Guru Gobind dono khare
kake lagu paye /
balihari us guru ki
jo gobind diyo dikhaye //
“My Guru and my Lord both stand here before me. To whom shall I bow first? O seeker, Hail thy Guru! It is he who has made this union with the Lord possible.” This is the essence of one of Sant Kabir’s dhohas. Indeed a true guru is a divine gift from God. Sri Paramahansa Yogananda writes, “When we are moving blindly through the valley of life, stumbling in the darkness, we need the help of someone who has eyes – a Guru… God doesn’t teach through mystery, but through illumined souls… In the guru-disciple relationship a divine law is fulfilled, as demonstrated even in the life of Jesus, when he acknowledged John the Baptist as his guru. (‘There cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him’ – Matthew, 3:13-15)
‘When the disciple is ready, the teacher appears’ – is an old Zen saying. How to make ourselves the perfect disciple? Krishna had many women disciples but one favorite, Radha. All the other disciples became envious of Radha. Noticing their jealousy, Krishna one day feigned a headache. The anxious disciples expressed their great concern over the Master’s distress. At last Krishna said, “The headache will go away only if one of you will stand on my head and massage it with your feet.” The horrified disciples exclaimed, “We cannot do that! You are God, the Lord of the Universe. It would be the highest sacrilege to dare to desecrate your form by touching your sacred head with our feet!” The master was pretending an increase of his pain when Radha came on the scene. She ran to her lord, saying, “What can I do for you?” Krishna made the same request of her that he had made of the other disciples. Radha immediately stood on Krishna’s head; the master’s ‘pain’ disappeared, and he fell asleep. The other disciples angrily dragged Radha away from the sleeping form. “We will kill you,” they threatened. “But why?” asked a puzzled Radha. “You dare to step on the head of the Master!!” they screamed in outrage. Radha protested. “So what? Did it not free him from his pain?” The shocked disciples raged, “For such a sacrilegious act you will go to the lowest stratum of Hades!” Radha smiled – “Oh, is that what you are worrying about? I would gladly live there forever if it would make my master happy for a second’. Realizing her unconditional surrender to their master, the other disciples bowed down to Radha for they now understood that she alone from among them had retained no thought for herself but only for her Lord’s comfort. Indeed only such complete surrender to the Guru can lead us to the divine. But let us choose the one to whom we surrender with utmost care.
Ramakrishna Paramahansa retells the story of an earnest young lad who is taught by his guru that ‘God resides everywhere and in every one.’ Accepting the words of his guru fully, Govinda promises to see only God everywhere. Out in the village, a mad elephant begins to rampage the streets. The mahout sitting atop the mad elephant fails to control the berserk animal and screams orders to everyone to get away from its path. But Govinda, still full of his Guru’s advice, refuses to move – “Guru told us that everything is God. The elephant is also God. I am also God. Why should God fear God?” The unprotected lad is hurled across the road by the elephant. Deeply wounded the boy is carried back to his guru’s hermitage. His Guru asks him “Govinda! Why did you act so foolishly? Why did you not run away with the others?” Govinda replies – “But Master! Did you not teach us that everything is God? What is there to fear from God?” The Guru laughs and replies “Oh Govinda! No doubt the elephant is God. But the mahout also is God. Did not the mahout-God ask you to get out of the way? Why did you not listen to the mahout-God?” The young Govinda now understood the true meaning of his master’s advice – the inner reality is the same in everything. But there are differences in outer forms. Wisdom lies in understanding the one reality behind many appearances. In our search for our true Guru, let us not ignorantly misunderstand the message of the mad-elephant, which by virtue of its madness was indeed telling people to move out of its path. If the message seems unclear from that source, we should take the same message from the wise mahout who verbally urges us to move out of the mad-elephant’s way.
The Dalai Lama, in an interview on religious harmony said, “The table is filled with many dishes. Each man can choose the food that suits him best. Similarly all religions lead to the same goal. But they exist in various forms for the sake of variety…” Indeed the great gurus expect us to introspect and identify which teacher’s words best inspire and motivate us. But once the decision is taken and we have surrendered to our own guru, nothing should deviate us from that path.
