Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati

In the Shiva Samhita (3:11), it states, “Only the knowledge imparted by a guru, through his lips, is powerful and useful, otherwise it becomes fruitless, weak and very painful.” In fact, all the ancient texts state that for spiritual sadhana, especially the higher esoteric practices, the guru is indispensable. From all points of view this is a logical claim. We need the guidance of a teacher to gain knowledge of all faculties or sciences. Then why doubt the necessity of a guide for the spiritual sciences?

Guru means one who dispels the darkness, i.e. ignorance, and brings illumination. Therefore, the guru is more than just a teacher. A teacher can only give you academic knowledge to satisfy and stimulate your intellect but the guru gives you intuitive knowledge through intimate experience. He is one who has realized his true Self by the dint of his own sadhana and rigorous disciplines. He has travelled the same path which we are stumbling along and knows the pitfalls and dangers that may befall the disciple.

The path is hazardous, narrow as a razor’s edge and few who have traversed it know the way. We are not even sure of the destination, so how can we assume to know the way? However, the guru has been there and has returned to show us the way is part of his grace which, as sadhakas, we should humbly acknowledge. The divine powers have unfolded in him and revealed the unknown mysteries of spirit. Not only has he discovered the hidden reality for himself, but he can also transmit the experience to others to encourage them on the same path. In fact, such a guru lives for just this purpose: to awaken the yearning for spiritual knowledge in others.

In India, which has upheld the tradition of gurus from time immemorial, a guru is regarded as divinity incarnate. Indians believe that a guru, through his spiritual accomplishment, is the closest thing to God that is amongst us. If God exists, that is all right, but has anyone seen him? The guru is the only manifestation of the divine that we have witnessed and, therefore, he is humbly acknowledged as a guide and preceptor. The greatest intellectuals, thinkers and philosophers have bowed down before a guru who has had the experience of truth, for what is academic knowledge before experience?

As adults in a so-called civilized society, we revere the supremacy of the intellect, thereby ignoring any other source of knowledge, even if it is more accurate. We are not to blame, for that is how we have been trained from childhood, but in spiritual life one has to transcend the intellect and bypass it through the sublime emotions of faith, love and devotion. In order to progress in spiritual life, one has to unlearn everything because the spiritual experience is beyond intellect and does not follow the logical and rational codes of behaviour. This is why one is often told to be as innocent as a child who is not bound by the logical claims of the intellect.

The basis for all spiritual sadhana is the personal evolution of the sadhaka. Culturally, socially, racially and politically we may all be the same; even from the point of view of religion we may be alike, but in terms of spiritual evolution no two persons are at the same point. Who can know at which rung of the ladder you are poised? Your spiritual sadhana has to begin from the point you are at. It is the guru alone who can judge this, by examining the karma and personal evolution of an aspirant, and give a sadhana on that basis. This insight is very important as your progress depends upon the suitability and efficacy of the practised sadhana.

Very often people complain that they cannot meditate. However, they have failed to understand that without fulfilling the preliminary disciplines to evolve the body and mind meditation is not possible. The body is not capable of maintaining steadiness for more than ten minutes and the mind is continually wavering from one thought to the next. Then how can meditation be possible? The fault is not in the practice of meditation but that you are trying to ‘fit a square peg in a round whole’.

Sometimes the aspirant may have already evolved through sadhana done in previous lives, but in order for him to pick up the loose threads he requires the hand of a master craftsman. In spiritual life, the power with which you are playing is the same power that has created you, that of consciousness. A delicate matter, no doubt requiring the skill of a professional. The guru has the skill to do this. Spiritual sadhana can never be chosen on the personal whim of the sadhaka. It is guru alone who has the authority, insight and experience to judge which sadhana is best for an aspirant.

We are all amateurs in the lila or game of life, in spite of which we think we can etch the finest creations. Moreover, the path of spiritual sadhana is through the deepest layers of the mind, where all the skeletons of past experiences are residing. An encounter with them can be dangerous for your equilibrium, if it is not done under the watchful guidance of a guru.

It is the guru who initiates you into sadhana and gives you the inspiration to remain on the path in spite of any difficulties that may assail you. Initiation is an important factor before beginning any sadhana. The guru’s initiation is power-charged and creates a suitable atmosphere and mental equilibrium to fulfil the obligations of the spiritual practice and thereby receive the merits of sadhana. It is stated in the tantra shastras that without initiation from a guru, sadhana cannot induce the desired results.

Sadhana given by the guru helps to extract the ego and eliminate the karma of the disciple, if it is practised without expectation. Acceptance of the guru’s guidance without anticipation of any merit implies subjugation of your ego. Whatever you decide to do yourself involves the ego. However, when the guru instructs you, it is not your desire but his order that motivates you. When there is no desire, there is no expectation, no delusion, and through this subtle process the disciple evolves.

Printed in Tattwa Shuddhi