A Full Cup and an Empty Cup

“We have been talking about logic and the mind,” Guruji began. “When I was teaching yoga in Varanasi, one man came to visit me in the evening. He was a trumpet player in his fifties – he wanted my advice. He told me he had been doing meditation for twenty years, and explained that when he was meditating, his mouth was opening and he was seeing a black hole inside. He had made up a meditation technique himself, his body was contorting when he was practising. It also seemed that he had some kind of psychosomatic problem.


“I asked him what kind of advice he wanted from me. ‘I want to know why these strange things are happening to me when I am meditating,’ he replied.

“So I told him that he needed some proper guidance. But the man said he was very happy with the practice he had made up and did not want to change anything. I repeated my advice, but he could not believe that the practice he had made up was the cause of his problems, and he left.

“Another time, it was at the start of winter at ten o’clock at night, someone rang the doorbell. Vandana called down to ask who it was and it was a stranger, so she asked what he wanted.

“‘I don’t know,’ the man replied. So Vandana told me to go and see ‘Mr. I-don’t-know.’

“He came upstairs and started to tell me his experiences. It was very late, but I carried on listening.

“Finally, I said to him, ‘What do you want?’

‘‘I don’t know.’ Then he saw a picture of Lahiri Mahasaya on the wall and said that he knew he was a great Indian master, and spoke for ten more minutes, and then left. Why that man came, I still don’t know, even today!

“And then again, when I was about twenty-five years old, a lady came from Italy to see us. She told me that she had been practising yoga and meditation for the last few years and her Kundalini had awakened.

‘”‘Very nice!’ I said to her. ‘How do you know this?’

“‘I have much sexual energy,’ she replied. And there was excitement in her voice. ‘It is coming from below and rising, and when this energy reaches the head it can make you crazy! I came to ask you – can you give me a yoga practice?’

“It was strange for me to hear this, because if your Kundalini is awakened, you are in Higher Consciousness. You are already God yourself. So here was a god, asking me for a practice. Two days later she came back to the house. She had a tooth infection and could hardly talk; she was going back to Italy. She explained to me all the things she had read about Kundalini and this energy, so she was sure this was what was happening to her. Before she left, I explained to her about Kundalini again, but she could not accept it. Her knowledge was from books and she could not let go of it.

“These are examples.” Guruji concluded, having made everyone laugh with his lively facial expressions and humorous way of telling the stories. “All of these people wanted my advice, but when I gave them advice, they were not ready to listen and learn, they were not interested really. So if we can start to understand how the mind works, things will become clearer to us – and then we can do our practice nicely and correctly.”

‘One cup is overflowing, the other is empty.’

This thought popped into my mind as I held the steaming cup of Vandana’s chai. Guruij’s wife had served the spiced tea to everyone as usual with her infectious happy laughter before the Satsang began, and I wanted to scribble it down before Guruji started speaking. Firstly, I felt that my heart was overflowing with gratitude: this privilege to be in Guruji’s presence; to feel His shelter; the warmth of the room. Gratitude was written all over the full cup. And then the empty cup, as the old Eastern saying goes, was the desire to surrender, listen, and learn.

It was quite bizarre in retrospect, because Guruji had begun that Satsang with an account of three people who had come to visit him in Varanasi. Their “cups” were most definitely so full that they could not listen.

It astonished me to hear that people go to a spiritual master like Guruji, knowing it all already, just for the sake of telling him their experiences, and then leave again. But on second thoughts, I guess it shouldn’t. For a start, not everyone is destined to have a spiritual teacher or Guru in their lifetime, and of those who are, not everyone will be drawn to the same one. Guruji says that people find a Guru according to their state of readiness and their own nature.

Besides, even though I’m a disciple of Guruji, it’s happened more than once that he told me something for my own benefit, or I asked for his advice but then ignored it (probably thinking I knew better – Ouch!!), only to have had deep regrets about not having listened properly later. You learn in retrospect that Guruji can be so gentle with his advice – there’s never anything pushy about it. It’s like a whisper (but that would be because of the noise in your mind) and you can take it or leave it: it’s up to you. But when you do find out what he was talking about, his words come back to you loud and clear, regardless of how many years ago you may have first heard them.

I could get up in arms when I hear that some people actually have the nerve to come and waste Guruji’s time like that! But Guruji never sees it like that, never complains. He accepts people just the way they are, and if they ‘know better’, he will never try to convince them or prove them wrong. When people come to him full of opinions and knowledge, he lets them see an ordinary person so that they can go away feeling perfectly satisfied. Guruji has an infinite store of patience, and his sheer lack of ego is something that never ceases to amaze me. The cup is overflowing to be gifted with even the smallest inkling about Guruji.

But it is a humbling experience. And that cup is most definitely empty.