The Guru-Disciple Relationship

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Ganga Darshan, 15 May 1996

Many different types of guru-disciple relationships have been defined. Practically, it is important to believe in only one and that is a heart-to-heart relationship. If you can follow that then you don't have to worry about any others. In order to develop a heart-to-heart relationship, it is important that first of all you become aware of your own idiosyncrasies and nature. Speaking from personal and practical experience, I have seen that disciples either make their guru into a rubbish bin and expect the guru to become a miracle worker, or the guru represents the epitome of morality and spirituality, or the guru becomes a cardboard person. I don't agree with any of these.

Guru is not a person on whom you can dump all your rubbish. Guru is a person who inspires you to lead your life in a creative, efficient and effective way so that there is development of self-awareness – what I can do, what I can't do, how I can be, how I can't be, what is the right thing to do, what is the wrong thing to do, how to understand other people's attitudes and concepts and how not to impose our own egos and ambitions. This is the basis of the guru's teaching.

Developing the relationship

Definitely there are problems in life, but I feel that you have to find your own solutions. When I first came to the ashram Paramahamsaji told me, “Look, never come to me with your problems. If you have a problem, if you have a difficulty, if you have a conflict, work it out. Find out different solutions and bring them to me. Once you have told me what your solutions are, I will decide which is the right one for you to adopt or follow.”

So, in this kind of relationship, firstly, I became aware of the problems and difficulties which I faced in my life – in relationships, in work, in communication, in interactions, in my emotions, in my mind – and, secondly, I would think of different solutions as to how I could work them out. Then I would go to Paramahamsaji and say, “Swamiji, I have this problem and these are the solutions I have thought of – A, B, C, D, E, F, G.” He would say, “Follow F”, and I would follow F. It was as simple as that.

This relationship is important. People come to me with problems but won't implement the solution I give them. Their nature, their ego, their desires and ambitions come in the way, and then they tell me, “No, I can't do it. Find me another solution.” I don't agree with that. If I say to people, “Well, you think what the solution could be”, they think according to their tendencies and traits, ignoring many other important factors. Then without any discussion they implement it, which can also go wrong. So, in any relationship with the guru it is the solution which has to be discussed, not just the problem. The solutions which you think of are your own product according to your capacities, your nature and your beliefs. The guru simply channels them. There is never any conflict between the guru and the disciple. This is how a heart-to-heart relationship eventually develops.

Gurus are human beings

There are two more important points. The first one is to recognise that the guru is also human. Disciples don't recognise that their guru is human. In personal life the guru can be an enlightened being; he can be the epitome of spirituality and morality; he can be an idiot; he can be a madman externally; he can be anything, because attainment is different in every individual and doesn't follow a set pattern. According to their personality, each guru evolves and develops a method of practice, of lifestyle, of seeing things in life. Each one is unique and different. So you have to recognise and understand that the guru is human. Only then can a person develop a proper relationship with the guru.

Last month, a lady from Varanasi attended the Health Management Course conducted at BSY. Varanasi is a city of gurus, where every Tom, Dick and Harry is a guru. After staying here for fifteen days, she wrote me a letter in which she said, “You don't fit any of the categories of guru. Who are you?” So I answered her by saying that I am not a guru, I am a teacher of people, and that as long as my guru is alive I can't be a guru.

True gurus

Secondly, your image of the guru is of a fat person with a long flowing beard and hair who sits on a high pedestal with twenty people running around at his beck and call. That is not our tradition because we don't relate to that concept of guruhood. Guruhood is not a status symbol nor is it a lifestyle in which you feed the ego. True guruhood is learning how to do seva and not how to get seva done. This is something which idiots will find very difficult to understand because of modern influences and images of gurus. But the tradition is very clear about it. The tradition says that the guru has to be a human being. If the guru can't be a human being with the same joys, affections, passions and frustrations in life then he is not a guru.

There is a story from the life of Kabir Das, one of the great saints. He went to the Kumbha Mela and there he was asked, “Can you identify an actual realised being, an actual guru, in this huge gathering of people?” Kabir Das said, “I will try.” He took up a stick and hit a 'guru'. The 'guru' was furious, “How dare you hit me!” Kabir Das said, “He is not the right one.” He hit another 'guru'. The disciples became furious and bashed Kabir Das up. Their 'guru' did not bat an eye, and Kabir Das said, “He is also not the right one.” For the duration of this famed Kumbha Mela, Kabir Das was out hitting 'gurus'. Ultimately, he found one who, after being hit by Kabir Das, said, “Sit down, my dear boy, your hand must be in pain. Of course I have felt pain but I can also imagine the pain you must be feeling. Let me just massage you and give you relief from the pain you have felt from hitting me.” Kabir Das said, “He is the right one!”

Opening up to guru

So, the relationship between guru and disciple has to be an open one. Human beings have a very peculiar trait of saying one thing and doing another. They say that guru is God, guru is father, guru is mother, guru is brother, guru is sister, guru is husband, guru is wife. On the one hand, they invite their guru to be everything, and, on the other hand, they hide many things from the guru. There is rejection as well as acceptance. They hide many of their actions and beliefs and if the guru does not fit their conditions then the guru becomes a bad person.

Such people are total failures in life because another thing the guru teaches us is to act according to our beliefs with openness, with frankness, with clarity of mind. If you can't understand that then you have no right to claim that you are a disciple. Therefore, discipleship is much more difficult than guruship, because the training of opening up, of realising the human nature, happens when you are a student, a disciple. The relationship between guru and disciple is an intimate one. Therefore, as Paramahamsaji says, between the two, life has to be an open book. You may close your book of life with other people but not with the guru.