I’ve been thinking about the four options concerning who Jesus was, according to biblical scholar Bart Ehrman: a liar, a lunatic, the Lord, or a legend. When it comes to a long-dead historical figure like Jesus, these options make sense. But what about a modern-day guru who is similarly proclaimed to be God in human form?
I was initiated by such a guru, Charan Singh Grewal. I sat at his feet, literally. I had two personal interviews with him. I heard him speak many times. I saw him worshipped by tens of thousands of devotees as a divine incarnation.
And yet, I still don’t know what to make of him. Or his successor, Gurinder Singh Dhillon. Who is the guru? A philosophically-inclined friend of mine likes to say, “There’s only one question to ask a guru who is supposedly God in human form: Are you who people claim you are?”
But given Ehrman’s four options, the answer wouldn’t be all that revealing. If the guru was a liar, you couldn’t believe what he said. Ditto if he was a lunatic. And even if he truly was the Lord, and said as much, what reason would there be to believe him? Plus, one could argue that a God-man would be so humble, you’d never hear a claim to divinity pass his lips.
With living gurus the legend option doesn’t come into play. They’re alive and kicking, not legendary. Quite a few men (and a few women) of recent vintage are considered by the faithful to be manifestations of God. For example, Meher Baba, Ramakrishna, and Lokenath.
So I muse over my recollections of Charan Singh and Gurinder Singh, trying to decide whether they’re best described as liars, lunatics, or the Lord.
None of the three appellations seem to fit, lunatic least of all. Each of them clearly was/is of sound mind (Charan Singh died in 1990). They could be liars, but their essential good-heartedness and decency argues against this. On the other hand, their evident imperfections prevent me from grabbing onto the “Lord” hypothesis.
Is there another L-word that better fills the bill? One springs to mind: loyalist. Perhaps when a successor is appointed to fill the shoes of a highly-regarded guru, loyalty both to his predecessor and to the surrounding organization prevents the newcomer from crying out, “Hey, I’m not God! I’m just a man filling the role of a guru.”
Gurinder Singh is fond of saying, “How do you know that I’m not a fraud?” and “Maybe I just have the gift of gab.” Devotees consider statements like these to be Zen-like pointers toward his divinity. But who knows? Maybe he’s pointing toward his humanity without being able to explicitly speak of who he directly knows himself to be.
Faqir Chand (1886-1981) is noteworthy in that he was a guru who was worshipped as God in human form by his disciples, yet denied that he had the powers attributed to him. I’ve read some of Faqir Chand’s writings, which are available here. Yet I don’t claim to have a firm grasp of either the man or his spiritual philosophy.
From what I know, he believed that a guru was essential. Or at least highly desirable. Yet the guru wasn’t a miracle worker. Everything that the disciple needed for realization already was part of his self. In fact, it is the self. Better termed, the Self.
Thus inner visions of the guru aren’t the result of any external higher power. They are manifestations of the disciple’s own mind. All is within, but the disciple mistakenly locates his newfound insights as emanating from outside himself.
Faqir Chand apparently considered that loyalty to the truth was more important than loyalty to a guru-tradition. So he spoke bluntly about what he was, and what he wasn’t. In his autobiography, he writes about a talk with Sawan Singh, a guru who was a predecessor of Charan Singh and Gurinder Singh, after Faqir Chand had realized that his disciples were ascribing powers to him that he didn’t have:
But, still, I remained undecided about what I should do? Because I had a lurking fear in my mind that if I disclosed the Truth in plain words the narrow minded, orthodox and illiterate amongst the Satsangis [disciples], would turn against me. Thus in 1942 A.D. I got leave and went straight to Hazur Baba Sawan Singh Ji at Beas to explain my fears and difficulties in person. I had great reverence for Hazur Baba Sawan Singh Ji and I identified him with Hazur Data Dayal Ji Maharaj.
With utmost reverence I submitted to Baba Ji, “Your Holiness, Kindly relieve me from the duty assigned to me by my Guru Maharaj Ji. Pray, take this burden off my conscience, so that I may get released from the sin of disobedience to my Guru.” Hazur Maharaj placed his loving hand on my back and said, “Faqir, I could not disclose the truth in its totality, because of two reasons (i) Satsangis in general do not deserve it, (ii) I am bound by the institutional exigencies.”
“Institutional exigencies.” This supports the loyalist theory. The plain truth isn’t spoken because it would threaten tradition and an organizational heritage.
Faqir Chand boldly told it like it was. I only wish every guru would do the same.
(Courtesy of David Lane, here’s an interesting short video about Faqir Chand and how he first disclosed his “unknowing” status to disciples).