There is, somewhere in the scriptures of India, an image of a very large lake to which, every 5,000 years, a bird flies and carries off a single drop of water in its beak.
It is said that the length of time it takes for the bird to empty the lake does not even begin to describe the eternity of lives it takes for a human being to achieve his ultimate destiny, which is to become Self-realised, to establish his final oneness with God.
For many the thought of such an immense journey through endless cycles of suffering and experience is a depressing one – but there are two consoling comments to be made. For those who are consciously aspiring towards that final goal the lake is already almost empty, that long journey largely behind them; and then there is in each age and century a small number of guides who, having made the journey themselves, have come back to help us. They inspire us, remind us of our true destiny and purpose and awaken our longing and aspiration. This is the role of the Guru.
In the West there is often resistance to the idea of having a guru, but the presence in one's life of a living teacher is an immense opportunity and privilege. The guru accomplishes many things for us, accelerating our progress and shortening the time till our own realisation by many incarnations. Consider some of his or her functions:
In accepting a disciple the guru undertakes the responsibility of leading that soul to God, and becomes one's 'eternity's friend'. My own guru Sri Chinmoy writes: "I wish to say that once you become a disciple and enter into my boat, then it is the problem of the boatman to take you to the golden shore. When I accept a disciple I concentrate on his soul and give the soul some inner meditation. I bring the soul forward and then the soul actually meditates in and through the seeker – in this way the disciple is bound to receive my inner instruction."
Every morning between 2am-6am this master meditates on all of his disciples around the world – guiding each one individually, specifically. "When I meditate on my disciples, I motivate and inspire each individual according to his acceptance of me and according to his capacity to receive and manifest the light that I am giving him."
Other masters of this century have also stressed the importance of meditation as the access bridge between themselves and their disciples, and stressed that no matter how far away physically they may be, they know their disciple's thoughts, feelings and consciousness. Referring to disciples in other parts of the world Sri Chinmoy writes that when a person concentrates on him, "immediately one of my inner beings or emanations comes to me and brings it to the attention of my physical mind. I may not know the name of the person, I may never have seen him in this life, but his soul comes to me and brings the face and physical form of the person right in front of me..."
And then further on: "Whether you are meditating in your master's physical presence or somewhere else is unimportant. No matter where you are, if you meditate soulfully you are bound to get his inner guidance. And this inner guidance, which is his inner oneness with you, will last forever and forever."
In this form of bhakti yoga the disciple meditates with his guru or on a photograph of his guru in order to tune in with that higher level of consciousness – this attunement is an essential part of discipleship. At the same time this attunement and devotion is impersonal, directed towards the guru's universal state of awareness and the qualities of that level of attainment rather than towards any human personality. When a God-realised spiritual Master enters into his highest consciousness, he is one with the Divinity within him. The human individual is entirely merged with God. To identify with this highest meditation of the master is to have a direct experience of the consciousness which is the goal of one's own inner search. This is not meditation on a human individual, but rather meditation on the Divine Consciousness, which is using the human as an instrument to reveal itself.
Acknowledging his role as a mere instrument, the guru steers devotion away from himself towards God – while in comprehending that God-Realisation actually means oneness with God, the disciple strives to please his Guru, for his guru's approval is therefore also God's approval.
The acceleration that takes place in one's spiritual progress through the presence of the guru also means a karmic speeding-up, an intensification of all aspects of one's life – a cleansing, but sometimes difficult process whose benefits may await you beyond the limits of your current understanding.
My own extended visits with my guru, although occasions of great joy, have also precipitated all kinds of confrontations with the negative qualities inherent in human nature. These conflicts are an essential part of spiritual regeneration and their intensification offers an important opportunity to make rapid progress. The Guru has a catalytic effect in this way, for whatever negative characteristics we have repressed because they do not conform to our conscious ideal of ourselves, are surely and swiftly brought to our attention, to be faced and finally transcended.
The removal of these karmic fetters seems to be aided in many diverse ways by different masters – sometimes occultly or through physical contact or blessing; through food, even, or in the case of one master, Shirdi Sai Baba, by continuously handling small coins that his disciples had owned, extracting the negative condition from his devotees into himself. In India too, one sometimes sees devotees touching a guru's feet with their heads: in her biography of Meher Baba, Jean Adriel describes this as 'laying upon him the burden of their samskaras – those subtle impressions of thought, emotion and action, which bind the individual soul to recurrent earthly lives'.
Surrender and Obedience
For most Westerners surrender and obedience are two major stumbling blocks on the path of devotional yoga: to non-disciples the mere thought of an unconditional devotion to another person is abhorrent. We cherish our notion of freedom – even while knowing that our freedom is really only self-indulgence. But `real freedom `__ is something much higher, a freedom from suffering, attachment, ignorance and a life guided not by the pursuit of pleasure but by the very soul itself. And spiritual surrender, too, is not the surrender of a slave to the master, but a process of attunement with our own highest Self, our own Divinity, of which the guru is an outward representation. It is the human form which he must take that stands in the way of our recognition.
In relinquishing his own desires and cravings and surrendering his egoic self, the disciple is not surrendering to another limited finite ego, but to an embodiment of infinite truth, compassion and love, whose only motive is the disciples realisation. "I have to help you," Sri Chinmoy once said, "to serve mankind is the only reason I am here on earth." And so the master leads his disciples through ever deepening levels of understanding and love until finally, no trace of ego remains. "When the ego disappears", writes one teacher "there arises the knowledge of the True Self; one's consciousness is then that of the eternal and infinite 'I am,' in which there is no separateness, and which includes all life."
It is said that one incarnation spent with one's guru is equal to a multitude of incarnations of normal progress. His presence awakens our soul's longing for its creator so that all other worldly attachments are consumed in the wake of this one ascending urge to know God. The guru is the inspirer who reminds us of our real destiny, and who awakens the vast storehouse of energy and dedication that normally lies dormant within. As the agent of our transformation his call to perfection is drastic and uncompromising. He gives direction to this striving, kindling our aspiration again and again and pointing always to the farthest horizon. "Our goal," my teacher writes, "is always to go beyond, beyond, beyond. There are no limits to our capacity because we each have the infinite Divine within us."
In each age the guru comes to make man aware of his divinity, to free man from his bondage and to lift him to a higher plane of being. The disciples effort in transcending and purifying his own nature is not confined to a passive and stoic endurance of challenges encountered with his guru, but extends actively into every area of his life – meditation, service, every aspect of his existence is his sadhana. He comes to welcome difficulties as a reflection of his own attachments or expectations, and learns not to cling, to let go of these parts of himself. He begins to realise that his life is really an extended workshop on God-Realisation, and that every hardship or problem simply presents him with another opportunity to achieve progress through surrender and desirelessness. His life becomes a meditation in action, increasingly centred in the consciousness that is growing within him. His guru's own compassion and detachment is taking root in his heart. This is the karma yoga of the Bhagavad Gita when Sri Krishna urges Arjuna to , 'Do what you do but dedicate the fruits of your action to me.' Sri Krishna's words to Arjuna are the words of every Realised spiritual master to his disciples and sum up the thrilling and immortal promise each guru makes...
Lord Krishna to Arjuna...
"Give Me your whole heart, sacrifice all for Me,
Bow to Me only, and you shall find Me.
This is My promise who loves you so dearly.
Give up then thy earthly duties,
Surrender thyself to Me only.
Do not be anxious;
I will absolve thee from all thy sin."
– from the Bhagavad Gita.