Athithi Devo Bhava! – Part 1 The Paraodoxical Qualification

“Maatru devo bhava, Pitru devo bhava, Aachaarya devo bhava, Atithi devo bhava”
(Mother is verily god, Father is verily god, Master is verily god, the Guest is verily God) is the clarion call of our Upanishads!
Those who are in the southern states of India, especially Tamil Nadu, would be very familiar with a proverb: “Mata, Pita, Guru, Deivam” – Mother, Father, Master and God!
It is similar to the Vedic injunction but for the last part where God is directly substituted for guest (atithi).
Mother – Father – Master – Guest: so goes the hierarchy. See the beauty of this order!
The journey starts with the mother. It is the mother who shows the child the father. And the father, in turn, takes the child to the Master (Guru). Then comes the guest – atithi.
But guest? Here? Even after the Guru? Seems a tad out of place…doesn’t it?
The logical question then would be, “Can an ordinary man who comes home as a guest* be greater than the spiritual Master who offers spiritual knowledge?” A good question indeed. This certainly needs deeper thought! Intelligence would demand then, “What do we really mean by atithi– guest?” It is now obvious that it cannot refer to any person who knocks at the door for food. Most people who oft repeat this proverb do not seem to realize the deeper import of this.
It is sad that in modern times a father does not guide the child to a Guru. Why? An average man fears his child visiting temples or satsang (company of holy men). He desires his son to lead a ‘normal’ (worldly) life. He wishes his son to limit his prayers to worldly ambitions only.
“Oh, yes, let him be devoted to God. But it should be within limits,” says the father.
So what about satsang? It is a big ‘NO’ without doubt!
Now, let us look into the real significance of ‘Maatru devo bhava, Pitru devo bhava, Aachaarya devo bhava, Atithi devo bhava’, in the light of satsang and Guru krupa.
This is what typically happens: A young man who has no knowledge of even the term ‘Guru’ visits a Guru on the invitation of his friend. The Sadguru gives him a warm welcome. Very kindly the Guru enquires of this new visitor, “Have you had your lunch, my son? You have come here in the hot sun!”
These kind motherly words of the Guru touch the heart of the young man. He thinks, “Oh, as a loving mother he is concerned about my health.”
On his subsequent visits, too, the Guru speaks to him in such tender motherly fashion. He now starts visiting the Guru more often, drawn by the genuine and yet mysterious motherly affection of the Guru.
He looks upon him verily as a mother – Maatru devo bhava!
Days pass and one day the Guru enquires of this young man, “My son, what do you do for your living?”…“Oh, you run a business! Well, what sort of a business? Is it doing well? How much do you earn out of your business? Is it adequate to take care of your needs?”
Hearing these words of the Master the young man feels, “Oh, he is like a father!”
It is the father who is concerned about the son’s income. These words touch the young man’s heart. He begins to frequent the Master’s place.
He now looks upon the Guru verily as a father too – Pitru devo bhava!

Days pass. Drawn by the kindly, affectionate treatment of the Master the young man visits him regularly. One day the Guru points out to the young man, “Oh, my son, time is flying. You have lots of relatives and friends. You possess good health. You are intelligent and capable. You earn quite a lot and are leading a comfortable life. But have you thought of the day which everyone has to face? Everybody who has taken birth in this world has to face that day – that final day. And on that day none of these – relatives and friends, good physique, wealth, intelligence – will help you. You will realize this at that final hour. It will then be too late. Should you not give it a thought now?”
The young man now sees that loving parent as the guiding light also – Aachaarya devo bhava!
The young man asks at once, “Oh, Gurudev! What should I do? Please show me the way. What is the qualification required to tread on the path that you will show me?”
(The young man thinks, “Oh God! So this is what I have been missing all my life—the way to peace, happiness and abundance…”)
The kind Master says, “My son, I will show you the way. To walk on this path one needs only one qualification.”
(The Master smiles, happy that this youth is going to be led to a glorious, joyous path of love and fulfillment)
The young man asks anxiously, “What is that qualification, Gurudev?”
(The young man suddenly finds a prayer running in him, “Please, please somehow let me be qualified for this grand path,whatever that qualification may be!”)
The Guru says, “Nothing! Nothing at all! Having no qualification whatsoever is the only qualification!”
The Guru smiles at the young man who is dumbfounded!
Wondering if he had heard the Guru right, the young man exclaims, “Gurudev!”
(While he thinks, “Thank God… this qualification I possess in abundance! What a relief!)
The Guru, “Yes, son, incapability is the only qualification required to tread on this path!
The humble realization that you are incapable (of treading any spiritual path) IS THE ONLY QUALIFICATION REQUIRED. If you feel that you are capable of practicing some other path you fail to qualify for this path that I shall show you.”
The Master was softly chanting trunadapi suneechena, tarorapi sahishnuna… (humble like the grass, forbearing like the tree)
The young man says humbly, “Gurudev! Please show me the path that you speak of.”
(He thinks, “A few months back, I would have fooled myself into thinking that I am qualified for ALL paths! But that delusion is now gone. Is this what is known as ‘the grace’ of this loving Master? Jai Gurunath Maharaj!”)
The Guru,
This is the way, my son! Chant this Divine Mahamantra that has been advocated by our Shastras. It is the easiest way to attaining the Supreme Lord. Just chant this always. You can chant this anywhere and at any time.”
…and then, Bhagavan Sri Krishna smiled broadly at the young man…

(The Atithi shall visit next week…)