Why a Guru

Given by Swami Amritananda Saraswati at the Zinal Conference in September

For most people the guru is absolutely indispensable. Of course, there have been quite a few people in history who did not have a guru. Ramana Maharshi never had a guru, but we are not Ramana Maharshis. We are incomplete. Our minds, bodies and senses are confused. There are so many ways in front of us and we don't know which one to follow. We need a traffic policeman to say, 'Go this way. Slow down. Now stop, now proceed.'

Without a guru, what often happens is that people follow books which describe the siddhis and benefits to be achieved through the different types of yoga. Accordingly, they decide what path they want to follow and then practise until they get some experience. As long as the experience is pleasant, they continue the practice. But as soon as there is something terrifying, or even something pleasant which they don't understand, the yoga stops.

Many people who claim to have immense knowledge of themselves think they do not need a guru, but this is not so. When you were a child at school you used books, but still you needed a teacher to tell you the meaning of things. In the same way, you can learn yoga from books. You may even be able to choose a suitable sadhana for yourself. But after wandering in the spiritual life for some time, you will find that you are not able to get ahead. At this point, you are advised to seek initiation and instruction from a guru, to practise a suitable form of sadhana and progress accordingly. Then the guru becomes the light.

The word guru means 'dispeller of darkness'. Of course, this is not the darkness of the night, but the darkness of your being. The ignorance is the darkness and the guru represents the light, the elimination of darkness. So, the one from whom we seek the light is called the guru. Of course, the light is already within, but this inner light is only a small flame which needs fuel to increase its luminosity. We therefore need initiation from the outer light, which we call guru. His light removes the darkness.

In order to find the guru, you need to search or else to wait for the right moment. Some people make a mountain, photograph or statue their guru, but generally it is easier to relate to a guru in human form. Yet a true guru is not to be defined in the physiological sense. Actually, when you realise the need for a guru, you seek the person who can show you the inner guide, who can communicate with your inner self. Guru is not concerned with the superficial level.

It is difficult to find a guru and difficult to remain with the same guru. Just as there are so many divorces in modern life due to the failure of communication, similarly disciples have been divorcing their gurus because of this same failure. So, before seeking a guru it is essential to prepare yourself by spiritual practices for a considerable time and widen the dimension of your knowledge. Get yourself spiritually matured, then your selection of guru will be without fault and the relationship will definitely be successful.

Don't hunt for a very great guru. A disciple has to judge himself, and he should know where he stands. According to his status, he must select a guru. If a little boy in primary school seeks tuition from a big professor at the university, the professor will not be able to teach him anything, nor will the child be able to assimilate any knowledge.

When you take initiation, the guru will give you some small practice which must be done regularly. This regularity is the basis for higher yoga. The guru may ask you to practise mantra for only five or ten minutes daily. At first this may seem very little to you, but the test is in maintaining the practice. Many disciples spend hours in useless talk and useless work, yet they find it very difficult to spare only five minutes either in the morning or evening to practise mantra, pranayama, or a few simple asanas. In the life of a disciple, regularity is sadhana, regularity is spiritual training in itself.

The initiation which we take is a voluntary acceptance of the life of discipleship. Disciples, whether householder or sannyasin, must have complete dedication to the guru's mission and the attainment of wholeness. In order to develop this, the disciple is advised to spend as much time as possible near the guru. By visiting the guru or living in the ashram, the guru is able to test you and show you how he expects you to conduct yourself. The guru may ask you to sleep only a few hours a night, or to eat only one small meal a day without salt. He may ask you to do hard work outside in the hot sun. But this is only to test your sincerity. It shows that the guru is making an effort to bring you to that infinity. Disciples are sometimes disturbed because they think that the guru is punishing or ignoring them, or that he does not care for them. This is not so. As soon as you accept the guru, he begins to know you. But how deeply and seriously do you want to follow the spiritual path and his guidance? How sincerely do you want to go ahead with your spiritual life? In order to push you forward, the guru may use any method, even though it may seem very hard and rigorous to you.

