Baba once shared a significant story with his disciples, and I was fortunate to be a part of that inner circle. The Sanskrit word “satsangha” refers to a gathering of seekers, specifically disciples, which gather around a great Guru, to receive the wisdom of absolute reality (Brahman). Typically, the master meets the students on a regular basis to not only impart this rare wisdom that gets activated through purified speech of the Guru alone, but also to clear the doubts students may have. However, depending upon the state of the mind of the student, and the degree to which the ego is full of itself or empty of prior notions, the results vary.
Baba described three different mindsets the student may possess.
In the first type, the student’s mind is like a hot plate. The student’s personal consciousness is teeming with life agendas, and all types of feverish desires. In essence, our ego is overstated, despite being in the company of a great teacher. So when rare spiritual wisdom comes through our ears, and enters our mind, it does not stay long enough with us to even make a dent in our consciousness. It simply disappears within moments, just like drops of water evaporate quickly on encountering a scorching surface. The greater the heat of the ego, the faster is the loss of wisdom.
Every spiritual teacher encounters students with “hot plate” personalities. Their egos are fired up with desires for amassing more (of everything) or fears of losing what they value so much. They are barely present to drop inwards to find true security and stability, instead chasing it externally.
In the second type of mindset, the student slowly and steadily begins to recognize the value of rare Self-knowledge coming their way from the rare awakened teacher via sacred text-based teachings. They recognize that the teacher’s body may not remain vigorous enough to teach forever (since the body of the Guru is also perishable), and perhaps their own karma can create future, unknown, obstacles in learning. Now, the student begins to esteem the study and learning opportunity and give it the attention it deserves. They become more focused upon their learning opportunity, value it as a priority, and give it their full attention. For this they may even have to sacrifice several privately held agendas. The student’s mindfulness begins to show up in how much they value each encounter with the teacher (satsangha). The student’s entire personality becomes like a lotus leaf.
Have you ever seen a lotus leaf and its response to water droplets, either from rain or a hose? When water falls on the lotus leaf, it holds them for a long time, as long as it can, like glistening beads. In our perspective, this represents being with the knowledge, deliberately, even when we are not present face-to-face with our Guru. This longer association with “drops of wisdom” from the teacher, leads to greater inner alignment with reality and true Self, and expedites our remembering who we are. The leaf that holds droplets of divine wisdom with mindfulness gradually blossoms into a lotus. Yes, the lotus of the disciple’s heart opens, and the disciple encounters the outer Guru dwelling in that inner lotus. This state, an evolved one, is known as the emergence of Shraddha (faith), the surrender of the final remnants of ego, to the Guru and Guru’s message from the awakening scriptures. The students who make effort to retain and contemplate upon the knowledge received from the Guru begin to enjoy positive spiritual clarity and innumerable life-benefits in due course.
However, the lotus leaf may not always enjoy the bloom of knowledge. The disciple must remember to come back to the Guru, again and again, repeatedly, without break, simply to get wet again and again in the shower of divine wisdom, since water-beads will disappear from the lotus leaf over time. So also, a mind that stops being exposed to the Guru’s shower of wisdom for any reason, parches in the desert of illusion and delusion. Chances of the lotus blooming in due time becomes another unfulfilled delusion.
Finally, it is a rare student who becomes a pearl of wisdom.
The story goes this way, that there is a rare shell that waits with its mouth open for rain. But simply any rain shower at any time will not do. It waits to catch even one drop of the rain that falls in the Swati Nakshatra (a star constellation, considered spiritually potent as per the Hindus). Then, the shell closes and goes to sleep (to the rest of the world), but remains internally awake and active, with that celestial drop, as its entire universe.
No one knows when the shell will re-emerge and how. When it does return back to the world, and opens its mouth again, the water droplet has become a pearl. It does not hoard the pearl for itself, but releases it into the ocean, adding a little more shine, to a self-shining - existence. The droplet that became a pearl is the study of a disciple that first and foremost, discerns whose wisdom is worthy of waiting for and whose is not. The disciple does not get swayed, for example, by the first person who shows up with the biggest spiritual gig, exotic mystical dress, or fancy advertisements (all contemporary examples of the kind of early discernment a pearl will do).
Then, the disciple assigns extraordinary value to each drop of wisdom that emerges from the chosen Guru’s auspicious mouth, since often, for such sensitive disciples, even one drop is enough. Upon receiving wisdom, they feel complete. This shows that the pearl disciple is clearly beyond an unexamined desire for learning from scriptures, blindly hoping to study and master yet more scriptures, and even memorize a few or all verses. Meanwhile, never personally making the effort to assimilate the essence of the wisdom or trying to live the first verse of the first scripture ever taught to them.
Finally, the disciple shows extraordinary ability to turn inwards, away from the world and its trappings of fame, name, popularity, accolades, and approvals. From past experience (in this life time or previous) or from the Guru’s counsel, the disciple already knows how unsubstantial is the drama of victory, name and fame earned in the world, won at such great cost, and how transient is worldly joy. We are always left unquenched.
The disciple is now only in quest of the abiding bliss of the Self. So the disciple has no qualms in truly re-prioritizing their lifestyle to pursue Self-knowledge full-time. They may even change jobs, work part-time or seek early retirement. They may move closer to the Guru (geographically) and not leave any opportunity for satsangha with the Guru. They offer unbridled, exceptional selfless service to the Guru, and take care of the Guru’s outer form, just so that the teaching and learning can carry on, unrestricted by life circumstances. In their private and public life, these disciples go progressively inwards (they stop talking about their spiritual experiences and insights for a start). Hermit-like inwardly, regular people outwardly. Moms, dads, sons, daughters - they curate a meditative contemplative lifestyle and value solitude. They are present in the world, amongst the web of worldly relationships, but still, they manage to present beautifully expressed, calm spiritual boundaries.
The story is full of symbolism. Baba explained: The Swati constellation represents karmic or divine grace and spiritual forces that come together to set the right environment so the disciple encounters the master for future awakening. Then, the rain of good opportunity, to meet and study with the Guru, falls on many. Only the One who internalizes even a single droplet of wisdom, becomes the true disciple, and ultimately the awakened knower. The others simply get wet, and sooner or later, dry back up.
The outer shell is compared to the Guru’s protection, under which the disciple dwells, inwardly facing, (not outwardly facing the world) for a long duration (not a fixed amount of time). The disciple emerges from the shell only when the Guru releases the shell, not otherwise. So the true disciple does not self declare prematurely, “I am a pearl.” The Guru thinks with satisfaction, “Look another pearl, Oh Brahman; I give you back more of you. This one has now re-remembered.”
When the disciple emerges forth as a pearl, he or she returns as a Knower (brahmajnani), an Awakened One (jivanamukta), who shines, with a sovereign inner light, the shine of the Self. One in a million disciples becomes a pearl, but we should all aspire to become one. And in this way, with a beautiful inner smile, Baba concluded his storytelling that changed my life.