The Role of a Chela

Swami Satyananda Saraswati speaks on the real significance of the guru/disciple relationship. Recorded at the seminar in Milano on April 2nd 1981.

In spiritual life there is a very important relationship that exists between guru and disciple. Even as you have the relationship between parent and child, husband and wife, in the same way, there is an important relationship between guru and disciple.

Guru is not merely a teacher. In yoga, guru is known as master, one who is able to give knowledge and dispel the inner darkness. Therefore, guru should not be interpreted as professor or teacher. There are two channels of acquiring knowledge - one is through the intellect and the other is through enlightenment. A professor or a teacher can give intellectual instructions and knowledge to a student, but he cannot give enlightenment.

Guru is able to give intellectual and intuitive knowledge to his disciple. The word disciple means a person who follows a discipline. In yoga, he is known as chela or shishya, meaning 'one who is eager to learn'. If you come to the guru to learn, you are a chela or shishya. But when you follow a certain discipline, then you are a disciple.

Even as a guru is able to give intellectual knowledge and enlightenment, in the same way, a chela should be able to learn intellectually as well as assimilate enlightenment. The most important point to remember here is that everybody is not a chela. Because most people want to have intellectual knowledge only, they do not understand enlightenment. Also their consciousness and their spirit may not be ready for enlightenment.

The relationship between guru and chela is like the relationship between electrical cable and light. Guru is the energy or the spiritual shakti, and chela is the revealer of that shakti. Therefore every chela must develop his spirit and his consciousness. When the spirit and consciousness become deep, the disciple realizes himself. The spirit unfolds within him, find, then there is enlightenment.

Guru and disciple are essentially one and not two. This consciousness of disciple is always plugged with guru. This is called devotion or bhakti. On that plane they are one and totally united. By constant spiritual practice, purity is attained, the dross of the mind is removed, and then the disciple can realize his guru within him.

For a disciple the guru exists outside as well as inside. The external guru is one aspect of his devotion and the inner guru is another aspect of his realization. When he meditates on his guru, he tries to communicate with his inner guru. Therefore, in yoga, it is said that guru is the most important aspect in spiritual life. But it should be remembered that the disciple has to belong to a higher category. The higher the disciple's spirit, the quicker will be the enlightenment.

Even as the pure water in the pond can reflect the moon in the sky, in the same way, the purity of heart of the disciple can reflect the glory of his guru. There are three important steps in deeper relationships. The highest relationship is between man and God. The empirical relationship is between child and parent, brother and sister, man and woman. But the relationship with guru includes them all. It is at once empirical and transcendental. At one level they move as two individuals, one knows and the other does not, but at a higher level they move as one.

The glory of guru and the greatness of disciple is the first important point in the practice of yoga as well as tantra. The attitude and behaviour of the disciple and the guru are very special. It is an attitude of complete acceptance and an attempt at getting closer and closer to each other. The arrogance of disciple and the egoism of guru will not bring them closer. The disciple is most important for a guru, and the guru is equally important for a disciple.

When you start the practice of yoga and tantra, you begin to become a chela. It is true that in the beginning you learn yoga and tantra from books and by hearing from others. But at a certain point in your practice, there has to be some sort of interaction between you and your guru.

When you begin your journey in spiritual life you are always full of inspiration and enthusiasm, because you begin your journey on the external plane where you live. But when you move further, you come to a land where you have never been. Here there is a feeling of total loneliness, and the experiences are baffling. The visions and the knowledge are so completely astounding that you cannot even understand what you see.

At that point, when a great transformation takes place in the realm of the mind and experience, to whom are you going to ask, 'What is this?' When you ask different people, you get different answers and that creates a lot of confusion in your psyche. The persons whom you ask don't really know you and you don't know them. Therefore, they cannot properly interpret your experiences. Hence you need a guru with whom you are intimate and who should be intimate with you. You belong to him and he belongs to you. You means the body, mind, emotions and spirit. All of you belongs to him.

It is also most important that the guru be a living guru. Sometimes, due to our personal arrogance, we feel adverse to having a living guru. In many people there is a particular psychological behaviour pattern, and we call that ego or individuality. On account of this we do not want to surrender. But still we live in a world of paradox. We surrender to the senses, to the worldly enjoyments, but when the moment comes to surrender before the guru, our individuality comes up.

I remember a man who was very much attached to a woman. He spent a lot of money on her. He neglected his children and displeased his wife for her. Once he met me in a railway car, and I began to talk to him about guru. He said, 'But I cannot renounce my individuality. I am me.' I understood that man very well, and I told him, 'When it comes to guru, you have an individuality; but in relation to that woman have you any?'

This is the paradox with all of us. When we are talking about the guru, we are very much afraid of losing ourselves. But we are not afraid of losing ourselves in this great wilderness of life. I think there are two important moments of surrender in human life. We surrender ourselves to the lower instincts of life, to our temptations and mental whims. That is one type of surrender which most people make. The other point of surrender is to the guru. The outcome of the first surrender is pain, agony and frustration and the result of the second type of surrender is ananda, bliss. You begin to feel you are no longer alone. There is someone who will love you, not on a temporary basis, but for all time. You begin to feel that he and you are one.

This realization of unity is the consequence of surrender of disciple to guru. Therefore, how should a chela behave? In my opinion there is only one way a chela has to behave. He should live, move and think in the spirit of the guru. You know how the car moves? Whenever you turn the steering wheel to the right, the car goes to the right. If you turn it to the left, the car goes to the left. Suppose you turn the steering wheel to the right and the car moves to the left, what will you do? You will send the car to a mechanic, because there is something wrong with it. Therefore, when the disciple moves with the spirit of guru, he is going alright. But if the disciple moves against the spirit of the guru, then he needs repair. Therefore, it is necessary to have a guru and to follow him.