When people learn that you have a guru, they often suspect something is “wrong” with you. Followers of a guru are considered blind, weak sheep-like humans, incapable of taking their own decisions. But the first person I called “my guru” led me away from the real herd of the world.
“I look at his picture and his presence ignites a fire in me. I feel him next to me. My heart and body are charged with an intensity that is hard to describe.”
His name is Baba-Nityananda (1897-1961) and he is the first person I dared to call “my guru”.
When you tell people that you have a guru, you get one of a handful of reactions: they think you some spiritual sheep, someone lacking reasoning or perhaps with an over-developed imagination. You are thought of as a person who has a hard time deciding for yourself what to do with your own life; people assume that you have chosen to dedicate yourself to some teacher on whom you project a kind on unrealistic perfection.
But I was lucky enough to meet my first guru in India, where it is acceptable and desirable to have a guru, where doing so is considered to be a sign of humility and sincerity, something of common sense. Many Indians still believe that man and perfection have a touching point, that gurus touch perfection, and can they be trusted wholeheartedly. The process by which I accepted my guru was a gradual one, but it eventually culminated into a spiritual explosion in my heart. I came to this process during my “spiritual tourism” days in India: a time when I sampled Yoga, Reiki and many other different and unusual practices.
My relationship with Nitiyananda began with me attending a spiritual healing course in Pune. At some point, his picture was presented to us and we were told that if we pray to this man, he will heal us.
I wanted to be my own guru
I wanted to be my own guru, but so very pleasant were the people there and so great the atmosphere, that my ego gradually loosened and I even managed to control my obsessive skepticism. I was deeply impacted by this beginners course, and the guru had touched me so deep within my heart that I began to doubt my status as a spiritual tourist, and decided to apply for temporary residency in India. My request was granted, and I settled in one of the ashrams of Nityananda.
Of all the places where they could have built this ashram, they chose to do it next to Delhi’s main airport. Needless to say, almost every meditation was accompanied by heavy noise pollution from airplanes flying overhead. Every time a plane passed, the walls of the ashram shook, almost knocking me off my meditation pillow. The planes would fly so close that they would cast a shadow over the whole ashram when passing above us. At that time there were about 50 practitioners in the ashram. 49 of them were Indians, so the only time I saw a Western face was while shaving.
But none of this bothered me. I had such a great aspiration to cleanse myself from the inside, that I was not deterred by the difficulties I encountered. The days at the ashram consisted of several blocks of two-hour meditation sessions. They would start at five in the morning and last until nine in the evening, with breaks in between. My concentration level was pretty poor back then, but something from the meditation managed to find its way through my constant stream of thoughts and penetrate me. In such moments I felt something purifying me, and all the things I held inside began to bubble up and be flushed out.
We practiced several simple types of meditation that was always associated with Nityananda. It was hard, and even strange, for me to concentrate for long hours on someone I knew almost nothing about. Back then I was a devoted reader of Jidu Krishnamurti, which cultivated in me a principled opposition to the concept of “guru”. I wanted to be my own, sole teacher. But Krishnamurti also emphasized the need for a clear and objective understanding of the inner experience.
Indeed, the practice left me with such a right feeling on the inside that there was something very clear that said “yes” to Nityananda: Yes, this is my guru. I carried this feeling in my heart and felt protected, so much so that even the darker places of India were no longer intimidating. I remember riding the train alone and writing in my diary: “I set off again, I am alone again, but I may never be alone again.” Something, someone, would accompany me. And today as then, his picture is by my side even as I write these things. I still clearly feel it now.
This feeling is similar to the same joy in the heart and the same sense of security that we feel in the presence of a loved one who inspires and protects us with their strength and wisdom. How is it possible that someone who left his body in 1961 is still present and accessible? I did not know then, and I do not know today. Yoga claims that spiritual masters do not die. In India they even celebrate their death, which they call the Maha-Samadhi, or the Great Enlightenment.
When the master leaves the body, he/she does so voluntarily, and at the moment of death he/she penetrates the highest spiritual level, where there is no more separation or duality. That’s what Yoga teaches us. I still didn’t know whether I believe this or not, and even now, when I am more inclined to believe, it is hard for me to say that I can understand and grasp what exactly happens when duality stops. Who can understand that?
The orphan who performed miracles
During this period of my life, I would get incredibly hot during my meditation sessions. My body would get so heated that even when during cool evenings I sweated so much that my hands were completely wet. At the time, the physical signs of meditation were very important to me because I did not yet know how to appraise the quality of meditations in any other way. There were also moments of happiness and quiet. But beyond that, the meditations fed me with hunger: a spiritual hunger, a longing for a spirit that was full of life and enthusiasm while being uncompromising and sharp.
