The Guru’s Presence in Our Lives

Swami Sivamurti Saraswati

In order to feel the presence of the guru we need to prepare ourselves to be open and ready. Each one of us sees the guru differently. We relate to the guru in our own way, and each of us has a unique understanding of the concept of the guru.

We know that yoga is a discipline and that the chief discipline in yoga is awareness. Disciples are those individuals who decide at a certain stage of life to put themselves under the discipline of a guru and take on the role of discipleship. This decision is made when we come to understand inside ourselves that we need an internal and an external discipline to progress further on the path. Putting oneself under the discipline of the guru, or the tradition that the guru upholds, requires obedience.

Swami Sivananda said that it is obedience to the letter, not the word. It is obedience to the higher self or the higher conscience or the guru tattwa (guru element) within you. The external guru represents that stage of consciousness. Becoming a disciple includes obedience to both the external guru and the internal guru or the voice of our conscience. The guru will never ask us to go against our own inner voice or our own self. On the contrary, the guru is the one leading us to our own inner self so that we can hear that voice more clearly.

To do this he has various methods, techniques and tricks. These will never be used to our disadvantage, but always to remove some blockage that is preventing us from taking the next step. To do that, the guru’s behaviour towards us is sometimes difficult to understand. It is very mysterious. How can our finite, limited and conditioned mind comprehend the guru’s mind which is unconditioned and unlimited? This is impossible. We continually judge and criticize ourselves, other people and the world. Unlike the guru, our minds are limited and conditioned. We need to be aware of this, and leave some room for doubt. We also need to examine constantly what is happening with our thoughts, emotions and behaviour.

The guru’s role and methods for training the disciple

The guru is the one who has come into our lives to remove ignorance and enlighten us. The external guru – the person we call ‘guru’ and who has a physical form – has no wish to hold on to disciples. His purpose is to train disciples and help them remove the blockages from their minds so that they can connect with the guru within. When this happens, his work is done and he moves his energy elsewhere. If we block the work he does with us due to our ego-oriented reactions, for a time he may continue trying to bypass these reactions, and he has many methods to do this. These include the methods of loving and allowing us to know that he loves us, talking with us, and putting us in challenging situations so that we are forced to find a way out of them and move into a new dimension of thinking. If we don’t respond to these methods, he has many others up his sleeve, including the shock method, the kick method, indifference, casting us out, ignoring us, embarrassing us, and silence.

The spiritual master Gurdjieff was renowned for his shock and kick methods, which worked to great effect. Several of his disciples have written books about his training and mentioned this aspect of the guru-disciple relationship. He saw his role as a teacher to shake people out of the prison of illusion they lived in. His purpose was not to be cruel or exploitative, but to help them become aware of what was blocking them. Of course, he only used these methods with disciples who were ready for this type of training. The gratitude of those people for the progress they made was immense, as once they had endured and learned their lesson, they realized what a grace the experience had actually been.

There are many different aspects of the guru’s training that we need to pass through as a disciple, which take place according to how we respond to each situation. Behind each aspect of the guru’s training to whittle away our ego is love, and the guru’s sankalpa to raise his disciples to his own level of understanding, and to enable the disciples to realize their own unity and deeper spiritual connection with the guru.

The real relationship between guru and disciple

As we relate to each other we see differences in shape and form, between the intelligent and the dull, the attractive and the not so attractive, the tall and the short. However, from the guru’s perspective, all is unity. He sees the unity in the diversity, because he is relating to us on a deeper level.

The real relationship between guru and disciple takes place on the higher mental and spiritual planes. This experience is what the disciple really yearns for, consciously or unconsciously. As long as we see the guru as separate from ourselves we are living in a world of duality. Until we have allowed the guru to work a lot on minimizing our ego and transforming our mental conditioning, it is very difficult to see the guru as ourselves. Many have experienced how internal changes express themselves outwardly as this process takes place.

True connection with the spirit of the guru means linking with the guru’s energy in each and every person. It means that we are able to see the underlying divinity in the other person. There is no separateness. This is a reality that all the scriptures and great masters teach.

Spiritual sadhana

Guru Poornima, the day of the full moon in July each year, creates an auspicious and favourable opportunity to strengthen the link with the spirit of guru. The full moon of Guru Poornima represents the full light of the guru, and gives an opportunity to bask in this light and to glimpse what we are really born to experience. On this special day, all over the world the energies of millions of people and the masters of all traditions are pouring into these channels of grace to guide and uplift us. Traditionally, it is a day when we, as disciples, join together to receive fresh inspiration, to renew and strengthen our faith in the guru and re-dedicate ourselves to spiritual sadhana and spiritual stock-taking.

Remembrance of the guru

It is very easy to get caught up in daily work and forget the guru who is silently working to whittle away our conditioning to enable us to enter into higher states of consciousness. Swami Satyananda has spoken a lot about the need to constantly remember God and, particularly at this time in history, the feminine energy of the divine. We get so caught up in creation that we forget the Creator, or the guru who is our link with God, or the actual image for us of the divine.

Sometimes we need an actual reminder to remember God or guru. A practice that has been done at the ashram in Greece involves ringing the ashram bell at regular intervals throughout the day. When the bell rings, the practice is to pause from all activity for a few moments and try to feel the presence of our guru with us, wherever we are at that moment. This is something we could all do every day.

Listening and talking to the guru

The next step is tuning in and listening to what the guru has to say. This requires the mind to cease concerning itself with everyday matters and be quiet enough to be able to hear that still voice inside. Even in the powerful physical presence of the guru our minds are so conditioned that even when he puts things into words, we don’t hear them or we hear what we want to hear, not what is actually being said.

If we don’t hear this inner voice or feel this inner communion, we are blocking it somewhere with our mental concepts, thoughts, desires and ambitions. The next step is then to talk to the guru. In those moments of stillness, speak to him in whatever way comes naturally to you. You might say, “I can’t hear you” or “I can’t feel you.” Start with what you imagine your weaknesses to be. When we are speaking to the guru we need to be sincere and totally honest, and able to make ourselves vulnerable. We need to be able to discover and admit things that we don’t even like admitting to ourselves.

Sri Swamiji says, “I don’t need you to converse or talk to me.” When the link is really made, the guru is aware of everything that is happening to us. He doesn’t need us to tell him these things because he knows them already. But, as he has said, we need to be able to develop the ability to tell him about ourselves for inner purification.

In the beginning this type of communication with the guru can be difficult, because we feel a little awkward and foolish or we don’t know what to say. The point is to bypass this and really try and isolate the weaknesses we believe are in our personality and behaviour. When we talk like that with the guru, at no time should we try to put ourselves in a better light, or try to justify what we have said or done. We are not trying to hide from ourselves or from the guru; we are trying to create an opening.

We need to make an effort to do this. Remember the saying, “Shed one tear and I shall wipe a hundred from your eyes. Take one step towards me and I shall take a hundred towards you.” It is that first step that is the difficult one. If we remember these guidelines, they can strengthen and deepen our link with the guru. Let us begin today, in his presence, to put them into practice.