Guru and Disciple

From Samarpan: Living the Divine Connection, Swami Satyananda Saraswati

The guru is the one who guides the disciple’s life systematically, the one who steers the boat. In order to learn how to surrender to God, one must first have a guru. Surrender needs to be practised first with the guru, for without the grace of guru the path of surrender is not easily discovered. One needs to have that connection through which grace can flow. Without a living connection, without a guru, it is very difficult to connect with the subtle Supreme Reality, and receive His grace. The disciple’s relationship with the guru is the test of the disciple’s sincerity and devotion. In submission, however, the disciple is not throwing away his personality, but rather offering his limited self to one who will change it into the infinite Self. God takes over from there.

The guru and disciple are strangers to each other in the beginning, but the disciple finds faith in the guru. First, he practises surrender and belief in the guru and finally in God. He starts learning the A, B, C of surrender through the guru and develops it with continuous practice. In this faith, he sees the shadow, reflection and splendour of God. When, through practice, one’s faith becomes strong, clear and divine, when it is generated through a pure mind and heart, one sees God. Then God, who was defined in various ways by other people, becomes apparent. The Guru Stotram says:

Gururbrahma gururvishnuh gururdevo maheshvarah.

Guru is Brahma, guru is Vishnu and guru is Shiva.

Guru is Brahma because he creates for his disciple a new and wondrous world; he is Vishnu because he sustains and protects him; he is Shiva because he annihilates the world of individuality. All great saints have underlined the necessity of a guru. It has also been said in the Ramacharitamanas that no one can cross the ocean of samsara without the guru’s help, even if he is Brahma or Shiva.

The guru represents two realities: the teacher and the all-permeating Essence. The guru is both the teacher and the being who dwells in the disciple’s heart. As a teacher he can teach, and as the indweller of the heart, he guides the passages of the disciple’s evolution and spiritual fulfillment. A true guru-disciple relationship is an experience of union with the inner spirit, which makes one go deeper into oneself and brings one closer to God. It is an experience that completely stupefies one.

From a practical point of view, the guru is qualified to tell the disciple how to practise surrender because he has undergone the entire process himself. There must have been a time when he was affected by mental agitation, faced conflicts and was pulled by the passions of life. Based on how he managed and overcame such situations, he can guide his disciples through their mental and emotional experiences. It is obviously safe to seek the help of a person who has undergone the same experiences as oneself, and mastered them.

How does the guru bring about samarpan?

One cannot know the level of one’s consciousness or the faults that lie within. One may try to correct one’s social and mental faults, but there are faults embedded deep within the personality. Therefore, the guru often performs an operation on the disciple known as egodectomy, removal of the ego. This operation is so difficult that many disciples cannot bear it. However, if it succeeds, then they reach the goal. Surgery on the ego can be achieved by surrendering oneself to God also, but God is much too kind. Guru is a very hard person; he knows his duty; he knows how each and every individual should live, think and act. He does everything to pulverize the ego of the disciple. One may not understand this unless one becomes a disciple. The ego is the barrier between the individual and divinity, between disciple and guru. It is a very hard nut to crack; it is the ‘I’ which can sometimes be very subtle. It is because of the ego that complete surrender becomes difficult. The greater the ego, the lesser the receptivity. As the ego becomes subtler, the receptivity becomes greater.

By serving the guru ceaselessly, the ego of the disciple is effaced. He no longer thinks, “I came to my guru for self-realization and he is only getting me to clean the toilets! He has an unpaid servant in me.” The guru creates conditions so that the disciple may purify himself. He also gives sadhana that will aid the process. In the course of time, the disciple’s ego is gradually curbed and surrender occurs spontaneously. All one’s worldly ways and abnormalities end; the external current is switched off and the internal light comes on.

There is an awakening which comes only when one has totally laid down one’s arms. The surrender of disciple to guru is not like the surrender of a servant or a war prisoner, but once the disciple has surrendered, he knows it and says, “Take my life and do what you will.” The true guru does not make his disciple surrender the world, but his limited self, the veil of ignorance that hangs between his ego and the all-pervasive reality.

The guru also continuously tests the disciple’s sincerity and devotion, for he has to make sure that the disciple’s mind will not shake at any moment. It is very important that the guru is able to handle the disciple without any difficulty. If the disciple does not respond to the guru’s instructions, suggestions or inspiration at the ordinary intellectual level, then how can the guru direct him in the higher realms? The guru should be able to influence and direct his disciple’s mind, his conscious thinking, in any direction: right, left, down into the ditch, up on to the mountain, into fire or water.

For that purpose, the guru gives the disciple different tasks to check whether his awareness is responding and how far he has progressed on the path of surrender. Disciples realize the quality of their faith only when the guru presents them with certain difficult tests. This is especially true of sannyasin disciples who live with him, who have a total relationship with him. At a certain time during their stay, they are tested. At that time the disciple who passes is the one whose faith does not break. The guru gives him something in the form of a reward. It is called guru kripa, guru’s grace.

