Ruzbeh N. Bharucha is the author of a number of books, foremost among them the Fakir series, in which Rudra, a drifter/seeker in despair of life meets the Fakir: Shirdi Sai Baba. Shirdi Sai Baba was a Muslim holy man and ascetic who combined the wisdom of Hinduism, Islam and Sufism and was revered by both Hindus and Muslims alike. In the Fakir books, Rudra goes through an experience of despair of life to become a disciple of Shirdi Sai Baba and it demonstrates the principles of bhakti (devotion to God) and the Guru (surrender to a Master and spiritual teacher). The books are narrative stories filled with wisdom sayings and Rudra’s irreverent humour. These books have been very popular and have been translated into many languages.
The Aum of All Things was published in 2013. Instead of Rudra (who one guesses bears some similarity to Ruzbeh, at least as an alter-ego), Ruzbeh, himself, is the protagonist. So, presumably this is a work of non-fiction, whereas the Fakir series was a spiritual and inspirational fiction which is also true (much like Richard Bach’s Illusion series, in which Richard meets the reluctant messiah, Donald Shimoda). The majority of the book is taken up by Ruzbeh’s interviews with Bapuji, along with input by Mataji and a few others at Bapuji’s ashram.
I started out loving Mataji, who first welcomes Ruzbeh to the ashram and first tells of her spiritual search for God:
“When the heart aches, that is when the search begins. If the heart is pleased and satisfied, why will one venture out or set out on a search? When the heart is sad that’s when it seeks,” (Aum, 18).
Mataji starts her quest as a householder and mother, searches out various teachers and philosophies, eventually she meets Bapuji and settles in as his disciple, leaves her family and renounces the world. She describes coming to a state of “Vairāgya, which means disenchantment from worldly matters,” and she quotes a saying, “destroyed all attachments to discover spiritual progress; divine knowledge thy sole quest,” (Aum, 20).
However, Mataji isn’t developed much after the initial pages. Bapuji gives many detailed teachings, but we don’t get much of a sense of him as a person and the teachings are very technical. Ruzbeh gives some good lightening of the mood during all the heavy enlightenment, constantly thinking to himself, in the midst of these profound teachings, how much he needs a cigarette. However, unfortunately, there is not as much of a narrative story in Aum, even though there are brief asides in which Ruzbeh gets peppered by questions (including spiritual ones) and also fields requests for toys, by his daughter, Meher. These are brief vignettes and while they humanize Ruzbeh, they don’t really advance a plot or illustrate the teachings of the book.
What is helpful are Ruzbeh’s asides in which he disagrees with or clarifies aspects of Bapuji’s teachings. Thus there are two teachings going on simultaneously, those of Bapuji and those of Ruzbeh, who is quite spiritually developed, although his comments and jokes about women seem sexist and don’t seem to humanize him as much as his need for nicotine or his tendency to refer to God as “the Great Rock Star.”
Now, to the teachings of Bapuji Dashrathbhai Patel.
They are very technical. Ruzbeh says that this is a book about jñān, spiritual knowledge or wisdom. He says that this takes him out of his comfort zone which lies in “love, faith and surrender to your Master,” (7). Bapuji’s detailed teachings at times seem like some kind of spiritual accounting exercise. Consider the following:
“Now the 8th Celestial Degree was almost 38,400 Arab light years from the earth, with 80 to 99 per cent of Paṛam Taŧvas and one to 20 percent of Gross or General Taŧvas or elements. The per cent of the gross Taŧva means composition of three elements, Ether, Air and Fire. In this also, as we gradually fall due to the increasing Sañkalps, the percentage of the other wo elements, which gradually increase in percentage thus bringing about heaviness, and leaving us getting more and more occupied in thoughts and creation,” (173), (there is, thankfully, a glossary at the end of the book).
There are a number of Bapuji’s teachings on YouTube, but not all have English translations. This one does have translations and also shows the cosmic diagram of creation, which is essentially what the teachings expound upon.
Here is a kind of guided imagery of a teaching without all the percentages and terminologies:
“Now listen carefully: whenever you close your eyes, imagine your inner body and external body to be made of light, and believe yourself to be made of light and one day you will actually see yourself filled with light, that’s when you will have a body of light. Keep increasing the light; keep imagining yourself glowing more and more with this light. This is the way you go about becoming light. Everything is in the Sañkalp or thought, intention. The world was made out of thoughts. It’s all about the power of thought. Believe something and you will slowly become that thing,” (39).
