Guru, the Guide
Satsang by Swami Sivananda
I shall serve you, guide you and take you to your goal step by step.
A person can only learn from another person, and hence the Supreme Power teaches through a human body. In your guru, you have your human ideal of perfection. He is a pattern into which you wish to mould yourself. Your mind will readily be convinced that such a great soul is fit to be worshipped and revered.
The desire to seek help, to search for light and to look up to higher powers is inborn in all beings. The incapacity to achieve the ideal of the aspirations that spring from the heart of the disciple, the anguish which accompanies such incapacity, and the knowledge of the existence of superior powers, obliges the individual to take shelter under those who are endowed with the ability to lift them up to higher levels. The world is a dramatic scene of dependence of beings on others that can fill up what they lack. Love for the spiritual means the yearning to reach the highest, to become perfect, and this is not easy for all who wish to be so. Therefore, shelter is found under the guidance of seers and sages. They are the gurus and masters who teach the truth and shower God-consciousness upon all.
Link to God
The guru is verily a link between the individual and the immortal. He is a being who has raised himself from this to That, and thus has free and unhampered access to both the realms. He stands upon the threshold of immortality and, bending down, raises the struggling individuals with one hand and lifts them up into infinite truth-consciousness with the other. The guru is Brahmanishtha, one rooted in the infinite truth. The mind of the guru, being nearest to the absolute condition of changeless existence, possesses limitless powers beyond imagination.
The guru is, in fact, God himself manifesting in a personal form to guide the aspirant. Grace of God takes the form of guru. To see guru is to see God. A word from him is a word from God. He need not teach anything. His very presence is elevating, inspiring and stirring. Living in his company is spiritual education. The guru is united with God. He inspires devotion in others. His presence purifies all.
The relationship between guru and disciple is genuine and unbreakable, even as that between God and individual is. It is a natural law that when a certain event has to take place in the universe the conditions necessary for the same are brought about exactly at the proper time. When a disciple is ready to receive the higher light, he is brought into contact with a suitable guru by the supreme dispensation.
The guru is identical with Existence and hence the help derived from him cannot be estimated by the faculty of thinking. Though God is indescribable, you can see and realize God through guru. The aspirant should regard his immediate guru – in the physical form – as an incarnation of the Guru of all gurus. Deify the guru. Guru, Ishwara, Brahman, Om, Truth, are all one. You must think that underneath the name and form of the guru there is the all-pervading, pure consciousness. In the course of time the physical form will vanish and you will realize your own Self, the pure Brahmic consciousness, that lies behind the physical form of the guru.
The Upanishads declare that the truths of Vedanta can be understood only by one who has great devotion to Ishwara and as much devotion to his guru. The Taittiriya Upanishad says, Acharya devo bhava – “May your preceptor be your God.” If you have this attitude towards your guru, you will see good and good alone in him. Everything that the guru does will be good; his words will be God’s command to you. You will love to obey him. You will long to serve him. You will crush your ego and make a shoe of it for the guru to wear. You will offer the fragrant flower of your heart at the feet of your guru. The guru will be the one person in the world in whom you will refuse to see evil. That is the first step. That is the key to the realm of cosmic consciousness.
This vision of the guru will slowly expand. You will, under the wise guidance of the illumined guru, gradually perceive that the Supreme Principle that resides in your guru pervades the entire creation. You have already crushed your individuality in the service of the guru. When the inner consciousness expands, there will be nothing to obstruct it, no ego to limit its expansion. You will very soon realize cosmic consciousness. This is the supreme secret behind service and worship of guru, and self-surrender to guru. First realize God in your guru. Then you will realize God in every one. First serve your guru selflessly. Then you will be able to serve the entire humanity selflessly. First worship your guru with sincerity and devotion. Then you will worship the all-pervading Spirit. Guru is the gateway to God-realization.
An enduring tradition
Spiritual knowledge is a matter of guru parampara, guru-disciple lineage. It is handed down from guru to disciple. Study the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. You will have a comprehensive understanding of this fact. The highest spiritual wisdom experienced by the seers of truth in the ancient times has been passed down to the present day through an unbroken line of traditional teachers.
