Be the one for whom father, mother, guru and guest are gods


The guru in the Arts

Although this is not the main topic of our book, we are going to deal with the question of the guru in the arts and in politics, in order to broaden our perception of the guru's role in Indian society and, by contrast, to better define the peculiarity of the Sadguru in the spiritual field

It is sometimes strange to see how Indians extend to other domains like for instance the teaching of art, their notion of a religious Sadguru -and of the respect due to him. Leaving one's own will in the hands of the guru (prapatti), using him as a clothe-peg on which to hang up one's cumbersome ego, has a precise function in the yoga sadhana, and is meaningful only if the guru is himself egoless.

But in the arts the guru is often not egoless. Hence there is a risk of exploitation faced by the students in their relation to him. Art and spirituality have this in common, that they are a subtle field where this is not so easy to determinate real talent. This foster the game of conflicts of influence among various gurus, battles for power and prestige, and competition for access to social recognition. The students are often pawns in this chess game among rival gurus. Nevertheless, the position of the disciples does not forbid disputing the guru's opinion, as for instance in the art of medicine. Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, a French Sanskritist living half-time in South India and a specialist of Ayurvedic texts, had me read translations of entire chapter about the methods of discussion between gurus and disciples dealing with clinical cases. Reading these texts, one does not feel one is meeting a master teaching ex cathedra, but rather that one is listening to discussion near the patient's bed, like those one may overhear in a Western hospital during the visit of the professor.

The succession of art gurus were often kept within the same family, which are called -especially in music- gharana. These 'houses' were attached to the court of a maharaja. The disappearance of this kind of benefactors and the standardization of national cultural politics have surely played havoc in this traditional system. Nevertheless, in some places attempts have been made to reconstruct the protected milieu of a full time centre, where students may study arts for many years being affiliated with the same guru. This is the case of Kalakshetra, a school of dance near Madras founded by Rukmini Devi, which has vastly contributed to the renaissance of this art in India in the first half of the XXth century. The same kind of attempt was made in a new State school near Calcutta. In music, the styles of different schools show a tendency to become uniform because of the attenuation of a pure oral tradition between a guru and the small group of disciples, and because of the diffusion of recorded music. In this way, a small number of 'stars' known to the whole of India seem to imprint their style on the new generation of musicians.

If, notwithstanding all the drawbacks mentioned above, the guru-disciple tradition is more or less kept in the Indian arts, this is because of its advantages: artistic expression, in order to be born in a natural way, needs a relaxation of the entire being; hence the need of a basic trust in the teacher, with a total freedom from fear when in his presence. And this trust is not acquired in a day. Sometimes the disciples criticize the guru saying: 'he does not want to reveal his secrets to me.' But afterwards they realize that they were the ones not able to perceive his secrets. In music, the disciple often learns by repeating as an echo what the guru has just played or sung. Sometimes he needs years to be aware of a nuance that the master had always performed, but he was not able to perceive. The basic principle of this teaching is quite simple:'those who have ears shall hear'. In this sense, the guru of music is very close to that of yoga. The latter has no secret; it is the disciple who cannot grasp it, this secret being then self protecting. Here is a fundamental law of the guru-disciple relationship.

At Banaras, I met disciples who were practically adopted as sons by their gurus. For instance, a French student of Indian music had spent seven years with his guru, who was, with Ravi Shankar, a disciple of Ustad Ali Khan. The French student had boarding, lodging and instruction without fee; he used to do some secretarial work, that was all. Sometimes seeing this guru-disciple relationship where time seems not to count is impressive. A disciple of a master of dance, who was well known in South India, now himself a teacher, used to say in a posthumous homage :'I know that what my guru taught me and my students is immortal.' (79)

The Sadguru, at the same time artist, art and work of art

The artist realizes a work that allows him to communicate his sentiments to others. The realization obtained by the Sadguru through yoga is an inner one and, in this sense, he is the artist and the work of art at the same time. And, since he is also one with this knowledge which enabled him to move towards realisation, he is the very art as well.

From a complementary point of view, one may say that the disciple is the work of art of the guru, and the art will be, then, the art of transmission. The masterpiece will be the disciple, chosen by him, to be his successor. In this respect, it is said that once Sai Baba of Shirdi declared that he 'gave everything' to his disciple Upasani Baba. Other disciples were jealous and asked the Master:'would you engrave this decision of yours on a copper plate?' (the way of the time to testify an important decision). He answered:'I have already engraved it on a golden plate.' His successor was his masterpiece made out of pure gold.

While writing this part of my book, I was inspired by Abhinavagupta who wrote both about the guru-disciple relationship in the Tantraloka (80) and about the actor-spectator relationship in his commentary of the Rasa-sutra of Bharata (81). 'Rasa' could be translated as 'essence of emotion'. This word may have the meaning of 'juice, sap, taste' as well. It may be opposed to 'bhava' which is the manifest expression of emotions allowing for instance the actor to communicate his rasa to the spectator. Abhinavagupta considered that there was many ways to reach the Absolute, and that art was one of them. According to him, the goal of the actor is to arouse in the spectator an nonobjective joy, a causeless happiness (ananda). One may equally say that the guru has the same goal in his communication with his disciple. In art, as in yoga, practice (sadhana) gives to the guru, or the actor, the technical means, the skill for him to pass on to others the essence of his emotion (rasa). This practice is a mystical one and as such bestows a power, as every ascetic endeavour is thought to do in the Indian tradition. Not unlike the guru, the artist is considered superior to the God of creation, inasmuch as the latter cannot allow himself to infringe the laws according to which he has created the world, while the artist can, thanks to his freedom of imagination.

The same word (adhikari) is used to indicate the spectator who has the necessary qualities to receive a piece of art, and the disciple who is ready to benefit from the teaching of a guru. To sum up, one may say that the necessary maturity required from a spectator is to know how to let his emotions be released when watching an actor, without, however, being carried away by them (82). The same can be said of a disciple: he must be sensitive to the acting of his guru without becoming too emotional. Am excess of sentiment blocks the channels of a clear consciousness, it blurs the perception that one has of the guru and of what he wishes to communicate. In the path of devotion too (bhakti), the real endeavour is to be able to play with emotions without being played by them.

The alpha and omega of the aesthetic experience is peace (vishranti). A certain peace of heart is necessary in order to perceive this experience in all its shades and nuances; having perceived it brings about even a deeper peace. In the features of a well composed work of art Indians do not so much insist on unity of time, place or action, but on the unity of rasa: the piece must have a clear dominant emotional note, be it the comic, the heroic, or any other of the nine rasas. What the guru transmits to his disciple, when he knows his art, is the ninth and last rasa, the experience of peace (shantirasa). His whole 'work of art' is based on peace. Even in the terms used there is a similarity between the audience that the guru gives to his public (darshan) and the show that the actor performs (pradarshan). The word darshan means vision and is also used to designate the vision of a form of god experienced by the mystic. The meaning of this becomes clear if it is seen in the Hindu context.

From childhood, the Hindu is brought up to 'play God'. He plays Radha and Krishna (Raslila), Sita and Rama (Ram lila), before an assembly of relatives and other adults and children who are so caught by the play that at the end of it they come and prostrate before the child-god, to offer him and oblation of flame and flowers in the same way as if he were a statue in a temple. Krishna is also the subject of most of the classical dances; there, too, God is 'staged'. Ramakrishna was known in his childhood for his theatre acting skill and for his capacity of memorizing. As an adult he was famous for his bhavas, his states of ecstasy, in which he seemed to loose consciousness of the external world, but in which also he used to tell his audience some unpalatable truths which people would certainly not have accepted so easily from the Master in his normal state.

