there is no Master, no Saviour. You yourself are the teacher and the pupil; you are the Master; you are the guru; you are the leader; you are everything. (Talks by Krishnamurti in U.S.A 1966 p.73)

Ramana Mahrishi:

Divine grace is essential for realization. It leads one to God realization. But such grace is vouchsafed only to him who is a true devotee or a yogi. It is given only to those who have striven hard and ceaselessly on the path towards freedom.


No matter how much sadhana you practise, you will not realize the goal as long as you have desire. But this also is true, that one can realize the goal in a moment through the grace of God, through His kindness. Take the case of a room that has been dark a thousand years. If somebody suddenly brings a lamp into it, the room is lighted in an instant.


The quotation by Osho begs the question because enlightenment, the result of grace, is the same as egolessness, which is cited as a condition for achieving enlightenment through the Guru.  Hence we can disregard his verbal acrobatics.

Krishnamurti clearly says that a Guru is not necessary.  But he was being disingenuous.  He was himself a Guru through and through.  He didn't say, "A Guru is not necessary" and proceed to working in a factory or writing some other kind of book.  Throughout his life, he went around the world trying to "teach" and tell others how to meditate and suchlike, and benefiting from his exalted status as a realized man.  He hinted many times that his "presence" was a blessing and only if the listeners let his presence and energy go through them via non-judgmental "listening", they would get a glimpse of "truth".

Ramana states that the grace is only granted to those who deserve it.  But then it's not really grace.  The dictionary meaning of grace is: "unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification ", or "the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings."  Ramana's statement essentially says: Effort -> Grace -> Realization.  But it is not made clear why Grace needs to be mentioned at all.  If grace logically follows ("it is vouchsafed only to him") from effort, then there is no need of agency of God or a Guru to bestow it on the seeker.  Then the statement "Divine Grace is essential for realization" becomes: "Striving hard and ceaselessly is essential for realization."  Grace is guaranteed if that happens and one needn't worry about it.  If, for the sake of argument, Grace is not guaranteed through "hard and ceaseless striving", then on what is it contingent?  Is it a random roll of dice to select the lucky few from all the eligible applicants?

Ramakrishna is being his usual self: confused.  Like Osho, he talks in circles. Since "realization" is the same as absence of desire, his statement that as long as one has desire, one won't achieve the "goal" begs the question: what's the way to be free of desire while being un-realized?  And he claims that instant enlightenment is possible via the Guru, but how the Guru chooses amongst his unrealized-hence-full-of-desires disciples is unclear.


Now that we are through with this brief commentary, how is a philosopher, a lover of wisdom, to approach such a question?

The primary question in such investigations must be: how does one know, and what are the means of distinguishing fact from fiction in these mystical subjects?  The epistemological rules must be clarified first.   If one claims that such mystical subjects are not amenable to thoughtful analysis, then the investigation is over and the question should be left as unresolvable.

But I believe that mystical subjects and statements suffer from confabulation, contradiction and confusion, and that they should be, must be, subjected to rigorous analysis.  There are no logical contradictions in the natural world, in mathematics and in the sciences.  If a thesis has a contradiction, it is not mystical, it is nonsense.

Not all mystical topics or experiences are nonsense.  Science is still trying to figure out the fundamental properties of life and the universe: the origin of life, the structure of space-time, whether there was a big bang, etc.  To wonder about these unanswered questions, and about the universe, can be a mystical experience, and it has no contradiction in it.

Before we even tackle the topic of Grace, we need to be careful about the question. The original question contains many hidden assumptions, which need to be investigated:

1. There is something called enlightenment.
2. I want to be enlightened.  I consider it a valid goal.
3. There are enlightened Gurus.
4. There are scriptures and what they say is the truth.

The fourth is the easiest to dispense with.  Scriptures of various religions contradict each other, just like the Gurus we discussed above.  Hence, scriptural authority is not unquestionable.  But if scriptures are not to be taken on faith, then it is important that one figures out what is true or false in those scriptures through discrimination.

As to the third assumption, that there are enlightened Gurus (either in human form, or in a non-human or non-material form), it is again not clear how one knows this.  Assuming there is something called enlightenment (and we will come to that), how does one identify an enlightened human?  Does an instance exist in today's world?  Krishnamurti, in his criticism of Gurus, was at least right on this count: if one is "un-realized", one has no way of judging someone else to be a "realized" master, hence one will choose a guru as per one's prejudices and he won't be a "true" guru. (The hidden assumption in Krishnamurti's argument is that there are "realized masters", but it is worthless looking for them.)

It is the first and second assumptions which really need a thorough investigation.  Before we even attempt to say anything about grace, we must be clear that there is something called enlightenment, that one understands what it is, and that it is a worthy goal.

It is evident that everybody hears about this state called enlightenment from a book or a scripture, or from someone who has read some books or scriptures.  It might just be a long-standing "urban legend" or myth which has attained the status of a hallowed belief.  It might be an actual state, it might not be.  How does one know?  Has one ever seen an enlightened human being?

