Satsang at Ganga Darshan

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

What is the basis of the guru-disciple relationship?

Just as affection is the basis of the relationship between a parent and child, love between a couple, and pleasure between a human being and life, in the same way, the foundation of the relationship between guru and disciple is trust. This trust is very difficult to understand. Some people are not honest and truthful with the person they call their guru. If something goes wrong, the excuse for not telling the guru is, “You know everything already.” But such an attitude is not an indication of a relationship based on trust.

In my own relationship with my guru, my life is an open book. My thoughts, mistakes, limitations, ambitions, arrogance, wisdom, whatever there may be, is laid bare before him. In my interactions I have only benefited from being more and more open. There has been no moment in my life where I can say that I’ve been duped by my guru. Some people express such sentiments simply because they are unable to develop that level of trust. Only trust enables one to unite. A moth will fly to a flame with the idea of becoming one with the light. The moth is ready to sacrifice itself. That is real trust.

If there is a feeling of trust and oneness, then physical proximity or distance do not really matter. The development of this relationship only happens when somebody truly wants it to happen, not just desires it. One can desire many things, but one can deeply and truly want only those things that one holds dear. So it is not a question of desire but of what one truly wants.

Trust, openness, clear communication, acceptance and mutual understanding are some of the components that can make the relationship come alive. The most important point is for each to accept and serve the other as they are. If the student is a total idiot, the teacher must accept that. If the teacher is arrogant, the student also has to accept that. There can’t be any criticism. We learn that God moulded human beings in His image, but human beings want to be more powerful than God by trying to mould each other in their own image. That should not happen. Even if you cultivate one component and take it to its furthest extent, you will have attained something very great in your life.

Please explain the meaning and significance of diksha?

In English, diksha is translated as initiation. In Sanskrit, diksha means the ability to see, something that becomes visible, that you can create in front of you. In the spiritual tradition, diksha means that you begin to identify with, recognize and cultivate your spiritual nature.

Diksha begins with mantra. In spiritual development there is a process of growing up, of maturing. We cannot control, alter, suppress or enhance the growth of our body, it grows naturally. We can assist this physical process by providing the right food, exercise and environment, but beyond this point the body will mature, grow old and eventually disappear by itself. Just as we have no control over the development of the body, we also have no control over the development of spiritual life. To progress spiritually, we have to create the right environment by providing the right food to nurture and sustain our spiritual life.

Mantra is the first step in this process. Mantra begins by educating the mind to become one-pointed and focused. Mantra sadhana is a very high sadhana. It is not just the repetition of a word. When Swami Satyananda was given mantra initiation by his guru, he was told to do five malas only. Today he is only doing those five malas, because to do five malas without the mind slipping and fluctuating is very difficult. For us, mantra sadhana begins with two malas. If you can practise your mantra for two malas without the mind wavering, then you can say, “Yes, I am coming to the perfection of mantra sadhana.” Progress in mantra sadhana means developing the ability to practise two malas daily without any thought except the mantra, without any focus except the mantra and the symbol. The mental diversions have to stop and concentration has to develop. Once concentration develops, chanting of one mantra is enough to hit the bull’s eye. If the target is clear and you shoot a rifle, one bullet is enough to hit the target. In the same manner, one repetition only of the mantra is enough to hit the target, provided there is absolute and full concentration. Mantra enables one to manage the mental dissipation and reach a state of focus, concentration and one-pointed attention.

The second step in the process of initiation and spiritual development is jignasu sannyasa. Jignasu means seeker. A seeker identifies with their spiritual personality, realizing that there is something beyond their mind, desires, expectations and ego. An effort is made to connect with the source of strength, security and comfort within. The seeker has to now adjust and fine-tune, not only the nature and mind, but also the lifestyle and daily routine. Providing different opportunities to experience the spiritual dimension is the aim of the seeker or jignasu.

