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Many people currently view a guru as a classical particle, which interacts with other classical particles through physical contact like a billiard ball colliding with another billiard ball. The advocates of such a theory claim that it is necessary for a person to be physically in touch with a guru, in order to seek instructions, obtain advice, and receive knowledge. This conception of guru is not entirely wrong because billiard balls do indeed collide with other billiard balls and cause them to move. And yet, this conception of interaction becomes very limited when we understand a new kind of cause called “quantum entanglement” in which two distant objects can interact instantaneously.

What is Local Causality?

Locality is the idea that the cause and effect are local—namely that something must push (or pull) an object in order to cause a change. In the case of billiard balls, the ball itself is the push and pull. But such a model would not explain remote causation such as “gravity” in science, or even the effect of planets on human life in astrology. To address such problems, science evolved the notion of a “remote locality” in which an object emits a particle which then travels towards a destination and collides with it to produce a change. The emitted particle is the “ambassador” that changes the objects after it collides with them.

The localist (by that I mean a person who believes in local causality) claims that the guru is the ambassador of God because he brings the message to us, and he must be in physical contact with us in order to deliver the necessary message. Sometimes, God, Himself comes in physical contact, and at other times, God sends a messenger to make physical contact with us. Such a messenger or ambassador is the local presence of God like photons are the local presence of the remote Sun.

A localist must also presume that the messenger is traveling. One day he is here, and another day he is gone. Once he is gone, the effect has ceased, and to renew the effect, another messenger must travel. So, there has to be a continuous stream of messengers without which the message would be lost.

What is Non-Local Causality?

Non-local causality is one in which two objects are “entangled” in such a way that changes to one automatically cause changes to another regardless of the distance between them.

In physics, this means that an “ambassador” particle doesn’t have to travel to a destination in order to create an effect, and indeed, since the effects are being created instantaneously, such travel becomes physically inconceivable: How can something travel at an infinite speed violating the speed of light?

Non-locality has appeared as a problem for the localists in atomic theory, where the classical physical assumptions about traveling causes have come under question. There are numerous experiments now that show that causes can propagate instantaneously, without a traveling particle.

Understanding Non-Locality

Non-locality can be understood if we incorporate two notions of “distance”—physical and semantic. Consider two tables that are kept far apart from each other. Physically, there is a considerable distance between them. But semantically, they are both tables and hence very “close” if we were to measure the differences in their types rather than physical instantiation.

There is a sense in which the tables are physically far apart, and another sense in which they are very close. The problem of non-locality arises for the localist because he or she discards the semantic proximity between the two tables, and considers only the physical distance. If, however, we were to look at the semantic proximity and attribute causality to it, then the causal interaction would not seem non-local, because the two objects are indeed very close to each other semantically.

In simple terms, if the guru and disciple are two separate bodies, which are far-flung, then clearly the communication between them requires some physical messages—e.g. letters, phone calls, or face-to-face conversations. However, if the guru and disciple are two distinct minds, and these minds have similar meanings, then the guru and disciple are not far from each other. The minds can interact locally because they are indeed very close, and the problem of non-locality doesn’t arise.

Non-Locality is the Real Causality

Now, should we treat causality as physical or semantic? Should we worry about the physical distance between the guru and disciple, or the semantic difference between their minds?

If the minds of the teacher and the student are very different, then meanings emitted from the teacher’s mind take a long time to be absorbed in the student’s mind, even if the student is physically very close. Conversely, if the student and the teacher are semantically similar (i.e. have similar thinking) then the meanings from the teacher are quickly absorbed into the student, even if the student and teacher are physically apart.

The time taken for the message to travel from the teacher to the student is therefore not based on the physical distance, but based on the extent of their semantic difference. If I’m trying to teach advanced physics to a novice, then the ideas will take a long time to be understood. But the same ideas can be quickly grasped by someone who knows intermediate physics. The “speed” at which the cause creates an effect is therefore not a function of their physical distance but their semantic difference.

