Whenever the guru/disciple relationship has been discussed by intelligent people, different opinions have been expressed. Some thinkers believe the guru is not necessary at all, and of course they are right in a way. Their main theme of argument is that you have to be your own guru, and philosophically this is correct, the real guru is within everybody. It is known as the sat guru or the inner guide.
Ultimately, every kind of guidance that you will receive in spiritual life will be from this inner guru. However, there is another side of this fact that should be kept in mind. What is the point of telling a blind man that because the sun is shining brightly outside, he does not need to turn on the light inside the room? It is exactly like that. There is no denying the fact that the guru is within everybody, but can you hear him? Can you follow his guidance? Have you ever felt his love and benedictions? The idea of being your own guru sounds very attractive. Thereby you can save your ego. You don't have to submit it to anybody. However, if the guru is inside, there is one pragmatic problem in life. Who is there to inspire you and give spiritual guidance? Therefore, right from the beginning, there has been a tradition of guru and disciple.
Every seeker must have a guru with whom he can establish an inner spiritual link. Guru does not mean a teacher, preceptor or tutor. Guru means the dispeller of darkness; one who helps you to enlighten your inner self is the guru. He may teach and instruct you in raja and hatha yoga, or he may not give you any lessons at all. Raja yoga, hatha yoga, etc. are not the qualifications of a guru, nor is scholarly intelligence. Guru is one whose soul is filled to the brim with love, and who does not live and work for himself. Such a person who has received enlightenment is the guru.
In our history there have been many gurus who did not preach or teach. However, they were able to communicate love and blessings to their disciples. When you approach such a person, a link is spontaneously established between yourself and himself. It is something like love at first sight. Therefore, it is not necessary for me to explain how a disciple recognizes his guru.
The first and the most important link between the guru and the disciple is the mantra. It is like a seed and the guru sows it in the consciousness of the disciple just as a farmer sows a seed in the garden. The mantra becomes an invisible thread, linking the disciple to his guru. And by means of the mantra, the frequency of the disciple's brain is synchronized with the frequency of the guru's brain. In the same way that you tune your radio to a particular station by adjusting the frequency, the disciple uses the mantra to adjust the frequency of his consciousness. Of course, mantra purifies the mind and bestows concentration and tranquillity, but when the guru gives it to a disciple, the purpose is to establish a relationship.
If you would like to become a disciple but you have not yet found a guru, there is an important point to be noted. The guru you realize will be according to your evolution and attainment. In other words, according to your calibre and personality, you will choose a guru and you will get him. Therefore, if you want to realize a better and superior quality of guru, you will have to develop superior discipleship and surrender.
A disciple is supposed to surrender his ego to guru, as it is through this act of surrender that he empties himself. Just as a bamboo flute will only produce a beautiful melody if it has been made hollow, in the same way, a disciple must empty himself in order to become a useful instrument. The greatest obstacle between guru and disciple is the ego. The fatter the ego, the lesser the receptivity. As you make the ego subtle, the receptivity becomes greater.
Some people are afraid to surrender their ego because they fear they will lose their individuality. They are obviously not aware that they surrender their egos in so many affairs of life. Therefore, there is no harm in surrendering the ego to the guru. If you lose your individuality before him, you are the receiver of benefits, not only in connection with meditation, but even in your day to day life.
You may have read the story of the great Tibetan yogi, Milarepa. When Milarepa was a boy, he went to a guru and asked for initiation. Kicking the boy, the guru shouted, 'You rascal, get out of here.' For many days Milarepa remained outside in the freezing cold at the door of the guru's house, but the guru refused to see him. Because Milarepa was innocent and had surrendered his ego in principle and in practice, he did not think, as we would, 'What a funny guru he is. If he does not even want to see me, then I don't want to have him for my guru.' Milarepa continued to sit outside and every time the guru stepped out of his cottage, he gave him a kick.
One day, while the guru was out, his wife brought some fresh, hot food to Milarepa. Before that he had only been thrown stale scraps. As the boy was eating, the guru appeared on the scene. He was furious and demanded, 'Who gave you that food?' Milarepa replied, 'My guru mother gave it to me.' Scowling, the guru said, 'Now I understand. You have come here to spoil my wife. Well, you cannot stay near her. You get out from here.' The guru pointed to a hillock and told Milarepa to build a house there.
That poor boy had to carry heavy boulders from the bottom of the hill to the top, day in and day out, for many months. Eventually, when he had completed the task, the guru came up the hill to check the construction. He found the boy sleeping and kicked him with all his might. 'You lazy boy,' he cried, 'Now that you have finished the house, you think you can just sleep. No, you are not going to stay here. You bring all those boulders down and build another house near my gate so I can watch you.' An ordinary disciple would have said, 'Eccentric guru!' But Milarepa had no ego; he was an empty flute, and he brought the boulders down one by one.
The story goes further, but I just wanted to give you a glimpse of the disciple's approach to guru's wonderful, erratic and illogical behaviour. When Milarepa sat for meditation later, he kept a small earthen lamp alight on his head. He sat in lotus posture for hours together without the slightest movement. The lamp did not fall and it did not flicker. Why? It was because he had no ego. If you are childlike, innocent and pure minded, your mind can become tranquil at one instance.
There have been many stories about great disciples like this, but none of them became disciples just by choosing a guru. They were all devoted people who had prepared themselves to face any process inflicted by the guru.
What does a carpenter do with timber? Is he kind to it? No, he will cut it with a saw, chisel it and drive nails into it. Thereby he produces a beautiful piece of furniture. Unless a piece of timber undergoes this cruel process at the hands of a carpenter, it will never be transformed into something useful. A disciple is a raw material, no matter how much he knows. He may be very intelligent; he may be a great diplomat, businessman or professor, he may be very worldly - wise, but it does not matter. He is a raw material and he must be processed by the guru. And one by one, the elements of his personality must undergo a process of disintegration, because he has to be totally rejuvenated and regenerated. Although the disciple maintains the same physical body throughout, the elements of his mental, emotional and spiritual body are completely changed. In other words, the personality of the disciple undergoes a total metamorphosis.
Throughout my life as a disciple I have observed many important points which are very dangerous in the life of a disciple. When I was living with my guru, Swami Sivananda, myself and many other swamis often thought we knew more than our guru. In fact, we believed that the growth and development of the institution was only taking place because of our efforts. There was a lot of intellectualism in us, and because of it, we could not approach our guru like a child. Once we brought this problem to our guru. We said, 'Often we feel that we know more than you do, and there are times when we feel that you make mistakes.' Swamiji replied, 'You are right.' That was his greatness and that was our mean-mindedness.
When you become a disciple, either a lay disciple or a sannyasin disciple, and you have accepted a mantra from your guru, then it becomes very important that he lives in your heart like a constant light. By maintaining constant awareness of the guru you will be able to develop the sat guru, that guru who dwells within.