A Guru-disciple connection is one of the most sacrosanct relationships, especially in the Eastern traditions, going back thousands of years. Every religion has this concept, such as the Prophets in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions. A Guru literally means ‘dispeller of darkness’. Traditionally a Guru is a person, but it need not be so. A Guru can also be in the form of right guidance that emanates from within, what is also called the voice of our conscience. However, it is easier to relate to a Guru in person, as the chatter of the mind drowns out the subtle suggestions of the conscience or the inner Guru. Furthermore, any message from the inner Guru is spoken only once. If we are not alert, the message is easily missed. It then ricochets through the mind and we hear several different versions colored by our logic, reasoning power and thoughts. A Guru in physical form embodies virtues such as patience and compassion and repeats his or her message till we get it. It then becomes a battle between the Guru’s message and our mind. When it comes to the mind, there are only two ways it can go. Either it comes under our control or we are under the control of the mind. Desires are the vehicles through which our self-mastery is ceded to the mind. Desires and the pursuit of them creates a veil of darkness through which we can neither see inwards nor see the pristine beauty of the world. Our awareness then becomes centered on the dark patches of unfulfilled desires in the mind.
The Guru removes this darkness within us. We don’t see it as such, because sensory experiences keep us busy with its own light. Only when we are forced to turn inward do we encounter an impenetrable veil. There are several reasons that make us turn within, the most important one is the thirst for happiness that the world cannot quench. The main motivator of pursuing sensory pleasures is this quest for happiness. Along with happiness that the external world brings us, there is hidden suffering which surfaces periodically during our lives. When we begin to understand that the real source of happiness is within and not through the objective world of the senses, the inward search starts. At this crucial step, the voice or advice of a Guru whether internal (conscience) or external (physical form) becomes indispensable. It forms the roadmap that gives us an idea of the destination.
A popular destination will have many ways to get there, be it by road, rail or air. People choose different modes of transportation depending on their personal preferences. But all of them eventually end up in the same place. A Guru in physical form guides us on the inner quest by imparting methods and lending spiritual energy as ‘food and fuel’ for the journey. Only a Guru who knows all the ins and outs of such as journey having been through that path many times before can guide us.
In this context, a Guru could be thought of as a vehicle such as a train. Our mind can be thought of as the baggage we carry on a journey. Once on the train, we set our bags down and the train takes the load of our baggage. When we ‘surrender’ ourselves and our luggage to the train, we have implicit faith that we will be taken to our destination. Similarly, a Guru takes the ‘load’ of our mind if we allow him or her to do so. Once we set the mind aside, there needs to be the same faith that one has in the driver of the train (we trust our lives with the driver who we never meet). We never question the train driver about his credentials or experience. If we can do so with a train driver, why not a Guru’s message?
We go to great lengths to plan a journey by studying and mapping out various routes on websites such as Tripadvisor.com, not to mention reading the experiences of others. However, for the inner journey we proceed blindly with no knowledge or advanced planning. When we journey by train, we patiently wait for hours knowing fully well we cannot get there instantly. But on the spiritual journey, which is far more challenging we desire instant results and seek the destination the moment we start putting in our efforts. Planning a spiritual journey involves, (at least in the initial stages) picking the right route (spiritual technique) and the driver (Guru) of the vehicle (our mind). By simply closing our eyes, the journey does not start. In the external journey, the senses are a great aid, but for the internal journey they are a huge hindrance. When we have not known any other method of experience other than through the senses, the struggle seems immense, especially when we turn inward. Although planning a journey is important, planning can only take us so far unless we take the first physical step on the journey. For the outer journey, it is physical movement. To begin the inner quest, it is physical stillness that is of paramount importance in the initial phases. This physical stillness is a metaphor for mental stillness. Only in a still mind, can the Guru’s message be seeded. When there is a terrible storm at a port, ships cannot dock. Similarly, in a stormy mind, the message of even the most accomplished Guru will be blown away.
Whether a Guru is in physical form, or formless as of the inner voice of conscience, the message is always the right one at the right time. They may not be the words we want to hear, but words of truth cannot be changed. It is easier to respond to an external message when the power of awareness has been considerably weakened by the pull of the mind. Just as poor eyesight can be corrected with spectacles, the ‘spectacles of reason’ can somewhat compensate for the weakened power of awareness that drifts from one thought to another. Through our reasoning power, we can bring our awareness back to the right path.
Everyone has had an experience of hearing the inner voice. It is always talking to us, guiding us. We seem to hear it, however faintly, on rare occasions. How do we hear this inner message without our ears? It happens through the power of awareness. Similarly, when we dream of wonderful imagery or consciously recreate visuals while closing our eyes, how do we see it without eyes? It is again through the power of awareness.
A Guru’s work is done when this inner awareness fully blossoms. We become one with everything and there is no physical barrier which limits that awareness. When the breath enters the body, we become one with life within the body and when breath leaves the body and enters the world we become one with the world. Such is the power of awareness. In this experience of oneness, there cannot be any distance between us and the Guru, whether internal or external. In this context, it is not possible to have more than one Guru.
Having multiple Gurus is like trying to travel to a city by road, air and rail at the same time. Just as that is not practically possible, it is also difficult to journey at the same time with many Gurus. For the inner journey, it is best to study first, examine next and finally pick the most suitable travel companion in the form of a Guru. There is so much air all around us, but only the air that enters our nostrils matters as it supports our life. Similarly, there are many teachings and techniques. But the one that matters is the one which constantly resonates all through our being just as blood reaches every cell of the body. We are born with a certain blood type and we must live with this blood type the rest of our lives. Similarly, once we start our inner journey with one path, that becomes our spiritual ‘blood type’. Just as we cannot change our blood type mid-way through our lives, once we commit to a spiritual path, it is not advisable to change it midway. Once spiritual consciousness takes birth in the form of bliss, the Guru (internal or external) that helped give birth to that experience of spiritual consciousness will remain with us forever as the subtle essence of bliss. In the state of bliss, the Guru becomes part of us just as blood is part of the body.
The state of bliss lights up our being from within. When the senses are active, we experience a form of darkness, that of ignorance of our own inner reality. When we close our eyes, and meditate, the darkness becomes starkly apparent. We appear to be stranded on an island between the inside and the outside. We can only travel out of this narrow place by setting awareness free from the mind. When this happens, the mind ‘lightens’ up revealing all its inner secrets. When we start to communicate with the mind rather than through the mind, many great things can be achieved. Setting awareness free is the essence of a Guru’s message. In that freedom of choiceless awareness, any attainment is possible. Our first action should be paying down our debt of gratitude to the world and the Guru through our contributions to the world we live in; big or small, material or spiritual, word or deed.