How the Guru Teaches

From Guru Tattwa, Swami Sivananda Saraswati

The Guru teaches through personal example. The day-to-day conduct of the Guru is a living ideal to the disciple who is observant. The life of the Guru is a living sermon to the sincere disciple. By constant contact, the disciple imbibes the virtues of his Guru. He is moulded gradually. Study the Chhandogya Upanishad. You will find that Indra stayed with Prajapati for a period of one hundred and one years and served him wholeheartedly.

Duties and privileges of discipleship

The Guru only knows the spiritual needs of his disciples. He will give upadesha according to the disciple’s temperament and evolution. This upadesha should be kept a secret. Discussion among disciples will lead to criticism of Guru and slackness in sadhana. There will be no spiritual progress. Follow the Guru’s upadesha to the very letter. Remember it is meant for you only. The other disciples have received Guru-Upadesha, too. Let them follow it. Do not impose the Upadesha you have received on others.

The student can imbibe or draw from his teacher in proportion to his degree of faith. When the Guru comes to the aspirant to give spiritual instructions, if the aspirant does not pay any attention, if he is self-sufficient and heedless, if he bolts the door of his heart, he is not benefited.

Guru’s tests

The Satguru communicates the secret knowledge of the Upanishads to his trusted disciples only after repeated entreaty and severe testing. Sometimes, the Guru may even tempt his disciple, but the latter should overcome it by firm faith in the Guru.

In days of yore, the tests were very severe. Once Gorakhnath asked some of his students to climb up a tall tree and throw themselves, head downwards, on a very sharp trident or Trisula. Many faithless students kept quiet. But one faithful student at once climbed up the tree with lightning speed and hurled himself downwards. He was protected by the invisible hand of Gorakhnath. He had immediate Self-realization.

Once Guru Govind Singh tested his students. He said: “My dear disciples! If you have real devotion towards me, let six of you come forward and give me your heads. Then we can have success in our attempt.” Two faithful disciples offered their heads. Guru Govind Singh took them inside the camp and cut off the heads of two goats instead.

The Guru tests the students in various ways. Some students misunderstand him and lose their faith in him. Hence they are not benefited.

Four classes of disciples

The best disciple is like petrol or aviation spirit. Even from a great distance, he will instantly react to the spark of the Guru’s upadesha. The second class disciple is like camphor. A touch awakens his inner spirit and kindles the fire of spirituality in him. The third class of disciple is like coal. The Guru has to take great pains in order to awaken the spirit in him. The fourth class of disciple is like a plantain stem. No efforts will have any effect on him. Whatever the Guru may do, he remains cold and inert.

Two things are necessary for a beautifully finished idol or image. One is a perfect, faultless, good piece of marble; the second is the expert sculptor. The piece of marble should unconditionally remain in the hands of the sculptor in order to be carved and chiselled into the fine image. So too, the disciple has but to cleanse himself, purify himself, and make himself a perfectly faultless piece of marble, and placing himself under the expert guidance of his Master, allow himself to be carved and chiselled into the image of God.