Often people have difficulty understanding why they cannot have initiation when they want it. Everyone thinks initiation is a good thing without understanding its real power and use. But initiation is not like chocolate or candy. By having it you do not instantly become more spiritual. Only through conviction, faith and purity of intention do you become spiritual. These qualities need to be cultivated first. When you are in primary class you do not receive the education given in a university. If you decide when you are seven years old that you will become a doctor, how many years do you have to study? You need to start your education in primary class first, which means learning the basic principles of spiritual grammar, spiritual mathematics, spiritual history and geography.

In Prashnopanishad six students go to the guru’s ashram with one question each. But instead of answering their question, the guru tells them to live in the ashram for one year and work hard, and to ask their question at the end of the year. So for an answer to one question, the disciple had to wait one year! This is an example of how, in our enthusiasm, we try to construct a building without a proper foundation. If a building has weak foundations, it will collapse, but if the foundations are strong, then the building can survive for decades. In order to build that foundation one has to go through the different initiations gradually, propelled not by ambition and expectation, but by a truthful search and analysis of oneself.

What is the role of the guru and ashram life?

To become a yogi one has to come to a selfless state and stop being a bhogi, or selfish person. This is the teaching of the ashram. The purpose and focus of any ashram, from vedic times till today, and also in the future if true to the spirit, is to provide this education in moving from selfish to selfless expressions. In our personal expressions and behaviour we use our faculties more on the minus than the plus side. The minus side represents deep self-identification where ‘I’ becomes the centre of the universe. The plus side represents selfless, not selfish, understanding of oneself. This is the basic difference between a yogi and a bhogi, and the central teaching of ashram life.

Another role of ashram life is to make you aware of yourself. You see in others what you are yourself – you can’t see your own face without the aid of a mirror. You can’t see your reactions till you confront somebody who shows you what your reactions are. In an ashram situation this is the role of the guru. The moment you become aware of your reactions and of the limiting aspects of your personality, the help that the guru gives is seen as a restriction because of the overpowering nature of the negative dimension of personality. You lose the focus because you see the help being offered, not as a sadhana to help you in your spiritual life, but as an imposition or barrier created by somebody in the form of a rule to hamper your free expression. Your life becomes a rebellion, fighting against the system, breaking the discipline and changing the environment. But the same thing can be seen in a positive way as sanyam, striving to maintain a balanced attitude.

Instead of focusing on the negative aspect, or fantasizing about a utopia, connect with what exists, which is the reality of life that we face every day till we die. The human achievement is finding the balance there, being able to connect with one’s obligations and living in a manner appropriate to one’s development and growth, without causing harm in word, deed or thought. Being able to find a balance in one’s attitudes, understandings and perceptions is the goal of ashram life, the goal of the guru and the goal of yoga. Once you understand this, you come to a level which the yogis call drashta, the witness, where you realize that all is a lila, a play. As long as you are not a drashta, you are involved, you are a player, a participant in the lila.

To survive in life one needs to develop humility because that is the only way to deal with and manage the ego principle, ahamkara. The classic example is the stiff tree standing upright in a storm and breaking in half, while the palm tree bends to the ground and after the storm passes again stands upright. A self-identified, arrogant ego will break in two. Rigidity, inability to change, psychic, spiritual, emotional and mental stiffness, is bound to break. If you are humble, then you will bend and not break.

Adhering to one’s beliefs can also be rigidity, but realizing the truth and living according to the principles of truth is even greater humility than believing rigidly in something. Therefore, live not in beliefs but in truth, live not in ideas, fantasies and imagination but in the reality around you, and how you can deal with that reality in a better manner.

If you have identified with the truth, no matter which way you bend, you will be firmly rooted in truth. According to Swami Sivananda this is one form of tenacity. An example is in the life of Sri Krishna. Although he knowingly created a civil war, he is considered as the protector of dharma, not as a dictator or destroyer of the democratic values of human nature. One who is firmly rooted in truth can bend in any direction and still be firmly rooted in truth, but this cannot happen without the perfection of humility.