Whatever was remaining in me of the psychiatrist at the time of the first draft of this text, after four years of being in India, would have had the tendency to say, with our propensity for psychopathological labelling and an obsessive compulsion for a reducing diagnosis, 'theatre, therefore theatrical, therefore hysteria.' But one may reverse the argument: in our tight society, could hysteria not be a vestige and the caricature of the possibility of a wider and more direct communication than poor words? Could the bhava of Ramakrishna and of many other Indian mystics up to our time not be another type of communication which, like a tidal wave, in a single stroke covers all canals, all means of communication, including the bodily ones? Did not Ramakrishna himself say:'When the monsoons arrive and everything is flooded, what is the use of ponds and ditches?'

The Hindu, therefore, having been 'God on the stage' in his childhood, is not shocked to see 'God on the stage' in the person of the actor, the dancer or the guru. He knows that this cannot be bad. He is not troubled by the Biblical taboo on representing God. Quite a few Westerner now have for instance seen Ma Amritanandamayi during her Devi bhava, where she is in the 'mood' of the Goddess for one night or so twice a week. Her disciples say that she is continuously engrossed in the Divine Mother, but that she shows it in a more spectacular way during these two nights.

An Indian, a Christian monk disciple of late Bede Griffiths at Shantivanam, said to me :You, Westerners, you go to see the religious people in order to speak. Us, we go there to be silent, to sit peacefully before them and God.' Apart from darshans, the action of the guru in his normal life with his disciples is also called a play (lila). This recalls God's play when he created the worlds, or the play of Krishna with Radha and the Gopis in Vrindavan. The guru with his manifold faces embodies the types of relationship which the disciple needs most at a given moment: father, mother, son, daughter...He plays a discreet role in what could be termed the 'psychodrama of the ashram', the drama of the psyche, giving this world its strong meaning of 'soul'. The guru does not reduce psyche to a piston-driven psychological machine. He does not behead it, does not cut away its superior qualities gathered in which is labelled 'soul', because he knows that human being should not be beheaded.

A sensitive spectator can perceive the essence of emotion (rasa) in the actor. A good disciple, by contemplating the Divine in his master, perceives the essence of the essence. If the guru is the actor, he is also his own spectator. By watching this world as a play from which he is detached, and the relationship with his disciple as a play as well, he is the Great Spectator, and also the 'Great Taster' (mahabhokta). When he engages in action, he does it as a play too, and he remains continuously aware of it.

The Sadguru, a past-master in the art of being master...

The guru is a master of sound: without being a musician, he hears the inner sound that has not been struck by any instrument (anahata). He has established a permanent and stable contact with the primordial vibration, the sound of creation, the 'keynote of the universe', be it external or internal, manifested or not (Om, pranava), and he can suggest a method for opening the ear of the heart to this sound.

The guru is a master of the word; without being a poet, he may employ everyday words giving them a different light. Without using rare or learned expressions, he can awaken a state of being either through his songs of realization, or through a single word (shabda, mantra) which can lead the disciple to the further shore, if he follows it.

The guru is a master of gesture: without being a dancer, he expresses himself entirely in every gesture, as he is watched and meditated upon by his disciples day after day. Like the chain of mudras in the dance, his action as a guru is a kind of standard composition. Because of tradition, he knows beforehand what he is going to do, to say, to express, and his disciples know it as well. But they come to see the manner in which he is doing all that, the way he which he expresses himself. By asking him to 'act as a guru' once more for them, the disciples request him to actualize an timeless function here and now, i.e., to repeat what existed already at the beginning of the world, at the time of the first transmission from God, the first of Gurus.

The guru is a master of form: without being a sculptor, he offers to the sight and meditation of his disciples his own form (murti) which is a living statue (murti as well): the perfection of divinity in the perfection of humanity.

The guru is a master of emptiness: without being nothingness, he does not allow himself to be caught in any form and he frees the disciples who are wrapped up in forms by enveloping them in his fullness.

To complete these reflections about the guru, considered as an artist and at the same time as a work of art, we turn now to the five stages which, according to Abhinavagupta, lead to rasa, to the supreme essence of the aesthetic experience.

The first stage is easy to understand: it consists in grasping the words or the situations in which the actor is seen -or the guru- in the comparison we are making here. The second stage is that of universalization (sadharani-karana). The spectator (disciple) is not involved in the emotions that the actor (guru) seems to have, like the emotions of normal life; such emotions are in fact conditioned by relationships of power or of desire. Here, emotions are severed from their utilitarian aspect, they are no longer covered by the fear of failure if not fulfilled, or by the vulgarity of the success if they obtain what they desire. They have a larger scope: the limited individual is enlarged to the dimensions of an eternal character; the spectator is interested in the art for the sake of art, and in the emotion for the sake of emotion.

When the disciple is with his guru, the idea of interaction between two personalities enclosed in space and time is gradually erased and dissolved into the timeless: the teaching situation will be repeated from generation to generation, transforming, and yet not transformed; the spiritual realisation is manifested from age to age, implying movement, and yet immutable. The emotions in the relationship with the guru, like those staged in theatre, are both similar and different of the ones in normal life. They are the same emotions, but are observed in a different perspective, with a wider viewpoint, the spectator-disciple is less engaged in them, more detached and more peaceful. In order to be clearly evoked, an emotion has to be impersonal. I met an international pianist who practises meditation. She succeeded in making entire concert halls cry when she understood that it was best to let the emotions manifest themselves, while remaining herself aloof, an impersonal witness of them.

The third stage in the experience of the spectator-disciple is empathy, the 'communion, dialogue of hearts' (hridaya-samvada. 'samvada' is also the word used to designate the communication between Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita.) One is sensitive to the emotion manifested by the guru actor because one already has theses same emotions (vasana) dormant in one's deep memory. Seeing them reflected in the mirror of the guru-actor, in the reassuring milieu of a darshan or a show, creates what in psychology may be called a desentization. He who contemplates again, in a state of profound relaxation, a traumatic event, becomes free from it. He keeps himself at a safe distance from his emotions. Since he is no longer bound to personal worries, he can achieve a state of bliss, the fruit of an authentic aesthetic experience through the sentiment of wonder.

The fourth stage is that of identification with emotion (tanmayi bhavana, literally the feeling). Becoming one with the emotion of the guru-actor, the disciple's emotion is purified. The distance that one has from the 'tamasic' (destructive) and 'rajasic' (passionate) emotions allows one to unite oneself to the 'sattvic' (pure) emotions. Even if the emotion keeps the same 'form', its colour becomes clearer, its tonality more luminous.

The fifth and last stage is that awareness and peace leading to the essence of the experience (rasa). The guru, like the actor and the therapist, knows the art of making the hidden suffering emerge -with an attenuated pain... In this way one can face it and get rid of it more quickly. One starts with an apparent peace, the minimum peace required to be receptive to the acting of the guru or to the work of art, and at the end of the experience, real peace is attained. This real peace (vishranti) is inseparable from rasa and anandatva, which may be freely translated as 'refined and happy consciousness'. This consciousness is achieved, generation after generation, by a few sages, who most often know neither Abhinavagupta, nor the vocabulary of aesthetic: the latter is but a transitory tool to approach a state of reality. I say this so that the reader might excuse me for having meandered for so long in the endless forest of words...

In spite of this gradation of the aesthetic experience by Abhinavagupta, I do not think that the Indian tradition as a whole considers that the practice of an art taught for a limited duration can lead to liberation. In practice also we do not see this happen. For the art to be spiritual, the motives of the artist should be purified: he is not liberated from much if he practises his art just for bread and butter, or to take refuge in an intermediary world of aesthetic emotions, to seduce the crowds or to develop his personal magnetism owing to a strong power of intuition. He would rather be entrapped by such secondary motives. At this level he may certainly develop a power of concentration. But to purify such power towards the Divine, a parallel practice of meditation will be instrumental. Art for art's sake is a high ideal, but it runs away like a fawn if one wants to seize it. At the same time as one practises art (perhaps by humbly doing it, day by day, like 'meditation for the sake of meditation') one may gradually reach the freedom of 'art for art's sake'.