The concept of this tradition is, in fact, a unique and wonderful gem in the cultural treasury of India. It is to a large extent responsible for the unbroken and eternal aspects of India’s grand spiritual heritage. It is the institution of guru parampara that has, from generation to generation and down the centuries, closely safeguarded the living experiences of the seers of the Upanishadic age.
So long as there is a world, there will be gurus and the Vedas to guide the struggling souls in the path of self-realization. The number of realized souls may be less in the Kali Yuga as compared to Satya Yuga, but they are always present to help aspirants. He who has a guru can alone know Brahman. The knowledge received from a teacher alone becomes perfect.
To be a guru, one must have a command from God. Mere study of books cannot make one a guru. One who has studied the Vedas, and who has direct knowledge of the atman through anubhava, experience, can alone be a guru. A jivanmukta or liberated sage is the real guru or spiritual preceptor. He is the satguru. He is identical with Brahman or the Supreme Self. He is a knower of Brahman.
Here are the characteristics of a real guru. If you find them in any individual accept him at once as your guru. The real guru is one who has full knowledge of the Self and the Vedas. He does not expect anything from anybody. He possesses an exemplary character. He has equal vision and a balanced mind. He is free from likes and dislikes, joy and sorrow, egoism, anger, lust, greed and pride. He is an ocean of mercy. In his presence, one gets peace and elevation of mind. He is childlike, full of joy, bliss and wisdom.
He who is able to clear your doubts, he who is sympathetic in your sadhana, he who does not disturb your beliefs but helps you on from where you are, he in whose very presence you feel spiritually elevated – he is your guru. The guru’s tender smile radiates light, bliss, joy, knowledge and peace. He is a blessing to suffering humanity. His instructions are very impressive. He can give practical, easy lessons to control the mind and the senses. He is a friend and guide to those who have surrendered to him. Whatever he says is Upanishadic teaching. The guru knows the spiritual path. He knows the pitfalls and snares on the way. He gives timely warning to his students. He showers grace on their heads. All agonies, miseries, tribulations and taints of worldliness vanish in his presence.
Need for a guru
To say that without a guru an aspirant can reach the goal is as good as saying that a passenger can cross the turbulent river without a boat. Many people debate over the necessity of having a guru. Some assert vehemently that it is not necessary to have a guru for spiritual advancement and that one can attain self-realization through one’s own efforts only.
No spiritual progress is possible unless one gets the benign grace and direct guidance of a spiritual preceptor. Man is but a puny creature struggling under a host of severe limitations. He experiences pain, frustration, misery and wretchedness everywhere. On the other hand, he knows that there is a grand cosmic experience that is full of perfection, infinite knowledge and transcendental light. But how can he attain it? The guru provides the answer to that.
It is a decided and established conclusion that guru is absolutely essential for spiritual progress. Even secular science, arts and all worldly undertakings need the help of a teacher. Greater is the need for guidance on the spiritual path. Some aspirants practise meditation for some years independently. Later on they feel the actual necessity for a guru. They come across some obstacles on the way and do not know how to proceed further. Then they begin to search for a guru.
A seeker after truth is blessed when he gets the company of the satguru. Such a blessing is very rare. It is the result of the full grace of God. Therefore, sit at the feet of guru, learn, reflect, meditate and realize.
Just as water flows from higher level to a lower level, so also the grace of the guru flows towards the disciple, if the latter has a true receptive attitude and sincere faith. Study philosophical books as much as you like, deliver lectures at world tours, remain in Himalayan caves for thousands of years, practise pranayama for years, do sirshasana for your whole life, but you cannot attain emancipation without the grace of guru.
The grace of guru will in a mysterious manner enable the disciple to perceive directly the Brahmic principle within. Without the help of guru one cannot attain the knowledge of the Self. Without the grace of guru one cannot grow into the divine state, live the divine life or be liberated from the trammels of the mind. Therefore, when you surrender at the sacred feet of your guru, beg him not for worldly needs, but for his grace, ask that you may have true devotion and lasting faith in him. Blessed is the disciple who has the grace of the guru on him permanently.