Serving the Guru

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

To convert emotion into bhakti, first of all a mould is needed, and the mould is the guru. But the guru is also a human being made from the five elements, just as your body is made from the five elements. As you live and are bound by the gunas, the three aspects of creation, so is the guru. In the most natural way he cannot be perfect, and that is the first thing the disciple has to understand. If the disciple wants to see total perfection in the guru, if he wants to see him without any blemishes, this is impossible.

One should always keep one point in mind – every human being is a perfectionist by nature. By perfectionist, I mean that every human being has some ideals and he wants to see those ideals. You have an ideal, and you want to see the image of it in me. I can never be it one hundred percent because you have created a sense of perfection from some complex or some mental block.

Every person has a preference and watches to see whether or not he can get that preference. While going to a shop to purchase a sari, you look to see whether the shopkeeper is a brahmin or not. Why are you concerned with that? You want to purchase a good sari, but for you the shopkeeper should be an old man and a brahmin, and he should be neither too tall nor too short. We call this perfectionism. Through this perfectionism you have created a psychological barrier in yourself. This needs to be understood. In the science of human psychology, perfectionism is a complex. It is your personality barrier and that barrier is created to fulfil your need for security, because basically everybody is insecure. A human being has four instincts: food, sleep, sex and fear. The meaning of fear is insecurity; it is ingrained in everyone.

Now, maybe the guru drinks tea two, three or four times a day and wears leather shoes, or sleeps and snores during the day. Why do you see all this? When the heart accepts, the brain does not play any role. When you love, the brain should not be allowed to come in between, otherwise it will spoil the whole thing. Therefore, to transform emotions into bhakti and remove this mental barrier, establish your relationship with the guru through guru seva.

Guru seva

Service to the guru is of many kinds. Lord Krishna used to collect wood at his guru Sandipani’s place. Lord Rama used to live in the cave where his guru Vashishtha himself used to live, ninety-six miles away from Rishikesh, near Brahmapuri, right on the bank of the river Ganga. Lord Rama worked with a spade, looked after the cows and buffaloes, picked up wood for the ashram. Maybe he also washed Arundhati’s clothes. Who knows? He must have done everything as seva. He must have travelled back and forth daily, and it would not have been on horseback. While living in the gurukul, he had to follow the rules of the ashram. He had to sleep on the floor, which was the rule in the ancient period. Lord Rama had to lead a hard life and he was trained in his guru’s ashram.

Later on, when Lord Rama was exiled to the forests, he did not feel the pain and hardship of forest life because the austerity of his guru’s ashram had made the pain of life lighter. The austerity of the guru’s ashram renders that service. The difficulties which come in life are of many kinds. They are in the form of pain: poverty is pain, hunger is pain, thirst is pain, disease is pain, criticism and back-biting are pain; there are many types of pain. So these become lighter and insignificant.

By serving the guru and serving him endlessly, the ego of the disciple is effaced. He does not think, “I came to the guru for self-realization and he is only getting me to do all the cleaning. He gets me to clean the toilets! In me he has an unpaid servant.” The guru creates conditions so that the disciple may purify himself. The most difficult thing in life is purification of the consciousness, the atma, the self. At present, you do not know what consciousness is or what the faults within you are. You try to correct your social and mental faults, but there are faults embedded deep within your personality. Therefore, the guru often performs an operation on the disciple, which is not tonsillectomy but egodectomy, the removal of ego. This operation on the ego is so difficult that many disciples cannot bear it. However, if it succeeds, then they reach the goal.

So a disciple must have certain cardinal qualities, like devotion to the guru and an innocent personality. Before guru you are not an intellectual, not intelligent, you are like a child in your mother’s lap. While serving your guru, you are not serving him as a servant, but as a disciple. Service, devotion, innocence and faith are the four very important cardinal principles in the life of a disciple.

Swami Sivananda

When I went to Rishikesh looking for a guru, I went to Kailash Ashram first. I asked Swami Vishnudevananda for sannyasa, but he said, “When you take sannyasa I will be present, but go to Swami Sivananda. He is a sadhu and an educated person and you are also educated.”

So I went to Swami Sivananda and said, “I have come here to live with you.” He said, “Okay, live here but first of all clean your mirror. Whatever you want to achieve is within you, it is not within me. The guru doesn’t give anything. The soul, the atma, is the truth within us. Consciousness is within us, the light is within us. Brahma is within us. Everything is within us.”

Swami Sivananda was a great devotee from South India and he wanted to build a temple to Lord Vishwanath in Rishikesh. Now from where were we to bring water? A lot of water is needed for construction and the Ganga is a long way down from the ashram. Those who have been to Rishikesh know that. In those days there was no electricity in Rishikesh and no generator. I saw electricity and generators for the first time only in 1950. Anyway we went up to Tapovan village where there was a waterfall, dug a drain in the hill over a period of fifteen days and built a big water tank, forty by twelve feet. It was my duty to fill up the water tanks in the ashram from the Ganga, fifty buckets daily. Bringing bel leaves from the forest for the worship of Lord Shiva was also one of my duties.

Sometimes I was asked to clean the library and while dusting I would see the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Sama Veda there. This was a great temptation. The Upanishads and other texts used to tempt me. I said to Swamiji, “There are so many books. Can I take a few?” He replied, “Satyananda, you are talking of infection, you should talk of education. Infection is when knowledge comes in from outside. When inner knowledge is revealed outside, that is called education. All knowledge is within you. The knowledge of the four Vedas is within you. The human being is all knowledgeable. Atma, your spirit, is omniscient.”

Change your heart

Many years ago during a Kumbha Mela, a man suffering with leprosy was brought to the ashram in a sack. Swami Sivananda called me and said, “Put him in a room and clean his body with the necessary antiseptics.” Swamiji was a doctor and he knew what to do. I also had a little knowledge about such matters. So I carried out the duty I had been given. That man was obnoxious; his smell, his attitude, his behaviour, his entire being was something which I could not accept.

The next morning when I gave Swamiji a report, he asked me how the man was. I said, “Swamiji, that man is so difficult, his disease, his sores are so difficult.” Swamiji replied, “You want to find God without any effort. You want to realize God without a change of heart, mind, philosophy, and concept, without destroying your personal nest. You have a personality, character, views, habits, likes and dislikes. Destroy them first and change your heart.” If it had been a beautiful young lady, I would have served her without complaining. Even if it had been a young man, a beautiful or rich man, I would have served him. Such a man was I. Do you think I was fit to realize God? No, I was unfit.

Before self-surrender can take place, the entire personality has to be rearranged. Self-surrender is not just the thought that you want to surrender; it is an inborn quality. For surrender, you require innocence, but everybody has lost their innocence. The heart, mind, buddhi, have become tough and rigid. In order to soften your heart, mind and intellect, satsang is necessary for a sustained period of time. Satsang is a very powerful tool. It took me so many years to emulate my guru and practise his principles. He used to say, “Serve, love, give. Whatever you have, give it to others. It does not belong to you.” I never understood him then, but now I do. Nothing belongs to me, nothing is mine. I am just a medium.

Rikhia, 1996