This is what was suggested by late Mallikarjun Mansur, one of the best known musicians in India in the second half of the twentieth century, when he answered some questions about his artistic and spiritual itinerary (84). Between ten and thirty of age, he had to guru of music with whom he formed a very intense relationship. Notwithstanding these relationships and his subsequent successes, he had always some difficulty in getting rid of his professionalism, his spirit of competitiveness and of his fear of not being the best. It was only when he was around fifty of age that he went to see a guru and that, rather to please a friend. He was fascinated by the detachment of the latter, and little by little developed an intense relationship with him. 'Before that moment I had been a bit egoistic and vain. I thought that after all, I already had two gurus.' When some years later, on his deathbed, the guru gave him his silent blessing by putting the palm of his hands on his head, the musician found himself crying as a child. This guru was not an artist, but still he had transmitted something to him, and this 'something' allowed him to attain the stage of 'art for art's sake'.

I feel that, in spite of the strains of the recent evolution, the domain of music and dance is a field where the guru-disciple relationship will continue for long, because it is a necessity.

The guru in politics

In ancient India, the guru, or acharya, came just after the king in order of importance. Although the guru is a renouncer making himself busy with spiritual matters, in Indian tradition there are also a certain number of gurus who played a role in public affairs. Some gurus influenced politic life especially in the seventeenth-eighteenth century, possibly as a reaction to the intransigence of emperors like Aurangzeb who had murdered his own brother who was speaking and writing on the unity of the various religions. We have already mentioned the ten Sikhs gurus; at the same period in Maharashtra, Ramdas played the role of guru and advisor to the king Shivaji, a hero of Hindu independence. At the same time too, the Naga sadhus had organized themselves into a brotherhood in order to fight the Muslims, arms in hand.

In the twentieth century, yogis like Vivekananda or Shri Aurobindo had also a political influence, though this influence was rather indirect inasmuch as they did not form a political party. They were inspirer of the Indian mind. Conversely, some political figure were invested by the people with the aura of a guru. The most famous were Gandhi and his spiritual heir, Vinobha Bhave. Though they lived in their own ashram after a certain age and on the fringe of political life, they were visited by Nehru and other leaders, who discussed with them the affairs of the nation. Some of Gandhi's power came from his lifestyle of renouncer, living a frugal life and abstaining from sexual relationships. The confession of his inner struggle to reach this renunciation has gained for him the deep esteem and respect of the population, because in India the very renunciation grants almost automatically charisma and power.

Three years before her death, the wife of Jawaharlal Nehru met Ma Anandamayi at Dehra-Dun. We let a friend of Kamlaji who was at the same time Ma's disciple describe this meeting in his own words :"Kamlaji sat near her, touching the body of Ma. Some minutes later, Kamlaji stretched herself on the ground in a kind of trance. After some time she got up, but touching Ma again she reverted to lying down...She at last went back some kilometres away, (where she was staying)...The same evening, at eleven o'clock,, she wanted to go back to Ma. As I tried to dissuade her, she declared without further ado that she would go alone. I ended by accompanying her. Mother gave her own blanket as a bed, and Kamlaji spent the night there. Kamlaji felt herself pulled so much by the divine personality of Ma that she wished to be in constant contact with her...the thought of Ma accompanied her, three years later,, during her last months in Switzerland before she passed away from TB."(85)

Her daughter Indira Gandhi was also visiting Ma, and she used to go to Krishnamurti as well. In another anecdote of politicians and gurus, it is said that once Nehru was giving a press conference between two planes at Calcutta Airport. Suddenly he saw that the hall was emptying. He asked what the matter was, and the answer was that Nimkaroli Baba had arrived in another plane and that people were rushing to get his darshan. Nehru exclaimed:'Really, India is lucky to have so great a saint that people leave their own Prime Minister in order to go and see him.' (86)

Nehru had among his political adversaries another guru, Prabhudatta Bhramachari, who had nicknamed him 'the English with a brawn skin'... At present, Sathya Sai Baba often receives visit from members of Government or of other political parties. When I was in his ashram, the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, (a province representing a population of more than fifty millions inhabitants), came to visit him and wish him goodbye, because the guru was leaving the next day for a week in a neighbourghing State.... The guru who gets involved in political intrigue does not always have a nice reputation: when the tantrik guru Chandra Swami was sentenced and the former Prime Minister Narasingh Rao who used to see him was absolved of charges in the same case, there was a cartoon in a daily newspaper quoting the Hindi proverb:'Guru gobar, shishya sakkar' 'Guru is cowdung, disciple sugar...'(This Chandra Swami is different from the silent ascetic living on the banks of the Yamuna where it comes out of Himalaya near Dehra-Dun.

Side by side with those who criticize gurus for being to involved in politics, there are also those who criticize them for not being involved enough. The only book that I found arguing in this direction was written by a certain A.Jha(87) He blames guruism for all wrongs of India, including water and electricity cuts, because he suspects the gurus of indoctrinating the workers in these fields by telling them not to do their work. He believes that guruism rhymes with illeteracy and that both will disappear with the development of heavy industry... In spite of this, in other passages of his essay, he expresses his anguish at seeing the race of guru, the 'cancer' of Indian society, quickly thriving...Rather significantly, he never mentions, in his whole book, the word 'Sadguru' (the authentic guru). One has to mention that Jha is the son of the village Brahman of Mithila, noted for their narrowness of mind, and perhaps he wanted in his book to pay off old scores with his father, who after all is the second guru after the mother... Nevertheless, he is right in criticising the undue extension of the notion of guru to domains other than the spiritual; for instance, in universities, where guruism becomes linked with nepotism or a play of influence, something that leaves little space to the actual competence of individuals. Anyhow, even in universities, a stable and humane teaching relationship have many good repercussions on the quality of the knowledge which is transmitted.

Is the guru not excessively outworldly? I wanted to ask this question to Nirvedananda, a guru from the lineage of Ramakrishna, about whom we have written above: he spent seven years in the Himalaya with his own guru, then twenty years in a hut in the fields on the banks of the Ganges, downstream from Banaras. When I arrived to his place, I saw so many people coming and going, asking him questions or simply listening to him with great attention, that I did not have a chance to ask my own question: but it was answered by the reality itself: that this guru was not cut off from the world.

The guru fills numerous functions in Indian society. Besides his role of 'long term psychotherapist', he has that of 'researcher in psychology': by doing a research into his own psyche, he understands that of others too, because all the psyches are the same in their broad outlines. He has the role of teacher of traditional knowledge, and, with his ashram, he forms a parallel university in this area. He may manage some ancient temple, which in the West would be in the charge of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. His ashram may partly be a centre for adolescents in crises or for battered wives, or even a home for elders who were abandoned by their family. He may be an intermediary for marriages, an important responsibility in India where still 90% of them are in fact arranged. In many cases his ashram represents a transitory solution to the insufficiency of social services and welfare facilities.

It will be useful to establish, now, a clear distinction between the Sadguru and the politico-religious leader, in order to avoid confusion on this matter: both, it is true, have charisma in common. But the Sadguru has a pure charisma that he uses to help others wherever they may be, and he does not identify himself with the organization developed around him; whereas the politico-religious leader tries to recruit militants in order to increase the power of his own movement. Unlike the Sadguru, he has little contact with his followers and the image of himself which he presents to them is built up through propaganda and the use of media. Thanks to their charisma, both the Sadguru and the leader arouse emotions in their audience. But this emotion may be positive: love of beauty, service of others, etc...or it may be negative: rage or hate. In this sense, one may very well consider Hitler as an antiguru, an inverted guru.

The politico-religious leader knows all the tricks of psychological power and can easily slip into fanaticism, whose psychic mechanisms I attempted to analyse in a previous essay (88). He plays on the emotions, the group instinct, the alternation of flattery and guilt; he knows especially how to organize, one should even say orchestrate the cult of his own personality. Usually, he has a paranoiac tendency proportional to his greed for power and his inclination to proselytism, a trend which may become malignant if historical circumstances put absolute power in his hands. He belongs to this class of passionate idealists, to those beings who get fixed on an idea and want to propagate it at any cost because of their need to be accepted and, perhaps, loved. Many grades are obviously possible between the two extremes: it is necessary to be aware of the proportion of sincere desire to help and of greed for fame and power are present in a given spiritual teacher.

