Guru Seva

Swami Amritananda Saraswati, Zinal, Switzerland, September 4, 1980

According to the Hindu tradition, one has several gurus. First of all, even a teacher can be called guru. Every student in kindergarten or primary school calls his teacher 'guru'. Then there is the guru who gives us our religious education, in the rituals, traditions and the dharma. Another guru gives us the specialized mantras for the different ceremonies of life. The supreme guru is the satguru, the eternal guru, who you choose for the guidance of your spirit. He is the one who really takes you from the darkness to the light.

The satguru is not necessarily only a teacher. He may beat you or he may teach you. Of course, you can learn many things from him such as the techniques of tantra, the ways to progress in your spiritual life, or even the correct path to follow in life, whether as a monk or a householder. He can either live with you like any other person or he can remain thousands of miles away.

Once you have made the connection to a satguru, have chosen him for your own enlightenment and have been initiated by him, then that alone is the important thing; nothing else matters. Whether you never see him again, or you live your whole life with him; whether you gain knowledge from him or only have his memory; whether you have only the experience of that single moment all your life or you continue to interact with him physically; none of these things are important at all.

What is important is the connection with the higher self Initiation from such a guru is like the lighting of a lamp. The lamp is within you; you just have to make the connection. Mostly, the satguru takes the form of a person, but the guru can be a tree, an animal, a mountain, a flower, a statue or even a picture. These are all different forms or objects you can choose as your guru, which you can make the object of your enlightenment.

The experience of initiation from a guru can even take place in a dream. Sometimes the guru appears during a calm period of the mind and sometimes during normal states of consciousness, while you are working, laughing, joking or sitting. That occurrence, that spontaneous vision of guru, can become the guiding force for the whole of a person's life.

But as we are intelligent, we cannot wait passively for a dream, a vision or any similar occurrence. You must search for your guru by exposing yourself to higher beings, and allowing yourself to realize or experience the higher guru in them. Then, when you find your guru, you must maintain your relationship with him for the rest of your life.

The types of disciples and gurus

There are three main categories of disciples - householders, sannyasins and inner disciples. These three disciples are of three different dimensions, and they fulfil three different purposes. The guru teaches his lay disciples in order to give them peace of mind and right understanding in life. They still have their own business, family and children. They do not have to surrender all that to their guru, but they do have to offer him their true devotion.

Then there are the monastic disciples, or sannyasins. They remain in the institution of the guru, and he controls their every activity for at least twelve years. The guru then transforms the whole man; he has to change not only the ways of thinking, but even the ways of sleeping, eating, walking and talking. He even controls the way and frequency of his going to toilet and passing urine. Then the disciple can become a very good messenger of his guru's teachings.

The third category is the interior disciple, and these are very few. The guru selects these for himself. First they are tested, and only those who have proved themselves worthy are accepted. Then their total life is controlled - thoughts, dreams, emotions and passions. In the same way that you control a switch, the guru controls their whole world. They become the main distribution poles of the guru's energy.

So, the third type of disciple transmits the energy, the second type preaches the gospel or teachings, and the first type puts the teachings into practice. All three types practise surrender; householder disciples offer their devotion, sannyasins offer their life, and the interior disciples offer everything. It is the choice of the disciple, and if a disciple wants to offer everything, nobody should have any objection.

There are also different categories of gurus. One guru may live the household life and another may live apart, but without any dedication or mission. These gurus guide their disciples, teach them some techniques and take the responsibility for their enlightenment. Yet another type of guru accepts disciples, initiates them, and makes them work as renunciates. Such a guru lives in the ashram, monastery or forest hermitage together with his disciples, and guides their progress towards the supreme Self. He is not interested in making them adepts or giving them siddhis, but in purifying and reducing their karmas, samskaras and negativity.

Action without expectation

This process of eradication of the negative tendencies of the mind is accomplished through the practice of karma yoga, under the direction of the guru. In different contexts, the word 'karma' can have several different meanings. Sometimes it is used to mean samskara, and it can also mean fate or destiny. However, in Hinduism and tantra, karma means action, and so karma yoga is the yoga of action, without expectation or concern for the fruit.

Karma yoga is anything that you do without expecting a result. Just as all actions can be classified according to the three gunas, so too, all results fall into these same three categories. Thus, there are either tamasic, rajasic or sattvic results. This applies to both internal and external actions.

There is movement everywhere, both in the internal world and in the external world. Anything happening inside our body, mind, intellect or spirit is also action. It is a law of nature that where there is action, there is reaction, and from this arises expectation. For example, if you do some job or service for someone, there will always be some reaction from that person. But you must try not to expect it.

Expectation is an internal activity, an internal attitude. When you eat food, you expect your body to react in a certain way, either by digesting it, expelling it, or converting it into the appropriate chemicals. You eat the food and you expect it to be digested, but in karma yoga you should not even have this expectation.

