Guru and Disciple

What is the best way to improve one’s relationship with the guru?

If you want to improve your relationship with any person in the world, not only with the guru but with anyone, then please them with seva, selfless service. This is the law of the world. From the ancient times until today, all disciples have had only one rule of conduct: seva.

There are many kinds of disciples. Sannyasin disciples live with the guru while householder disciples visit the guru every now and then.

The two relate to the guru differently. The guru-disciple relationship is meant to awaken one’s spirit, atman, just as the man-woman relationship is meant to awaken feelings and the teacher-student relationship is meant to awaken the intellect. Relationships awaken something in a person. The instant you form a relationship with someone, something will awaken in you.

The guru-disciple relationship should be formed only when the disciple experiences an awakening within, when he feels as if something is happening within. Of course we have various experiences while living in the world, but sometimes we have unusual experiences, transcendental experiences. At that time, the link with a guru is crucial and the most important aspect of that link is mantra. The disciple receives a mantra from the guru and serves him.

We receive learning from a normal teacher and we receive knowledge from a spiritual teacher. The term ‘guru’ is used in both contexts. How can we identify a true guru?

Dattatreya had twenty-four gurus. Whoever you receive learning and knowledge from can be called a guru. Who is the first guru? The mother. You receive your first learning from her. She teaches you how to eat, walk and speak. Next, when you go to school the teacher teaches you ABCD. She is also your guru. Later, you may visit saints and sages for satsang and they impart wisdom to you. They are also gurus.

The meaning of the word guru is ‘one who removes darkness’. Guru does not mean teacher, an expert or scholar. The root ‘gu’ means darkness and ‘ru’ means removing. Therefore, guru is one who removes darkness. There are many people who are illiterate and live in darkness as far as the written word is concerned. When they learn to read and write, that darkness is removed. You need different people to remove different kinds of darkness, whether it is learning oriented, behaviour oriented or thought oriented. All such people can be called gurus.

A spiritual guru is one who removes the darkness of ignorance, who removes the veil of ignorance from the soul of the disciple. A special term has been used for such a person: sadguru. It has been said:

Sadguru paramatmane namaha.

Prostrations to the sadguru who is (a reflection of) the supreme spirit.

The veil of ignorance does not allow one to see. One may be able to hear if one is wearing a veil, but one cannnot see. When darkness covers your life, then the supreme spirit who is hidden within, who is closer than your thoughts, closer than the breath, cannot be seen. You don’t have the eyes to see him. You are in darkness, you are blind. So, one who removes that darkness is called sadguru. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa gave the experience to Vivekananda which removed his veil. John the Baptist gave shaktipat to Jesus Christ through water. History relates many other such events. The relationship between a guru and disciple begins with initiation the way a husband-wife relationship begins with marriage.

Every person should search for the kind of guru they need. If you want to gain material knowledge, search for a guru who can give that to you. If you want to learn about the spiritual path, find a sadguru.

There are many people who, in their search for a guru, keep changing gurus. Is it right to take initiation from one guru and then go to another?

The guru-disciple relationship belongs to the level of the spirit. It is not a physical relationship; it is a spiritual relationship, a feeling-oriented relationship. It is a higher relationship and should be protected all through one’s life. There are some people who change their gurus, but that is not appropriate. You can have only one sadguru, the one from whom you receive your mantra.

Many years ago at the age of eighteen, I encountered a tantric yogini. I have mentioned this many times. She was illiterate, but knew an immense amount and imparted the knowledge of tantra to me. When I asked her for initiation, she refused. She said, “You should search for a guru who you will spend a long time with. He will tell you a method of life; he will tell you how to think. He will give you knowledge of the mind, the soul and intelligence. He will give you the knowledge of passion, anger, greed, jealousy, love, compassion, arrogance, kindness and attachment. He will give you the knowledge of your whole personality. You will have to clean up your whole life for this; you will have to purify your thoughts. That is when you will have the experience that I have given to you temporarily through shaktipat. You will then have it through your own efforts.”

I must have had a past samskara due to which my search for a guru led me to Swami Sivananda, and I liked him instantly and completely. I liked him completely because he had all the qualities that I did not have. I saw a reflection of my experiences in him.

The speciality of the guru is that he has none of the weaknesses that the disciple has. I would get angry at the drop of a hat; Swami Sivananda would never get angry. For all the twelve years that I was with him, I never saw him get angry. I would speak harshly, and he would always speak sweetly. He was so soft-spoken, so loving, so generous. If he had two rupees in his pocket and nothing to eat and found that you were hungry, he would give that money over to you and stay hungry. That’s the kind of person he was. He would always say that whatever you have is first for others and then for your children. When I saw all these qualities in him, I felt very inspired. However, it is very difficult to practise what Swami Sivananda exemplifed. When we say “Nothing belongs to me”, we are merely uttering those words. We cannot act on them. Our heart is so constricted that it can only hold our dear ones; it does not have room for strangers. So, you should search for such a guru who will fill in the blanks in your life.

There is only one thing that you receive from the guru: the way to go in. Don’t expect too much from him. A guru is not attached to anyone. His heart is pure. He is a reflection of light. There is no room for shadow there, no room for darkness. When he is alone, he is engrossed in atma chintan, self-reflection. This means that he is engrossed in japa, kirtan, study of the scriptures or thoughts of welfare of the world. If he thought of himself, then he would think of you. When he does not think of himself, he will not think of you also. Therefore, it is pointless to wonder, “Does Guruji remember me?” The first sign of a guru is an empty mind. His mind is an empty palace. He does not have the samskara that makes one think, “What is my disciple doing?”

The guru is the guide, but you have to find the way yourself. When Swami Vivekananda asked Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, “What should I do?” he did not give him a reply. He said, “You will realize everything yourself.”