In order to sum up this knotty question of knowing if the guru is too much or too little engaged in politics, I would like to refer to another story about Nimkaroli Baba; one day he began to mumble for some time something like 'Balu, balochu, balu, balochu...His disciples, puzzled, at last plucked up courage and asked him what all that meant. 'In the dialect of my native place, answered Nimkaroli, this means "too much, too little, too much...." You never stop complaining, saying it is too much, it is too are never happy with what is as it is!'

Let us turn know to the psychology of the Indian family. This is the basis from which one can better appraise the notions of authority and dependence associated with the guru-disciple relationship. This psychology is very different from that known in the West; it explains some characteristics of the transmission of knowledge in India and will allow the reader to distinguish cultural factors from more basic structures. In line with the central theme of this book, i.e. with a comparison between the master and the therapist, it seems to me interesting to give some idea of the status of Western psychotherapy in India today.

I will also clarify the actual meaning of sannyas (renunciation); I shall specify its socially paradoxical, or rather 'trans-social' aspects. Sannyas being the status, officially or de facto, of the majority of gurus, it is important to dispel some typically Western cliches which represent the sannyas or yogi on a board of nails in his Himalayan cave, with nothing to do but to wait for death, or to provoke it through some extraordinary asceticism. The reality is quite different. The second part is devoted to some reflections and anecdotes about the guru-disciple relationship and includes as well the accounts of some significant meetings I had during some four years in which I travelled through India.


Living in association is living well

In India, contrary to the West, there is no guilt associated to a state of relative dependence; the ideal is rather to play well your role towards your seniors, so that the younger ones later may come to depend on you and feel well with this. For this part of the present work, I rely principally on the essays of Richard Lannoy (89), Guy Deleury (90) and Sudhir Kakar (91). Kakar has interesting interpretations of the psychology of the Indian family, but is quite dismaying when it comes to understand mysticism; when he comes to this subject, he just gives the impression to be born in the West so much he is aping the Western psychoanalysts in their bad reductionism. In spite of these limitations, he has a good simile on the family psychology; he compares it to a group hedgehogs. There are two types of couple relationships between them: the first keep a distance, do not get pricked but feel cold; the second stick together, get pricked but are warm...Westerners belong rather to the first type, Indians to the second. To say that the Indian family rests on a hierarchical authority does not mean that this authority is sadistic or punitive. In general, power inside the family, even if it is paternal and patriarchal in principle, is maternal in its application. Our word 'education' contains the idea of getting something out of the child, an extraction so to say. In one of the Hindi words meaning 'education', 'palan-poshan', one finds a double idea: 'palan' means 'to cradle, to encourage, to protect' and poshan 'to nourish, to cherish, to assist'. The underlying idea of this linguistic choice is that the role of parents is to let the seeds of karma already in the child develop themselves.

This habit of life spent in a network of relationships has its negative sides as well: when a student has to go in a big city in order to live in a university town with five hundred or one thousand students of the same sex in the same situation in hostels, he passes through a difficult stage which explains undoubtedly the frequency of drug addiction in this milieu. Real desperation leading to suicide is still rare because of the memory of the close network of relationships that the student has got until there. But among the relative small number of suicides, the rate of collective ones is abnormally high. This need for company is so valued in India that it is echoed in a version of creation given in the Rig-Veda: Prajapati resolved to produce the universe through a word, because he got bored in his solitude...

The guru and his ashram takes the place of family life. He represents for the spiritual seeker a mid-position between a life of relationship and solitary life. Actually, if one asks a yogi if he feels lonely, he is more likely than not to answer negatively. He lives in the presence of his God and of his inner Guru; it is his own way of developing his independence. The Hindus do not feel guilty about spiritual power coming from experience. They know that this power is by nature superior to that of intellectual knowledge, and they do not mask themselves under the rags of an excessive humility. A text of the Chandogya Upanishad expresses this viewpoint :'Power is superior to knowledge. A man of power can win over a hundred men of intellectual knowledge. If man has power, he triumphs. It is by power that the worlds is held up, steady. He who meditates on Brahman in the shape of power become the lord of all.'(92)

This idea is always present in the mind of the present-day sadhakas who seek a Sadguru. The latter is chosen by the disciples: his authority rests, therefore, on a fundamental freedom, which is not really the case in the family hierarchical relationships. A text like the Ramayana, which may rightly be called the 'Bible of North India' so strong is its impact on people, help us to understand the link between two apparently contradictory notions: authority and dependence on one side, and liberation (moksha) on the other. What is more surprising, according to Linda Hess who has been working for five years on the subject, is precisely that the Ramayana does not link the two. On one hand, it respects absolutely the existing social and-religious hierarchy; in it can be found all the cliches about the righteous man, yet sometimes cruel because of his duties; about the submissive but unhappy woman; the bearded and benevolent guru; and this is done ad nauseam.

At the same time, it juxtaposes to this an overflow of devotion that breaks all barriers. The Hindus are not shocked by the contradiction; they find it unproblematic.

Where does the 'Joint Family' stands in contemporary Indian society?

The joint family is a traditional reality: all the sons continue to live under the same roof with their parents once they themselves have founded their own families. This model is still followed in the rural areas, which represent about 75% of the global population. Even for urban people, this model is also very powerful. If they cannot live under the same roof due to financial or job pressures, they manage to be nearby and to visit often. During the holidays, the only possibilities worth considering for the majority of Indians are either to go back to their village to see their family or to make a pilgrimage, again with the family. Some independent individuals go to stay with their guru.

According to the Laws of Manu and the Dharmashastras, there are five principal gurus: mother, father, the elder brother, the guru who gives initiation and teaches the youngster and, for the women, their husband. This model remains in force by and large. However, the 'family guru' (kula-guru) has lost much of its importance. Often he is paid for coming to initiate the young adolescent, and his role ends there. There is no longer any question of his dispensing the whole intellectual knowledge as in ancient India, or of keeping the student in his own family (guru-kula) for years, or of providing him with a professional future, as was possible in a world where most knowledge was linked to religion. Often, the kula-gurus are not themselves much learned. Though, sometimes, they are Sadgurus and give a decisive impetus to the spiritual life of young people.

In the family hierarchy, the young women, and particularly the daughter-in- law, is at the bottom. Some problems can be mentioned which are posed by the mere fact of being born a girl in India: to begin with, they are not even sure to be born; the early diagnosis of sex in utero, although legally banned, has developed quickly in the country leading to the abortion of female foetus. The argument of unscrupulous doctors practising this kind of intervention is 'a diagnosis will cost you one hundred and fifty rupees, a dowry will cost one hundred and fifty thousand.' If the little girl is born, she has more chance than a boy of dying at an early age. She is separated from her family at a young age to go and live with her in-laws where she is treated as a sort of servant. If the parents are slow in paying the dowry they promised, she is taken as a kind of hostage and persecuted. Sometimes, she ends up committing suicide or is even 'suicided' by her in-laws, who may pour the kerosine oil on her sari and set her on fire. In Punjab, a decree of the Ministry of Justice has ordered an enquiry into all deaths of young women during the first seven years of life with the in-laws. So they seem to consider this as a criminal case a priori! Women does not choose their husband, since marriage in India are arranged. Furthermore, the wife is indicted should her husband die before her: the death happened, so it is believed, because of her bad behaviour, if not in this life, in a previous one...Remarrying is forbidden, at least in the higher castes, mainly for questions of properties. But to be a widow is considered in many respects to be dead to this world, a female equivalent of the sannyas, and a certain number of women actually live their widowed life as such. The only problem is that males did make a choice, but women are forced into their role by the family and the society. A widow should be allowed to choose between marrying again or leading an ascetic life. The strange thing is that the harshness of the Indian system towards women did not result in their aggressiveness toward men. The temptation of extramarital relationship for instance evokes a strong reaction of guilt in the conscience of these women. Aggressiveness is turned in on oneself in the form of self-deprecation. The woman patiently waits her turn: she knows that she shall have power once she becomes mother-in-law enthroned in the midst of her sons.

