Guru - Disciple Relationship

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Q. What is the relationship between guru and disciple and what are their duties toward each other?

A. The relationship between guru and disciple is deeper than all other relations known including man and wife, friends or father and son. The wife can live without the husband, and the husband without wife, but with the true guru and disciple, who share a pure love, the notion of duality disappears and a unity takes place.

The main duty of the guru is to help remove the darkness of avidya (ignorance) by guiding the evolution of the spiritual aspirant. In order to do this the guru teaches all kinds of sadhana on the physical, psychic and spiritual planes, and helps the disciple to follow the correct path. The duty of the disciple is to serve and obey the guru and to learn from his teachings, gain from his knowledge and so become self-purified.

A guru is necessary for those people who want to follow the spiritual path and it is important that the relationship is formed correctly. For those who want to practice the meditative way, a raja yoga guru is necessary. If they want to transcend through the path of karma yoga then they must have a karma yoga guru, and the same applies to the bhakti and jnana yoga aspirants.

Q. What is the difference between the guru - disciple and husband - wife relationships?

A. The relationship between guru and disciple is much different from the relationship between husband and wife. The love and attachment, the relationship that is created between guru and disciple helps the disciple to overcome the barriers created by the personal ego. Guru and disciple have been husband and wife. It sometimes happens, as in the case of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa - guru of Swami Vivekananda - and Sharadadevi.

Ramakrishna and Sharadadevi were husband and wife, but this was just a social relationship. After Ramakrishna was enlightened and became a guru, he considered Sharada as his higher being. To him she became Kali, Durga, the divine mother, the divine spirit. At such a point you begin to see your wife in a completely new light.

Although the guru and the disciple live on the social plane, the personal evolution of the guru is nevertheless far beyond the social plane. My own opinion is that guru and disciple stand strictly on the spiritual plane, no matter what their relationship is. Even if they live as husband and wife, that is purely on the physical plane, and it is not the purpose for which they live. This or any kind of social, physical, mental or emotional relationship between guru and disciple has to be transmuted. It has to be utilised for spiritual illumination, the elimination of karma and tamas, and for subduing the ego.

Q. How does guru's guidance help us?

A. When the guru's guidance is of a pure nature, the disciple will never fail, unless he leaves the guru due to lack of interest. He may also get discouraged and leave, not understanding the true nature of the guru's help. This sometimes happens if the disciple doesn't feel results quickly enough, or when sickness arises.

The guru watches, instructs and warns his followers in many different ways and on different levels of consciousness. With pure love and constant awareness of his disciples, he is always guiding them. Even if the guru is far away, it does not matter. A mother continues caring for her child even if he is on the other side of the world. In the same way the guru's guidance is both present and necessary at all times.

Q. What is love for the guru?

A. In order to know it you must practice it. This is not the same type of love that exists between family members, but something much greater and longer lasting. The relationship is neither rational nor emotional, but of a psychic nature. The spiritual interaction between a guru and disciple takes place without any disturbance to the mind and the guru's presence is always felt. The moment the disciple thinks of the guru, his mind quietens and communion takes place. When relationships are of an emotional nature there is no peace, only disturbance. But the relationship between guru and disciple is complete without any emotional or negative reaction. This is because on higher levels of psychic interaction, the emotions are more subdued and do not play a great part. After a few years of developing this relationship you will experience how the mind can think and function in a different way and then you will experience this love.

Q. How should one choose a guru?

A. The guru should be chosen with a background of faith; the one who has faith will find a guru. People who are sincerely seeking the spiritual way of life will become disillusioned with the miracle performers and the gurus who exhibit siddhis for selfish reasons. The self-realized guru is high on the spiritual plane, beyond the psychic plane from which these powers arise. He has no need to perform these siddhis for his disciples. If you seek a guru then you must approach with an unselfish heart and pure faith. Then you will find your true guru. Pure faith will never fail you. But the search also depends on your state of consciousness. If you seek money, you will find money; if you look for apples, you will find apples. If you search for a guru with a selfish purpose and an ignorant background, then those who display powers will appear.

