New Jersey

Today is Guha’s birthday and so with warm greetings and felicitations in mind I went to meet him in the evening. However, any ideas of a celebration soon vanished as he unequivocally announced that this was just another day. Looking at his somber expression I was in no doubt that he meant business. Last year he had switched off his phone for the entire day and his friends from here (myself included) and around the world wanting to convey their best wishes and unable to connect with him, frantically jammed poor Julie’s phone line. In this context, I recall reading about U.G. chiding his friends in a letter who were keen to celebrate his  birthday, “Celebrating the birthday of anyone is an immature, childish, infantile activity…. You may spend your time in fasts, feasts and festivals, but leave this individual who has neither birth nor death severely alone….” And Ramana penned a four-line poem in response to his devotees’ pleas:

You who wish to celebrate birthday

Seek first whence your birth

One’s true birthday is when one

Enters that which transcends

Birth and death – the Eternal Being

Earlier, on my birthday I would quote this verse to fellow Ramana friends because it sounded so grand and profound – this whole idea of transcending birth and death to enter the Eternal Being. Wow. Now I can almost hear Guha murmur, wagging his finger at me: And how would you go about transcending birth and death? Through your enquiry? Fat chance! Ha, ha!  When I prodded Guha to comment on the verse I got the most down-to-earth answer: Whatever makes you overcome the fear of death is good enough for you. I read it as you don’t need grand statements or theories about something (birth and death) that is an integral part of what we call life. In Hindu scriptures the entire cycle of creation, sustenance and destruction has been symbolized by Trimurti – the triad of principal gods – Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Sustainer) and Shiva (Destroyer). We can observe the same process in ourselves as well – a thought rises, we flow along with it for some time, then it subsides and another thought sprouts up ….the process goes on and on ad infinitum. Nature’s rhythm is mysterious; we can never unravel, only conceptualize or theorize.

Anyway, I tell Guha aging, dying and death are very much on my mind these days. All around I see men and women trying all sorts of remedies and treatments to look younger and live longer – from facelifts, laser treatments, Botox to cryogenics. I am alarmed and dismayed at the signs of aging when I look at myself in the mirror. The mere thought of Nandini becoming old, infirm and dying terrifies me. I want a way out before this body sags and shrivels. I am also in deep mourning at the recent loss of two of my favorite aunts not to mention a very close childhood friend. I turn to Guha for solace; his response: Death is not a property of life; change is. You are changing all the time. Today you are not the same person who fought with her mother when she was little. Life is always changing form but there is no death.

You cannot ‘think’ about death. You are afraid of the unknown, of something coming to an end. You translate death into a kind of void and that’s what makes you afraid. That fear is what is bothering and interfering with your present living and creating a conflict in the living structure. You are always carrying the burden of that non-existing phenomenon. You see other people dying around you so you presume that there’s death for you too and you are afraid of that. However, you will not be there to witness it (death). If you think ‘you’ will be there to witness that event then also you are immortal. Either way there is no death. 

Someone who cannot imagine about death cannot die. Or to put it differently, if the question of death does not arise when I’m living then there’s no death (for me).

N: There’s no way out of this fear, right?

G: There is no way out of this fear so the fear is always translated and expressed through the imaginative faculty.

N: Fear is always expressed through the imaginative faculty?

G: Yes, but it (fear) has a component (effect) on the living structure. Like when you see a tiger in front of you, your body has to respond to that threat. And the mechanism through which it responds – your imaginative fear – it uses the same mechanism; it is powerful.  But again, someone who cannot imagine about death, there is no death for him.

N: How is it possible not to imagine about death? You see people dying all around you.

G: Yes, that is because you don’t know what happens (at the time of death). All you see is that someone who was living, breathing, doesn’t exist anymore. You are afraid the same will happen to you. We have something in our brain structure called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are very important. Suppose you see someone in front of you lying mutilated and dead – the body has to somehow respond to that. It sees some kind of a protective mechanism for its own survival through that scene. Mirror neurons can make you translate the pain, fear and agony that the dying man is going through into your guts. And you are worried about it, you are scared about it and that is also important. It’s the funny part about the living structure. It has some substantial fear which is extremely important for its own survival. And so it has to understand that and while doing that, through its imaginative faculty creates a scenario which is crucial for its survival but on the flip side it also creates a burden (on the system) along with it. So something that is necessary to understand extends beyond its necessity and creates a problem. It’s like our pleasure movement – you have a taste in your mouth and that’s how you are propelled to eat. But then the sense of taste takes over the necessity and you overeat. So the sense of taste is important up to a certain extent but when it becomes the predominating factor it creates its own problems and puts a burden on the system.

