Science and Guru

Dr Swami Karmananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

Science and yoga have been courting one another respectfully for several decades now, and the fruits of their courtship have been profound. Science has gained a rational insight into a dimension of health which integrates physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The spin-offs for the technological, scientifically oriented community promise to be enormous, and as yoga's mystic veil is gradually lifted, the solutions to many of our endemic social and psychological problems are being progressively revealed. Science is discovering in its own language and terminology what the yogis have known for eons. In the process, the healing light of yoga is now reaching a vast new populace which has been estranged from any meaningful spiritual path due to historical accidents in their own cultural traditions. Now they are learning the techniques which can put them back in touch with their own inner beings. At last they are attaining the mental peace so characteristically absent from affluent cultures. Despite this successful merger of science and yoga, there is still one vital element of yoga which remains largely unexplored by modern science. This is the ancient, sublime and sacrosanct relationship between the guru and disciple. This transcendental bond has been the means of transmission of yogic knowledge throughout the ages ever since the rishis, the first gurus, walked upon the earth. It defies the rational analysis of scientists, who insist that the free flow of knowledge is a fundamental prerequisite for the betterment of the human condition.

The inability of the scientist to comprehend the guru/disciple relationship spotlights the basic difference in values between the yogic and materialistic sciences. Yoga upholds the spirit which underlies creation while science investigates the material phenomena which are the gross manifestations of creation. Science seeks to better the human condition by changing the material world, while yoga recognizes that the solution to man's problems lies in recognizing his infatuation with the transitory, material universe and understanding his essential permanent nature in spirit. The essence of the material world is transitoriness, the creation and dissolution of individual names and forms; while the essence of spirit is permanence, underlying the material world, but itself beyond change.


Science depends on the free flow of intellectual knowledge and discussion, with scant consideration for the outcome or applications of that knowledge. Yogic knowledge, on the other hand, requires a personal purification of the body and mind on the part of the seeker before transmission can succeed. This purification can occur in the service of the guru, and traditionally a period of twelve years is set aside for the purpose of preparing the disciple's nervous system to sustain and conduct the energy of expanded consciousness.

The supreme knowledge of yoga cannot be acquired from the ancient texts alone, because they are purposely filled with paradoxes and pitfalls for the unwary and uninitiated beginner. However they reveal the highest consciousness, when unlocked by the grace of the guru's wisdom. The guru becomes the medium and repository of higher powers and knowledge, making this knowledge accessible only to those who seek earnestly to commit themselves to spiritual life and values. The passage of secret wisdom from mouth to ear, from guru to disciple, from age to age, is termed 'parampara'.

In this way, the great yogic secrets of transformation of human consciousness have been guarded by the great rishis, ensuring that yogic powers do not fall into the hands of those who will abuse them, but still remain accessible to those who seek to know and serve the truth for its own sake. This ensures that the faculty of higher consciousness remains embodied in the form of the living guru. This is why yoga has remained a living tradition up to the present day, while many other spiritual traditions have perished and turned into dogmas and institutional ideologies, devoid of the essence of living spiritual force.


By virtue of an extended academic education in a university and research environment, one becomes a scientist, capable of speaking and understanding the highly specialized language of science, and participating in the free flow of knowledge and ideas. This initiates one into the system of concepts, paradigms and techniques upon which science in general, and one's own speciality or discipline in particular, is founded. It comes as some surprise to scientists that yogic science has a parallel system of training, of a spiritual rather than an intellectual nature. Just as the rigorous scientific training in a university endows a scientist with a systematic way of perceiving and analyzing the world, so the long and arduous yogic training under a guru endows a disciple with the ability to perceive and understand the spiritual dimension.

The bond between a guru and disciple is a transcendental, spiritual one, while the bond between a student and his lecturer in the university is a materialistic or socially oriented one. The guru/disciple relationship exists to lead the disciple towards true wisdom, while the student enters into a relationship with his science lecturer in order to equip himself with the knowledge and qualifications necessary for academic, economic and social success in later life. So it is that the budding scientist has social or material expectations, while the new disciple has spiritual expectations. Each receives what he seeks according to his application to the subject matter and by virtue of his aspirations. The two training systems bear many similarities even though their underlying purposes and philosophies lie in fundamentally different spheres.