You must eat the food and let whatever happens happen. When you are working in your office or your house, of course, the result will come, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. But you should not expect it or think about what may happen. You may be an employee in a government office or a businessman. Of course, you go to work every day and you are being paid. But your objective is just to work without expecting anything. This does not mean that you should radically alter your present behaviour and become a fanatic. All these things must be practised internally. You don't have to show that you don't expect anything. You don't have to talk about it. You just have to practise it.

You must also be certain that no expectation is lying hidden within your mind. Your mind will try to cheat and fool you, but you must be sure that expectation does not come in any form. Then, when action without expectation is perfected, it becomes karma yoga, and that is the greatest yoga. Without awareness there is not perfection. You have to keep yourself constantly aware of what is happening, what you are doing, what you are going to do, what should happen through you and what should not happen through you.

When we speak of perfection in action, we mean action that does not disturb or harm anyone else. Whatever you are doing, whether with your body or your intellect, it should not be done in a careless or foolish way. For example, when you are listening to a lecture or a Satsang, are you really aware of what you are doing? No, your mind is somewhere else. You may be opening your notebook, or switching off and on the tape recorder or camera, or you may be making some other noises that you are not even aware of. It does not occur to you at all that you are disturbing somebody. Or you do not know that somebody is talking and you may also be switching him off from there. This carelessness in actions and reactions has to be avoided through the regular practice of karma yoga.

Karma yoga means service to others without expecting the result or benefit. There are many different types of service. There is service to the society, the nation, or to a religious or spiritual institution. You can serve your father, husband, wife or children, or you can serve the guru. All service can be done without expectation of result. However, please note this point well, it is not necessary to reject the fruit or result, as long as you eliminate the expectation. Whether you receive the fruit or not is immaterial. If you are working in an office, of course you should draw the salary. You must be practical, and the practical thing is to have the proper attitude.

The Gita, which is the source of all these teachings, does not instruct you to avoid karma, just to not expect the result of the karma. But you can certainly have the result. If you serve your guru and please him with your proper action, with your services, then you may receive his grace and blessings in return. But you cannot expect that he will necessarily be benefited or pleased with you, or will shower his grace and blessings on you. Even this sattvic category of expectation must be avoided if you are a sincere guardian of your mind.

How to practise

Many people talk about karma yoga but few know how to practise it. First of all it is necessary to make your mind and body fit for the service of the guru through the practice of hatha yoga and meditation. Then you must wait for the order of the guru and do whatever he asks. If the guru initiates you without giving you any specific work, then you must think for yourself what you can do to benefit him, his mission, and his work. Then, for the rest of your life you have to keep serving him faithfully, without stopping or getting mentally or physically tired. You must dedicate yourself completely to his service so that one day, after perhaps 5, 10 or 15 years, you will not suddenly decide that you have served him long enough and it is time to quit.

There are numerous categories of service. If the guru has an ashram or mission then you can serve him in cleaning, cooking, office work, literary work, or printing. This is possible for the dedicated disciple who stays for some time at the ashram. As for the disciple who remains in society, he can serve by spreading the guru's message, teachings and good example. Another very important means of service is offering guru dakshina from time to time. You can even wish the guru well, and concentrate positive thoughts on his welfare and the progress of his mission.

This attitude of service helps you to remember your purpose; it acts as a constant reminder of yourself. Hatha yoga, kriya yoga, yoga nidra, nada yoga, japa and meditation are not the only sadhanas. Karma yoga is also a sadhana; in fact, it is the highest of the sadhanas. In the shortest space of time it leads you towards evolution in all dimensions - physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. It helps you progress and brings you towards light and truth.

Karma yoga and gyana

Through karma yoga you can gain all sorts of knowledge. A serious sadhaka does not need any tuition, lessons or classes. The attitude of service to the guru keeps the mind occupied with higher, purer thoughts. It develops devotion and makes the mind open and receptive. In this way it is possible to absorb much more knowledge than you could expect to find in any book or from any great teacher. You can acquire knowledge in a short period of time, even at the age of 5, 10 or 15, that may take others their whole lifetime or many lifetimes to acquire.

This is because whatever you learn from teachers, books or lessons is already contained within the mind. All knowledge is already contained within us. We only have to awaken it, to open the curtain and remove the darkness. Karma yoga is the fastest, highest and easiest way to do this. Do not be discouraged from attending classes, reading books or having teachers. You should have them, and use them. But at the same time you should develop this karma yoga awareness.

Karma yoga is the yoga for a disciple who seeks to purify and enlighten the Self. If the other yogas are also practised, it will accelerate your progress, like taking an express train. If you run a car with one engine, and then add another one, it will become more powerful. In the same way, if you practise karma yoga side by side with raja yoga, hatha yoga. gyana yoga or any of the other yogas, it will supplement them and make your way brighter and better.

However, it is most important to have a guru to guide you, right from an early age. Actually we are all still in the kindergarten of life. We are all children, our Self is just a baby. We have yet to grow and walk, holding on to the chain of the guru's light.