Guru-Disciple Relationship

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

If someone desires above all to have spiritual union with their guru, will the guru undertake to help them attain this in spite of the disciple's limitations?

No. People can desire many things, but a desire for union has to be mutual. Just the disciple's desire and decision is not enough, the guru must also feel the same force and experience the same desire. Only then can union with guru's shakti, guru's energy, be possible.

This is where the paradox comes in. In spiritual realms, personal desires have no meaning and no validity. It has been stated by the masters and sages that one of the milestones in spiritual life is a reduction in desires. Buddha has said, “In order to attain nirvana you have to give up the desire to attain nirvana.” This principle has been emphasized over and over again by the masters and those who have attained that transcendental level, the cosmic level or the level of self-realization, whatever label or name you may want to use. Therefore, I would say that the wish and the will on the part of the disciple is irrelevant if the force is not coming from the other side as well.

For guru and disciple to have a close and intimate feeling for each other, there has to be a very intense and deep level of understanding. This level of understanding is not humanly possible, because whenever we meet the guru we always project our own aspirations and ideas onto him. We expect the guru to conform to our ideals. As long as the guru conforms he's an 'alright' person, but the moment guru expresses his/her human nature, we say, “How can that be possible?” In fact we have made the guru into a robot who moves, walks and speaks with total perfection. Any hint of imperfection in the guru's human nature breaks our own concepts. So, even our understanding of, and our relationship with, the guru is incomplete. With that kind of mentality how can we even conceive of identifying with the guru?

Acceptance and surrender

The relationship with the guru has to be without any masks, it has to be without any superstitions. There has to be acceptance, there has to be sincerity, there has to be understanding and connection. These are the steps that can eventually lead one to a spiritual union with guru's shakti. Paramahamsaji has said many times that if the gold ring you are wearing on your finger somehow slips off and falls into the toilet, do you flush it away or do you put your hand in, take the ring out, clean it and put it on again? If something precious and invaluable falls in the toilet, you remove it, clean it and use it again.

It is the same in a relationship with the guru, no matter what the guru is like. There are hundreds of stories to exemplify this situation. If we had been in Milarepa's place, would we have been happy and content, carrying rocks on our back up and down the mountain? Would we have been happy drinking nettle soup for years because there was nothing else? No, we would have said, “This guru belongs in a mental asylum.” We would have left him, divorced him. But a disciple has to be of a different mentality.

Therefore, the guru-disciple relationship is not an easy one to define. Often when talking about acceptance of or surrendering to the guru, people say, “Then we lose our individuality. What is there?” But even that kind of statement comes from the surface of our ego. You want to climb to the sixth floor, yet you don't want to leave the ground floor. You want your kundalini to reach sahasrara, yet when kundalini awakens in mooladhara and you begin to enjoy life, you say, “This is it.” You want to stay there. There are so many paradoxes in our lives. Some are created by us, some are created by our cultural, religious and social education, and some are naturally inbuilt and inherent in our personality.

Action must follow desire

How can we overcome these conditionings? Just desire is not enough. Desire has to be followed by action and action always follows a lengthy process. Desires can be instantaneous but actions never are. Just the simple act of eating food follows a process. I can desire to eat a certain meal today, but in order to do so the actions involved in the preparation follow a lengthy process: go to the kitchen, turn on the stove, open the packet, put the packet in boiling water, wait for it to boil. It's a lengthy process. It takes no more than one second to conjure up the desire, but it takes about one hour in the kitchen to prepare the food of your choice. It does not take long to conjure up the desire to travel from Australia to India, but it takes fourteen hours of flying time and many hours of train and bus travel before you actually reach Munger.

This is an example of how desires and actions differ from each other. Actions always follow a lengthy process and desires are instantaneous. If you wish to negate action from desire, desire has no function, no role. But if you wish to fulfil a desire, then it is not the desire that is important but the action. If the desire is there for spiritual union with the guru, then the actions, the process, should be given more importance. The process, the action, is developing identification, understanding, acceptance, faith and trust, not only in the guru but also in yourself, and being comfortable during the whole process.

Be ready

We are the raw material like a stone or a rock and guru is the sculptor. When guru begins to chisel the stone it hurts a lot, because he has to cut away the unnecessary parts in order to bring out an image. If the stone begins to cry and says, “No, no, don't touch me, don't hit me, don't cut me,” then the sculptor is going to throw the stone away. But if the stone allows the sculptor to do all the necessary carving, eventually that stone, which had no value, will become invaluable. It will adorn a temple, a home or a garden and will represent the creativity of the sculptor.

This is the attitude a disciple must have in relation to the guru. At least in my life I have always maintained this attitude. Although I feel very lucky to have lived with Paramahamsaji, to have been guided, loved, supported and nurtured by him, at the same time, every day I have to remind myself that I am ready for anything. He may use me, he may abuse me, it doesn't matter.

It has been my experience that a guru will never follow the path of injustice, the path that is not dharmic. Sometimes the actions may be harsh, but never unjust or adharmic. The instructions may be harsh, the training may be difficult, but if there is no injustice and if there is no adharma, then why not accept it? That has been my constant thought from a very early age until today.

—Ganga Darshan, 12 December 1997