This is true that the Indian women are not liberated, but one should not imagine that men are either. The whole system is extremely structured. In certain Indian customs, the son has to wait for the death of his father in order to come of legal age. In any case he will not risk taking important decisions without his father's consent. Whatever moneys he earn is swallowed up by the family. A man has a very little margin of movement left between his mother and his wife. He has not much intimacy. the old women of the house end up sooner or later knowing everything about his sexual life, and are not afraid of telling him if the need arises. When he becomes old, it is not better. In a moment when, perhaps, he would prefer to rest, he is constantly called upon to solve all the disputes which unfailingly arise among the crowds of children and grandchildren living under the same roof. Indians, both male and female, pay the price of their system of joint family which, however, gives them, one must acknowledge it, many advantages as well: an affective security, an insurance for old-age, sickness and unemployment, and a moral barrier against all sort of deviations. For the Indians, a large joint family is a richness in itself. It broadens the network of relationships, so allowing one to settle certain affairs, to find employment, etc... Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between this familial 'helping-hand' among menbers of the same family and caste, and sheer corruption.

One could refer to number surveys to show either the therapeutic or the pathogenic effects of the joint family. In the domain of neurosis, the results are rather mixed, positive for some studies, negative for others (93) When one considers all the pressures on the individaul because of the family system, one can understand that the sannyas can have the role of a safety valve. For spiritual reasons, anyone can live his/her family; especially before marriage, or much later just after elder son's marriage, but also at any moment. It is a tolerance which counterbalances the rigidity of the system. However, the life of a renouncer is hard enough to make people who wish only to escape, think twice before leaving, or else make them come back after an unsuccessful attempt.

Shishu and shishya, or the child and the disciple.

The notion of child, infant (shishu) and that of disciple (shishya) are related even in the very words. The root 'sikh' means to teach, to receive a teaching. An Indian infant, more than its Western counterpart, benefits from a feeling of security. Helen Stork has devoted a well documented (from a psychological point of view) work on the mothering of South-Indian babies (94). The baby is constantly in contact with the women of the joint family: elder sisters, aunts and of course grandmother.

Since often Indian children sleep with their mother until the age of five, this is no wonder than psychiatrists say they have very few consultations about nightmares or night terrors. Indian babies oral tendency is less frustrated than in the West, at least for those who does not suffer from malnutrition. Babies are allowed to suck the breast for a longer time than in developed countries, the weaning process is more progressive. It is considered abnormal that a child should cry; if it is hungry, sometimes, in order to calm it down, even its grandmother can give it her breast. Contrary to the habitual rules of purity, the child may eat from his mother's dish. We have already seen another exception to this rule of purity; the disciple who feels honoured to eat prasad, that is to say the remnants of his guru's food. This common point between mother and guru is certainly keenly felt by a Hindu, it confirms what a mantra says:'The guru is in the mother, and the mother in the guru.'

The anal phase is after the oral phase the second period of development of the small child, when the toilet discipline is acquired. Educational mistakes at this stage may further obsessing neurosis. Usually this phase, important for the development of the ego, is less suppressed than in the West. I mean that there is no too early training in cleanliness. The Indian children in villages remain up to five to six years of age dressed in a simple shirt. When they have a call of nature, mummy cleans up in the same way she cleans up the cow or buffalo dung the whole day in front of the house. The child learns cleanliness more by imitation than by 'aversion conditioning', i.e., punishment.

Practically, he goes with his father and his brothers to relieve himself in a nearby field in the early morning. Of course, the pursuance of this habit in slums on the outskirt of bifg cities constitutes a big public health hazard. This tolerance toward child anality undoubtedly plays a role in the development of a more flexible ego among Indians than among Westerners. Having described all these factors, it does not seem strange that the image of the 'god mother' is a very common and strong point of reference in Indian psychotherapies (95). A French psychoanalyst with decades of experience behind her once explained to me that, for her, what worked well in therapy was the simple fact that the patients were exposing their sufferings before the eyes of the therapist, eyes which were directly identified by them to the therapist's look. Likewise, the Hindu devotee will long for this very look in the darshans (silent meetings) with the guru or with the divinity residing in the image. The form of the Mother-goddess most worshipped in India is Durga,, represented as a young woman, usually described as a virgin, killing a buffalo-demon at her feet with a stroke of her spear, while she stares straight ahead. During the nine nights of Navaratri, in October, one may see for instance in Banaras such statues at the corners of roads or in ashrams. The crowd pushes in to have the darshan of the Mother. At the end of this period, the statues are carried to the river Ganga with the accompaniment of drums. When the evening twilight is over, the devoteees dance once more, as a kind of last farewell, in front of the statue, holding in their hands vessels with burning coals. From time to time, they kindle fireworks of a shining white by which the whole scene is suddenly lit up. For a few seconds more, Mother stares over the crowd,, the crowd stares back to Her, eyes meeting eyes. Then the faithful carry the statues on boats and go further into the darkness to throw them into the middle oof the Ganges; the statues become again the mud of the river from where they had been first taken out and moulded.

The gaze of the mother, like that of the guru or of the therapist according to Rogers, is an 'unconditionally positive' look. It carries the feelings of exchange and unity. If one defines a successful relationship as the normal capability of exchange, of reciprocity, of mutuality, one could say that there is generally a successful relationship between mother and child in India. 996) I could in the same way observe this 'mutuality' at work between guru and disciple. Is it not the ideal of a perfect mutuality to which Ma Anandamayi alludes when she says, 'This body {the way by which she referred to herself} is a musical instrument. The sound that it will give will depend upon the manner you play on it.'

If in India the little girl often has to work hard helping her mother, this does not mean that she will not enjoy a protected status in her original family in which, after all, she stays about fifteen or so years. She has the status of guest (atithi), the guest being considered as a god on par with the mother, the father and the guru. She is worshipped as goddess (Kumari-devi) during the cult of the girl (Kumari-puja) once a year at least. It is important for Westerners never to loose sight of this atmosphere where all the family members are pervaded by the Divine, even the cows; thus, they won't be shocked by worship of the guru, which appears minimal in this context.

The small boy is the object of a quasi unlimited emotional investment by the mother who will need him much in the future. There is a self preserving circle of affective relationships in a patriarchal system. I could see it at work in Muslim circles too, when I was working as a psychiatrist in Algeria. The mother has a very close, almost erotic relationship with her son. The latter ends up by being afraid of being swallowed up by feminine sexuality. When he marries, he keeps his distance from his spouse. She is, in her turn, frustrated and pours out her affection on her sons, who are in their own turn disturbed. In everyday life, the son is more or less under obligation to side with his mother against his wife. A.Ross (97) has attempted to calculate the emotional intensity of the various intra-familial relationships. The most 'loaded' relationship was that between mother and son, with a rating of 115; then came that of 'brother and sister', with a valuation of 90; the relationship between husband and wife was valued only at 16...However, I met in India a number of couples who seemed to understand each other very well and who told me that they fell in love the first or second time they met, that is the very day of their wedding....

We gave some similarities between child and disciple. It remains for us to identify similarities between the child and the guru. The Sadguru, like the child, has his thinking very close to the body. But he is aware of this, while the child is not; he is spontaneous, but does not make blunders while the child does from time to time. The guru's emotions, in their manifestation, may change quickly, but they are only an echo, an 'empathy' with the emotions of the person facing him at that moment. Like the child, the guru is always playing, but the game he plays is an eternal game, the divine game in the heart of human nature. The guru is not only identified with the Krihsna of the Bhagavad-Gita teaching Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra; he is also the Krishna of Vrindavan at the centre of the Bhagavata-Purana. He is the child-god, charming for his frankness and his spontaneous attitude. One could object that the guru can never attain maturity. Actually, he has reached beyond both stages of childhood and maturity thanks to his complete independence. The child depends on his parents, the mature man on his wife, on his employer or his customers for his affective and material security. The Sadguru does not depend on anybody, he is happy in himself.

