Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day

For God or Guinness

Ignoring nausea, blisters, and bruises, Asrita Furman valiantly pushed on. For ten and a half hours he fought to maintain philosophical detachment: "I am not my body; I am soul."

Repeatedly he plunged forward to meet the rough pavement in yet another somersault. And then another and another and another … eight thousand two hundred ninety in all. In this painful and peculiar fashion he covered more than twelve miles, following the reverse route of Paul Revere's famous ride.

What inspired Furman to such acrobatics? He claims the feat was an offering to his guru.

A disciple of an Indian guru for the past fifteen years, Furman was motivated by his guru's teaching that spiritual advancement is obtained by pushing the body to its limits. Eight thousand two hundred ninety consecutive somersaults on the side of the road seemed a suitable challenge.

Is this a valid process of self-realization? According to the Vedic science of self-realization, to advance spiritually means to understand the spiritual reality behind the material illusion of this world. We must understand not only our own spiritual nature but also the spiritual nature of that supreme being who is the origin of all existence. That supreme being is Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and we are His eternal servants. This is the essence of spiritual realization.

To enlighten us with spiritual knowledge, Lord Krsna teaches us, both through the scriptures and through His representative, the bona fide guru. Just as the rails of a train track must run parallel, the guru and the scripture must agree. When they do, we are guided safely and accurately toward spiritual perfection. This accord between guru and scripture legitimizes a process for spiritual advancement.

Mr. Furman did follow his guru, but since somersaulting is not authorized in the scripture as a legitimate spiritual practice, Furman's spiritual advancement is dubious. Nowhere do the scriptures indicate that the Supreme Personality of Godhead rewards sweaty gymnastics with spiritual enlightenment. Indeed, Bhagavad-gita (17.18-19specifically warns against Such whimsical austerities:

Penance performed out of pride and for the sake of gaining respect, honor, and worship is said to be in the mode of passion. It is neither stable nor permanent. Penance performed out of foolishness, with self-torture or to destroy or injure others is said to be in the mode of ignorance.

There's nothing spiritual about enduring pain. People everywhere are tolerating miseries much greater than the bruises of Asrita Furman, and their forbearance does not necessarily bring them transcendental knowledge. We must receive transcendental knowledge by studying the revealed scriptures under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master. Otherwise we will be cheated.

In the Bhagavad-gita (17.14-16) Lord Krsna describes austerities that are essential for spiritual growth and are pleasing to Him:

Austerity of the body consists in worship of the Supreme Lord, the brahmanas, the spiritual master, and superiors like the father and mother, and in cleanliness, simplicity, celibacy, and nonviolence. Austerity of the speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature. And satisfaction, simplicity, gravity, self-control, and purification of one's existence are austerities of the mind.

Had Furman's guru recommended these Vedic austerities to his devoted disciple, then how much more valuable his determination would have been. This is not the first undertaking Furman has accepted for the pleasure of his guru. Previously he walked twenty-four miles with a milk bottle on his head, held a fifty hour hand-clapping marathon, and trekked eleven and a half miles up the side of Mount Fuji on a pogo stick!

Although Furman's exploits have not helped him gain the favor of God, they have brought him considerable attention in the media and earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, thus increasing the prevalent misunderstanding about Vedic teachings and the nature and goal of spiritual life.