The Guru/Disciple Relationship

Swami Yogakshemananda Saraswati

"You must have seen in the rainy season how, when the light burns, the moths go with a driving force toward the light and they die there. That has to be the depth and intensity of the relationship. If this kind of relationship is established between the guru and the disciple, then the relationship acts as a great catalyst."

Teachings of Swami Satyananda, Vol. 6

Two aspects of the guru

As Swami Niranjan indicated, there are two aspects to the guru - the 'human being' and the 'guru' aspect. As a human being, the guru might prefer solitude and freedom from the role of having to be a guide. However, he plays the role of guru as artfully as he can, out of devotion to his own guru's teachings or mission and out of compassion for his disciples.

This has been the case for Swamiji. As he said in a talk he once gave, "I just want to be free to walk through the land." However, he founded the Bihar School of Yoga and its branches because of a mandate from his guru, Swami Sivananda. As he explains:

"I am called a swami only because I am Swami Sivananda's disciple. I am revealing the knowledge he gave me. It is not mine; I am just a trustee. I am going to work as long as I receive his guidance. The day the guidance does not come, I will stop working because I am not interested in ashrams or chelas (disciples) or money or name. I know that to think of building an ashram or having a chela is another vasana (desire) and I do not want to have that vasana."

And so, as Swami Niranjan wryly put it - "We have an example of what may be referred to as a 'reluctant' messiah."

How then, does a new disciple accept and integrate these two aspects of the guru, when contemplating surrender and commitment to the guru and/or his successor? Perhaps it is somewhat the same situation as confronts the child when thinking of its mother; the child wants to believe that the mother only thinks of him all day long, so that he can believe he has her all to himself. He projects his own needs and limitations of thought onto her in order to try to feel oneness with her. Actually the mother also has a life, needs, and avenues of expression other than the child, whether she uses them or not (just as the guru may have his sadhana, need for seclusion, his relationship to his own guru, disciples, plus his own spontaneous interests).

When the disciple attempts to surrender in a mature manner, i.e. unselfishly, he becomes willing to embrace the guru as he actually exists, rather than as he fantasises him to be. The guru can then more readily reveal more of himself, so that the knowledge can also expand for the disciple. The guru can bring the disciple up closer to his level of experience (rather than, as in the case of neurotic disciples, who need to drag the guru down to their level of experience to feel fulfilled).

Still, in the early stages of the relationship, the guru needs to accept the disciple's level of evolution in order to present himself in such a way that the disciple can respond and open up to him.

The magnetic miracle

Despite any reluctance, annoyance or fears that may be present in the guru or disciple, the significant issue is that in some way, they are each inspired to move beyond their personal limitations or idiosyncrasies. Yet, it is a delicate balance; both, guru and disciple need to individually intuit when to assert themselves and when to passively accept and wait. A female disciple, especially, needs to realise that surrender is not generally a passive process but an active, dynamic one.

Swamiji himself reminds us that the guru needs to let the female disciple set the pace. In tantra, the woman, or shakti, is seen as the natural initiator, and that even an enlightened male guru needs the complement of female disciples to help communicate his message:

"With this attitude, if you go on in spiritual life, either with your wife, daughter or disciple, then you have to see that she is the activator and you are the participant in every sphere. Even if a man has realised the higher awareness, he will still have difficulty in communicating that to others if he does not bring a woman into the picture."

Nawa Yogini Tantra

Swamiji also elaborates that, regarding spiritual experience, in the case of men, there is often "a veil" that falls again following higher spiritual experience, so it is hard for a male to recount the experience, once he has returned to the normal plane. But for a woman "the veil does not fall".

"Generally a man who goes into the deeper realms of mind and comes out is notable to bring those experiences back with him, but a woman can. It seems to me that there is very little difference between a woman's inner and outer awareness."

Nawa Yogini Tantra

Guru and disciple are like magnets for each other; this is expressed on an ongoing, non-verbal level, whether words are exchanged or not. Both guru and disciple, when mutually committed to the welfare of each other, become reciprocal instruments of divine inspiration. As Swamiji says:

"Do you think I have come here just by accident?
No, I am a part of your karma and you are a part of my karma."

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Cosmic dance

For the guru, all relationships with the world and people are part of the "cosmic dance". Different disciples dance in different ways and he knows how to learn their dance steps, and dances with them at their level until they gradually begin to feel comfortable and secure enough to learn his dance steps. Then the boundaries of the two selves become fuzzy as he takes the disciple gradually higher and the disciple forgets what she left behind that was so important to hang onto. This is the "sacred dance of the self'", where a gradual union develops between them, mentally, emotionally, psychically, and finally oneness is reached on the spiritual plane where the homogeneity of their spirits is revealed as One.