Later, he graciously blew the birthday candles and cut the cake we had brought for him. Happy Birthday, Guha.


New York City

After being fed a sumptuous meal by Lakshmi we all (Guha, Julie, Lakshmi, Radhika and I) drove to the city and are now camping at Ansonia. We are here to meet a U.G. friend named Suresh N. An avid U.G. follower, Suresh has been traveling from India to the West with his German girlfriend Diana to meet as many U.G. friends as possible. They are meeting Guha and Julie for the first time.

From the minute they entered I sensed a kind of confrontational attitude in the gentleman. His demeanor suggested he was here because he wanted to convince U.G. friends that he had “got it” what U.G. was talking about. Almost immediately he got into a sparring match with Guha and it soon became evident that he was not interested at all in what Guha had to say. He kept interrupting Guha by liberally quoting  J. Krishnamurti, U.G., Prof Narayana Moorty, Louis Brawley, etc. trying hard to bring others around to his point of view. Suresh asks Guha what his idea of the mind is. Guha is answering him a little belligerently. I think he senses a kind of a wall, a closed door with the guest and that makes him respond in such a way. In the back and forth I hear words like “mind f…”, masturbation, meditation, etc. flying around.

Suresh: U.G. somehow knocked out everything. Now consciously I’m not seeking anything. Why U.G.’s words impressed me was because I was stuck.

G: All words are produced by your mind. Words cannot remove the conditioning.

S: The sense of self is there and it is not a problem for me.

G: So then nice meeting you and bye, bye!

First Meeting with Guha

Listening to them I am reminded me of my own first meeting with Guha although it was much more sanguine. Prior to that I had been devouring U.G. books for several weeks and in one of them it was mentioned how U.G.’s close friend Guha had undergone intense physical pains and changes after being in close proximity to U.G. I was intrigued and felt a strong urge to meet such a man. But I was in a dilemma. On the one hand, I was reluctant to meet him thinking my loyalty to Ramana would be suspect but on the other, I was curious too to see him, at least once. Wouldn’t I want to meet Ramana if he was alive, my mind reasoned? Moreover, he lived so close by, just about half an hour drive away. With these thoughts whizzing around in my head I Googled his name and lo and behold! Golda’s website on Guha popped up almost instantaneously. For many days, I kept skimming through the web pages but found nothing there to interest me. After all, I was still deeply into Ramana and the self-enquiry mindset so could not relate to anything Guha was talking about. Still, inexplicably I kept coming back to the website and after a couple more weeks of procrastinating, hesitantly penned a brief email to Golda requesting a meeting with Guha.  After a few days Golda gave me the good news – Guha had agreed to meet me on December 21, 2013 at Julie’s apartment.

As soon as I entered Julie’s house, I saw Guha sitting on the couch – a thin, studious-looking Bengali man squinting at me through small, round glasses. However, he had a ready wit, and a hearty laugh and mentally I dubbed him the Laughing Guha. Soon after the introductions, I opened the book on Ramana I had brought with me with the hope that Guha could throw some light on an episode described in Ramana biographies. It was about Ramana purportedly liberating his mother by keeping his hand on her chest when she was dying, thereby “liberating” her by ridding her of all karmas – past, present and future. In Ramana’s own words, “The vasanas of the previous births and latent tendencies which are seeds of future births came out. She (mother) was observing one after another the scenes of experiences arising from remaining vasanas. As a result of a series of such experiences she was working them out.” Later, someone asked Ramana to explain the process to which he replied, “You see, birth experiences are mental. Thinking is also like that, depending on samskaras (tendencies). Mother was made to undergo all her future births in a comparatively short time.”

