They're all alike, skepties claim. A guru is a swami is a holy man is a fake. And these scoffers never consider spirituality again.
What sets Gurudev Shree Chitrabhanu apart from many gurus in the West is that he sees the guru as but a means to find one's inner guru. "He is like an ice cube in a cooling drink. He cools your consciousness and then disappears," Chitrabhanu writes. One's devotion belongs to oneself, not to any teacher. Gurus--the word means "dispeller of ignorance and bringer of light"--can be anyone, regardless of race or sex, who helps one dispel the darkness and ignorance of his life.
For nearly 30 years a Jainist muni, or monk, Chitrabhanu was a spiritual leader for nearly four million Jainists in India. Forsaking his monastic vows, he broke a 2500-year-old tradition by leaving India in 1970 to attend spiritual summit conferences in Geneva and in 1971 at the Divinity School. Faced with fast-paced technologically-oriented lives, Westerners were thirsting for the rest and calmness of the East, Chitrabhanu says: "If they take the time to understand the inside life as they have understood the phenomena of the outside, it will be a blessing for mankind." It is just this Eastern calm and self-awareness that Chitrabhanu is trying to instill.
"And now I see a big opening. And I feel a genuine message which has come from life, and not from the scriptures only--it is from experience. There is a lot of misunderstanding and falsehood in the guru business. A lot of sickening things are happening. In that confused atmosphere, we need some fresh things. The West has gone to an extreme in technology and science, and the young people are a little bit bored of this and tired of the wars and killing. And they started thinking: what is the result of our achievement? So they now go to the other extreme: Indian philosophy. And when the right people don't come then, charlatans jump in and say it is time to take advantage of these people." Chitrabhanu's goal is to fill such a void so charlatans gain no audience.
Chitrabhanu's Jainist philosophy stresses non-violence of actions, speech and thought; relativity in thinking, because truth is multi-faceted; non-acquisition, or avoiding material and emotional possessiveness; and karma, the law of deeds, meaning that each person is responsible for his own past thoughts and deeds and that everyone can shape his future with positive thought and action. Jainists are strict vegetarians because of their devotion to non-violence. As a monk, Chitrabhanu neither wore leather shoes nor rode on any vehicle or animal, since he could have inadvertantly inflicted some damage.
To Chitrabhanu, "God is an idea, an inspiration, an innermost quest, rather than a figure who judges and puts you in hell or heaven." God is the perfection within man, not an outside creator. Chitrabhanu describes mankind as the last stage of evolution, a stage at which it is possible--though unlikely--for man to attain perfection. "Man is in a refined stage but there is one more step, to perfection, to cosmic experience, to omega consciousness."
What prevents man from realizing his divine spark is his ego. Rather than concentrating on his inner quest for God, man compares himself to his surroundings and to others. Chitrabhanu says this comparison leads either to a superiority complex or an inferiority complex. The former alienates man from everyone else, because he feels arrogant and insults his fellows. The latter causes feelings of worthlessness and self-hate which manifest themselves in gossip and criticism of others. The temptation to succumb to ego is subtle and deadly, Chitrabhanu emphasizes, likening it to an exam: "You have worked the whole year, and when the exam comes, if you become sick or you become upset or you go to sleep, then the whole year's work is gone. In the same way, our whole evolution is upset by the ego revelation or ego manifestation. Man is everything unless or until ego takes hold of him."
Rather than studying the message of the great teachers such as Moses, Christ or Confucius, Chitrabhanu says men cling to the figures of the leader. For instance, he says, missing the essence of Christ's words, men instead built institutions around him and squabbled about the form of outer trappings.
Chitrabhanu says he personally became disenchanted with a business life as a child, when he lost his mother, sister and later a friend. No wealth could have saved them from death, he says, so he started searching for the meaning of life. After consulting many gurus, he found one who told him to rely on his own experience rather than solely on the words of others. At age 20 he became a Jainist monk, and spent the next five years almost entirely in silence to determine the meaning of life.
"And then after five years, I experienced life! I realized that death is nothing but a transformation, it is dropping old clothes and wearing new clothes. Something like Einstein says--energy is indestructable, and I realized this conscious energy is in me. Because of the fear, we are afraid of death, but it is like a mother who is feeding her baby on one breast, and when she realizes that on the left breast there is no milk, she takes it and is about to put it on the right, but meanwhile the baby cries for it feels lost. But no sooner does it cry than the mother puts it on the right one. So the human mind is like the baby: it cries when it has to leave the old body. But leaving the empty body it is put into a bright, beautiful body. So then I realized--it was a dawning, Joyful experience--an ecstasy."