After he has qualified, the scientist gains access to the laboratory and is given the opportunity to further his research. It would be impossible for the average man on the street to fulfil this role - because he lacks the necessary training. In the study of yoga, an exactly analogous situation arises. A person who has not undergone spiritual training to enhance his awareness and whittle away the barrier of the ego, cannot gain access to the deep fount of spiritual wisdom. His body and mind are not capable of comprehending it. The gift of spiritual knowledge can be given only to one in whom the veils of ignorance, egoism and tamasya have been systematically lifted through the spiritual discipline obtained under the guru's guidance and care. If a spiritually unaware and unprepared individual were exposed to the higher spiritual experiences of yoga, he might quite literally explode the circuits of his brain and destroy the thinking capacities of his mind forever. In the same way, an untrained man, not comprehending the intricacies of the research laboratory, could easily electrocute or poison himself if he casually switched on equipment, tasted chemical preparations and so on, like a child in a play pen.

Intuitive knowledge or wisdom functions in a completely different sphere to intellectual knowledge, and bears no relationship to the mundane qualifications one gains in a university. A postgraduate degree may qualify one for membership in an elite profession and indicates the possession of a sharp intellect, but spiritual knowledge is in a different dimension altogether.

The prerequisite for spiritual knowledge is destruction of the ego, at the hands of the guru. The grace and guidance of a guru are as fundamental to yogic transmission of knowledge as is the laboratory experiment to the advancement of scientific knowledge. The only way to understand the guru and his spiritual power is to enter wholeheartedly into the service of the guru with faith, devotion and surrender. No rational or objective scientific, sociological or psychological study of the guru will ever unlock the secrets of this divine relationship, for it cannot be defined; it can only be known by direct experience.

A transcendental purpose

The guru /disciple relationship exists on the spiritual plane, not on the physical, mental and emotional planes. It evolves of its own volition, irrespective of pre-existing relationships, commitments and contracts. For this reason, it is meaningless to attempt to define it by comparison with the other forms of interpersonal relationships into which human beings enter in order to fulfil physical, mental and emotional needs and desires. It is different from the conventional bonds between student and teacher, doctor and patient or husband and wife. These relationships exist in a social context, and are established in order to fulfil some specific social purpose- be it to obtain a university degree, to produce a state of well-being in the patient or to establish a family. These are social contracts which are created many times in life and are then dissolved either upon the success or failure of their objective.

However, the guru/disciple relationship does not exist for the fulfilment of any social objective. Its purpose is transcendental and it can be truly defined only in terms of trust and love, which are intangible and unmeasurable by any scientific method. Having no social purpose it also knows no conclusion, and since it is entered into as a bond of trust and love rather than in the hope of fulfilling personal expectations, its outcome is ever ongoing and open. Its fruit is spiritual enlightenment, and since spirit is one and eternal, this relationship is also immortal. It progresses and evolves intangibly as the dimensions of higher consciousness, mysteriously embodied in the guru, flower in the disciple.

Even the guru himself does not know for what purpose the relationship with each of his disciples exists. He is but a medium. The success of the relationship cannot be gauged in normal terms. Some disciples may be destined for fame and glory in a conventional sense, while others find fulfilment in menial duties devoid of social distinction. It makes no difference to the guru or the disciple, for the real fruit of the relationship is experienced internally as a blissful communion of spirit which transcends space, time and their individual roles in life. The guru/disciple relationship is the fulfilment of all relationships, for it leads the disciple directly to experience union with the infinite - that is the experience called yoga.

The ocean of births can only be crossed
By those who take refuge at the feet of Grace,
Who is Himself an ocean of virtue.

They alone escape from mental anguish
Who take refuge at the feet
Of the Incomparable One.

What has all a man's learning profited,
If it has not led him
To worship the good feet of Him
Who is pure knowledge itself.

Kural, Ch. 1