On Guru and Disciple

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

I had no ambition to become world famous by any extensive tour or thrilling lectures from the platform. I never attempted to be a guru to anyone. Even before donkeys and other animals, I do mental prostrations. To my disciples and devotees, I first do namaskara. I behold the essence behind all names and forms. That is real Vedanta in daily life.

I never thought of starting an ashram. From 1930, many earnest students with a burning desire to devote their lives to spiritual pursuits came to me for guidance. I had also a burning desire to serve the world. When the great rush of students and devotees came to me for spiritual guidance, with a view to helping them and making them useful to the world, I created some fields of activities for their evolution and for the public good, and encouraged them much in their studies and sadhana.

True seekers of truth came to me in large numbers seeking my help and guidance. They all received initiation from me and lived in the adjacent rooms of the dharmashala and worked day and night. I arranged for their meals from the kshetra and gave them initiation. I arranged every comfort and convenience for them. I encouraged them and infused vairagya in them. I took special care of their health. I frequently enquired about their sadhana and gave useful hints for the removal of their difficulties and obstacles in their meditation. When they offered their services to me, I asked them to go from kutir to kutir and find the old and sick mahatmas and serve them with bhakti and shraddha by bringing food for them from the kshetra and massaging their legs and washing their clothes.

I heartily welcome all types of people. Old people can take a bath in the holy Ganga and spend their time in prayers and bhajan and enjoy the benefits of satsang. Young persons will evolve quickly through a dynamic sadhana and bring spiritual good to the world. If people only show some symptom of vairagya coupled with a taste for the path of yoga, I at once give them sannyasa and share with them what I have and encourage them to a great extent.

It is a great surprise to many to see that I give initiation through the post also. Some students who are not in a position to come to the Himalayas have taken sannyasa by receiving the sacred cloth and instructions by post. I cannot express their joy in full. They have made wonderful progress. I closely watch them.

Some orthodox people and sannyasins say that women are not fit for the path of renunciation. My view is different. They too are eligible to tread the path of yoga and renunciation. In ancient days there were many siddhas, brahma jnanis, vairagis, bhaktas and advanced yogis among women. By their purity and perfection they could do miraculous things when there were occasions for utilizing their spiritual power. Even today you can find many women in Rishikesh, Haridwar, Brindavan, Banaras and other holy places in India who have renounced the world and taken to the path of yoga. I initiate women into the order of sannyasa; many are from foreign countries also. After training in the ashram they go back to various centres and continue their sadhana and service to the world.


I ask my students and sannyasins to drown themselves in active service for some month or years. This enables them to forget the past entirely and devote their energy and time to spiritual pursuits. They forget their body and surroundings. They train their mind to behold automatically the hidden essence behind all names and forms. They learn to keep a balanced state of mind under all conditions of life, pleasant or painful. The period of training varies according to the evolution and standard of the students.

In my method, every student should learn cooking, washing, nursing, serving the sadhus, mahatmas and the sick in all possible ways. They must spend hours in deep study, meditation, japa and prayers. Even during the work they should do mental japa. They should learn to adjust and adapt themselves to various circumstances and persons. They must all learn typewriting and also first aid. They should learn bhajans and kirtans and must prepare fine essays and articles on yoga and Vedanta.

Young aspirants, because of old habits, used to sleep in the winter cold till sunrise or till 6 or 7 in the morning. They must not waste their precious life in sleeping in the brahmamuhurta, between 4 and 6 in the early morning. That period is highly favourable for deep meditation. The atmosphere also is charged with sattwic vibrations. Without much effort one can have wonderful concentration at this period.

From my kutir, I used to chant aloud several times the mantras: ‘Om Om Om, Shyam Shyam Shyam, Radheshyam Radheshyam Radheshyam’ and thus made my students get up early for sadhana and meditation. Some students lived in Brahmananda Ashram, a furlong away from my kutir. On many occasions I paid surprise visits to the kutirs at 4 a.m., and chanted OM several times and made them get up for sadhana.

Sometimes to elevate the depressed, to cheer up the dull, I appear to be humorous. I may joke and play with my students and visitors and make them laugh like children. But behind every joke, fun and humour there is a purpose. Every action or word has a definite purpose in the evolution of the people around me. Through fun and humour, through presentation of biscuits, fruits and clothes, I find out the taste, temperament and weaknesses of the students and teach them a way to get over their difficulties and defects.

Guidance from the guru

The spiritual path is beset with many obstacles. The guru who has already trodden the path will guide the aspirants safely and remove all sorts of obstacles and difficulties. A personal guru is therefore necessary. There is no more powerful way of overcoming the limiting nature and samskaras in aspirants than service to the guru. An aspirant who attends on his guru with great devotion, who renders personal service to the guru, purifies his heart quickly. This is the surest and easiest way for self-purification. When you live in the company of your guru you must willingly do any work assigned by him. By doing so you will undoubtedly develop willpower. That does not mean that the disciple should sit idle.

One’s individual ego, preconceived notions, pet ideas and prejudices and selfish interests should be abandoned. All these stand in the way of carrying out the teachings and instructions of one’s guru. Unless this lower egoism and obstinate selfish nature is eradicated, it is difficult to be benefited by the company and instructions of the guru.

The grace of the guru begins to work only when you learn to discipline yourself, when you subordinate all your selfishness and surrender fully to him. Watch your mind carefully. Carry on regular introspection and self-analysis. A guru can clear the doubts of aspirants, show the most suitable spiritual path and inspire them. But the rest of the work will have to be done by the aspirants themselves.

The spiritual path is not like writing a thesis for the Master of Arts degree. It is quite a different line altogether. The help of a teacher is necessary at every moment. Young aspirants become self-sufficient, arrogant and self-assertive. They do not carry out the instructions of the guru. They want independence from the very beginning. They think they are in the highest spiritual state when they do not even know the ABC of spirituality or truth. They mistake having their own way for freedom. This is a serious mistake. This is the reason why they do not grow. They lose their faith in the efficiency of sadhana and in the existence of God. They wander about in a happy-go-lucky manner without any aim.

Intense devotion to one’s preceptor and faithful adherence to his teachings are the most essential qualifications of true discipleship. It is this faith and guru bhakti that bring about rapid progress and fruition of one’s sadhana. Faith is the power that sustains the aspirant on the path towards perfection. It supports him during tests and trials, during temptations and pitfalls and in overcoming many seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Guru bhakti draws the grace of the preceptor and bestows on one bliss and illumination. Therefore, always keep alive your faith and devotion to your guru. Your efforts to attain the true goal of life will then be crowned with success.

Even if one of my disciples lifts up his head from the quagmire of samsara, I have justified my existence. The greatest service that I can do to humanity is training and moulding aspirants.