Guru-Disciple Relationship

Swami Sivamurti Saraswati, Greece

As the time grows closer to Guru Poornima the meaning of our relationship with our guru comes more into focus in our hearts and minds, and we try to understand exactly what this relationship means to us in everyday life. Of course, for the true disciple, it is said that every day is Guru Poornima, every day is a day to worship and pay homage to our guru. But it is at this particular time of the year that we gather together to remember our guru and to feel the charged vibration that a group environment can bring.

The guru is our inspirer – the one who brings light into our life, the one who removes the extraneous material from the mind, the one who works on our ego, because it is this ego which separates us from divinity. We read about this in books of course, but we don't really know what it means until we put a relationship into practice, become a disciple of a particular guru and let him start to work on us. The guru is also the one we want to emulate, because he represents to us either divinity or the closest that we can get to divinity. He sets the pattern for our behaviour and our thoughts, words and deeds.

In the English language 'disciple' comes from the word 'discipline'. It means 'one who voluntarily puts themselves under the discipline of the master', so that the master can perform his 'egodectomy' and whittle away all that stands between the disciple and the experience of the higher self. In the Greek language the word 'disciple' is 'pitahia'. It also has a very beautiful meaning: 'the one who voluntarily puts himself or herself in the presence of the preceptor or master, to enable the master to formulate and structure the disciple's character, so that he or she can live up to the inherent spiritual principles within'. So it has a similar meaning in both languages.

Swami Niranjan has given us all a personal discipline of learning how to act rather than react. When we become aware and observe ourselves during the day's activities, we find that most of the time our behaviour is prompted by something that causes us to react. Very seldom can we actually act. And this is one of the disciplines that the guru will give us, to enable us to evolve. His ashram disciplines are equally challenging because he has taught us that we need to stay in an ashram for a length of time, for as long as it takes for us to become optimistic, positive, creative and spiritual in every situation that comes to pass.


Two of the most important qualities that we need to develop within ourselves, if we wish to consider ourselves as disciples, are faith and surrender. Faith is firm belief, a firm confidence, a trust in our guru no matter what happens. In the beginning this is easy because we come laden with ideas from the scriptures of how spiritual life will be, or how it could be. But it can be a very different situation when we find ourselves put into the training and discipline that is necessary to remove that extraneous material from our minds before we can experience the true self. As long as the guru smiles at us, as long as he is gentle and kind with us, as long as he welcomes us, as long as he appears to recognize us, we feel very comfortable and loved and well looked after. But life is not all about this.

Part of the guru's training is to prepare us for life in every way so that we can stand firmly on our own two feet, no matter what happens to us at any time and in any place. It's when we face those difficulties, those challenges that life puts in our path, that we need to keep our faith firm. We need to remember this when we have a guru, perhaps even before we become a disciple or an aspirant with the guru. Definitely, once we have a guru everything happens for our good. There is nothing negative. These two simple phrases were among the first things that Swami Satyananda mentioned to me when I went to Munger many, many years ago. Of course, at the time it didn't enter my mind that there could be anything negative. I thought, why would he be saying this to me? Why would he be saying that, “everything that happens will happen for my good”? There at his feet, and in his presence, I was in my paradise, beyond which I couldn't conceive of at that point of time. But he said these things for a reason and the guru always gives us a certain philosophy with which we can live our life, in his own way, either directly or indirectly. And it is going to enable us to get through the rough or difficult times.


Surrender is often a misunderstood word as it has many different meanings. The understanding of surrender develops through our lifetime as we grow as individuals. Perhaps we can say that surrender means to surrender our ego – that small, self-arrogating aspect of ourselves – to God or to the guru or to the higher self within us. But this is difficult to understand in the beginning, so a more modern meaning for this word is 'to let go', to be able to accept things as they come, to flow with life, to know when to stand firm and act according to one's principles and not budge, and other times to be able to discriminate and understand correctly. Accept what comes. Acceptance doesn't mean that we agree with everything that is happening, and if I have certain limitations, accepting them doesn't mean that I agree with them – no, I want to get rid of them! But first I have to accept that they are there before I can do anything about it.

So, we need to flow with life, to let go of things that have become worn out, or mental conditionings that no longer suit or help us. While living with the guru or following the guru's teachings and performing the sadhana that he gives us, we find that we can let go little by little. In the beginning it can be difficult because sometimes he may be indicating to us to let go in areas where we are not ready to let go. But here faith comes in again. We have to realize and recognize that he knows more than we do. That's why he is the guru and we are struggling to become the disciples. Without having developed faith or the capacity to surrender, we cannot call ourselves disciples. We can only call ourselves aspirants.

The story of Job

We can better understand the concept of faith and surrender when we see the lives of certain historical people. There is a story from the Old Testament in the Christian Bible about the life of Job.

As the story goes, one day God was having breakfast with the devil and God was praising his disciple, Job – what an exceptional disciple he was, how much faith he had, how he had totally surrendered to him, all the qualities he had. And over breakfast God went on and on explaining the glories and the beauty and the qualities of Job. After God had finished explaining this the devil said, “Look here, it's easy for you to say that he is your disciple, that he is faithful and has surrendered to you, because you give him nothing but good things. You have given him name and fame, you have given him popularity, you have given him wealth, you have given him respect in the community, he has a faithful wife, he has good children who are serving in the community and doing good deeds. There is absolutely nothing that he lacks. Let me have some time with Job. Give me six months and then we will see if he can be as faithful and true to you as you think he is.” So God agreed and said, “Very well, I'll do that! But on one condition – not one hair of his head should be touched. You can do anything to all that surrounds Job – his family, the society he lives in, the country he lives in – but nothing must touch Job.”

So the agreement was made and the devil went out to start his work. He brought plague to the land and Job's crops failed. He set robbers on the caravans that supplied Job with his merchandise, and little by little his money started to dwindle. The plague upon the land killed his wife, his children, his relatives and the people all around him. The devil set people talking against Job, criticizing him, condemning him and blaming him for the misery that had struck the land. He lost his name, he lost his fame, he lost his prestige, he lost everything that had been there on the external level that the devil thought was enabling Job to have faith in God.

After six months had passed, God and the devil met again for their six-monthly breakfast, and the devil had to concede to God. God said, “Well what happened? Is my disciple true to me? Is he loyal? Is he faithful? Has he wavered in any way with all the difficulties that you have set him? Or has he kept his focus on me and his connection with me?” And the devil said, “Alright, you win. Job definitely took the score. He is your disciple and he has those qualities you said he had.”

We may think that it is nice to have everything we want in life and not face any difficulties or adversities. But in reality this would make us become complacent and life would be very monotonous. In my life I have been fortunate to have met and lived with two men of faith, two gurus – Swami Satyananda and Swami Niranjan – and seeing the example in both of them. When I was with Swami Satyananda, living with him and listening to his stories, he used to tell us about his time in his guru's ashram and the experiences he had there. It showed that on every level he totally trusted and totally surrendered to his guru. When that surrender takes place one even starts to look like their guru. In Swami Niranjan's life, again we see this same attitude of total faith and total surrender to his guru, Swami Satyananda. And so they are both 'gurus and disciples' because, as I mentioned earlier, a disciple is one who can surrender and who has faith. As long as we cannot manage that, we'll always remain just aspirants and not true disciples, without that connection that we truly long for with the guru.

Guru Poornima, Ganga Darshan, 2001