From the 'second birth' of the child to the 'first death' of the sannyas: the social itinerary of the Hindu.

Between about seven and twelve years of age, boys of the three high castes receive the sacred thread, making them 'twice born' during a ceremony called 'upanayanam' performed by the family guru. At the other end of life, he who wishes to enter sannyas receives the initiation (diksha) by his Sadguru and himself officiates his own funeral rites, which frees his eldest son from this duty. He dies to the world, religiously and also legally; he throws his sacred thread to the fire. This is the first death, the social death before the second one, that of the body. With the second birth, social and religious education starts for good. Even if the child is no longer in guru's family (gurukul) as in the ancient system of education, nevertheless he is initiated by his father to the various rituals and social duties of his caste. If he follows traditional studies, he will be in contact with some vidya-gurus, professors of Sanskrit, philosophers, etc. A difference here has to be made between the vidya-guru assisting the father in the intellectual education of the child, and the Sadguru who has with his disciple a relationship of a more maternal type, a fundamental and enveloping relationship, without any other specific goal than attaining liberation (moksha). However, the guru is often legally identified to the father. The rare cases in which a sannyas fills in some administrative papers, he is authorized by law to put in the specific spot left for 'father's name' the name of the guru who gave him monastic initiation.

An Indian saying goes:'Before five years of age treat a child as a king; during the following ten years as a servant; and as a friend afterwards.' (98) In the education given by a Sadguru, these three phases are also found: the first phase is gratifying, in order to establish a relationship of steadfast confidence, the second is frustrating so that the disciple searches with intensity inside himself, and the third phase is characterized by spiritual friendship between a guru and his mature disciple. In a way, the guru exerts less pressure on his disciple than a present-day Indian father on his child, especially if he is the eldest son. The father expects his son to embody traditional continuity, but at the same time to be professionally successful in Western type careers, so as to feed the rest of the family. Because of these tensions and contradictory messages, the eldest sons are more subject to troubles than the younger ones, and such troubles can even lead to suicide. The guru keeps himself within the traditional domain, and he does not usually expects his disciple to be intellectually brilliant.

After the marriage of the first son, or sometimes after their sixtieth birthday, the couple is supposed to progressively grow towards the stage of renunciation. They are well thought of if they sleep separately. In general women, though complaining about the excessive sexual requests of their husband at that age, have less tendency to take sannyas: they reach the height of their power in their family at this time and do not wish to let such an opportunity go after waiting for it for so long. Furthermore, it is not customary for women to walk on the roads or to leave in isolated spots as sannyasis do. Institutions for sannyasinis (renouncing women) are little developed. If they are widows, they are already considered renouncers de facto (99).

If the woman is already in an ashram, it may happen that she becomes the principal disciple of her guru, that she receives the name of 'Mother' and that she will succeed him at the head of the institution. This system also functions in politics, where it is not rare for widows to succeed their deceased husbands or fathers in public roles.

If parents decide to quit the world and to settle apart from society with the status of vanaprastha, they are supposed to abstain from sexual relationships. If a child is born, he will be considered an out-caste. In Indian tradition, if someone quits his family to become a sannyasi, this family is said to be blessed until the seventh generation.. The grandfather of Vivekananda had left as a renouncer, Ma Anandamayi's father left his family for some years to roam about on the roads chanting the Name of God and religious songs. For the members of the young generation, the empty place left by the renouncer may be compared to the void centre of the wheel around everything turns. Through his non action, the renouncer has at least the effect of a question mark for those remaining in the world.

The five gurus

We have seen that the tradition acknowledge five gurus: mother, then father, the eldest brother, the guru dispensing the teaching and for the woman, her husband. To begin with this last case, an idea current in India, expressed for instance in the Mahabharata, may be mentioned:'If the brides restrain their senses and keep their heart totally under control, they look at their husbands as truly gods'. For women, neither sacrifice, nor shraddha (offerings to the souls of the deceased), nor fasting are effective. It is only by serving their husband that they might gain heaven' (100). There is certainly a relationship between a woman's worship of her husband and a disciple's worship of his guru, especially in the path of bhakti. Opening one's heart to the influence of the guru and of the divine takes the place of all the habitual forms of asceticism and of all yogas.

A guru, out of modesty, would rather present himself in the role of eldest brother than that of father. There is a whole play between him and his disciple, the disciple knowing that he must place the guru at the top, while the play of the guru consists in continuously disentangling himself from such a projection, out of humility. The spiritual master is a father, this notion is common to Christianity and Hinduism. Nevertheless, the relationship between guru, mother and deity is a more specific Hindu theme. We have already mentioned it, and we can develop it here at present. Practically all the protective deities of Indian villages are mother-goddesses. One of the functions of the devotion to the Divine Mother, like the devotion to the guru, is that of helping sexual control, something which is traditionally valued especially for the Yogis. By consciously playing on the Oedipus complex, one can recover the symbolic unity with the mother and at the same time keep away of sexual relationships and of their disturbing effect on the basic stability of the mind. This is illustrated by the myth of Skanda, the son of Shiva: after having killed the demon Taraka, he is told by his mother Parvati, Shiva's spouse, that as a reward he may do what he wants. Skanda goes on proposing the wives of the gods, so much and so well that these wives go to Parvati to complain. Not wishing to break her promise, she decides to simply descend into the bodies of all the goddesses approached by her son. Skanda, recognizing his mother every time, does not dare to go any further.

It is interesting to see the manner in which the renouncers are fed by the women of the neighbourhood, and how they accept this in a childlike way. I remember for instance Mastaram Baba who used to live in a shelter on the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh. One could hardly tell if he was the child or the guru of the women visiting him. A religion with a quasi pure male dominance as in the Bible is difficult to conceive in the Hindu context were the faithful are the children of the Divine Mother, or identify themselves with the gopis, Krishna's mistresses. The gods themselves are often represented in couples; even the shivalingam, the most male symbol that exists, corresponding to the male organ, always rests on the yoni, which corresponds to the female sexual organ, but the linga goes away from the yoni, which means that what is hinted to is not the usual sexual union, but the sublimation of it.

The guru manifests his true nature by the transmission of his energy (shakti-pat); Shakti is the feminine and active principle accounting for the manifested world, while Shiva is the masculine and passive principle representing the non-manifested Absolute. In order to show that the relationship with the guru includes all types of usual relationships and is at the same time beyond them, one may resort to the comparison of the prism. The prism, if it receives the seven colours of the rainbow, produces a white light, which is different from these seven colours; in the same way the relationship between guru and disciple has its own quality. Some psychologists define psychic life as a set of internalized relationships, and therapeutic relationship as the restoration of a positive basic relationship (101). In this sense the guru is a good therapist.

It is said that a young child develops in a balanced way, if it has the ability to 'hallucinate its good mother', that is to say to internalize her when she is absent, avoiding in this way a reaction of despair against which he has no defence. Furthermore, he must not make the Manichean separation between the 'good mother' giving the breast and the 'bad mother' giving it away. If he makes this separation, he actually risks having psychotic symptoms later on. In Indian tradition, these two factors are integrated. The bhakti of the Divine Mother evokes a hallucination of the good mother, and the cult of Kali, both benign and terrible, protective and destructive at the same time, helps to integrate the good and bad aspects of mother in a single representation. A reflection from an old Punjabi woman elucidates this integration:'A being in the process of dying is like a baby whom its mother transfers from one breast to the other: it has a moment of panic, but immediately after, it regains its composure.' The bad guru, like the bad mother, is often invested with the obscure powers of black magic.