In the light of U.G.’s categorical rejection of the concepts of reincarnation, liberation or even the notion that anybody can give “That” to anyone, I needed clarification on this matter from Guha. I don’t recall Guha’s specific answer to that question or for that matter anything he uttered that day. I just remember him saying something to the effect that these were all stories and I chose to believe them without verifying for myself what was true or untrue. Anyhow, I also remember that the minute he started talking, Julie who was sitting next to him, dozed off, her head bobbing up and down in “yoga nidra”. Amazingly, I have seen that phenomenon recurring every single time till this day. I went home in a daze determined to practice self-enquiry even more. But I could not dismiss Guha from my mind and thought his ideas were quite original. Next day I sent them a polite thank you email:

Dear Julie & Guhaji,

Thank you both so much for your time. I had a wonderful time yesterday and after a long time I met people whom I really felt at home with. I feel I can go on listening to Guhaji for hours and hours! He has such an authentic way of explaining things. And Julie you are truly a beautiful person – inside and out. Would it be possible to meet you – say a once a month on a regular basis? May be I could come and help you with stuff (I know you don’t need my help but it would give me a chance to spend time with you).

Till this day whenever the topic of my email comes up, Guha humorously tells everyone around him, “She said she wanted to meet me only once a month! In fact, when I didn’t hear from her, I had to ask Julie to write to her and went to meet her in Princeton myself!” Thank you, Guha, I would have been a lost chicken if you hadn’t taken matters in your hands.


At the Corning Glass Museum

It is about 8 pm and I have just returned home after a two-day road trip to Niagara Falls. This was my third trip to Niagara and although I thoroughly enjoyed it, I’m feeling low and drained of energy. The reason being it is spring time here when the allergy season is in full swing and like millions of allergy sufferers I’m also down with cold, cough, sneezing, etc. After long winter hibernation, from April to June Mother Earth springs back to life in a riotous display of color with red, yellow, blue, green and white flowers in full bloom here, there and everywhere you look. Trees lining the roadways and yonder are bedecked with fresh green leaves and many are bent over double with flowers clinging tightly to every branch. Oh, what an amazing spectacle Nature has put on, but alas, pollen from millions of blooming trees creates havoc in my system. I’m miserable with my head throbbing violently, eyes blood red, puffy and swollen from non-stop itching and watering, and am sniffing and sneezing constantly. I try not to feel sorry for myself consoling myself that since we are all connected in this circle of life how can I not feel the pangs of growth?

This trip was planned by Guha who wanted to show Niagara Falls, one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World, to Ila who is on her maiden visit to the US. Surprisingly, Julie has never been here either. She was pleasantly surprised to find the falls so magnificent. So here we are – Guha, Julie, Lakshmi, Ila and myself. The weather was a little nippy with strong winds blowing but a ride on the Maid of the Mist is a must. After all, your visit is not complete if you don’t take a boat ride on the Niagara river. The boat tour, which lasts about 45 minutes indeed makes you feel refreshed and rejuvenated as if your sins have been washed away in the powerful, misty spray from the thundering falls. Allergies apart I was happy to get a couple of days in Guha’s company but as always very intense. He has this disarming quality of coming out with most profound statements or penetrating insights while cracking jokes or talking about inane matters so one always has to be on guard lest we miss it.

Sitting in the Niagara Falls State Park Guha and I have the following discussion:

N: Where is humanity headed? Is there any hope for us?

G: The balance between the perceptive reality and the imaginative faculty of the human mind will be achieved but only after a catastrophic event. I had several visions of enormous destruction all around. Human beings will be forced to align with Nature for their own survival. Mere knowledge cannot bring about order.

N: As they say, life came from Adam & Eve?

G: That is a simplified model born out of somebody’s imagination.

N: So we will have something like Ram Rajya after the catastrophic event?

G (exclaiming): There was never any Ram Rajya where people lived in peace and harmony. It is a story. In fact, human beings were very violent, more so than now. As I said, humans will be forced to align with Nature after a catastrophic event.