That disciplined life comes to the disciple who is sincere, who thinks correctly, and is ready to go deep into the way of light. He does not mind any method which the guru teaches, even if it is strict and hard. But the disciple who misunderstands all these things thinks, 'Oh, I picked the wrong person for my guru. This man doesn't like me at all; he wants to punish me.' But understand that the guru can never be wrong, because, in fact, everything is within you. Your relationship with the guru is based on your own faith and conviction. As you deepen your faith in the guru, so it is that you grow.

Many people don't want a guru because they are afraid of surrender. But in surrendering you lose nothing and gain everything. At first, when you surrender to the guru you may feel you are bound to him, but this is just a small control or restraint in your life which brings great benefits. Once you have surrendered to the guru completely, you become as free as a bird, able to fly anywhere or do anything. So do not be afraid of surrender; commit yourself and discover the infinity.

If you make yourself humble and open, like a river, you will have no choice but to flow on to the ocean. You will flow by whichever way is meant for you, whether it is through the jungle, mountain or rocks. The river's course may seem narrow at the beginning, but eventually it will take you to the clear, open sea.

The guru/disciple relationship is not of today and tomorrow, or this life only. It goes on and on, because you do not evolve in one day alone. Regardless of how badly you may behave during the years of your training, it matters not, because you are always a disciple to your guru. You may become a guru of thousands or even millions, but your guru has yet to guide you. This, you should never forget. From time to time, owing to ignorance, clouds come over the sunny season of life. You can never be stable or correct when your mind is clouded by ignorance, weakness or some foolish thought. One mistake can pull you down completely and it may be hard to raise your head. Then the guru's help is necessary. Don't ask for it too early in the relationship. It is the greatest treasure in your life.

Everyone needs a guru. The guru may be disreputable or he may be a saint, but the disciple always loves him and believes in him. His guru is his life. He may be handsome or ugly; he may be kind or abuse you all the time, yet he is your guru. Without a guru, there is no way. It is not necessary that the guru teaches you how to practise kriya yoga or tantra. If he has accepted you as a disciple, that alone is the light. Through that you grow and obtain the final goal.

It is not to be doubted; you can try, but without the guru, life is incomplete. In order to experience fulfilment in life, the heart or the spirit has to have another base and that is the base of guru and disciple. This relationship completely transcends the physical, emotional and mental planes. It is nothing like the love you have felt for anyone else. Guru and disciple do not consider the physical or emotional factors; they only consider that which is deep and transcendental.

Guru and disciple are like one soul living in two bodies. One is always aware of the other on the spiritual plane. External communication is no longer necessary here, because the disciple does not function on the level where he needs the guru's physical presence. He has the guru's spirit within him which illumines the dark corners of his being. What need is there to talk to him or see his face.

As Kabir said, "If your beloved lives abroad, do write him a letter. But if your beloved dwells within, there is no movement, no emotion, no question of even being together. Wherever we are we are always close."


Satsang on Transmission

What are the different methods of initiation and instruction used by the various gurus?

Generally, there are two ways of integrating the disciple into spiritual life - (i) the yogic way, by means of teaching, (ii) the tantric way, by means of transmission. Before finding a guru and beginning on either path, it is better to have a clear understanding of both ways and to be able to distinguish absolutely between them.

The yogic initiation is often very formal and structured. When teaching is given, guru and disciple always remain at a respectful distance. Guru is an expert in the various spiritual sciences, and disciple has faith in the teachings. In this method it is very important that the guru be a master of whatever science he is teaching.

Here, the teachings are given on a purely academic and technical level, so it is not necessary to form any emotional or personal relationship. Therefore, the guru can have any number of disciples. He teaches the techniques and they practise them at home. In theory this works out quite well, but in practice it is not so reliable. Since the relationship is not intimate, most disciples find it difficult to continue the practices. When there is no obligation, there is no compulsion.