Sometimes during the meditations I would get to experience waves of energy flowing through my body. All the contractions and the desire to understand and control what was happening to me melted away in the face of this energetic experience, which could no longer be ignored.
One day I fell sick and I asked the teacher of the course to take care of me. He refused, sending me to a picture of Nityananda and telling me “Practice the healing technique you learned.” I reluctantly did the technique, as far as I could remember it. Then he asked me if I was still in pain. I examined myself and there were no signs of illness left in me: my throat was clean and healthy, the weakness and pain passed without me even noticing that it had happened.
We weren’t told much about Nityananda himself. We hardly received any materials about him. Those that we did receive were so poor that it would have been better if we had not received them at all. It was only after a few years, in Romania, that I actually found a book about his life. I read it slowly and with great difficulty. As it was written in Romanian, I strained to understand the content due to so many foreign words which I was not familiar with.
Nityananda was born in Kerala, India, a state located in southern India, in the winter of 1897. No details are known about his birth or his biological parents. A family from one of the villages in the area found him alone and abandoned in the forest and adopted him. From the early days of his childhood, it was evident that Nityananda was very spiritually developed, so much so that people even believed that he was born enlightened. When he was eight years old, a famous lawyer came to his house. The lawyer was so impressed by the young boy’s spiritual level that he simply fell at the young guru’s feet.
At the age of ten Nityananda left for the Himalayas where he spent his time as a wandering yogi. When he reached adulthood, he continued to wander alone in southern India. Gradually he became known as a miracle worker and healer. He healed the blind and sick who came to see him. And although he became a well-known person, he continued to wander without taking anything with him. As more and more the students gathered around him, he started building an ashram, himself supervising the construction and participating in the handiwork.
But even after he established his own ashram, he remained a simple man, almost an ascetic, with no property other than the simple garment he wore. Even though many came to hear him speak in person, Nityananda often taught silence and rarely spoke out loud. He did a lot of fundraising, with the help of which he organized meals for the poor. During this process, he used to take an active part in cooking and serving food.
Many donated money to Nityananda to help pay for the food, but there were also some who suspected him to be a crook. There was a well-known story about a boy who used to hand large sums of money over to Nityananda. Before long, the boy’s father began to suspect that Nityananda was exploiting his son. As a result, the boy’s father paid mercenaries to kill Nityananda. One day the mercenaries found Nityananda and seized him at knifepoint. Luckily, Nityananda’s students arrived at the last minute just as one of the killers grabbed Nityananda and the other had a knife poised to stab the great guru. The students grabbed the killers and took the knife from them. As they did this, the empty hand of the criminal who just moments ago was holding the knife remained frozen above the guru’s head. After a long time had passed, and the killer pleaded the guru, Nityananda finally touched the frozen hand and returned it to full use.
The two killers were imprisoned, but Nityananda decided to free them. He sat down in front of the jail, determined to stay there until his request was granted. At the end of three days of his food and water fast, the police agreed and released the killers, who, following their meeting with Nityananda, changed their ways and turned to yoga and meditation.
Muktananda, united with the heart of the teacher
A number of students lived around Nityananda, but one of them, Muktananda, loved him most of all. He devoted himself to the practice of guru-yoga, the yoga of merging with the heart of the guru, of asking for His blessing and grace and receiving them. There was no end to his love for Nityananda, until one day when the guru gave him a mantra and showered his grace on him. Shortly afterwards, Muktananda gained enlightenment and became himself an important teacher who taught both in the East and in the West.
Muktananda later wrote about the guru’s grace:
“The sun may one day stop warming, the water may stop flowing, night may become day and day may become night. But once you have received the guru’s grace you will never lose it.”
In truth, it was not the stories about Nityananda that made him my guru. He had not performed greater or more credible miracles than other teachers and it cannot be said that he was at a higher level than other gurus. It was also not the content of his teachings – which is not deeper than that of other teachers – that made him my guru. He’s just the one who touched me the most. The real, authentic connection with a spiritual master only arises from a personal and intimate feeling. Having a guru is not the result of an intellectual decision or a reasoning process, but of something much more profound and related to the soul.
Life took me away from Nityananda’s ashram, yet that profound connection remains. A series of synchronicities brought me back to the path of Tantra Yoga in the ATMAN federation. I found there not only rich spiritual experiences, but also the knowledge and the theory that made it possible to understand and adjust these experiences. A year later I met my master, Grieg. Since that moment, my aspiration to practice and walk the path grew very intensely. And even my time at the Nityananda ashram is gone, I still carry him close to my heart and feel him as a part of me, as a light within.