If being devoured by the bad mother is experienced as negative, frightening, being 'devoured' by the Sadguru is experienced as the highest good thing. Ramakrishna describes the competent guru as somebody who can 'gulp down' his disciple in a single mouthful, in the same way as a big serpent may gulp down a frog. Ramana Maharshi compares the Sadguru to a tiger which, once it has got hold of its prey, will never let it go. Nevertheless, an Indian saying recommends prudence with gurus, when one is not quite sure of the purity of their intentions:'In four cases, it is better to be neither to near nor too far : with fire, with the king, with a woman and with a guru.' Of course, once the relationship with a genuine guru is firmly established, it should be as intense as possible as the relationship with God himself, since both are parallel. In practice, the cult of the Divine Mother coexists fairly well with the Vedantic non-duality, notwithstanding their philosophical differences. For instance, Shankaracharya, the champion of vedanta, is traditionally considered as the author of a poem about the Divine Mother, the 'Saundaryalahari'. In our days, Ma Anandamayi, who was closely associated by her devotees to the Divine Mother, gave a fundamentally Vedantic, non-dual teaching.

We have just seen that in some of his aspects, the guru could present analogies with women and children. But does this mean, as claimed by some people, that guru and meditation make people 'regress to primary process'? I have discussed this question in the other book which is on this website, 'Indian Wisdom, Christianity and Modern Psychology' (Part 1, ch 4 'The Child-Sage')

To summarize, one can say 'no', because this expression of regression to primary process has a touch of pathology. It would be better to speak of 'return to fundamental processes.' Meditation and the influence of the guru put people in contact with forces -the Hindus would say 'the force' (kundalini shakti)- which are at the basis of the psyche. To some extent, the psychotic patient is also in contact with these forces, but is unable to master them. An authentic guru possesses in himself or herself what Richard Lannoy calls the 'force of the antipodes', the vital force unconsciously associated with 30% of the Indian population, the 'untouchables' and tribals, who are minimally brahmanised. The guru may instil this force into traditional religion, which otherwise has a natural tendency to develop sclerosis. To continue the discussion on meditation, or on other activities related to the inner being, in terms of psychopathology, we may remark that he who meditates may be labelled by some people a kind of psychotic who is 'regressing to primary processes'; but can we not, instead, see in persons who do not meditate a kind of obsessing living cut off from their primary processes by the negation, replacement and projection of affection?

After studying some elements of the psychology of the Indian family, I will now give some information about modern psychotherapy in India, its possibilities and its limitations. This will give us a better understanding of the links and differences between guru and therapist.


Western psychotherapy does not have deep roots in India, though it has long been known in intellectual milieus. Indeed, as early as in 1922, Girinder Sekhar Bose founded the Indian Association of Psychoanalysis in Calcutta, which has been active since that period; it was also that of the beginnings of psychoanalysis in France. After sixty years, they arrived at the following results: thirty-five psychoanalysts are practising at present (102), divided mostly between Calcutta, Bombay and Delhi. Because of its interest in Indian teachings, one would think that the Jungian school would be better developed in India. Actually, the only Indian Jungian analyst who had a complete training, A.V.Vasudeva of Bombay, left the country in the '60s. The 'new therapies' so popular in USA and rather widespread in France, are virtually unknown in India. In the big University bookshops in Delhi as well as in the medical bookshops, I looked for references to Bioenergy, Scream or Prima Therapies, Transactional Analysis and the like. I did not find anything, except a short chapter on family therapy. Institutional therapy is influenced mainly by American behaviourism but without rigidity. Even the 'Journal of Transpersonal Psychology' with its particular interest in the relationship between East and West, is practically unknown in India. There has been an address of the French President of the Association of Transpersonal Psychology in the All Indian Science Congress in 1997, but to be frank the link remain thin.

At the time of Independence, in 1947, there were no psychotherapists as such in the country. Today there are three psychiatric hospitals in charge of training, as well as a few universities who started doctorate in clinical psychology. This is not much for one billion inhabitants. Most of the psychotherapists are attached to psychiatric wards. Rare are those who open a consultation room. To give the example of Banaras where I lived for three years, (1987-1990) there was only one psychotherapist who has opened a consultation office in the city, and moreover, he was and still is specialized in mentally handicapped children. This is not much for a town of 800,000 inhabitants. In the whole of India there was in 1885 21000 beds for psychiatric hospitalization. If one were to have the same rate per number of inhabitants as in France for instance, there should be 1,600,000 beds. Trivedi and Sethi (1979) estimate that in the rural areas, 80 % of people go to see traditional healers. Generally, Indians make sharp distinction between the guru and the healer, notwithstanding some overlap from time to time. With the help of a study by HG Singh (103) one may trace the demarcation line as follows: one chooses a Sadguru for life, while one chooses a healer only for a few sessions. The guru usually gives the disciple a mantra and a puja (prayer accompanied by a ritual) to practise daily. The healer, instead, recites some mantras and performs some pujas on behalf of the patient, who has nothing to do but to believe in them. The gurus are generally Brahmans or of a high caste. Often they are renouncers and cannot practice as healers; the healers are often of a lower caste, married and have another occupation. Both have learned their art by assisting and watching their teachers for years, and often give their treatment free of charge. They think that if they accept money from their patients, they will also have to take their bad karma. Because of this belief, it is not rare for the healers who take money to stop practising after some years. They interpret some personal or family problems in which they got involved as a consequence of their breach of the rule of not charging for their services. Recently, the Reiki techniques became quite popular in the big cities, usually on a commercial basis.

A and D de Souza are noted specialists of psychiatry in India and they published an important book on the subject, which is an authority in the field they teach in a University at Bombay. They write in one of the last pages of their conclusions:

'The psychiatrist of tomorrow has to arm himself with a deep knowledge of various religions. He shall then choose among his patients those who may benefit from a religious therapy and shall initiate them into a processes of meditation, giving them a link with a divinity or a saint. The role of the psychiatrist shall be then that of a 'guru' or of a 'minister'. Once this link is established, they may resort to this god or saint every time there is stress and they will become peaceful even without the personal mediation of a psychiatrist. For cases of depression and neurosis, this form of therapy may be of considerable help... It can function better than all the others, in so far as it establishes a link with the 'Creator' himself and the 'All-Powerful', who allays all suffering. The psychiatrist of tomorrow has the duty to take into consideration this therapeutic paradigm.' (104)

In this quote one may perceive that Indian psychiatrists are not afraid as in the West of a possible 'Society of Psychiatrists', distrustful and rigid in its rationalism, or of an authoritarian Church which thinks it has the monopoly of the Divine; they say what they feel about what may help their patients. I think that one may see here a sign of the flexibility of Hinduism, which easily adapts itself to the request for concrete reassurance in case of stress. Certainly, there is less of a division than in the West between psychological and spiritual help. In the West, this split has too often grown into a painful divorce, and a severe competition for power.

During my research, I have met or heard about a few persons who combined the traditional approach linked to a guru with the psychotherapeutic, that is the psychoanalytical approach which they came to know through their readings. A teacher of Philosophy at Banaras, for instance, was spending his Sundays receiving people free of charge. He used to make some of the visitors practice a kind of meditation taught by his own guru, which had indeed much in common with therapeutic relaxation. When he saw that sexual problems come to the fore, he used the psychoanalytical method of free associations. BS Goel has published a book on Yoga and Psychoanalysis; it is interesting because he speaks directly of his own experience of psychoanalysis and meditation. He explains in a very practical way how he thinks that the two techniques for loosening certain knots of the mind can work together. His work is refreshing in the field of psychoanalysis, because not loaded by heavy references and independent of any sub-school as there are so many in the West. They are quite a few examples of combination of Indian and modern psychotherapy. The movement of Vipassana launched by Goenka leads psychological researches on meditation (Pr SS Nathawat, Department of Psychology, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, India). Hopefully, the development of the Internet in India will allow a better networking of people studying these questions around the world.

