A terrible longing in the heart
RAMA DEVAGUPTA interviewed PARTHASARATHI RAJAGOPALACHARI on a bright, sunny afternoon in Fremont, California, about the inner search for enlightenment.
Q: What impulse moves us to search? What influences our search?
PR: The impulse is a terrible longing in the heart which says, “I must know the truth” – truth in terms of spiritual values. If your material circumstances are too good, too comfortable, too glamorous, they take you away from your search. When you are overprotected, you lose sight of the search. However, if your interest in the search is burning in your heart, you will eventually break out of it – like the chick breaking out of the shell.
Q: Are there different ways of conducting a spiritual search?
PR: At the beginning, you are guided more by the strength of your inner longing. But that longing may not be intense enough. The confusion between what you are seeking and what you find can lead you astray unless the inner search is so powerful that it can say, “Not this! Not this!” You may become momentarily trapped into situations which seem to fulfill your search – like drugs, alcohol, even sex. If that fulfills you and you stop there, it means that your seeking was not intense enough, nor was your goal defined. You may stop with sensory or social fulfillment at a particular level, but the longing will lie dormant and something may spark it off again.
When the search is a real search, the flight toward the goal becomes very direct, what we call the Shuka path. Shuka is the Sanskrit name for the parrot, which flies straight like an arrow – no meandering here and there. The Shuka path depends on your strength of purpose, your ability to reject temporary goals, to withstand the temptation to experiment with temporary goals, thinking, “Suppose this is it!” In the true seeker’s path, there isn’t any “suppose this is it!” There may be a pause for a day or two but then you move on, whereas others get lost in a jungle of possibilities for years.
Q: Does the search have a direct relation to the level of attainment of the seeker?
PR: No, no, it only relates to the strength of purpose. The moment you are satisfied with a temporary goal, say, “Stop.” For example, consider the migration of birds. A truly migrating bird flies thousands of miles, often from one continent to another. Many are lost in the ocean, caught in a storm, not able to fly, and fall into the sea. But an enormous number of them do make it, so, it is possible.
Now, birds have the power of ‘instinct’ to guide them. At the human level, we have the instrument of the intellect, but unless we cultivate wisdom, intellect doesn’t take us anywhere except in the pursuit of material goals – scientific, artistic, commercial, economic – but not spiritual.
Q: Is it necessary to have a teacher?
PR: Yes. A teacher is one who shows the way.
Q: What is the place of practice and technique?
PR: Everything is a practice if it is used in the right way. Even a man who becomes a drinker, thinking that it will fulfill his dream of Nirvana, can benefit from it. If he is able to get out of it quickly, it will have had its place, and it will no longer attract him. If he is satisfied and says, “This is it,” however, he is lost. Your inner fire must tell you what it is and what it is not.
Q: What is the role of spiritual literature and sacred texts?
PR: Spiritual literature gives you intellectual satisfaction, and it is easy to be satisfied intellectually. You may read about something and feel you know what it is, but spiritual values have to be felt, not known about. Knowledge of that kind has no place in spiritual life. Many people are easily satisfied – they read a lot of literature and say, “I know all about Nirvana. I have read about 68 different varieties of Nirvana in Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Sufism.” The question is: Have they ever felt anything?
Q: Is it necessary to be part of a spiritual school?
PR: What is a school? It is something that offers you an education. We have the school called ‘life’, and what you learn in life depends on what you are seeking. So we come back to the seeker: you look for mundane satisfaction, you will find it; you want sensory pleasure, you can find it; you want to become a millionaire, you can become one. Life offers everything.
How does a teacher decide if a seeker is genuine or not?
The teacher must assume that everybody who comes to him or her is a genuine seeker. Time itself will select the true seeker from the false. Those who are there for fun drop off. Those who are true remain. They may drop off at various stages, depending on their inner fire and how far it will take them.
“Seek and you shall find,” doesn’t mean, “Seek and it shall be found immediately.”
When you find it and where you find it depends on the integrity of your search, and the power behind that search. You may discover it just where you are, or you may go around the universe and come back to the place where you started and find it just there. That is why the spiritual search always begins and ends within your self.