Is it possible to find your own natural existence? By yourself you are very different from when you are in a group. It creates a distorted reality. The momentum inside you keeps driving you to participate in the social dynamics. It is like a drug. But your system originally didn’t want it. It is human arrogance to control life. You dominate (and control) your kids. But there is no choice, for if you don’t then others will dominate them. There is no way out. In this society you have no choice but to play this game. Or you can sink in despair and kill yourself. Or kill others. But if you truly understand what I’m saying you have no right to kill yourself. The being that thinks it has the right to kill the host is false! That being I false! It is using wrong knowledge for the wrong end.

On our way back from Niagara we stopped at Corning town where the famous Corning Glass Museum and Corning factory store are located. It is a ritual among Corelle-crazy desis to pay homage at this particular Corning store in upstate New York and buy their famous glassware and dishware. We too were overjoyed to find great bargains and stuffed our bags with curios, plates, bowls and cups.

Evening at Julie’s with Ila and Radhika.

I (continuing from previous day):  You mentioned yesterday about humans aligning with Nature after a catastrophic event ….. Does it mean that people will be more sattvic and will be able to easily grasp the reality?

G (laughs): You don’t need to be sattvic to grasp reality!

I dropped the topic for the time being.

Radhika and Guha
Photo by Kishor Chopda

Guha and Radhika start bantering:

R: Just because I say I want something or if I say I don’t want something it doesn’t make any difference.

G: Then why do you do the things you do?

R: That’s my conditioning. That’s how it comes out. What can I do?

G: If you think nothing’s in your hand then don’t do anything. What is it that you are seeking or wanting?

R: I don’t know.

G: Then go home and do what you can do.

R: That’s not much fun.

G: I’m not an entertainer!

Ouch! Be ready to live by the minute; you never know what’s going to hit you.

5.6.15 (Earlier)

In the car heading towards the city, I am feeling alert, unlike the tamasic stupor I frequently find myself in. Guha is intense, and in no mood for frivolities.  I feel his vibes and am ready to make the most of it. I quickly ask him some questions about human life to get him going:

Nature expresses itself through different species. Everything is already here from beginning till the end. There is nothing new. You are as much an expression of Nature as myself.

The egg that would become you was already there in your grandmother’s womb, especially the female egg. When a female fetus is there in mother’s womb, she is already having the egg sequences to be born.

We are all same in the game of life and we are all unique because the way it is formed has enormous diversity.( Similarities between species are more than dissimilarities.) A brain like yours was never there in the entire past history and will never be there in the future (na bhootho, na bhavishyathi). Brains are continuously creating novelties.

Every single life form is threatened because it is being challenged, devoured by other life forms. We don’t have any choice but to accept and respond to that challenge. The organism’s innate programming is survival and procreation. To do that, it has to respond to the challenge by creating capacities. The power of life is creating these capacities – giraffe has a long neck, tiger gets claws, etc. One of the capacities that came to this biped animal is thinking. This capacity has a peculiarity – it can create a very illusory, mythical structure and live in that. This thinking capacity gives us an advantage over other species. It can think and reflect about life beyond stimulus and response. Thinking itself is outside the framework of stimulus and response.

Life’s intelligence is constantly creating novel capacities; there is no central programmer or executive director who’s doing this.

There was a big traffic jam on the way to Holland Tunnel. Suddenly I hear Julie exclaim: “Gurus can’t even change a flat tire, let alone change anybody!”

The powerful force which created this machine (the intellect) has a lot of Nature’s power and logic behind it which makes you perceive things in life. Through that logic you can see a lot and do a lot. But you try to extrapolate. You go to a different regime and it doesn’t work.

What is it that you want? If you want happiness you have to know the meaning of happiness. If you want to have self-satisfaction with another person then you have to know that it involves another person’s desire pattern. Basically, you are solo.



Part I: A Big Zero

Part II: You Say Just the Way You See

Part III: A Pilot’s Tale

Part IV: A Collection of Nuclei

Part V: There Is No You

Part VI: The Tiger Is Out

Part VII: Thoughts Drain Life’s Energy

Part VIII: Caught In A Web of Love

Part X: Butterflies Are Free

Part XI: Sun Breaks Through Nimbus Clouds

Part XII: Love Goes Toward Love


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