The tantric tradition, on the other hand, is completely different from the yogic tradition. Here the relationship between guru and disciple is not formal or specified. Initiation can be given by wife to husband, mother to son, me to you or you to me. This method is personal rather than technical or academic.

In this system it is not necessary that guru be a master of tantra or yoga techniques. He need not be academic or able to explain intellectually what he transmits. The important thing is that his spirit is evolved, unfettered and expansive. The disciple, likewise, is not just a simple student. In order to become the medium of the guru, he must be evolved to a great extent. He may not be interested in yoga or tantra, or in learning anything at all, but his heart and mind are open and ready to conduct the energy of guru.

The tantric guru practises with the disciple and in time these two become almost the same. Because of their personal relationship, the disciple must continue to practise, and if he becomes lazy or slack, the guru has the right to pester and push him. Such a relationship is, of course, very demanding. For this reason, you find plenty of yogic gurus and disciples, but very few from the tantric tradition.

Is transmission a necessary part of spiritual life?

Spiritual life does not consist of teaching alone. Spiritual life consists of transmission and contact. A guru may or may not give lectures and teach, but it is very important that the guru and disciple are transmitter and receiver. This is the real relationship between guru and disciple. There is emotional relationship because we belong to the emotional plane. This emotional relationship between the guru and disciple becomes the vehicle of the spiritual energy for transmission.

Guru and disciple may live anywhere, but there is an unseen connection between them. When one becomes a disciple, definitely this connection has to be established. Then the transmission is possible. This is a much more powerful way to be together, and this is how I live with all the disciples in my ashrams. I tell them, 'Let us live and work together, and in the course of time our spiritual relationship will develop.'

When the spiritual awareness unfolds and the mind is rendered clear, all the scriptures are revealed, all the practices understood, and the whole philosophy is at your beck and call. You know about Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He was an illiterate saint, but he could speak on any subject. People came to him and he taught the Upanishads, or talked to them in the language of the Bible. When the spirit unfolds, knowledge becomes natural to you. This is what we all have to learn.

How does the disciple prepare for transmission?

When the disciple is not sufficiently evolved, the guru prepares his mind and emotions through a systematic way of teaching. But if the disciple is sufficiently evolved, the teaching is not at all necessary. Then an inner communication takes place between the guru and disciple. The energy of the guru flows towards the disciple who is in tune with him.

When you connect the plug to the power-point, energy automatically flows through the line. However, the energy will only flow through the point if there is copper or aluminium wiring. The point may be connected, but if the wires are made of plastic, the energy won't flow. So the disciple must be a good conductor, made of metal, not of plastic. This is the first essential qualification for transmission.

During transmission there is no block between guru and disciple. They operate on the same plane. Physically they are different, but spiritually they are one. The individuality does not function. Therefore, the second essential qualification of the disciple is absolute surrender. Take a piece of bamboo in which one side is blocked and the other side is open. You may make it into a flute, but you will never be able to play it. You have to cut that barrier so that the flute is completely hollow inside, before you can get any sound from it.

Therefore, the disciple has to empty himself. This is a very hard task. It is easy to practise japa; the disciple can do 1,000 malas per day. It is easy to practise yoga, but it is very difficult to make oneself empty. The disciple has his own personality, mind, ego, pride and prejudice. So every time the guru wants to get inside him, he finds a barrier. The guru is within, but as long as there is a barrier, communication will not take place. Therefore, in the system of transmission, the last trace of barrier has to be removed.

The attitude of the disciple should be: 'I am nothing. I am the medium. I am the channel.' This attitude has to be perfected day in and day out. This is bhakti yoga or total self-surrender. When you practise yoga in spiritual life, that is an act of ego. It may be a positive act, but in relation to the surrender required for transmission, it is egoistic.

