Seven Secrets of Meditation, Part 7: The Role of the Teacher
The Role of the Teacher
For meditators wanting to make very fast progress in their spiritual life, the last of the seven secrets of meditation is also the most important. This last step is usually taken when the others have been observed and developed – especially our sincerity and regularity of practice, the awakening of our aspiration, the resulting grace that effort always brings – and this secret also heralds the beginning of another wonderful chapter, a new velocity and clearer direction in our journey of self-discovery. The seventh secret is the discovery of our spiritual teacher and the transformative role he or she will play.
An illumined master or guru is someone who has attained God-realisation and offers this wisdom to others. Guru is a Sanskrit word meaning 'he who illumines', and a real guru is a bridge, a connecting link between man and God, earth and Heaven, our present reality and the full flowering of our future possibilities.
The guru is like an elevator operator – God is on the third floor and we are on the first floor and he can take us up to the third floor to meet God. "I am a broom" said Sri Ramakrishna in another analogy, likening the role of the master to sweeping away the debris that conceals our true nature.
What is the the role of the guru? Their task is to make us consciously aware of something vast and infinite and ever-free within ourselves, to reconnect us with our truest and highest Selves, which is nothing other than God Himself.
A real spiritual Master tries to bring to the fore the inner divinity of the disciple from deep within the disciple's heart. He knocks at the disciples heart-door and awakens the divine child in him, which we call the soul.
We spend the first two decades of our lives learning from others – parents, teachers, college instructors – since these know more than we about each of the many life-skills we must learn. Once our proficiency is established, we move on. In the spiritual life too, we need the guidance of those who have journeyed much further along the realisation-road than we have – without them our progress is uncertain and slow.
For millennia we have been swimming in the sea of ignorance. When we become awakened, we want to swim across that sea into the ocean of Light and Delight. If we know that there is a boatman, and that there is a boat which can safely carry us to our goal, then naturally we will try to get help from him. A genuine spiritual Master knows the way and is bound to help us reach the goal. Like a boatman, he will carry us to the other shore.
While a school teacher gives each pupil the same lesson, a spiritual master is more like a private tutor – he sees the student's individual capacity and propensities and will foster these. Each soul has it's own unique way of meditating, it's special qualities and a way forward that will enable very fast progress – this self-knowledge is usually unknown to us but very clear to a true master. Working with this insight he can help us to navigate our way forward quickly, clear away the inner blocks and obstacles and through many inner experiences show us what we have within, what we shall one day become.
When a master accepts a student or disciple, an inner bond is forged. The master promises God to take care of the disciple, not only in this lifetime but throughout the long journey to God-realisation, and also brings the soul to the fore, injecting light and aspiration into the awakening inner life. This inner process is called initiation and can occur in a number of different ways – through meditation; occultly or psychically; through an outer blessing or mantra.
When the Master initiates someone, he gives that person a portion of his life-breath. At the time of the initiation, the Guru makes a solemn promise to the individual seeker and to the Supreme that he will do his best to help the seeker in his spiritual life, that he will offer his heart and soul to take the disciple into the highest region of the Beyond [...] At the time of initiation, the Master actually takes on the disciples teeming imperfections, both from the present incarnation and from past incarnations [...] This flowering of the initiation is really more than initiation. It is the revelation of the disciples' own inner divinity. At that moment, they feel that they and their Guru have totally become one.
The path of a true master will be defined by a number of spiritual disciplines and lifestyle observances. Why are these necessary? Spiritual masters are like parents who deeply love their children – they want their children to realise their fullest potential, not lie in bed all day, develop bad habits and never blossom. The disciplines of a particular path create the optimum conditions in which the disciples can fully grow – just as the plant thrives in the sunlight, our spiritual life also blossoms in the right conditions. The requisites and recommendations of the master are not confining but liberating – here are the steps we must take, the negatives we must erase and the practices that will bring about our enlightenment.
If we cling to our limited notion of freedom – usually this is simply self-indulgence – and undervalue the true freedom of self-realisation (freedom from attachment, suffering, everything in our unillumined nature that limits us and prevents our full self-discovery) a spiritual path will be very difficult to follow. But when we know that we are not illumined or truly free, that all our life choices have failed to make us truly happy, and from this understanding comes an openness and willingness to take help from a path and a teacher, then we are ready. If we have become fossilized, unwilling to change or embrace a new way, then no teacher can help us.
