Guru and the Path

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Guru is a term that represents an attribute of God, the energy that dispels darkness. Guru is also inside us; the power to transform and become enlightened is within all of us. However, this power, energy or shakti is an attribute of the turiya state of consciousness, and in order to access this source of power, we need a catalyst, an external agent. The external agent is the physical form of a person who is recognized by the aspirant as guru.

The physical guru is someone who knows the process of self-transformation and can guide aspirants according to their intellect, who can understand the limitations and abilities of each aspirant. He is someone who has gone through the process of personal transformation, who knows the pitfalls on the spiritual journey and can guide the aspirant to overcome those pitfalls. That is the meaning of the relationship between guru and disciple, and it is based on understanding, trust, belief and a realization that here is a person who can guide us. The outcome of this relationship is identification and surrender.

The aspirant must strive to develop a sense of identification with the energy and spirit of the guru. They must strive to evolve to that level of connection where although guru and disciple live in two bodies, their spirit is one. How can one achieve this? By being open. Generally by openness people mean dumping all their problems on the guru. That is not real openness or open communication. Open communication means you are able to consult the guru, see the validity of the advice and adhere to that advice without bringing your mind into it. The guru is not there for your intellectual satisfaction. For that there are pundits, people who are knowledgeable, intellectual, who can convince you because they have read or developed their own understanding of a topic. Guru is not there for your intellectual conviction but for your spiritual development. So, the only way to have open communication with the guru is by developing trust and faith, becoming innocent and simple, and allowing this to happen spontaneously. You cannot make an effort to achieve it. It only happens as you develop more trust in the guru.

Ganga Darshan, September 1998

What is a guru?

There is no such thing as a guru. It is only a reflection of one’s faith and commitment, because the person we call guru is also a disciple of someone. Swami Satyananda says, “People have made and recognized me as a guru, but internally I am still a disciple of Swami Sivananda.” ‘Guru’ is not a title that one acquires through one’s effort, but a label given by other people. If the guru is true and sincere to the path, he will never consider himself a guru, but will continue to perfect his discipleship. So what actually exists is discipleship, not gurudom.

A label is not worth considering, because people can make you a guru today and tomorrow they can turn you into a devil or a dog. If people call you a guru and you accept this label because it boosts your ego, then what happens when they start calling you a dog? In reality, there is no such thing as a guru; there is only perfection of discipleship.

If I wish to become initiated into spiritual life, does it necessarily mean that I need to become a devotee of the person by whom I am initiated?

We are all normal people living our normal lives, and then something happens so that we become interested in discovering something different, and we come to yoga. Not religious or spiritual life, but yoga. Gradually, as our involvement increases, we understand that yoga is a little bit more than the physical and the mental, and that little bit more is what we call spiritual.

How does one define spirituality? Is it God-intoxicated consciousness? Is it a heart full of love, compassion, innocence and simplicity? Or is being endowed with good and positive virtues the apex of spiritual realization? People have always been free to define spiritual realization for themselves. It meant samadhi for Patanjali; it meant sayujya, oneness, for Narada and Shandilya. Each propagator of yoga or spiritual life defined the goal according to their knowledge, understanding and inclination. All these different definitions have become a body called yoga and spiritual life.

We can become an adherent of yoga or any other tradition because of our inclination, or by default, but the search for spirituality begins when we go into the meditative states of yoga, into pratyahara and dharana. We begin to discover something new about ourselves. Meditation becomes like a microscope that lets us see the viruses and bacteria inside our personality and nature. The process of internalization, the meditative components of yoga, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana, begin to act like lenses that focus on and highlight different aspects of our personality.

In the practice of antar mouna, for example, we are highlighting a thought and pulling it to pieces, following it to the end. The process of internalization makes us see the samskaras, karmas, latent impressions and desires, instincts, and modes of behaviour which make us what we are today. Then the fine-tuning of that particular dimension which has unfolded before us begins, and that is the beginning of one’s spiritual life, according to yoga. It is a discovery within oneself, and a discovery of oneness. How it happens, when it happens, only God knows. We do not know where the end is; we only know that we have to walk the path.