A teacher, an acharya, can help one learn asana, pranayama and simple meditation practices, but such a master has limitations. Only the guru without limitations knows how to lead the ignorant and the blind to the path of self-realization by opening their third eye. A disciple may be academically intelligent, may have the highest of faculties and immense wealth, but his spiritual eyes are not yet open due to the veil of illusion or ignorance, maya or avidya. Only the guru can help one develop inner vision. Self-purification and karmic dissolution start in the service of guru. The disciple can carry on sadhana only in the conscious realms, while the guru helps him in the unconscious. He opens the closed door for the disciple and makes self-awakening possible. As the disciple develops his relationship with the guru, based on bhakti and shraddha, devotion and faith, an awakening begins to take place within him. The external guru helps to awaken the inner guru; he acts as a detonator to explode the guru tattwa within.

When the awakening begins, a transformation comes about in the structure of the mind and consciousness. It is not just a change, but a complete metamorphosis akin to a dog becoming a horse. The mind becomes entirely different; the structure of thinking undergoes a total transformation in quality, form, assessments and values. At the same time, perception or inner cognition becomes very subtle; one is able to apprehend the subtle essence. In this enlightened state of existence come revelations and inspirations, and a clear-cut path unfolds before one. One realizes what is to be done. If nature has chosen one to become a Christ, to lead thousands of people, to heal hundreds, one will do it. This is when the disciple becomes a tool, a medium, an instrument of the cosmic process.

What the disciple must do

There are three types of disciples and a guru ordains them for different purposes. There are the lay disciples or householders; sannyasin disciples or the monastic order; and the interior disciples. For each type, surrender takes place in a different dimension. If the lay disciple surrenders through devotion, it is sufficient. He does not have to surrender his business, family and children to the guru, but he must offer true devotion so that the guru can help him find peace of mind and right understanding.

The monastic disciple has to surrender his desires and worldly ambitions so that when he leaves monastic life, his entire personality has been transformed. Then he can become a very good messenger of the guru’s teachings. The third category of disciple, the intimate disciple, has to surrender everything. Such disciples are very rare, never very many, and the guru selects them for himself. First this disciple is tested, and only those who prove worthy are taken in. These disciples offer everything.

In every type of disciple the one indispensable qualification for surrender is to carry out immediately and spontaneously the commands of the guru. The attitude must be as if some unknown and unseen power compels him to do the work. It is not for the disciple to judge whether he is qualified or competent to undertake the task. He should not even think how it will be possible to complete the task. The disciple who tries to assess his competence before undertaking a task loses his chance to utilize his hidden powers. That is why the disciple should carry out the commands without forethought. It will prove to be a great boon, because then he may enter into the subtle regions of consciousness. If in this sphere he acquires that good quality, then in the next sphere the same also happens. If the disciple’s ordinary consciousness is coloured by opposition to the guru’s commands, then he will find it difficult to go beyond the plane of ordinary consciousness.

There are two necessary conditions for surrender. The first is faith that one will be able to surrender, and the second is the awareness, “My guru is within me.” To achieve these may require breaking the existing patterns of the mind. This is the first step towards samarpan. One must be able to lose one’s engrossment in the imaginary problems the mind has imposed upon itself, whether neurosis, psychosis, schizophrenia, frustrations or disappointments. Faith allows this to happen; it solves many problems of the mind so one can proceed to experience the inherent truth. To get there, however, one must first accept oneself. One has to come to the point where one can say, “I can do nothing; I cannot renounce; I cannot control the mind. My mind is full of terrible thoughts; I have bad habits!” Such acceptance is humility, and with it begins the process of emptying oneself.

A disciple of a guru or a devotee of God has to be as humble as a blade of grass, egoless and totally submissive, as if he does not exist, as if he were a flute. A hollow piece of bamboo can be made into a flute, but only when there are no knots can it produce a sweet melody. As long as the individual exists, the guru cannot be in him. In order to allow the guru to function through him, the disciple has to empty himself. The process of emptying oneself is the only practice or sadhana a disciple has to undertake. “Before you, I do not exist. I cannot think. You think through me. I leave the choice of my life in your hands” – this state of mind has to be practised. After all, how long can one hold one’s head high if it is full of arrogance and ignorance, conflict and duality? To rend this duality may take lifetimes. Maybe one’s guru is not great. He may be an ordinary man, but when the disciple empties himself, surrenders himself completely in total humility and obeisance, things happen. If one surrenders the ego to others in this world, one is liable to be exploited and destroyed. But when one surrenders the ego to a person who is compassionate and one’s well-wisher, life changes. This person is one’s guru, the one in whom complete trust may be placed.