Q. Does the guru look for the disciple or does the disciple search for the guru?

A. There are certain cases when a guru may have a mission to fulfil and receives a mandate or message from the spiritual plane in which the disciples are revealed to him. Then he will search in order to find them. The visions are not always clear; sometimes only the image is seen and the name is not given or vice versa. It can also happen that a disciple may see his guru in a dream, even before seeing him in the physical form. Then the disciple searches for the vision revealed in his dream. When spiritual life becomes the aim of a person, he will begin to look for a guru. When the time is right, the guru will come to him or he will find the guru.

Q. Should one receive a mantra from a person whom he does not consider to be his guru?

A. Mantra should always be taken from one's guru, then only will it be effective. This is the first form of contact or initiation between the guru and the disciple. Neither mantra nor guru should be changed. Before the guru can pass on the powers of a mantra, he must feel that the aspirant is strong enough and ready to receive it. Many gurus can transmit certain magnetic powers to their disciples, but if the disciple is not ready it can disturb his mental and nervous balance. Initiation is something like an electric shock entering the person's mental atmosphere. In some cases with emotional people it can even result in insanity.

After accepting the mantra, you then become the disciple. When you practice that mantra you strengthen the guru - disciple relationship and once this is established then you can become the channel through which the guru's thoughts are conducted. The disciple must be regular in his meditation. If there is regular contact with the guru, one can draw upon his unconscious help and guidance. In this way maximum benefits are derived from the sadhana.

It is the unconscious mind of the guru which interacts, not the conscious mind. At this level we are all interconnected and related to each other, permitting communion of thought and feeling. Because of this interrelation, the guru knows when a disciple has become unsteady in his mind or when a calamity is going to befall him. If the guru is truly capable, he can even alter the disciple's destiny.

The guru is concerned with only one thing-removing the duality and distance that exists between the two minds of guru and disciple. The disciple may have certain worldly aspects: heart, mind and intellectual power of reasoning, but the guru is not so concerned with these. He knows that his disciple has to leave him at some stage. Therefore he must be sure that the disciple is detached from ego, and there is complete unity and oneness in their relationship.

Q. What is involved in the actual initiation, and what qualifies the disciple to receive it?

A. The Sanskrit word for initiation is diksha meaning the 'desire to give'. Mantra diksha is the giving of a mantra. There are also some higher initiations. However, these are not given unless the disciple is absolutely steady, physically, emotionally and mentally. For instance before the guru leaves his earthly role or body, he may want to transfer certain spiritual powers to different people. This is done with great care. The first thing the guru makes certain of is that the disciple's mind will not waver or lose control at any time. You can cut off his nose, shoot him, pierce his ears or throw him into the Ganges, but he will always remain steady and unaffected. When the mind has lost all worldly and lower sensitivity, it is completely receptive to higher vibrations and unreceptive to lower ones. The lower sphere of the mind is paralysed but the higher sphere has become active and sensitive. Then only are the higher initiations given - the transferral of psychic and spiritual power or traditional knowledge. This is what everybody seeks.

Initiation may be given anywhere: on the banks of a river, in a chapel, underneath a tree, in a lonely forest, in an ashram or in a small room. Great yogis like Swami Sivananda could even impart initiation by letter. But to receive initiation, everything should be quiet. The body must be still, it should not shake or move around. The mind must be relaxed and receptive.

Q. What happens to the disciple after initiation?

A. On receiving the divine spark from the guru, then the disciple begins to have experiences according to his disposition. If he is intellectual, his intellect will be sharpened so that he understands subtle subjects and finds satisfactory answers to his questions. If devotional, he will experience intense love.

Cravings may get stronger for a while but will gradually disappear. Chronic or dormant diseases may erupt but will eventually be expelled from the system forever. Thus the awakened shakti firmly sets the disciple on the road to spiritual perfection.

Devotion to the guru is essential. The divine power is all-pervasive - yet it is the guru who removes the veil of ignorance. As a seeker progresses he has to become his own guru, remaining a witness to his inner processes while surrendering to the inner shakti.

The true guru does not make his disciple renounce the world, but his limited self - he takes away not limited wealth and riches but sins and anxieties.

The greater the disciple thinks his guru to be, the greater he himself will become. The guru is Brahma because he creates for his student a new and wondrous world; he is Vishnu because he sustains and protects him; he is Shiva because he annihilates his world of individuality.