Lineage Story: Becoming a Pearl
We are happy to share this story from our founder, Acharya Shunya.
Baba once shared a significant story with his disciples. I was fortunate to be a part of that inner circle. The Sanskrit word “satsangha” refers to a gathering of seekers, specifically disciples, which collect 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, clears 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.
In the first type of mindset, the student’s mind is like a hot plate. The student’s personal consciousness is teeming with life agendas, and all types of vāsanās, (pertaining to the body, mind, or scriptures). In essence our ego is overstated, despite being in the company of a great teacher. So when rare wisdom (jñānam) 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.
These students are entrenched in their inner-identification with worldly positions. They remain asleep to the opportunity of a living awakened Guru sitting before them in a body, even as the Guru is discoursing with them about the Ultimate Truth of Self, Life and existence. Perhaps this rare opportunity presents itself due to past life’s accumulated good karma (known as punyam). In this lifetime, they come to the satsangha (gathering), and they appreciate the Guru’s uplifting words in the moment. They may offer sevā (service to the Guru as gratitude) and even like to revere the Guru as God, but alas, they do not retain the teachings. That is a great loss due to worldly fires that grip their mind. No sooner do they leave the teacher’s presence then they are back to square one – sleepwalking in maya, chasing mirages and running away from others. Thus, their spiritual benefits are minimal and transient. The wisdom has simply evaporated.
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 the Upanishads. They recognize that the teacher’s body may not remain vigorous enough to teach forever (since the body of the Guru also is 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 shows 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 drops fall 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 remembering who we are. The leaf that holds droplets of divine wisdom with mindfulness gradually blossoms 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 Shraddhā (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 for getting 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 wisdom rain for any reason, parches in the desert of māyā. Chances of the lotus blooming in due time, becomes another unfulfilled delusion.
Without water, the lotus leaf turns yellow, then brown, and finally falls back into the filthy pond of māyā (the changing reality superimposed on the ultimate reality of Brahman) . Without the Guru’s wisdom and sustained exposure, even the most sincere student will regress back to sleep-walking behaviors. Unless the student makes it a priority to remain steadfast in discipleship, the wisdom that once shone in the eyes of the student gradually dissipates.
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 it mouth 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 it 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 declares “I am awake, I am a Guru, Come to me, I shall help you.” Clearly, the disciple is not gripped by deha vāsanā to get seduced by physical appearances alone. This unexamined desire for the body often makes an initial and lasting impression - such as attraction to the biggest spiritual gig, exotic mystical dress, or fancy advertisements (all contemporary examples of the kind of early discernment a pearl will do).
"I patiently await the rare rain that drops in swati nakshatra, alone. "
Then, the disciple assigns extraordinary value to each drop of wisdom that emerges from the chosen Guru’s auspicious mouth, since often, for such a sensitive disciples, even one drop is enough. Upon receiving wisdom, it feels complete. This shows that the pearl disciple is clearly beyond shāstra vāsanā, or 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 wisdom, to try to live the first verse of the first scripture ever taught to them. The disciple boasts about how many scriptures they have gone through. The tradition comments, how many scriptures have gone through you?
For the pearl, one drop is enough – less is more. So when they receive even one clear teaching from the Guru, such as the famous teaching in one statement, Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya, which means, “Self is the only Truth. All else is Appearance.” Then the disciple will spend their entire life, or a good part of it, threading this one statement apart in the laboratory of their own life, relationships, ashrama (stage of life), īshanā (valid desires of a human life), etc., until they become one with the wisdom that this 4-worded aphorism, unpacks. In fact this statement is the quintessential essence of the Upanishads from the eyes of Advaita Vedānta, as forwarded by ancestral master teacher Adi Shankaracharya from the 8th century CE.
How many Upanishads can one hope to receive in one limited lifetime (with transient health, vitality, body, failing memory, etc.)? How many texts can one memorize, unless the 4-word statement is heard, understood, and internalized as a part of one’s daily life by an assiduous Disciple. In fact this entire book simply confirms this one statement alone.
Finally, the disciple shows extraordinary ability to turn inwards, away from the world and its māyā-mall 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 the worldly joy. We are always left unquenched; such is the nature of mirages in māyā.
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, an 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, to remember the Guru, worship the Guru as incarnate Brahman, and contemplate on the teachings from the Guru. They are present in the world, amongst the web of worldly relationships, but still, they manage to present beautifully expressed, calm spiritual boundaries. Thus the worldly waters (salty water from the ocean) cannot mix up with the single rain droplet (preciously received from the beloved Guru). This is how much they value the Guru – they become trustees of great wisdom, every drop of it.
The disciple is ready to leave everything (not physically but in terms of their worldly egoic-attachments to things), in quest of the Ultimate Truth. And they value the “truth giver,” the Guru, over every other earthly relationship. False appearances and māyā promises no longer sway the disciple from staying engrossed in sadhanā (spiritual disciplines).
The world says the student has become a hermit. In reality, the disciple is getting ready to be a citizen of the world - fully engrossed, active and dynamic. This time, the student sees with new eyes, the eyes of the knower, knower of Brahman, the Ultimate Supreme Spiritual Reality of One Being and Radical Bigness.
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 (brahmajñāni), an Awakened One (jīvanamukta), 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.
This article comes from Hamsa magazine. We welcome you to enjoy reading each magazine to benefit from summaries of and heartfelt reflections on Vedika founder and Acharya Shunya's teachings, written by students of her Spiritual Studies Program.
Learn more about how you can study Vedanta with Acharya Shunya in her Vedic Spiritual Studies Program.