Q: So a genuine teacher would accept everybody?
PR: He has to! Because he doesn’t know! I had a vision once, between the waking and sleeping states. In the vision, I am looking at a packet of seeds in a shop, trying to pick out the good seeds for planting. Then, something tells me, “How do you know that the seed that looks good is going to germinate and the seed that you are throwing away will not?”
So we don’t know the inner life potential that is in the seed: apparently weak, it may be strong on the inside; the other one is apparently strong, but weak on the inside. The Guide lets his students evolve and helps them according to his own ability to do so, at the right time. But the Guide can never judge. He must not judge.
Q: Does the seeker change and evolve in the search?
PR: Naturally. If you put your hand in the fire, will it not get roasted? A spiritual seeker is said to be something like a metal, which is put into the fire to be melted and purified so that all the dross is burnt away. Like the purification of gold.
Q: Must one renounce the world to become a seeker?
PR: The spiritual practice of Heartfulness says that you must fly with two wings, like the seagull – the wing of spirituality and the wing of materiality. There is no question of renouncing anything except obstructions to achieving the goal.
The spiritual practice of Heartfulness says
that you must fly with two wings, like the seagull –
the wing of spirituality and the wing of materiality.
Q: When did you become aware that you were a seeker?
PR: I don’t think I was ever a conscious seeker. Perhaps it began in a past life. I never looked for a teacher; I found him. There must have been some inner preparation, but it seems that I must have wasted several lives searching for what I could have found in one life. My Guide once told me that I had been associated with him in an earlier life.
The teacher’s task is to continue to teach and help others evolve. He may come life after life, highly achieved, but with a duty to come back to teach us, whereas the seeker comes only to seek and to find. In a sense the teacher’s search is to find seekers – having finished his search himself and found what he sought.
Q: Is finding the teacher the beginning of our journey or is it the end of our quest?
PR: If a bird lays an egg, it has given the possibility of a new life. But it all depends on the bird within the egg – whether it is able to break out of the shell. That final purpose has to come from the chick in the egg, pecking it from inside and breaking the shell to come out.
So there is an element of fulfillment when you find your Guide; it is a big part of your journey. But what is left? My Guide once told a very senior advanced disciple, “Now your journey is very short.” Then he laughingly said, “It may be very long too.” Another disciple who was present with him became puzzled. “How can short become long?” he asked. My Guide replied, “One percent of infinity is still infinity, and if you stumble there, you can go back all the way – to the point where you started.”
Q: What pitfalls might a seeker face?
PR: Everything is a pitfall for the unwary and the faithless. And nothing is a pitfall for the courageous seeker who just shakes it off like a bear.
Q: Having found a spiritual technique, a Guide, and having become established in the practice, how can a seeker assess his progress? What criteria should he use?
PR: A seeker can never assess his own progress. Even my Guide used to say, “What I am and where I am, only my Guide knows.” This is going back to that Heisenberg principle in physics, “If you know its location, you won’t know its velocity. If you know its velocity then you won’t know its location.” This principle applies much more profoundly and truthfully to spiritual matters.
Q: We are so used to assessing our progress at school or at work.
PR: There it is assessable. But here we cannot. When you fly, you need an altimeter to tell the height. If you are out in space, you need ground control because there is no barometric pressure to tell you the altitude. You are in a vacuum. So you rely on another source. Ground control tracks you, and your obedience must be total. In spiritual matters, the more you grow, the more you rely on your Guide’s wisdom. It is a matter of survival.
Q: Does the spiritual seeker ever reach a stage where he can consider that he has reached the goal?
PR: There is no such thing as a fixed goal in spirituality. It is ever changing. Learn to love and do not seek love for yourself. Things break down when you want everything for yourself and you are not concerned for others – whether it is an individual, or a country, or the whole world. “I want to be powerful.” “I want to be rich.” “I want to be wealthy”. Where there is ‘I’ there is always destruction.
Never be diverted away from your course by the enticements of life, whether they are material, mental, or even apparently spiritual. The so-called spiritual world is full of enticements. All has to be renounced because spirituality is, ultimately, becoming nothing, where ‘nothingness’ is what matters.