The Guru of Hatha Yoga

From the teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Whichever yogic text is picked up, the same statement is written. Hatha Yoga Pradipika says, “Yoga should be practised in the way instructed by the guru.” This is probably the most important sentence in the whole text. The Shiva Samhita says, “Having attained the guru, practise yoga. Without the guru, nothing can be auspicious.” According to the Skanda Purana, “The systematic stages of yoga can only be learnt from a competent guru.” The Yoga Bija says that, “He who wants to practise yoga should have a competent guru with him.” In the Shruti it is written that, “Mahatmas reveal those things only to him who has deep devotion towards his guru as well as God.” Therefore, guru is the most vital element in sadhana.

Guru knows

Guru is not merely a yoga teacher. He is the only one who can enlighten your soul by the luminosity of his own revealed spirit. He reflects the brilliance of your spirit and what you see in him is actually your own self. Gu means darkness and ru means light. Guru is the one who removes the darkness and ignorance from the mind to reveal the pure light of the inner consciousness. He may be an adept in yoga or any science, or he may be completely illiterate. His social qualifications are unimportant as far as spiritual experience is concerned. The important factors are obedience and having faith in the guru’s words. Then it does not matter whether his instructions seem right or wrong, they will prove fruitful.

In the science of hatha yoga there is a specific system which has to be followed, and if one finds a hatha yoga guru, he will instruct each person in the correct manner of practice. This does not mean that the same system should be followed by one’s neighbour. The guru knows how to tackle all the individual problems one has. If no obstacles arise, good, the seeker can be guided quickly. If one is facing certain problems or difficulties, the guru will know how to guide the aspirant step by step, in accordance with his evolution.

People have little understanding of their bodily functions and are virtually unaware of their mental potential. Consciousness is like an iceberg, only the superficial portion which is above the surface can be seen, and because of limited perception, it cannot be understood how yoga can evolve the spirit from the gross body and the lower consciousness. Therefore, when sadhana is taken up, the guidance of one who thoroughly understands the process of spiritual unfoldment is essential. There is only one person for this purpose, and that is the guru.

The secret

In Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Yogi Swatmarama has divulged the secret of inner awakening: guru. No matter how much one practises yoga, if there is no guru, there can be no enlightenment. The quickest method to evolve the inner consciousness is through devotion and service to one’s guru – the light of his soul will enlighten all those devoted to him. His words are the atma shakti which is transmitted to the devotees. They are the seeds which they water when they apply and practise what he has said. When the seeds bloom forth the guru’s words become a living reality.

A living guru is the manifestation of your own atma, and atma only appears when you have reached a certain stage of inner awareness. What the external guru says and wants for you is the voice of your own atma. Therefore, without his will there is nothing you can do. The guru can give you instant awakening if he wants to. Therefore, the one way to samadhi is grace or anugraha from the guru.

To earn grace

Grace has to be earned by spiritual discipline and desire. It cannot be bought, nor can the guru be cheated. There are four main ways, or upayas, described in the Shiva Sutras to purify the body and mind and earn this grace. They are known as anavopaya, shaktopaya, shambhavopaya and anupaya.

Anavopaya includes physical discipline, such as hatha yoga, which purifies the body and awakens sushumna. It is therefore also known as kriyopaya.

Shaktopaya is for a person whose mind and body are already considerably pure. It consists of concentration, mantra repetition and instilling the idea that, “I am the supreme consciousness. The universe is none other than the expansion of the Self.” This is also known as jnanopaya because it uses the aspect of jnana. Kundalini rises by means of the higher intellect and, therefore, it includes jnana yoga and other higher stages of raja yoga.

Shambhavopaya is for those who are highly evolved, who can become realized by simply concentrating on the idea of pure consciousness or the shiva tattwa. Through constant self-analysis, awareness and reflection, they are led to self-realization. This is the path of Advaita philosophy.

Anupaya is direct realization through one simple action of the guru. An denotes something minute, ‘the nucleus of the nucleus’. Thus anupaya infers the grace which is attained by nominal effort. A well known example of this is when Balakrishna opened his mouth and Yashodha, his adopted mother, saw the entire universe. Anupaya is, therefore, also known as anandopaya because it instils instant bliss.


Unshakeable faith in the guru and the ultimate truth or reality is the most important tool for a sadhaka. If one doubts the guru, how can there be success in what he has taught? If faith is lost in the guru, there is no hope for success in yoga. Absolute faith in whatever he says and does is the only key to unlock the door to higher experience.

One may doubt one’s own ability to achieve, but if there is faith in guru and he says you can move a mountain, you will do it. Even if faith in guru and the ultimate goal is the only thing in one’s favour, that person will surely succeed.