Put Your Hand in the Fire: An Evening With My Guru

The pain would pale in comparison to the waste of unexplored mind.

In this series, we explore the application of esoteric truths in everyday life, with renowned teacher and Wanderlust presenter Swamiji. If you have a topic you’d like Swamiji to explore, please email editorial@wanderlust.com

Many years ago I was in residence with my guru, Shri Maharaj Ji, at his summer retreat in the foothills of the Himalayas. While the plains of India were baking in the intense heat of mid summer, we were comfortable in the cool, fresh mountain air, 6,000 feet above sea level. In the twilight hours every evening we would sit with Shri Maharaj Ji on the Ashram rooftop, delighting in the atmospheric quietness that emanated from the vast unencumbered space that lay before us. We were at peace as we gazed across the rolling hills to the spectacular Himalayan ranges that swept across the horizons; the usually pure white snow often washed burnt orange in the setting sun.

On one such evening, it was actually quite cold and to warm us a small fire had been lit. Gathered around the fire, we were enthralled by Shri Maharaj Ji’s presence, his personality drawing us to him as flowers attract bees. His rich laughter and insight warmed our hearts and minds. Suddenly, amid the banter, Shri Maharaj Ji looked directly at a young man within the group named Ramesh and said to him casually, “Ramesh, come here.” Full of enthusiasm, Ramesh bounded to his feet: “Yes, Maharaj Ji?” With a straight face, Shri Maharaj Ji, indicating the fire said, “Put your hand in the flames and hold it there for a couple of minutes.” Astonished at this request, we looked expectantly at the Master, silently wondering what was going to happen next. Was he serious? He certainly seemed to be.

Ramesh laughed nervously trying to work out the same thing, until he too realized Shri Maharaj Ji was indeed serious. For a moment he stood stock-still like a possum that had been caught in the brightness of car headlights, then with a quiet voice said, “Maharaj Ji if I do that, it will burn…”

Shri Maharaj Ji looked serious for a moment longer, then with a deep-throated chuckle said, “You are of course right. Sit down, I’m just kidding. But suppose you did put your hand in the fire, what would have happened? The burn may have caused you to lose the use of your hand for a day or two, perhaps a month, or worst case scenario for the rest of your life. But whatever the consequence, it pales in insignificance compared to the damage you can do to yourself lifetime after lifetime if you fail to understand the true nature of your mind.”

For a moment he stood stock-still like a possum that had been caught in the brightness of car headlights, then with a quiet voice said, “Maharaj Ji if I do that, it will burn…”

Shri Maharaj Ji had dramatically orchestrated this situation because he wanted to emphatically draw our attention to the power and importance of the mind. It is the driver of our life’s car; the artist of our soul. The power of thought determines the circumstances an individual will experience from one lifetime to the next.

The Bhagavad Gita places strong emphasis on the mind when it expresses:

Cheetah khalvasya bandhaya muktaye chatmano matam. (The mind alone is the cause of liberation and bondage.)

Your present is determined by how you have thought in the past. How you are currently thinking will determine your future.

Have you ever wondered why you are like you are? Why some people are born into wealth and others into poverty? Why some are born healthy and others suffer ill health from the moment they enter this world? We see so many variations of life around us—right from birth itself. The amount that a person takes in throughout her life is mind-boggling. Is it just chance? A throw of the dice?

We have all heard of karma: The law of thought and consequence. That day on the rooftop Shri Maharaj Ji wanted us to pause and think carefully about how we individually use the power of thought. Are we benefitting ourselves by understanding and harnessing its potential? Or causing harm to ourselves both now and in the future?

This life is an amazing experience. The beauty of this planet is staggering. We are masters of our own destiny. Dive deep in the well of knowledge and exhilarate in your potential. There is so much that awaits you… Once you’ve learned to respect your mind and learn its secrets.

Here are a few simple exercises to increase awareness of thought:

  • Sit in a local park and observe people, young and old, passing by. Using your imagination, see if you can perceive the kind of thinking that led them to their present day situation: Look at the way they dress, the attitude with which they walk or talk, examine their faces—are they open or closed? And so on.
  • Now take a look at yourself. What kind of attitude do you usually carry into your everyday? Are you positive, negative, critical, open-minded, suspicious, trusting? In what ways do you think your predominating attitude affects you?
  • Reflect on your background and your upbringing. How much of it has influenced the ‘you’ of today?
  • If you could change anything concerning the way you think, what would it be?
  • Now focus on your birth. What kind of family were you born into? Did you enter this world with a healthy or unhealthy body? Any brothers or sisters? Were you born into wealth, poverty, or somewhere in-between? Was your family kind or mean-spirited? Do you think this all happened by chance or for a reason? If for a reason, what could it be?
  • Finally, sit quietly, follow your breath in and out, then reflect deeply for five minutes on the power of thought and how it shapes your life.

Swami Govindananda 2Swami Govindananda (Swamiji) is the founder of Ji Living. A New Zealander, he lived years in India learning philosophy and meditation at the deepest levels from a renowned Master. Through his Seven Steps to Self Understanding online video and meditation series at jiliving.com, he illuminates the wisdom that lies at the heart of yoga. A presenter at Wanderlust festivals and yoga studios, he embodies positive spirituality and gives inspirational insights into the significance of human life. Swamiji is known for his wisdom, his gentle, humorous nature and ability to tell great stories.