To make it easier for the reader to see what our book is about, I will link the presentation that I recently gave at a temple.
I ran into someone who strongly believed in the above proposition, at the temple in Birmingham, Alabama, where they were kind enough to host an evening presentation on a working day, while on a business trip. He looked skeptical to begin with, and was, as is usual with such people, totally unaware of all recent controversies such as the California Textbook atrocities and Rajeev Malhotra’s struggles against the Conversionist establishment. Something like what we called an O.J. Simpson Jury back in the 1990s when I still used to subscribe to The Atlanta FishWrap. IOW, “404”. I must note here that I was one of a tiny minority who accurately saw that based on the evidence presented, and the priority of the lead prosecutors on their own hairdo and sleeping habits, an objective jury must find him innocent. As they did. So I had the deepest respect for this gentleman’s objectivity to start with.
When we got to the slide where I stated our decision to survey the different schools of SD without depending on any one Guru, he could not contain himself. “SO YOU DIDN”T LEARN FROM A GURU?” I said, no. You could sense him lifting off at full thrust through the ceiling, though he did have a triumphal air about him.
We state clearly the reasoning for this. There are thousands, perhaps millions, of different sets of followers, each devoted to a single Guru. Just in one U.S. city I believe there are two different sets of BAPS devotees who are not exactly on the same wavelength, and followers of two different Sai Babas. Unlike other faiths, we do not believe in having descended as followers of one single Prophet who got the goods directly from The One And Only, and recognize none as Supreme except for the Supreme ParamAtman who is, well, within each of us and everything and everywhere else. Beyond that, all are welcome and given equal opportunity to move towards Moksha, consistent with their Dharma. We do **NOT** believe in individuals getting any special Message From On High – except for their own enlightenment as Arjuna did. We do not do poojas or worship any human being as being, well, Divine, as close as Sachin Tendulkar, Madhuri Dixit, Rajnikant, and others long gone, may have approached this level of adulation. That said, humans appear to have a natural tendency to flock towards someone who will spare them the great difficulty of making choices for themselves.
The consequence of the Guru-choice theme in writing a textbook should be obvious: it is extremely divisive. Since the Adi Sankara, and perhaps Swami Vivekananda, it is difficult to think of a single major Guru who has advocated unity of all approaches and schools of thought (er… and not under himself/herself either). This is not to criticize any single School, other than for not asking disciples specifically to learn what other Gurus and schools were teaching, and to learn from them. The Gurus appear to shelter their shishyas and save them from the strain of using their brains, becoming increasingly dependent on the Guru rather than learning to “fly” on their own. Adi Sankara’s own teachings got misused by the Mathoms that he set up. They became increasingly narrow and rigorous in interpreting his broad wisdom, and thus narrowed their own perspective into intolerance! This led to the whole Bhakti movement. We discuss this clearly in the book.
An example from my teenage days comes to mind. One day I was cruising downhill on my bicycle when I saw a Prabhashanam being given on the grassy grounds of the Shiva temple. Let’s not go into what motivated me to stop and lean against the wall, but I could not help hearing his calm, clear tone. I stopped for a moment, but I stayed for over an hour, hanging on my bike, leaning over the wall! It was Swami Ranganathananda of the Ramakrishna Mission. He spoke in simple, fluent English. I was utterly fascinated to hear the lucid wisdom, aligning the deep concepts of the Vedas with simple common sense for contemporary living. Like all true experts, a Tendulkar at the crease or a Dhoni executing a run-out, he made it sound so easy and natural. At the end, a local Swami, the head of the (won’t say which one) local Mathom, in appropriately Holy attire, came on to “explain” to the assemblage in our native Malalayam what Ranganathanandaji had just finished saying. I was horrified. The local one proceeded to demonstrate that he had either not listened, or had not understood a word, that the learned guru had so beautifully explained! He could have been a NASA Reviewer! In 15 minutes the local “undid” all the good that the learned one had so painstakingly explained in an hour.
This scene is repeated far too many times. Books published by modern Hindu Mathoms are now printed on fine paper and come with beautiful color covers. Their content at first sight looks perfectly fine. One has to read with brain turned “On” to recognize the prejudices, superstitions and self-advertisement that contaminates the message. I shudder when I visit temples run by specific Mathoms, and after their Puja offered to the ParamAtman, they immediately bring the same lamps and flowers to offer Puja to a statue of The Guru seated at the opposite end of the hall. I doubt very much if the Guru himself ever intended for this to happen – these were lives lived in utter simplicity and self-denial and sacrifice to help others. But the “followers” have obviously not paid attention to the most important core concept of all. What good did “learning from a single Guru” do for these good people?
Throughout out Hindu history runs the tragic thread of the results of following single Gurus. It leads usually to violence, bigotry, hatred, and division. So while we certainly recognize that each Guru has much to offer and teach us, we refuse to endorse any single one.
For those who mistake this for ignorance I have this to say. Your arrogance is that our Vedas are all too complex, and their lessons are far too deep for any human to understand simply by reading them or about them. You are absolutely right, there is far more there than anyone can truly understand in one lifetime. Where your arrogance blinds you is your complacency that simply spending some years repeating words from one Guru, makes you superior. Since time immemorial, Sanatana Dharmis have recognized the need to learn from everyone, since the ParamAtman is everywhere. A good Guru should first teach the humility to recognize the potential for learning everywhere – and a good learner should learn this first. The second lesson is that we come from a Culture of Debate, as we title a whole chapter in our book. If one gets angry at losing in debate, one is no Sanatani. One should be happy at learning something new, not become viciously enraged like a Rakshasa.
The not-so-hidden corollary to “this is all too complicated, you have to learn from a Guru or else you are not a Hindu!” is “You are no good because you are not ALLOWED by birth to learn the Vedas!”.
This is to do a massive favor to the Conversionists. It’s like buying them a few aircraft carriers, to quote a saying from my profession. Been there, seen that, enough is enough. This is a lesson that good teachers in every religion have recognized. And there is no room for negotiation on this point. The arrogance must be destroyed, crushed, humiliated if necessary.