Learning, therefore, is about absorbing the message and bringing about a change to our thinking and this change is not faster or slower depending on the physical distance. If we have developed our thinking and brought it closer to the thinking of the teacher, then even more meanings can be quickly absorbed. The rate of education of the student, therefore, depends on how quickly the student can absorb the ideas, and that does not depend on the physical distance between the student and teacher.

To the extent that physical proximity results in more meanings being transmitted (e.g. the teacher and student can talk more face-to-face), physical proximity is helpful. But if the message has been fully delivered and yet not absorbed, then the only alternative is repeating the lessons.

What is Dīkṣā and Śhikṣā?

Dīkṣā is the first instance when we absorb the message, while Śhikṣā is every time it is repeated. If the student is intelligent, then only Dīkṣā is needed, because the message doesn’t have to be repeated. If the student is unintelligent, then the same message has to be repeated many times.

The message repetition can be done by the same person who provided the message the first time, by a different person who only repeats the message, or by oneself repeating the message to ourselves. Notably, the message itself isn’t different, and in that sense, the Śhikṣā and Dīkṣā guru are not different semantically because they only repeat the same meaning. And yet, there can be a difference between the person who provides the message the first time, and those who repeat it.

We can be our own guru by repeating the message to ourselves. We can receive repetitions of the message from friends, elders, or subordinates, and all these are Śhikṣā gurus. The Dīkṣā guru is the person from whom we absorb the full and authentic message the first time. The process of absorbing the full and authentic message once is thus called Dīkṣā. If we are intelligent, we don’t need to repeat it another time. But if repetition is required, both Dīkṣā and Śhikṣā guru may provide it.

The Tree of Spiritual Development

The process of dīkṣā provides the seed of the spiritual tree. This seed is the original attraction for the message, and it is received at a deep level that alters our consciousness and makes us want more and more of the message. Thus it is said, “guru-krishna prasade paye bhakti-lata bīja”, where the bīja is the “seed” from which the tree can be grown. Once the initial attraction to the message develops, the person can seek to learn more about the message. As the seeker invests more time, energy, and focus, the seed develops into a fuller understanding.

In the material world, which is described as an inverted tree, the deep seed is called mahattattva which represents moral values. To be attracted to something, we must begin to value it morally—i.e. as a source of material happiness. Every seeker has to feel original happiness to seek more of that same happiness. The principle for spiritual development is similar although the new moral value is not personal gratification but service to God. The meaning of bhakti-lata bīja is that a deep level of moral value is imparted to the disciple, which causes him to feel unprecedented happiness. Once such happiness has been experienced, a person’s intents, beliefs, concepts, senses, and sensations are automatically modified. This process of modification has the same hierarchy as in Sāńkhya.

The moment when a profound attraction and conviction is felt, which then alters the course of a person’s life forever, is the time when Dīkṣā occurs—i.e. the seed has been received. In previous times, the guru imparted a secret mantra into the ears of the disciple and that imparting was considered the first instance of the knowledge transfer, and therefore called Dīkṣā. The disciple’s body and mind were then considered to have been purified due to the reception of this seed. The pure disciple’s body may even tremble and shake due to happiness from this reception.

But simply uttering the mantra in the ears of the disciple is not adequate if the disciple does not actually develop the attraction for this message. Therefore, the true moment of Dīkṣā is when we have felt that happiness which makes us want more and more of it again and again. The Dīkṣā is therefore not simply a ceremony or even the hearing of knowledge. It is that moment in which we first feel the happiness that convinces us to seek it again and again—because that happiness indicates that a new kind of moral value (God’s knowledge is a separate moral category) has been received. This is the real seed.

The Process of Watering the Seed

Many people will receive the knowledge, but will not develop the attraction for it. They might be hearing or even understanding it, but that’s about it. The knowledge is not going deep enough to touch a person’s morality; the knowledge receives superficial at the level of senses or the mind. They are not to be considered to have received Dīkṣā. Many people will develop an attraction and may temporarily forget about it, only to return to it again and again as the only source of their ultimate happiness—they have received Dīkṣā. The term “Dīkṣā” therefore only indicates our conviction to pursue that happiness whose glimpse we have seen once, which is enough to motivate us forever after.