In the West we are frightened of ‘commitment' and the imagined loss of our personal choices – but in accepting a spiritual path we should see this instead as an invitation to explore a new way forward, a new opportunity. Commitment grows slowly over time, even over years, as our understanding grows and our inner bond with the guru strengthens.
The Guru and the disciple must test each other sweetly, seriously and perfectly before their mutual acceptance. Otherwise, if they are wrong in their selection, the Guru will have to dance with failure and the disciple with perdition.
How to know which teacher is meant for us? We imagine that we must assess all the possible masters, make a rational choice based on all the available information. But in reality it is the path and the master that find us as we become ready – there may be an existing bond between disciple and master, or a natural predilection towards the yoga of a particular path, or inner factors about which our mind will almost certainly be unaware. It is the inner realities and affinities that determine our spiritual life at this level, not the limited comprehension of the mind. Here, heart' s feeling and intuition are more important than mental consideration. Our spiritual life is like a stream flowing down a mountainside – left alone it will find it' s way, but if blocked and checked by the impositions of the mind it will get diverted and slowed. Out of our sincerity, regular practice and growing aspiration our teacher will eventually come to find us.
There is no seeker on earth who will remain without a teacher if he is desperately in need of one. If his aspiration is intense, if his inner cry is constantly mounting, how can God remain asleep? It is God who has kindled the flame of aspiration in that particular seeker, and it is God who will bring a spiritual master to him or place him at the feet of a spiritual master.
You will know your guru when you meet him by the immediate joy you will feel – there are other genuine masters, but this guru gives you an immediate feeling of spontaneous joy. While the goal is one and the same, the paths leading to the goal are many – but it is a mistake to have more than one teacher, one path at the same time and will cause confusion. Each teacher has his or her own prescription and their one path is enough to take you to the top of the mountain.
In the West, having a spiritual master can sometimes attract cynicism or criticism. Do not be disturbed by this. Many challenges lie waiting to test our resolve, but our strength will slowly grow and the approval of others will cease to be important. Most spiritual masters themselves have been criticised during their lifetimes and the prejudices and misunderstandings of mankind are well documented – the life of Christ is an obvious example. These misunderstandings still exist today. Always trust in your own sincerity, make up your own mind and heart. To have reached a point in your evolution where you have become deeply interested in spirituality indicates that you are a very special person, with very good karma, even though you may not feel this about yourself.
Sri Chinmoy has a song-mantra, dak eseche bishwa prabhur dak – it means God is calling you, your hour has struck, a profoundly special time has come in your life. Have courage and determination and go forward with your teacher on the most wonderful and liberating journey of them all. It is the greatest good fortune that any seeker of the truth could ever have.
(All quotations on this page are drawn from Sri Chinmoy's book, The Master and the Disciple.)
- Our Path – by Sri Chinmoy
- The Role of the Guru> – by Jogyata Dallas
- Stories From The Path – by Jogyata Dallas
First-hand experiences of meditation and spirituality.
A Flame in my HeartAdesh Widmer Zurich, Switzerland
The day when everything beganBhagavantee Paul Salzburg, Austria
The happiest I've ever beenGabriele Settimi San Diego, United States
A 40-Year BlessingSarama Minoli New York, United States
President Gorbachev: a special soul brought down for a special reasonMridanga Spencer Ipswich, United Kingdom
Why run 3100 miles?Smarana Puntigam Vienna, Austria
The Swimming RelayToshala Elliott Auckland, New Zealand
No Fear, Only the Heart’s ConcernJogyata Dallas Auckland, New Zealand
The spiritual life is normal to meShankara Smith London, United Kingdom
My inner callingPurnakama Rajna Winnipeg, Canada
The first time we met our GuruKaivalya, Devashishu and Sahadeva Torpy London, England
The day I saw my Guru for the first timeNatabara Rollosson New York, United States
Your life's responsibilities compel you to develop inner strengthPradhan Balter Chicago, United States
interviews with Sri Chinmoy's students