What is more interesting is, how does one form a goal of this state?  What is so good about enlightenment that it entices everybody?  The answer is obvious.  In all scriptures, in all lectures and "teachings", spiritual masters and authors dangle the carrot of enlightenment as the end of all suffering, wonderful bliss, no more desires, something better than a thousand orgasms, becoming free from the stresses of the world, some kind of immortality for the "soul" (no more birth or death), etc.  Through subtle and non-subtle hints, the reader or the listener is made to want this state as the ultimate goal which will lead to eternal happiness.

Naturally any sane person would want it.  But a sane person would also be suspicious, because though everybody talks about it, nobody seems to have experienced it.  Unfortunately, sanity goes for a toss once a person becomes a "seeker".

In general, various kinds of maladjustments lead one to seek this other-worldly solution.  Instead of trying to resolve those maladjustments, or to live with them, one starts following this chimera of enlightenment.  One still suffers from those maladjustments, but this "fictional final goal" (as Adler would put it), makes one believe that eventually the problem will be over.  Unfortunately, it is life that gets over.  One dies a maladjusted person.  And that's it.  One does not get re-born (!) as a seeker on a slightly higher plane more likely to be "enlightened".

Hence, the correct response to such questions is: What are the problems or sufferings (and it might be just boredom, or a fear of death or of insignificance) which make you seek the state of enlightenment?

To analyze and understand those problems, and some of them may be unsolvable, is the only valid response.

Seeking enlightenment is to evade the present circumstances and escape into a fantasy quest.

And as for the Guru's grace, it is a fiction on top of a fiction on top of a fiction.  To achieve "enlightenment", you need "grace".  So it is claimed.  And for grace, you need a Guru.

One would be well-advised to avoid this circus altogether.

(The "true" seekers will condemn this essay as the essay of a bitter ex-spiritualist.  May they be blessed with sanity.  My best wishes are with them.)


observer said...

I see enlightenment as a shift in perspective from A to B:

A)Space is primary wherein all exists

B) Consciousness is primary wherein all exists and I am consciousness not the mind or body.

Perspective A) is the default commonsense view, perspective B) is what is meant by being enlightened.

Just knowing it in words is not enough. It is required to deeply investigate my perspective and the truth of B) and to become fully convinced of it.

This requires an intuitive jump, at some point. Practice consists of puzzling over perspective B) and reconciling your daily experience with it till the Aha (Eureka) moment where you get it.
I think this is what is meant by Ramana's statement.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@observer: That's a basic difference between materialism and spirituality: whether matter comes first or "spirit".

observer said...

The problem with spirit is that it can be confusing, while a term such as consciousness is more descriptive.

To me its like maths, in maths axioms define the whole logical framework that follows.

Here are the axioms of these two systems.

Contemporary science: Universe consists of objects contained in space.

Vedanta: Universe consists of experiences contained in consciousness.

Thus science's axiom is space and Vedanta's axiom is consciousness.

Vedanta calls consciousness Brahman and says Tat Tvam Asi i.e. you are consciousness the axiom of the universe.

We all more or less believe in the axiom of science to reorient the intellect to accept the axiom of vedanta is enlightenment.

Harmanjit Singh said...


Vedantic axiom clearly has less common-sense validity than the materialistic position.

As an example argument, consciousness is a feature of advanced life forms such as human beings. There was a time when there were no human beings on earth. But matter was still there.

As another example, matter forms exist which are beyond anyone's consciousness on earth (say, the backside of Mars), but which become visible and tangible when we explore the surface of mars via a probe etc. And there has been discovered no life forms in solar system other than on earth so far, so the matter on mars, or on Saturn are not being perceived by anybody but still exist.

As another argument, let's say all life forms perish tomorrow (let's say due to a asteroid collision etc.). There is no instance of consciousness left in the solar system, but it is "obvious" that the solar system continues to exist, as well as all the rest of the universe.

To say that the universe goes away during "deep sleep", as is generally claimed by Vedantins, is patent silliness.

I will address this topic in a subsequent post.

Anonymous said...

So you are enlightened enough to talk against being enlightened?

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous: It doesn't require one to be a God to talk against the existence of God.

observer said...


"As an example argument, consciousness is a feature of advanced life forms such as human beings."

According to Vedanta consciousness is the fundamental basis of the universe things like life forms matter/nonmatter etc are just thoughts which are classifying appearances that appear in consciousness.

There is an interesting analogy between these these two axioms i.e. consciousness and space in the two systems.

Both are property-less, independent of phenomenon and unchanging.

Their propertyless nature makes both nondual.

What does it mean e.g consider space, if you have two objects is the space that contains object a different from the space that contains object b.

In a sense yes because object b does not overlap with object a.

And yet if you remove a and b then there is no difference between those two spaces, they become indistinguishable.

Similar with consciousness is there a difference between me and you.

Yes because I am not having the experiences that you are having.