Dīkṣā-guru shows us a glimpse of happiness in order to convince us. We may begin the process of spirituality after this glimpse, and the process may not be complete. As we continue the process after many stops and starts—or, in a new life—a new Dīkṣā is not required, although the repetition of that same knowledge through Śhikṣā can be employed. The process of watering the seed is repeating the Śhikṣā—by listening to others, reading the message, and repeating it in our mind.

The Dīkṣā-guru is that person who gives us unshakeable conviction in the message due to which we can never let go of the happiness of God that we originally see, even if we temporarily forget about it. We may encounter people that give us some knowledge that is later forgotten or reversed. But Dīkṣā is the point of irreversible attraction, and Dīkṣā-guru is the person who provides that irreversible attraction. There is hence only one Dīkṣā in the entire material journey of the living being—the point at which the living being found that irrevocable conviction. There can be innumerable instances of Śhikṣā.

Dīkṣā is, therefore, the seed while Śhikṣā is the watering of the seed. If you don’t have the seed, pouring the water repeatedly isn’t going to produce any results. But if you have the seed, and you are not watering it, the seed still lies dormant. In that sense, once the seed has been acquired, a living being has obtained a phenomenal achievement—the greatest that can be hoped for—which is that the journey to perfect happiness has begun. The journey may take a long or short time, depending on how much water or Śhikṣā he can pour and how fast one can grow the seed of spiritual knowledge into a full-blown tree.

What is Proximity to the Guru?

If you are a localist, you can think that reducing the physical distance to the guru is real proximity. If, however, you have a scientific understanding of causal interactions, then you will realize that the real proximity is making the mind similar to that of the guru, because that allows a person to be continuously in touch with the guru, through non-local entanglement. We cannot see this connection in the phenomenal world, and that’s why such phenomena are still considered mysterious, or what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”. The term “non-locality” is in fact simply an unfortunate usage, because there is proximity and locality although it is semantic and not physical. Therefore, the entanglement appears spooky to one who believes in physical causality. It is not spooky to one who truly knows how a mind can entangle with another mind such that the thoughts in one mind automatically become the thoughts in another mind.

The local and non-local causality are respectively called vāpu and vāni—or physical body versus the guru’s instructions. Being close to vāpu means physical proximity and being close to the vāni is semantic proximity. The vāni is more important to vāpu because the real space in nature is semantic and not physical.

Physical proximity is a sensory illusion produced from an interaction. When two things interact strongly, they seem close. When they interact weakly, they seem far. Generally, this interaction is created by karma and time for material interactions. For a spiritual contact—e.g. the contact with a guru—this contact is arranged by God’s grace. The key important factor is that whether the contact exists or not, neither the guru nor the disciple is actually “moving” in space. They are fixed in their ideological states. What we experience as contact is because the two interact. In the case of the guru too, when we see him, it is because he wants to interact with the disciple. Similarly, when the guru is not seen, it is because the guru doesn’t want to interact with the disciple. The physical distance (or proximity) is created by a causal interaction.

It is therefore false to presume that the guru has “died” and is unavailable due to which we cannot experience his presence. The truth is that the guru can directly interact with the disciple face-to-face, in exactly the same manner as before when he was physically present because both physical presence and physical absence are appearances produced from causal interaction.

The guru is not physically far now, and he was not physically close earlier. These notions are symptoms of ignorance about how perception is created from a subtle reality. If and when a true understanding of perception is acquired, we can understand that neither the guru nor the disciple is moving in space. Their interaction is based on the guru’s will to impart knowledge to the disciple. If the guru wishes, he can impart the knowledge and that appears as a physical presence. If the guru does not wish, he may not impart knowledge and that appears as a physical absence.