“Turn Away No More, Why Wilt Thou Turn Away”

Philipp Lemke, Germany, BYB Certificate Course 1998–99

“I give you my unconditional love.”
Precious words.
“Will you give me the same unconditional love?”
He gazed at me with childlike trust.
“I will love you eternally, Gurudeva!”
“Ordinary love is selfish, darkly rooted in desires and satisfactions. Divine love is without condition, without boundary, without change. The flux of the human heart is gone forever at the transfixing touch of pure love.”

Autobiography of a Yogi

These words touched me deeply, touched a spot of ambiguity in me as well. Having spent three years in India on a spiritual journey I had never considered becoming a disciple of any guru. Not that I have not pondered it. I weighed the pros and cons, met disciples of different gurus and saw friends going that way.

My usual reaction was a shiver, a wave of fear, or was it a feeling of disassociation? It seemed that sometimes people used a guru to run away from life's responsibilities. That evoked the disassociation. But others seemed to have genuine motives, an amazing faith and clarity. That brought up my fear – it was my ego trembling. In addition I have never met anyone who impressed me deeply enough to become the focus of my life, and the spiritual path and guru ultimately is inside.

Certain qualities are needed to find one's guru and then to enter a guru-disciple relationship. There should be spiritual seeking and self-awareness beforehand in order to establish one's motives for becoming a disciple. Only if one's volition is pure should this step be taken. The spiritual path is a path of self-discovery and purification of the mind. Different traditions use different techniques, but the mountain they try to climb is the same.

Guru or not, to progress on this path surrender and sincerity are vital. Life should be geared towards that goal. As Gautama Buddha said, “You cannot travel on the path unless you have become the path itself.” The ceaseless inner purification will automatically develop most of the qualities. Gradually more sattwic qualities will emerge, bringing clarity with them.

Remembrance of those qualities is a helpful tool and in the same way I see the guru as a tool and symbol (a tangible one) for the Path or God. He is a guide and lighthouse because he has walked the path and knows it. The guru can give advice and this is the advantage. It is easier to hear and follow him than to hear the 'inner guru'. It is easier to surrender to him (who has shape and form) than to the formless God, or Void, or One.

Unconditional love is the main theme in the exchange between Yukteshwar Giri and Paramahamsa Yogananda, which I began with. The tremendous faith they have in each other vibrates in every word. It is a divine love and faith that cannot be shattered, that does not depend on any outer concept, on the guru's appearance or behaviour. I think that this absolute faith is the foundation for a disciple, and this complete love is the rocket-launcher standing on that foundation, that can lift him up to the transcendental.

“A boy once fell in love with a star. He would stand by the sea and stretch out his arms and pray to the star, dream of it. He knew, or thought he knew, that a star could not be embraced by a mortal being. But all his dreams were directed towards the star, and one time he stood on the high cliff by the sea and contemplated the star and burned with love for it. And in a moment of great longing he leaped into space towards the star. But just as he jumped the thought flashed through him: 'This is impossible.' There he lay on the shore, shattered. He had not understood how to love.”

This excerpt from Hesse's Demian describes this love resting on faith (or rather not). The star is guru/ God/ goal and the lethal doubt is the ego speaking. But if faith and love are total, this jump will be possible.

The next two qualities, surrender and renunciation of the self, follow naturally. This surrender is not an outer one. It is not about taking a spiritual name or wearing a robe of a certain colour without internalizing what these symbolize. No, the surrender has to be complete and an inner surrender, a renunciation of the ego and its attachments. This true surrender will lead to humility, will eventually enable the disciple/seeker to see and go beyond the veil of maya, as St John of the Cross said,

In order to be All,
do not desire to be anything.
In order to know All,
do not desire to know anything.
In order to find the joy of All,
do not to desire to enjoy anything.

Now the disciple can become like a tool in the guru's hands, obeying unflinchingly without questioning, without expectation of gain. In this sense guru cannot be replaced by 'Path' or 'God' that easily and it is the strength of that peculiar relationship.

The inner guru's voice is difficult to hear and can be mixed up with the voice of maya, fooling one's self, while every interaction with the guru will be a lesson of letting go, diminishing the ego. This special connection with the guru will support this inner shift, will turn the disciple into what Taoists call the 'uncarved block '(beautifully described in B. Hoffs' The Tao of Pooh). Ultimately it will lead the disciple to perceive the world directly, without preconceptions and the colours of a conditioned mind.

Sadhana from the guru facilitates the purification process. Being a practical person I particularly identify with this aspect and sadhana has been the backbone of my effort to travel this path in recent years. It has been the daily sadhana that has changed my (perception of) life and conduct. “The right relation between prayer (sadhana) and conduct is not that conduct is supremely important and prayer (sadhana) may help it, but that prayer (sadhana) is supremely important and conduct tests it.”

It becomes apparent that a clear vision and sincere following of one's spiritual path is the paramount starting and proceeding point. If faith and surrender are there, attainment of the other qualities follows. Teachers in various forms will always be there to inspire and motivate. If one is lucky enough to come across one's guru, he will act as a catalyst and focal point. But the real work is still up to the disciple in himself. You may find yourself following the simple and significant instructions of Swami Sivananda: Serve – Love – Give – Purify – Be good – Do good – Meditate – Realize!

In conclusion I would like to narrate an actual incident that happened while I was here, it might sum up what I have been trying to illustrate. Before the Certificate Course started there was a meeting of a small group of students with Swami Niranjan. Two members of the group showed their devotion by offering beautifully wrapped gifts from their home country. Swamiji accepted them and expressed his gratitude, placing the gifts beside him.

After the meeting a sannyasin approached, wearing a geru dhoti and carrying a gift in his hands. The sannyasin smiled like a child on Christmas eve, bowed down and offered the gift, saying, “Swamiji, do you know why this day is special for me?”

Swamiji smiled affectionately and replied, “Yes, I remember. Today, exactly six years ago, was when we met for the first time.” The disciple nearly burst with surprise and joy, and definitely did so when Swamiji added, “I also have a gift for you on this special day.” He picked one of the nicely packed, unopened parcels he had received and handed it to the blissed out sannyasin.

And still I have to admit to my fear to put one's unflinching faith in one person. No one yet has been able to melt my frightened ego.

Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who present, past and future sees
Whose ears have heard
The holy word
That walk'd among the ancient trees.

I have not received that call yet, or maybe I have heard it but could not see the 'Bard' calling me. So, I continue to rely on my sensitivity to the guru within, weak as it is. I am left with the ambiguity of doubting and my hidden desire for a guru – a wish to be more open to the 'Bards' voice. As Blake concludes,

Turn away no more
Why wilt thou turn away.