But if you remove the experiences then there is no difference.

Anonymous said...

You are not yet 40yrs old. Don't you think you have whipped through life too quickly, in this mad quest to find answers, to put things/people in categories quickly and Eureka! lay claim to have fully understand and experienced life? What you are laying claim to is not an unprecedented path at all, many have thread this path and at the end of their ripe old age realize their are so many more mysteries of life yet to me discovered...

Anonymous said...

Vedanta puts the cart before horse.

We now know consciousness is a function of many types of animal brains not just humans wildly imagining theirs is the fundamental basis of the universe. Conscious human brains can only ascertain that the basis of the mineral and living universe which sustains it's mental reflections and fabrications is some form of perpetual motion that existed long before it became apparent to 'any' animal consciousnesses on this planet.

Therefore whatever is sustaining the universe existed long before conscious animal awareness arose and long before primate consciousness began fabricating that it's neuronal classifications (thoughts) of the perpetual arising and passing away of sense datum was it's lofty consciousness creating matter (or nonmatter; mental fabrications).

Before brains developed to register the automatic reactions of living cellular bodies and early living forms, primordial ears just heard, tongues just tasted and eyes just saw etc.etc. It was only upon the development of a human reflective consciousness that awareness of automatic sense organ reactions (that were already happening) were mistaken for it's consciousness being Theee Creator.

Human consciousness is a late starter, still deeply enthralled in a primordial stage of fabricating spiritual delusions about a biological neural awareness that existed in other animals long before the human brain developed.

observer said...

In Vedanta the universal mind creates the world and sustains it, i.e. gives it continuity of cause and effect. Our daily experience shows us that it is possible as in the creation of the dream world by our own mind.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous: Dreams, fantasies, reliving memories, imagining the future are subjective experiences. Non-duality/Vedanta makes the leap from the fact the brain has the capacity to imagine and visualize and dream, to say that even waking life is a totally subjective experience, and that the universe is a creation of the "universal mind".

It is called solipsism, and while it might be fashionable and a good conversation topic, it is, to say the least, an unjustified and wholly fantastical notion.

You might want to do some research on refutations of solipsism on google and elsewhere.

I can understand where you are coming from since I was myself a solipsist. But it really is an infantile and long-discarded paradigm.

Except in spiritual circles.

observer said...

Vedanta is not just about this philosophy (which is after all still thought).

The main goal is to know yourself as consciousness and to be rid of the confusion that you are the mind (or brain or neurons etc).

These words written above will again create more thoughts as to what is consciousness, animals, humans, evolution, big bang and all that.

The task seems impossible, how can you go beyond thought while waddling deeper into thought.

The distinction between consciousness/perception/thought is also unclear.

And yet through deeply pondering and churning of thoughts and observation one day clarity dawns and you realize that I am consciousness.

This is also the hidden symbolic meaning behind the ocean churning myth.

In any case this intuitive jump after lots of practice is what is the grace pointed out by Ramana Maharishi.

I would answer the original question of your relative as follows:

First lets get rid of the term enlightenment because its just too grandiose. Lets just call it knowledge (as this is what the sankrit term jnana means) or more precisely self-knowledge. The process of acquiring self-knowledge is not very different from any other knowledge that you will go about acquiring. Knowledge is really acquired when it becomes part of you, i.e. all doubts are resolved and you can feel it intuitively and appreciate all facets of it deeply.

You must make efforts, after lot of efforts and churning at some point everything will click. You can call it grace because everything including understanding happen due to the doings of the universal mind. It does not mean that you are helpless since you are after all part of him and your doings are his doings. If you are waiting for grace to descend without making any effort then it is quite possible that the universal mind has not decided self-knowledge is for you.

Don't fall for a human guru and worry about his grace cause he may be a fraud, don't accept scripture as is because it could have been written and overwritten and be corrupted. Your own intellect is the only reliable companion and guide on this path. Human gurus and scriptures can be aids but they must yield to the intellect.

As a starting point understand the teachings on the five sheaths and observe the distinction between mind body and intellect. Make observation a nonstop practice in daily life. Observation and intellect are the weapons that can cut through the thicket of ideas and opinions and take you to the clarity that we all seek.

Anonymous said...

Observer said "The main goal is to know yourself as consciousness and to be rid of the confusion that you are the mind (or brain or neurons etc)."

Easy put tape over your mouth and a peg on your nose and see how long you remain conscious, let alone of the fantasy "you" that human neurons take great delight in conjuring up.

vanity vanity all is vanity.

Anonymous said...

You call yourself an ex spiritualist...that brings on a very amused smile....your writings seem mostly about spirituality..As long as you live you will always be a seeker too...To stop seeking is to stop living. It does not make sense to see yourself as something very different for "true" seekers as you call them. :):):)

Anonymous said...

Watch pk na... can be renamed 'men (and not women) and thier confused self;)

Visitor said...

Grace is always ON.

Meditation and mindfulness help us experience it.

Experience grace now.