So throughout the ages there have been two systems, two processes taking place between guru and disciple. One system is known as teaching and the other transmission. In teaching you are always talking about spiritual life with your guru, but in transmission you don't have to do anything. It is not even necessary that you talk about spiritual life. With your eyes open or closed, he is always inside you. It is something like the relationship existing between two lovers.

How does the guru communicate with us on the non-physical plane?

When gurus have developed the universal mind, they can operate anywhere, because universal mind is able to unite with every mind at any time and in any place. It is not a matter of transmission, but of communication and inter-union. Individual mind is only a concept; it is nothing. There is no individual mind, only universal mind. Since you are a part of the universal mind, the guru can communicate with you from any point and at any point. Two individuals who are spiritually linked can always communicate with each other because they have the same mind.

This has to be understood properly. Due to misunderstanding, the gurus sometimes have difficulty with the disciples. If a man is singing songs and a deaf man is sitting in front of him, the deaf man will say this fellow is not singing at all. In the same way, the universal mind of the guru is capable of communication but the disciple is not able to receive, so he says that the guru is useless. The disciple is living in the quagmire of individual mind. The guru is sending him messages every now and then, but they fall on deaf ears. In order to communicate with guru on an inner level the disciple must develop his universal mind.

How can we develop the inner link with guru?

We should not concern ourselves with anything transitory. Body, mind and emotions are temporary; the spirit is eternal and our relationship with the guru should be based on spirit. If there is anything between you and him, it is between your spirit and his spirit, not between your body and his body, or between your mind and his mind. It is not a physical, mental or emotional relationship. Of course, sometimes you do take the help of this emotional relationship, but you have to step out of it. Otherwise, the sobriety, tranquillity, quietness, stability and homogeneity of the mind is lost.

In order to understand the deeper link with guru, you must read about what the attitude of the Gopis was for Krishna. Although many people consider the Gopis as mere girls playing with Krishna, this was not so. The Gopis' relationship with Krishna was transcendental. It wasn't his physical frame that they loved, but his eternal body. Whenever the Gopis were with Krishna, they did not feel they were with a human being. They always felt that they were in the company of divinity. When you realise that you are in the company of divinity, you are very much in touch, very close to your guru.

Why does the disciple lose faith in the guru?

Faith is spontaneous; you can't force it. In order to have faith in your guru, you need some deep, inner basis. If that faith is wavering, it could be that your mind is vacillating or that the guru is creating a drama. The faith that the disciple has in his guru is seldom constant, because the disciple is in the human body and so is the guru. As guru and disciple live intimately, the intimacy often brings contempt and dissatisfaction.

Sometimes the guru is also testing the disciple. Whenever a cyclone takes place in the mind of a disciple, he must clearly know that it is either a trick of the mind or a trick of the guru. In any case, if you are not having absolute faith in your guru, it does not mean that you don't have it. It only means that the dust storms are hiding the faith. Wait with patience and the dust will clear. Then the sun of faith which is inherent in you will shine again.

What is the correct relationship between guru and disciple?

The disciple is the fulfilment of the guru's wisdom. The guru is like a beautiful rose plant and the disciple is the blooming rose. The right relationship between guru and disciple should be the relationship of knowledge and expression. On the physical plane the disciple and guru are inhabiting different bodies and for a very long time, the sadhana of the disciple is to use this physical body. But if the disciple can make himself competent in the right place for fulfilling the aspirations of the guru, then he can be the best expression for the knowledge of the guru. This is because knowledge is expressed from the guru through the disciple. The blooming of the flower, the transcendental experience, also takes place in the disciple.

How does one receive guru's grace?

In order to receive guru's grace, you must live constantly in communion with guru. This may be at the cost of your social prosperity; it may make you a beggar, but that does not matter. If you want guru's grace, you must live in communion with him. Whether you receive his grace or not is up to him, but it does come if you are prepared to live in constant communion with him at any price, even at the sacrifice of the best in your life.