Our First Guru

Swami Sivamurti Saraswati, Greece

"Until the age of seven years, the mother is the guru of the child. She is responsible for the development of all the desired qualities, such as love, compassion and intelligence. Just as the gardener looks after a small plant, she too provides for the total care and nutrition of the child. The compost and manure are derived from her blood and bone marrow. She is like the farmer who gives urea to the plant when it is growing. Once the plant is fully grown, urea is no longer useful. In the same way, giving nutrition to a baby is the mother's responsibility, and that nutrition does not mean only feeding, it is all inclusive."

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Our mother is our first guru. She is the first person who shows us that there is one person in this world we can trust. Her next role is to point to a person of the opposite gender and say, "This is also a person you can trust. This is a man you can trust." In this way we meet our father. The child can then develop a relationship with both parents, and this opens her or him to trust. Upon these relationships all other relationships are based.

Paramahamsa Satyananda has been very explicit and frank in this area. He does not use a lot of diplomatic words. If your mother did not say to you, "This is your father," you would not know. You come to know because you trust her.

Another important role of the mother is to be a role model, or to point to someone to be a role model for you. It is important, as growing children, that we have a female model and a male model to aspire towards and reach up to. In this way we learn correct ways of behaviour and how to relate to people. However, all of us are human with good qualities and also with limitations. Mothers are human, fathers are human, and they make mistakes, it is natural. No human being is ever perfect.

When we are a mother or a father for the first time, we do not always know the right way to act. We do our best, but we are also learning, just as our children are, and sometimes we make mistakes. A child finds it difficult to accept the mistakes of a mother and father until he or she grows up in life and finds a philosophy and develops a much deeper understanding. With the right philosophy to guide them and to give them an overview of human behaviour, children see that all human beings, including their parents, are prone to lapses. It is the responsibility of the parents to provide adequate role models of both genders for children to model their behaviour upon. So, if the parents don't feel that they can be adequate role models themselves, they need to point to others as suitable examples. A philosophy and culture that encompasses the whole person is essential for the growing child. Yoga is excellent as a framework of guidelines for right living and conduct.

Paramahamsaji says that in this age a role model for a child is very important and, in the future, role models such as Sitaji and Sri Rama will come into being. Sitaji and Sri Rama were a husband and wife who loved one another deeply. They faced many of the difficulties and temptations that we face and yet they managed to maintain a deep, respectful and loving relationship.

Children want their parents to be like Sitaji and Sri Rama. They want their parents to love one another and remain together. But we know that this is not always possible. So many things happen, and we separate from our husband or wife. We have our own needs, our own desires and our own ambitions. We have different ways of growing as we journey through life. The child finds it hard to understand or accept these things and becomes disillusioned. The child then judges the mother and father.

The disciple does the same with the guru. In the guru disciple relationship there is the same trap and one can fall into it because often a guru becomes a parent to the disciple. We expect the guru to be perfect just as a child expects their father or mother to be perfect. But the guru is also in a human body. Paramahamsaji says that each time the spirit descends into matter and takes the physical human form, then there will be lapses. It is natural, it has to be. In the West, we do not accept it easily. In the West we want our mother and father to be ideal, and we want our guru to be ideal. We want our spiritual preceptor to be on a pedestal. We want him or her to be a glorious saviour. But the eastern mentality doesn't have this hang-up. They accept and appreciate that the guru may be born in a male body or a female body and have masculine and feminine attributes, and they just concentrate on the spiritual connections between the guru and the disciple. They leave the guru free to live his life as a human being. But this is not so easily acceptable to the western mind. Perhaps it is because of our insecurities that we need to hold on to something which is perfect and, if that person is not perfect, we crucify him or her. We have a history of this, as can been seen in the way we have treated masters such as Christ and Socrates throughout the ages. So the unfortunate mother and father are always crucified by their children because they are human. In most cases, children need to become adults and parents themselves in order to have a greater understanding.

All this, however, does not change some of the more important duties of the mother in her relationship with her child. One: to be a person that the child can trust. Two: to give the child a good role model of a father that the child can trust and emulate his behaviour. This is important where the mother is a single parent. Three: to be a role model herself, or to provide another role model for the child to follow. Four: to teach the child the value of work and the value of independence; to pave the way for the child to eventually become independent economically, socially and physically.

As well as caring for the child, the father needs to also provide the child with an example of the importance of work and independence. Traditionally this is a duty that falls on the father's shoulders. Not through theory and through sitting down and saying work is very important, but through example. We learn through example more than anything else. Also his role is very important in developing the masculinity or femininity of the child. This has a lot to do with how he relates to the mother, how he talks to her, how he treats her and how he expresses his feelings towards her.

He is largely responsible for bringing out the feminine attributes of his daughter. It is also important that he sets an example of masculinity for his son. And it is important that he always respects and honours the mother and that she honours him and his role in the family. I'm talking about how it should be, not necessarily how it is. On this basis, we can look at what has happened, specifically, to each one of us in our relationships with our parents.

The father-mother relationship also has a great impact and influence on how we relate to men and women later in life. For example, if I am going to relate well to men I need to learn from my mother. She has to teach me to trust, love and respect men. If she doesn't, who am I going to learn this from? A teacher at school? Maybe. A guru? Definitely, if I have one early enough in life. A relative or next of kin? Maybe, if I'm lucky. But all these are second choices. The heart of the child is connected naturally with the mother. It is she who really teaches you how to trust women and how to trust men, or how not to trust them.

So, as we grow older and we look back on our relationships with our parents, it is important to come to terms with them, whatever those relationships are. If they have been loving relationships, then there isn't a problem. If they are relationships where the more negative emotions are involved, then to become free of these blocks we have to come face to face with our mother and father and our relationships with them. This can be done directly or with substitute figures in a therapeutic situation.

Four points can help when facing this encounter. Firstly, create an environment that is warm and open to dialogue. Secondly, use reasoning. Thirdly, appeal to the higher mind of the individual and, fourthly, guide the conversation, because for a time you become the parent now to your parents. Guide the conversation towards freedom of speech, enabling the other to air their views because, after a certain age, parents become the children. In my opinion, after the age of seventeen or eighteen, if you have matured naturally you are already the parent of your parents. That doesn't mean you go to them and say, "Hey listen Mum and Dad, I'm your mother and father now." They'll never accept it. In Greece a mother of eighty considers her son of sixty to be her baby boy! It's the child who has to assert their adulthood, their maturity, their parenthood, and equalize the relationship.

If all goes well parents and children end up as good friends, rather than either as parent or child. A relationship of friendship is a relationship of equality, whereas the parent-child relationship is not an equal relationship. They're the parents and you're the child, or you're the parent and they're the children. The relationship is not equal. It needs to become equal, and it becomes equal when you finally become friends. And what can friends do? If you are friends with your mother how would you behave? What would you do? Forgive and forget.