One may ask what is the future of Western psychotherapy in India. Is it going to follow the same rate of modernization and growth as the car and computer industries, for example? This may be the case in the places where the psychologist deals with truly pathological patients as is already done in psychiatric institutions; this may also be true for the development of the psychology of work; in every big Indian company there is a personnel manager who, among other things, has learned psychology. In such areas therapeutic help is certainly growing with the general level of economy and of health. But I do not believe that there is much scope for the growth of that trend of Western psychotherapy which is interested in personal development and tends to present a complete and closed vision of the psyche, as long-term psychoanalysis or certain new therapies do. They work in a field where competition from Indian traditional ways and techniques is strong, the latter having the benefit of being integrated in their society, culture and family. But an assimilation of some Western techniques by some gurus or some independent researchers is possible and has already started, as we have shown above. One has to add to these factors a general tendency to go back to traditional values, without going to the extremes. Even if there are many materialists now in India, population grew quickly and this makes still a good number of people interested in religion and mysticism. Moreover, Indian society is quite compartmentalized, they will not be disturbed by the coexsistence of high-tech and completelyy traditional style of leaving side by side.


Not all renouncers are Sadguru, far from it, but most of Sadgurus are renouncers. This does not necessarily mean that they have been all of them celibate from the beginning, or that they had a formal ordination into sannyasa. Some gurus continued to lead a family life, like Lahiri Mahasay who introduced kriya-yoga and lived in Banaras, Mahendranath Gupta, the author of 'The Gospel of Ramakrishna' or more recently Nisargadatta Maharaj. But in the Indian context, they are rather the exception confirming the rule. It seems that we are no longer in the era of the great rishis who after a life religious and spiritual learning retired to the forest along with their wives. There are, certainly, some pious couples who spend their retirement in a sacred place, such as Vrindavan, but one cannot speak of them as rishis; they are rather sadhakas.

What does initiation means in India today? For the whole social system it is a safety valve; for the young it is a way of following an original vocation, avoiding an arranged marriage, and sometimes a job they have not chosen. For the fathers and mothers, the possibility of renunciation on retirement means that they will not always be forced to live in the midst of a joint family of twenty-five members in the company of the partner alloted to them by their parents thirty years before... For the brahmans, it is a way of becoming free from the two, four or five hours of daily puja, a ritual forming an integral part of their duties as head of family, and to develop an interest in forms of purer meditation, less burdensome than ritualism. It is a way of finding late in life a freedom that they never really had before.

It is important to pinpoint what Indians, and especially Shankaracharya and Vedanta, understand when they speak of renunciation of action, karma. Karma has a clear connotation of sacrificial undertaking, or at least of action with an aim. 'Renouncing karma' means therefore for the free living person (jivanmukti) and to a lesser degree, for the sadhakas, being involved only in totally spontaneous actions, free from any worries about earthly or heavenly benefits (105). Then the action is fully effective because it is not impeded nor strained by the cuirass of a rigid psychological structure. There is not in India, to my knowledge, a permanent vow of retreat like that of Carthusian monks in the Catholic church, where the Fathers (who have been more than twenty years in the monastery) do not even meet the novices. If by chance a yogi dies in a cave, this means either that he has been caught unexpectedly by death or that, knowing that he was condemned to die, he has gone in retreat in order to end his days without troubling anybody. Such cases are rare. Retreats in the Himalaya or elsewhere are considered temporary until one acquires a certain level of realization, even if this temporary period may extend to twelve or twenty years.

In India, nobody forbids anyone to buy an alms bowl and some orange cloth and to dress up as a renouncer, thus being equipped with the complete paraphernalia to take to the road. I calculated that nowadays one can become a renouncer for as little as seven US $, equal to four days salary for an ordinary Indian employee. Given such criteria of selection -or rather the absence of such criteria- everything can be found in the milieu of sadhus ('the good people', a generic term to indicate renouncers of all kind). One Indian in a thousand has abandoned the world. I do not think that this low figure explains Indian poverty, all the more than among the sadhus, along with real saints there is also a percentage of psychiatric cases which in the West would have cost society much as inmates of a psychiatric hospital for chronic cases.

BD Tripathi did a sociological research on the sadhus of Uttar pradesh, the Northern province of India where is Banaras and Hardwar and which counts more than a hundred millions inhabitants.


Some figures given by him may help to enlighten us: there are 70% of renouncers who are illiterate, which number was corresponding to the Indian average at that time (in the beginning of the '80s). One cannot say, therefore, that the absence of literacy is a specific factor which drives people out of the world. One must also keep in mind that illiteracy does not mean lack of traditional culture; for instance in the beginning of the century there was a well-known professor of Sanskrit in the Sampurnananda Sanskrit University of Banaras who did not know how to write. Furthermore 10% of sadhus are University people, 10% are physically handicapped, 30% were unemployed or could not find job for one reason or the other before becoming sadhus. A fourth of them declared that they had chosen this life as a way to earn a livelihood, while only a fifth of them thought that they had chosen it primarily to lead a spiritual life. Twenty per cent are active, this means that they have a job generally in the field of education or health. One can easily understand that in the midst of this medley, or to put it more positively, of this freedom, reference to a guru assumes a sound validity. The gurus are relatively well known in this milieu, and their qualities and defects allow one to have an idea of the quality and defects that one may reasonably expect from their disciples. Even if they are not active in the sense of social work, neither as teachers or gurus, the sadhus have, nevertheless, a function in society. They ensure a religious presence even by their very begging. Pious families, especially for the 75% of India living in villages, await the passage of the 'saint' who will come past their door. For these people living in the countryside, the sadhu is really the 'good man' whose very visit is a blessing. In the towns, the practice of door to door begging by the renouncers has almost completely disappeared. The sadhu, especially if he is educated, transmits the religious tradition not only in an intellectual way, as most married pandits do, but also with the seal of a spiritual experience which his renunciation is expected to have given him. By entering this state, out of society, he abandons his 'ego' and reaches the experience of Brahman before the creation of the world:'In the beginning there was only the Brahman. He therefore knew only himself (atman). "I (aham) am Brahman.' From there he became the Whole' (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, I; 4-10). The fact that the guru is a renouncer theoretically reduces the risk of his manipulating the disciples mind. Actually, sexual desire and the desire of power over others are inextricably bound -an idea we shall develop in the last chapter. If someone has really understood this association and has renounced it, he is worthy of being a guru. If he wants to become one before reaching this stage, the opposite phenomenon may happen; he will either project his frustrated affection in a stronger desire for power over the disciple (either male or female) or else may even go to the extent of having sexual relations with some of his devotees, which is a major breach of the traditional rule.

Gurus do not favour much group life; they usually say that this disperses the energy of yoga. A Hindi proverb states:'Too many yogis and there is confusion in the monastery.' Here lies an important difference between Hinduism and Christianity. In the latter, community life allows people to practise charity; it is an image of the early ecclesia; and from a less spiritual perspective, it is a good means for the central power to regiment and discipline the obscure forces of mysticism, which may give the monks certain experiences which are hardly compatible with dogma. In India devotion to the guru takes the place of the hierarchy, and of the community to a certain extent, although they also insist on the satsang, i.e., being together around a man of God. Once the bond with the guru is strongly established, the independence from the institution is almost complete. Sadhus are of course often found together in ashrams and monasteries, but there are among them a large proportion of novices and elderly people. They do not take vow of stability in a given monastery as do their Christian counterparts. One of the most active organization of Hinduism is the sampradaya. It is a sect, generally of more modest dimensions in comparison with the great Vaishnavite, Shaivite or other groups. Their are parts of these groups, centered on a lineage of gurus back to a famous founder, usually in the Middle-Age, and is constituted both of renouncer and lay people.

In the Hindu system, one sees an aspiration towards superior values. Low and middle castes try to brahmanize themselves and the brahmans living in the world try to 'sannyasize' themselves as well. Though the sannyasi (107) seems to be marginal, he is under the protection of Shiva, the yogi-god meditating on the top of the mountain; he is the silent centre of Indian society and the embodiment of what its members most eagerly aspire to: 'moksha', liberation.