I found myself considering several other systems of cosmogony while I was reading this. The Śiva Sūtras and the Vijñānabhairava translated by Jaideva Singh provide similar lists of the states or levels of creation (yet here, Śakti, the feminine principle is Śiva’s power to manifest and create – which seems more neutral than Bapuji’s explanation about what happens after the split of masculine and feminine). Suhrawardi’s The Shape of Light also follows the various forms of light following the emanation of sacred Light from the spiritual to the material realms. There are many different cosmogonies that describe Creation – but the real question, the real bit of jñana or gnosis is not about the spiritual accounting of percentages and various states and levels, but why was creation created in the first place? The science cosmogony is that there was a state before time and space and matter, then there was a “big bang,” at first there existed only the light weight atoms of hydrogen and helium, and those stars lived out their lives. With progressive lives and deaths of stars, gradually the heavier elements were created in nuclear supernovas, until present day when we have a wide array of dense atoms that make up our physical world. This narrative is similar to that of Bapuji, that there is at first a formless “Almighty Authority” created a “Supreme Creation” (Paṛam Rachnā) which he named the “Supreme Father of the Infinite” (Paṛam Pitā) and then various levels of formless creation assuming greater form, then a split into masculine and feminine, and then ever greater more dense, less spiritual forms were created. Two questions arise at this point: what is the purpose of creation; and is matter inherently less spiritual?
I found myself hearing Joseph Campbell’s words regarding religious cosmogonies, or “myths” as he called them – he said that they are metaphors, not literal truth, but metaphorical truth. Campbell studied many, many religious systems and teachings and searched for the underlying truth of them all, but the way he did this was to move away from the religious to a more secular view – that these are stories that tell us important things about being human, being in the world, and being oriented to the spiritual – they tell us how to live in this world. Psychiatrist Carl Jung also studied numerous world religions and systems of transformation. He maintained a somewhat conservative stance saying that if someone could stay within the religious tradition in which they were brought up, their psychological and spiritual work would be much easier (which he, Jung, definitely did not do). In some ways, Campbell takes the standpoint of immanence – don’t worry about God “out there” worry about how you can bring the stories of God into your life in a meaningful way in the secular world. Jung was more of a mystic and had a strong transcendence perspective, in which the goal of the individual was to move toward the spiritual (although Jung also believed in the principle of wholeness, not rejecting human essences, but harmonizing them). We can look at these two viewpoints of immanence (God/Spirit descending into matter and humanity for a Divine purpose on earth – Jesus’ saying, “the Kingdom of God is all around [or ‘within you’]”) and transcendence (matter is either defiled, or de-spiritualized and the soul must forsake worldly pleasures/desires and move ever more toward God/Spirit). Materialism is pure immanence (there is no divine or spiritual). Bapuji’s (from my very limited understanding) teaching is very much a spiritualism (matter is “bad,” dense, limited in the pure light of God) and his teaching is that we need to move away from the physical desires/pleasures toward ever higher levels of Light. Christianity has both elements of this-worldliness and other-worldliness, the expansion of the West through colonialism and economics into the rest of the world has been very material, and yet Christian teachings often view matter and the body as inherently sinful and tainted.
