What makes Navajyotisree Karunakara Guru and Santhigiri Ashram different from other gurus and ashrams is a question often asked. While talking about the tenets of Gurumargam, Navajyotisree Karunakara Guru once mentioned that His path is the Vimochana Matam, i.e. the Liberating Dharma. Gurumargam is the way of devotion to the Guru who has been commissioned by God for the spiritual transformation and deliverance of humanity independent of all religious dogma. Guru is God’s medium to actualize the Will of God. As one scholar put it, at one level, God is the Guru; at another, Guru is the divinely commissioned Guru. The human Guru is equal to God but has in him an element of divinity due to his commission. This office is passed on to his successors who remain one with him. Guruship does not end with the physical departure of the founder Guru. The office is one and continuous. What the successors say and do is legitimized by virtue of their office.
A few aspects that make Santhigiri Guruparampara different from other sage traditions may be surmised thus:
For the Guru, God is Parabrahman, the Supreme Truthful Light. There is no second God. His light pervades in everything and everyone. God is known only through his Creation. One should live in accordance with the divine order accepting the Will of God. Guidance comes from God through the medium of Guru, and liberation comes through Guru’s grace. For the Guru parampara the words of Guru or Guruvani are sacred. It serves as the sole Holy Scripture for the followers. The word of Guru is equated with Truth, Truth with Guru and Guru with God.
A seeker cannot evolve spiritually without a Guru. Self-effort in the form of yoga, meditation, visit to temples and other holy places does not elevate the soul spiritually if one is without Guru. Guru, however, accepted the existence of all spiritual entities including ghosts, goblins, evil spirits, ancestral spirits, devi-devas, angels etc. which inhabit the subtle universe. However, they are not to be worshipped as they themselves seek birth and liberation in Kaliyuga through the medium of Guru. Only through a human embodiment and karma dharma, the souls can evolve to higher spiritual realms. Therefore, Guru rejects the worship of traditional deities and religious lore promoting such sectarian concepts of God. Neither did Guru favor the concept of maya or illusion and rejected the equation of individual soul with Brahman, the main feature of Vedanta.
Guru shed light on the secret of Creation by reiterating that the solar system including the human world was created by the sankalpam of Manu, who is the Primordial Purusha or the First Born of God. (This Manu, however, is different from the author of Manusmriti with the same name). Guru, therefore, rejected the puranic myth that Brahma is the Creator. For Guru, the trimurti gods were gurus of bygone cosmic ages who came for the spiritual correction of humanity. However, their spiritual incumbency in this age is disowned. Today the world is a theatre of pathetic religious discord. Every sect claims that theirs is the only way to God or the true path, which produces discord and violent conflicts among the religious followers. Guru says that behind these apparent contradictions, there is a thread of spiritual unity.
Numerous gurus, seers and prophets of different caliber come for different duration such as 500, 1000, 1500, 2000, 2500 or 5000 years according to the spiritual condition of the age. Great souls like Ram, Krishna, Buddha, Mahavir, Moses, Zarathustra, Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammad, Guru Nanak and others were preceptors who appeared for the spiritual renewal of humanity during historical intervals. This process of spiritual renovation goes on until the end of a cosmic age. In the light of this, no prophet or guru can claim to be the final messenger of God or the only way to God. It is this spiritual culture or character of Sanatana dharma which makes it eternally relevant, vibrant and tolerant to other religions. Although not subscribing to the tenets of established religions, Guru’s Liberating Dharma teaches a follower to respect all world teachers and their sacrifices in a deserving manner since they belong to the brotherhood of mahatmas who came for the spiritual reformation of humanity at various historical intervals. However, their mission remains incomplete necessitating another epoch of spiritual renewal by a world teacher.
Guru disapproved the hierarchical caste system and opened the path of spiritual redemption for all people, especially the downtrodden and women. The followers of Guru belonged to all castes and occupations. The majority came from the backward castes, scheduled castes along with Brahmin, Nair, Christian and even Muslim communities. While repudiating caste system, Guru, however, said that varna concept is the classification of human instincts based on the quality of thoughts and actions. Varna of a person cannot be determined based on birth in a particular family or community. Sometime, in the same family itself one can find all varna types.
There are no formal rituals for initiation into the faith of Guru. Anyone with faith in Guru, irrespective of religious and caste status, can join the faith. The only ritual formula for all spiritual performances and lifecycle ceremonies is the chanting of the divine name of the Guru revealed and potentiated by God. Verses and mantras from texts like Guru Gita extolling the glory of Guru is also recited for the purpose of worship. All Vedic rituals superintend by Brahmins and tantra and mantra and worship of devi-devas are rejected in favour of direct guidance from Guru or through the anointed preceptors in the Guru parampara after the founder Guru’s physical departure.
Remembrance of God through the guidance of embodied Guru, chanting His name and leading ethical life as householders helping each other is the path of karma and dharma suggested for the householders. Guru established a self-reliant model of commune life, where all believers lived under one roof engaged in different occupations so that it reduced the burden and tensions of life by way of cooperative living. The sanyasis are required to live in accordance with God’s will as socially responsible persons, not as recluses who live detached from the community life. The Ashram of Guru is regarded as the sacred place of pilgrimage. To live in accordance with the guidance of Guru is more important. To make willing sacrifice for the protection and perpetuation of Guru paramapara is an essential ingredient of the faith.
Guru wanted that the society, the politics and government of the country be guided through the wisdom of an all-knowing Sage who functions by the sole of Will of God. Guru was concerned about the wrong direction of the society, of the painful conflicts, social disintegration and deprivation. Guru believed that only through the spiritual upliftment of householders, especially women, the desired spiritual renaissance can take place in the world. Guru gave much importance to bhakti and self-surrender for the divine cause in order to change both the quality and structure of social life. The basis for social regeneration advocated by Guru is essentially spiritual, ethical and family oriented. Guru personally guided all householders in every area of life including marriage, education, occupation, birth and death.
A new guru parampara is born with a divinely commissioned Guru to guide its social and religious life. Guru’s message is not merely of liberation but also of social action. Although there is a group of sanyasis and brahmacharis belonging to both genders in the Ashram, He did not want that sanyasis wander aimlessly as mendicants. He was opposed to such meaningless renunciation. His ideal is self-reliance through community life. The sanyasis of Guru supervise the community life. The members of the commune engage in self-sustaining enterprises with a vision to help the community and the society with exemplary products and services.
Guru initiated a unique spiritual performance known as Gurupooja or Pitrupooja by which the devotee is freed from all inauspicious karma, i.e. deeds and debts of past and present lives and also from the consequences of erroneous ways of God worship handed down by the ancestors. After a few generations, several mahatmas and other high souls waiting for rebirth in the kaliyuga shall be born in the families thus spiritually purified. With that, the spiritual renovation of humanity would be complete. These noble souls are unable to take birth now because of the spiritual decadence and unqualified parentage.
The organizational basis of the Guru Parampara has been provided by Guru Himself in the form of Annadanam, Aturasevanam and Atmabodhanam, i.e. providing food to the needy, caring for people’s health and their spiritual uplift.