Is a guru, master or guide necessary for self-realization?
Undoubtedly. A guru is absolutely necessary for every one. In the initial stages an aspirant will have to face many difficulties and doubts on his path. He must have somebody whom he can approach to get his doubts cleared. Even ordinary secular sciences have to be learnt from a teacher. To learn the science of sciences, Brahma vidya or self-knowledge, the help of a guru is absolutely essential. It is only the guru who will find out your defects. The nature of egoism is such that you will not be able to find your own defects. In the case of very few exalted souls their own self serves as the guru and guides them within; but this is due to the fact that they have in their previous births performed intense sadhana with the help and guidance of Brahmanishtha preceptors.
The real guru is no doubt within you. The father repeats amma and the child instantly utters amma. The father does not tell the child how to produce this sound; yet the child finds out! Here is the secret process of inner awakening. All knowledge is within you. You know how to utter the word amma. Ultimately it is the inner consciousness that enables the child to manipulate the tongue, the lips and the teeth to form the word. At the same time, the child needs the external stimulus the fathers utterance in order to activate the inner teacher.
Similar is the case with your spiritual knowledge. No doubt the inner guru will guide you. No doubt when you have an extremely subtle intellect, when your heart is pure, when you have a concentrated mind, you will be able to commune directly with this inner guru and get instructions from him. But in the case of the vast majority of people the human guru is also necessary. The human guru puts you in touch with the inner guru, the divine being who resides in your heart.
I am convinced that praying to saints and worshipping them is absolutely wrong. They prayed to God and found salvation for themselves, and in like manner, we can also take care of our salvation without depending on any saint.
No. It is not so. Saints and sages are worthy of our adoration and prayers because they have shown us the ways to God-realization. The apprentice, who has just entered service in any field, is expected to have an attitude of submission and receptivity to his senior who trains him on the job, although the latter may be a man like himself. The same is applicable in the field of spirituality. By respecting saints and following their teachings, you grow in spirituality, you learn to love and know God more adequately.
In spite of my thorough search, I am not in a position to find a real guru. Can you suggest one?
To find a real guru who may sincerely look after the disciple is a very difficult task in this world. It is quite true. However, to find a true disciple who may sincerely follow the instructions of a guru is indeed a very, very difficult task in this world. Have you thought over this point?
Do not use your reason too much in the selection of a guru. If you fail to get a guru of the first-class type, try to get one who is treading the spiritual path for some years, who has right conduct and other virtuous qualities, and some knowledge of the scriptures. Just as an assistant surgeon will be able to attend on a patient when the civil surgeon is not available, so also the second-class type of guru will be of great help to you in the absence of a first-class guru.
Swamiji, why do you allow your feet to be worshipped and allow regular puja to be offered to your feet?
The materialistic modern mind needs a good flushing before it can understand this. To the spiritual aspirant, the gurus feet are not merely feet, but the channels of divine grace. From time immemorial, the Indian seeker after truth has known that his receptive centre the head, should come into contact with the preceptors transmitting centre the feet, in order to get infused with spiritual power, wisdom and light. This is one of the laws of electricity, that the positive and the negative poles should come in contact in order to complete the circuit.
Pada puja develops the spirit of self-surrender in the aspirant. The flower symbolizing the heart, the fruits symbolizing the fruits of all actions, coins representing all wealth and camphor symbolizing the very soul of the aspirant which gets totally absorbed in the enlightened Self of the guru, are first offered in worship. And finally, the aspirant prostrates at the feet, signifying that everything without the least reservation is surrendered at the feet of the satguru.
Pada puja creates and strengthens the aspirants faith and devotion and develops divine qualities like humility. Bharata worshipped the divine feet of Lord Rama and enthroned Ramas sandals as his representative; he regarded himself as the viceroy of the sandals. It is such humility, faith and devotion that will make you divine.
Here, I do not compel people to come and worship my feet. If they, of their own accord, insist on doing so out of their guru bhakti towards me, I cannot refuse. If I refuse, I will not only be displeasing those who are anxious to prove their self-surrender and respect to me, but I will also be failing in my duties. Do you think I feel happy or elevated when they do pada puja to me? I have to sit patiently bearing all that process. Surely it is not out of pleasure that I agree to sit patiently!