While spiritual teachings often focus on how we can become more spiritual and more enlightened, the question of why we find ourselves in physical form is often not satisfactorily answered. The Christian answer is that God created Adam and Eve and then they sinned and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – this is called “the fall” where sinful humanity was banished and exiled from the Garden of Eden and from a closer relationship with God. There is a logical inconsistency in many of these “fall” stories (and Bapuji’s story is very much one of the evilness of matter falling away from the lighter, more spiritual Light – in fact, there is a logic that the reason that matter becomes more dense and less full of Light is that the percentage of Light gradually diminishes through more and more creation being done by the createds, thus it seems in this narrative that God’s Light is not strong enough to maintain Creation and it kind of starts to run down in the outer limits from the Source). How can an omniscient, all-powerful, infinite being have so much trouble with the createds? Matthew Fox takes the concept of “original sin” of humans and the concept of “the fall” to task in his book, Original Blessing. He argues for a Creator whose Creation is a Blessing and not a curse. Fox calls for a Creation Spirituality, one that is consistent with indigenous views, in which the role of the feminine is divine (as in the divine Sophia, or Gaia, Mother Earth, rather than sinful Eve or in Bapuji’s cosmology the idea that the creation of the feminine led to more competition amongst the masculine and led to a creation arms race of sorts that depleted the available Light in creation). The orientation of a people, culture and religion toward women is very much the same as the orientation toward the natural world and Matthew Fox follows this association in his book. Many of the more transcendent spiritual teachings are in the context of a masculine patriarchy in which women and matter are evil or tempting. In Hinduism, this reality, itself, is said to be Maya, and Maya is characterized as feminine, thus leading to the sense that the spiritual is Truth and is masculine. In contrast, more Creation-based spiritual teachings have a more feminine divine energy in which the feminine and the natural world are a source of divine expression rather than divine absence.
Thus we can ask, are we sacred and divine or are we defiled, bad, evil, sinful? Is the earth and physical form a blessing or a curse? In the religious cosmogonies, we ask: why did God Create and what are we to do with that Creation? To me, the saving grace of Bharucha’s book, The Aum of All Things, lies in his open-minded and open-hearted seeking of God. After pages and pages of stages, levels, percentages, and permutations of more and more creation leading to denser and denser (and thus less and less light) beings and essences, Ruzbeh says the following:
“According to me the more you get into the technicalities of spirituality the more you realize that heaven and hell are within each of us; the blossoming of one’s true self and the destruction of all that is true; all within oneself. The power to discriminate between right and wrong and the power to choose between the Light or the chaos within, all in our own within. For me liberation means being free from one’s own clutches of darkness and desires and shedding the false self and letting one’s true self shine through. And it is not easy…But you just keep at it. Fall. Rise. Fall. Rise…The Light within is elusive; it’s playful; it’s a lover who wants to be possessed but won’t ever surrender till you are worthy, so keep at it and someday, may be lifetimes later, you and I…will be worthy of Her and be filled with Her and radiate Her essence and then become One with Her…keep trying and trying. That is the only true purpose of life,” (212-213).
Ruzbeh seems far more accepting of our humanity and yet still asks us to strive toward something. He also uses the feminine pronoun and thus brings in a softness to the masculine striving of spirit to free itself from matter. A few pages later he continues:
“What is most important is that you believe that you are loved and your Master [in his case, his guru is Shirdi Sai Baba] is with you…Life is fair and God is within…If we are the Spirit in the body, then that Spirit has come through the Creator and the Spirit is the Creator. If nothing can be created or destroyed in the cosmos and it only changes form, so believe, you and I have just changed forms, but our essence truly comes from the Source and thus we too are the Source,” (220-221).
“Life is about exhaling,” Ruzbeh says, “Not about holding one’s breath,” (221). Maybe that is a simple way of making sense of creation, of being created, of having a Source (whether Creator or Big Bang) – all of this is one big exhalation (again from either Creator or Big Bang) and soon enough, the big inhalation will take place and we will all go back from where we came. From a religious or spiritual perspective, matter and humanity are created out of Love and Joy, true matter is far from the etheric Light of Pure Spirit, yet it is not evil, it is just dense and moves slowly – we can still feel the “Divine Creative Pulsation” (Spanda-Kārikās) within us as within all of Creation and even in the background of Creation. Suhrawardi explains the reason for Creation in this hadith of Allah:
“I was a hidden treasure;
I loved to be known,
so I created creation.”
(Suhrawardi, The Shape of Light, 57)
This little saying is more profound than an explication of layer upon layer of spiritual accounting – Creation is made out of Love, and out of a desire to be known. This leads us to aspire to Love, and to aspire to seek out what is our True Source, our own True Inner Light, to know our Creator. This can be taken in a religious sense as worship of God, or in a secular sense of self-discovery, or in a Jungian psychological sense of individuation (unfolding into Self), or a Campbellian sense of ananda, “follow your bliss” to find out who you are. Maybe creation is all just one big exhalation and inhalation, Ruzbeh would probably approve of this spiritual summation, particularly if he was having a cigarette at the time.