Sri Paramahansa Yogananda writes “The blind cannot lead the blind; only a master, one who knows God, may rightly teach others about Him. To regain one’s divinity one must have such a master or Guru.” How do we identify our guru? Sri Yukteswar Giri writes, “If we listen to the dictates of our conscience and consult our natural liking, we will at once find that we favor those persons whose magnetism affects us harmoniously, who cool our system, internally invigorate our vitality, develop our natural love, and thus relieve us of our miseries and administer peace to us.” If that is the prescription for joyous company, how much more should we experience in the presence of our guru preceptor?
A true guru is one from whom we learn not only by verbal communication, but more through experiential wisdom. He remains connected with us even when he is physically not by our side. He is one who lives by his teachings, whose life remains a continuing inspiration. He never leads his disciples by saying, “I am better than you.” Indeed if even a hint of a ‘holier than thou’ attitude surfaces, be sure he is ego-involved with you. No true guru ever makes you feel inferior to him. He truly believes “You and I are the same in spirit.”
A disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda was asked to perform a task, which he considered beyond his ability. Therefore he protested to his guru that he could not do it. Paramahansaji’s response was quick and emphatic – “I can do it!” The disciple protested “But Gurudeva, you are Yogananda. You are one with God.” The disciple expected Paramahansaji to say, “Yes, you are right. Just take your time. Eventually you will succeed!” But Guru Paramahansa Yogananda replied, “There is only one difference between you and a Yogananda. I made the effort; now you have to make the effort!” A true guru doesn’t need to prove himself/herself superior by exposing the ignorance of his disciples. He sees the flaws and points them out to the receptive disciple but never dwells on those faults. On the contrary, he urges the disciple to dismiss his shortcomings from his mind and concentrate instead on cultivating or expressing the opposite good quality.
Exposing the ignorance or faults of one disciple to others, is not a trait of a guru. Every time we slip, the guru unobtrusively gives us his hand to lift us. Any disciplining is done directly on a person-to-person basis and never as a group exposition on one person’s shortcomings. If he seeks publicity for the so-called helping hand he stretches towards you, be sure his ego would soon publicize your faults in the present continuous long after you have overcome them yourself.
A true guru never ‘gives up’ on you. Sri Yukteswar Giri said to his disciple Paramahansa Yogananda “I will be your friend from now through eternity, no matter whether you are on the lowest mental plane or on the highest plane of wisdom. I will be your friend even if you should err, for then you will need my friendship more than at any other time”. The guru always remains by our side (not physically but spiritually and mentally), ever ready to give us a helping hand. He gives his disciples the opportunity to grow by asking questions. He never demands blind obedience though a true disciple obeys him faithfully and instinctively. A true guru doesn’t need to rebuke his disciples with egoistic words of knowing better than them, for he truly realizes that all situations arise because “God knows better than him” and that darkness is needed inorder to experience the light.
Paramahansa Yogananda narrates his life with his guru Sri Yukteswar Giri – I once left his (Sri Yukteswar’s) ashram thinking I could more successfully seek God in the Himalayas. I was mistaken and I soon knew I had done wrong. Yet when I came back, he treated me as if I had never left. His greeting was so casual; instead of rebuking me, he calmly remarked ‘let us see what we have to eat this morning’. I said, ‘But Master! Aren’t you angry with me for leaving?’ He replied ‘Why should I be? I do not expect anything from others, so their actions cannot be in opposition to wishes of mine. I would not use you for my own ends; I am happy only in your own true happiness.’ When he said that I fell at his feet and cried, ‘For the first time there is someone who truly loves me!’ When such divine love develops between the guru and disciple, the disciple has no desire to manipulate the master, nor does the master seek control of the disciple. The disciple bares his soul to the master, and the master bares his heart to the disciple.
Adi Shankara defines a guru thus “There is no comparison in the three worlds for a true guru. If the philosophers’ stone were assumed as truly such, it can only turn iron into gold, not into another philosophers’ stone. The venerated teacher, on the other hand, creates equality with himself in the disciple who takes refuge at his feet. The guru is therefore peerless – nay, transcendental.” Mere motivation can only convert human dross to golden hearts. But only a true guru is capable of elevating us to the status of his equal. He aims not to create earthy clones of his own self but rather helps each disciple to realize his/her inner self. Indeed such a guru is a divine gift from God and blessed are we who identify and unite our lives with our holy guru and his teachings.
Written by Gita Krishna Raj | Published in infinithoughts in September 2003