In this process of discovery, we have to connect with an inspiration. That inspiration is the guru, the teacher in whom we see something shining and bright. We do not know what it is, but that quality makes the person stand out and radiate a different kind of aura. We are attracted to that aura and energy, and often that attraction becomes the inspiration for being initiated into a spiritual journey. Those people who become the examples of certain achievements and attract us are known as gurus, those who dispel the darkness or ignorance from our lives. You see a torch shining its light. The torch is not dispelling its own darkness. It is living in a state of illumination and the darkness is dispelled wherever the light falls.

The guru tattwa is also internal, because it is to this tattwa or element that we have to come to in order to establish ourselves on the spiritual path, in guru- or God-consciousness, in wisdom and light. So the external guru becomes the trigger to connect us with the internal guru.

The theory is simple, but to put it into effect is difficult because our emotions get in the way. If we can bypass our emotions, the path is absolutely clear. But if we fall prey to emotions such as dependence, affection, attraction and dislike, there is a deviation from the chosen course. Emotions do come as a barrier. They create dependence; they even create a lethargic mind because one is not thinking of survival any more, but just living. However, if the understanding is clear, the association becomes clear as well. The association remains in the form of an inspiration and we can be with that inspiration till the end of our days, depending on how we are able to purify ourselves internally, intellectually as well as emotionally.

Guru is the term used to signify a state of inner spiritual maturity. Consciousness is evolving in every lifetime through the experiences it gains, and some people can connect with the cosmic consciousness, the akashic consciousness. They become enlightened and live according to dharma, the appropriate, righteous precepts.

Dharma is not always based on compassion and goodness. Dharma can also create strife in order to eradicate evil. In order to establish dharma, Krishna created a civil war. Dharma uses all the tricks of the trade to achieve its goal. Goodness does not always follow the path of love, affection, healing, peace and quiet. There is dynamism in it as well, transformation, transmutation of the present into something different and new.

As long as the guru is an inspiration, there is a natural expression of love, respect, obedience, devotion and dedication. But when emotions become involved in the expression of these sentiments, they take on a different meaning. When you are detached and the sentiments are expressed naturally, spontaneously and innocently, they also become a force to bring you closer to your inner guru. Once the understanding of the inner guru dawns, there is a glimpse, a flash of that experience, and the discovery of oneness begins. How people express it is defined by their weaknesses, strengths and qualities. But a purpose and focus comes in, and there is a connection with that inspiration, conviction and optimism, with that brightness – which may be there one moment and gone the next because of a cloudy mind. Clouds can cover the sun, but the sun is always shining; the covering is only momentary.

The connection with the inspiration is more important than head-tripping about whether you are devoted or not, or whether it is good or bad for you. That will divert your awareness from experiencing the innocent and pure nature which is directed towards the inspiration, and which motivated you to discover your beautiful nature. How people express the connection with that inspiration can be interpreted in many ways, and you are free to choose your own.

What are the qualities of a good disciple?

Discipleship becomes more meaningful when we are able to improve ourselves. Using the SWAN model, if we work with our Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambitions and Needs, then the improved nature will make us a better disciple. The foundation of discipleship is the trust, understanding and belief that exist between teacher and student, between guru and disciple. Some people believe a little, some believe too much, so their discipleship is based on that expression.

It is like the story of Padmapada. Shankaracharya had a cook who accompanied him on his travels around the country. One day they camped near a river. Shankaracharya was on one side of the river and the cook was on the other. Shankaracharya called the cook to come quickly. According to the story, the cook ran across the water. As he ran, wherever his steps fell, a lotus arose to support him. When he reached the other side, Shankaracharya said, “From today you are Padmapada (lotus feet),” and he became one of the acharyas of the Shankaracharya tradition.

This is a story, but it indicates that when the call comes from the guru, the disciple guides himself or herself to fulfil that call. That level of one-pointed awareness of the guru also brings out many inherent qualities and powers from inside. This has happened in the lives of many people, who are not mythological, but historical figures.

The foundation of discipleship is trust, conviction and faith, which comes from understanding. The development of discipleship happens as we become more gurumukhi, more focused towards the guru, the inspiration, the source.

There is no direct answer to a question about which qualities a disciple should cultivate. Various components are used to launch oneself and to go through the process of improvement. The foundation is one thing, and making ourselves more capable of understanding the ideas and living the concept of discipleship is another. We have to go through screening, which is what the SWAN model does. We have to differentiate between the appropriate and the inappropriate, and cultivate the appropriate. Many factors are involved and one has to work at many levels.

Ganga Darshan, December 2006