Chitrabhanu, now age 56, spent nearly 30 years walking through India with small groups of monks spreading spiritual peace. They would spend a few days preaching in villages before moving on. In total, Chitrabhanu walked nearly 30,000 miles barefoot.
The best way to achieve one's inner guru is through meditation, he taught. Meditation is not repeating a mantra, but it is allowing the divinity in you to pour forth, heightening spiritual self-awareness and erasing negative conditioning. It permits concentration on one thought at a time, so that each person lives every moment to its fullest and is not sidetracked by outside worries and fantasies. Meditation is meant to give a fresh perspective to life.
Chitrabhanu writes that during a conversation with a well-known professor, a master of meditation began pouring tea into the educator's cup. Even though the cup had long overflowed, he continued to pour until the professor finally asked him, "What are you doing?" The tea has overflowed the cup but still you keep on pouring! Why do you keep trying to put more in when there is no room left in the cup?" The master replied, "Yes, my friend, you are right. Your mind is like this teacup. It is filled to the brim with opinions and prejudices, dogma and theology, logic and arguments. Whatever I pour into it now will overflow. There is no room left for anything to enter. Unless you empty your mind, what can I give you?"
The point of meditation is to add new thoughts, not rearrange the old ones, Chitrabhanu says. He adds young people are much better at meditating and accepting the idea of karma than older ones. They are the key to solving the world's problems, because they have the zeal to do it. Older people, more set in their patterns of thinking, lack the energy, enthusiasm and time to change the course of their lives.
Another way to approach spiritual perfection is to associate as much as possible with people who have more spiritual awareness and to avoid "weak people," whom Chitrabhanu defines as those with addictions, such as smoking, drinking, cursing or promiscuity. He compares people beginning the search for spiritual awareness to seedlings, which require firm support until they in turn are big enough to act as supports themselves.
Chitrabhanu founded the Meditation International Center in New York City in 1974 to provide an oasis of tranquillity in the city and to allow people a place to expand their consciousness of themselves and of life. Each class and program at the center is designed to harmonize mind, body and soul. Twice weekly Chitrabhanu lectures at the center--he says his talks are never planned; rather, he speaks extemporaneously as he perceives needs among his students. The center also offers courses on meditation through music, tai chi (a Chinese dance-like movement joining body and consciousness), hatha yoga and vegetarian nutrition and cooking.
Chitrabhanu teaches students (he calls them friends rather than followers) that selfawareness comes through the combination of education in scriptures, the experience of others around oneself and one's own experiences. For this reason, he says, he cannot talk to people from prepared notes. "Life comes from life, not from books," he adds, stressing the importance of talking from the heart.
The former monk, who married a student after he renounced his vows in 1970, spends many hours every day in meditation. He practices yoga and meditation before breakfast, observes a period of silence every afternoon after lunch, and meditates again in the evening.
Though one of the main Jainists principles advocates non-acquisition, Chitrabhanu says Jainists are no less materialistic than most people. The teacher himself lives in a sparsely furnished penthouse at a posh Manhattan address. "The Jain community is a very rich community in India, rather like the Jews here. They are governing all walks of life in business, in advocacy, in politics. In Boston, too, I have students who are doctors and lawyers. So they are luxuriant, but their life is governed by the central principles. What you need, you have, but the less you need, the more you are. That's the main principle. And you don't become a slave to the things."
What sets Chitrabhanu off from other modern theorists and spiritual leaders, from Freud, Thoreau, or Mahatma Gandhi? Possibly it is his simplicity. A man who once spiritually led millions of Indians, including the prime minister, now happily does individual counseling, but only after he has spent hours sharing and playing with his children. A man who once because of his vows could touch neither women nor money now insists upon introducing his wife to the interviewer. A man who spent five years in silence except for occasional conversation with his guru has taught at several universities and speaks ten languages eloquently with a rich Indian accent. Chitrabhanu does not care what religion a person believes in; he cares about his soul.
Gurudev Shree Chitrabhanu will speak at the Divinity School May 4 at 7:30 p.m.
"The guru is like an ice cube in a cooling drink. He cools your consciousness and then disappears.