The great Sufi poet, Rumi, writes of the experience of dying to be reborn.
If you love me,
you won’t just die once
in every moment
you will die into me
to be reborn
What Rumi talks of in this instance is the death of the human ego. Through the death of the human ego we lose our false self and awaken to the universal consciousness. This is what he means by spiritual death and rebirth. Once we undergo this ‘death’, leaving the physical body can no longer hold fear.
Mahasamadhi is a term to describe a yogi’s conscious exit from his body and returning to the Universal Consciousness. A spiritual Master comes to teach ‘You are not the body, but the immortal soul’. Yet, when the Master leaves, the human in us tends to forget this immortal message, thinking of what we lose in the physical world. But, after a time, we need to remember the true nature of the Guru.
When we were introducing a new seeker to our Centre meditations, she made an interesting observation. 'On the one hand you say the spiritual life is just as vivid and real now Guru is not in the body. But, it also seems there were so many inspiring moments and stories when Guru was in the physical’.
Both, of course, are true. Through meditation and prayer, you can feel the same consciousness, the same presence as when Guru was in the physical. But also, you do miss those moments of great spontaneity and inspiration when Guru was meditating, singing – or doing something completely new. Guru was constrained by nothing and could give a greater intensity to any meditation or experience. It was a most illumining experience, impossible to fully replicate.
Being in the physical presence of your Master is a great opportunity to make progress. But, close physical proximity can also be misleading. What matters is the spiritual life – our own consciousness and aspiration. I believe Guru once said that his best disciple was someone who had never even met him in the physical. Guru is no longer in the body, but the spiritual life still has the same joys, the same challenges, and the same intensity.
The funny thing is that when I joined the Centre in 1999, I wished I had been able to become his disciple much earlier. I felt, ‘If only I had joined Guru's path in the late 1960s, I would have had so much access to his physical presence and active life’. Now, looking back, I feel I was lucky to have just those few years. Though there was little external communication with Guru, I realise how many profound moments and life experiences I had meditating as his student.
But, right from the first week after Guru's passing, I really felt the fundamental aspect of the spiritual life was continuing. In essence, there was no change. I felt it was the same challenge of listening inwardly to Guru's guidance, the same challenge of quieting the mind and diving into the heart. I always felt Guru tried to teach us that his real Self was not constrained by the limits of his physical self. Guru had realised the highest consciousness, so now he is merely working and acting from a different room, not physically visible, but with the same inner presence and consciousness.
There are difficult moments, when you have to try and work out what Guru would have done or said. It would be so much easier to be able to ask the Master directly. I remember one occasion when I had an issue I really couldn’t resolve. If Guru was in the physical I would have been able to write to him and get an answer, but that wasn’t possible.
Guru said that if we want to know the answer to a question, we can inwardly ask it and then meditate with a perfectly silent mind for ten minutes. If we can do that, we will get the answer. The problem is that when we have a real problem, we don’t really feel capable of keeping the mind perfectly silent for ten minutes.
The question had been revolving around my mind for quite a while, and then I got the inspiration to write the question and place it on my shrine behind Guru’s transcendental picture. I asked it with the attitude of a child, I really didn’t know what was the best way. I didn’t really try to meditate on it. There was no inner message; there was no flash of light. But, over the next week, a feeling grew, of which was the best course of action. As time progressed, it grew increasingly clear. I forgot why I ever wanted to do the other option. It wasn’t just receiving an answer, but receiving the inspiration to do the right thing without mental doubt.
When Guru was in the physical, taking prasad was a really special moment – a highlight of the evening. It was an opportunity to approach close to Guru’s physical body and receive his blessings, both inner and outer. As you went to take prasad you would try your hardest to be in a devoted consciousness. In close proximity to Guru, you didn’t want your mind cluttered with the usual rubbish thoughts. You wanted to cultivate gratitude and a divine attitude. If nothing else, I would repeat a mantra like ‘Supreme’. After Guru’s passing that magic seemed to dissipate. I remember one celebration, getting indigestion straight after eating prasad. The first time, I put it down to a dodgy Indian samosa, but when it happened the second night in a row, it made me reflect on my attitude for taking prasad. I realised how much I had lost from the days of Guru’s physical presence. Prasad had become merely a chance to get some (hopefully) nice snack. The same devotion wasn’t there. Perhaps it is just me mentally theorising, but the incident reminded me of how much prasad could mean when you took it with a devoted attitude. I resolved to always feel exactly as if Guru was there in the physical. It showed me how our inner attitude is the critical thing – not whether Guru is in the physical or not.
Since Guru’s passing little has fundamentally changed. I still get a lot from visiting celebrations in New York, where Guru's presence permeates the environs in which he spent so many years. I would love to be able to have a physical conversation with Guru, and often wish that could happen. But, if anything, I feel closer to Guru now than when he was in the body. I feel very grateful for this incarnation and am just enjoying the experience of meditation and the spiritual life.