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Defining and Honoring the Timeless Path of Guru and Disciple

by Babaji Bob Kindler

In this day and age, Guruyoga — the path to enlightenment via taking refuge in an illumined soul — is unpopular. There are those rare ones who recognize and dedicate themselves to the few authentic luminaries who selflessly and sincerely serve God in mankind, but more plentiful are those who are involved with pseudo-guru’s who are interested only in building organizations and amassing wealth. For the sincere and the sedulous, to think of freeing the mind from its self-imposed bondage of various misconceptions, its abundant supply of recurring desires, wayward fantasies and fond but futile imaginations, what to speak of its onerous store of karmas and samskaras without assistance from a spiritual adept is itself unthinkable. Grace and self-effort must go hand in hand. Serious aspirants for attainment of nondual Awareness, the “Pearl of Great Price,” must take guidance from an illumined soul. Guru represents what is transcendent of mere salvation, what is referred to as spiritual emancipation — the realization of one’s innate freedom.

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, a nityasiddha, or perfect soul, has stated: “The soul can only receive impulses through another soul, and from nothing else.” Elucidating further on this point, this sovereign of swamis declared: “To quicken the spirit, the impulse must come from another soul. The person from whose soul such impulse comes is called the Guru.” Expanding the conventional concept of spiritual teacher, he revealed the vast scope underlying the very principle of Guru: “Get the mercy of God and of His greatest children; these are the two chief ways to God. The company of these children of light is very hard to get; five minutes in their company will change a whole life, and if you really want it enough it will come to you. The presence of those who love God makes a place holy, ‘such is the glory of the children of the Lord.’ They are He; and when they speak, their words are scriptures.”

One could go on and on glorifying the eternal principle of Guru, and Swami Vivekananda often did. But not content to merely laud and praise, Swamiji also taught the art of distinction between the true luminary and the charlatan, the authentic adept and the pharisaical pretender: “The real Guru is the one through whom we have our spiritual descent. He is the channel through which the spiritual current flows to us, the link which joins us to the spiritual world.” Regarding the status of the preceptor and the valued transmission of Guruyoga, Swamiji explained: “There is nothing higher and holier than the knowledge which comes to the soul transmitted by the spiritual teacher.” Finally, and frankly, regarding fakes and quacks, he was blunt: “There are many who, though immersed in ignorance, yet, in the pride of their hearts, fancy they know everything, and do not stop there, but offer to take others on their shoulders; and thus the blind leading the blind, both fall into the ditch. The world is full of these. Every one wants to be a teacher, every beggar wants to make a gift of a million dollars! Just as these beggars are ridiculous, so are these teachers.”

These powerful words from a great soul like Swami Vivekananda should act to awaken us to the importance of spiritual transmission, which in turn should prompt us to seek out an adept preceptor for spiritual instruction conducive to our highest good. According to Sri Ramakrishna, this is the purpose for our life, for life lived in ignorance of our true Self is not life at all but an ultimately futile exercise in loss and gain, further attended by the painful processes of birth, growth, disease, decay, old age and death. What is more, short of any positive impulses coming from the Guru, what is implanted in the mind due to this kind of life are hundreds of negative impulses that serve to “drag from birth to death and death to birth the soul,” to quote Swamiji further. An ever-recurring transmigrating mental complex replete with enough desire-seeds to birth an impenetrable tangle of lifetimes in ignorance is the undesirable result. Thus, the poet-sage, Ramprasad Sen, sings: “Cut through this vexing maze with the fiery Name of ‘Kali, Kali, Kali’ and be free!” For this most favorable end, the wise Guru, Kali’s own child, is indispensible.

Guruyoga is an ancient principle founded upon the bedrock of direct experience and the emanation of nondual Mother Wisdom. Its sturdy, superlative basis I call “The Fivefold Foundation,” and consists of Guru Parampara, Paropakara, Guru Sadhana, Avidya Vinashana, and Lokasangraha — maintaining the teachings and integrity of a lineage, serving God in aspiring and suffering humanity, uncovering and pointing out the path to union with God, removal of ignorance from the collective and individual mind, and healing and uplifting an ailing world with salubrious spirituality. These five alone host a number of special subdivisions such as protecting universal dharma, awakening qualified beings to spirituality, imparting teachings to sincere aspirants, initiating devotees with the sacred mantra, teaching self-surrender, providing places of worship for the devotees, offering encouragement and guidance in the study of the scriptures, revealing access to true wisdom, affording essential instruction in the art of meditation, exemplifying steadiness amidst the world’s vicissitudes, helping sadhikas to destroy false misconceptions, convincing embodied beings of the dangers and limitations of relative existence, breaking the individual soul’s chains of birth and death in ignorance, impressing upon the minds of living beings the importance of discrimination and detachment, demonstrating how to live a divine life, showing how to integrate all thoughts and activities in love of God, and revealing the four states of abidance in Nondual Reality — to name a few. With this as a partial list, how is it possible to overlook or underestimate the power, purpose and plenitude of Guruyoga?


The Fivefold Foundation of Guruyoga

1) Maintaining the Integrity of a Lineage (Guru-parampara)
a) Transmitting the teachings (Guru-shishya-shruta-prajna)
b) Preserving the dharma (Sarvadharma-sthapana)
c) Awakening spirituality in humanity (Shakti-sanchara)
d) Maintaining sacred teachings (Anushasana-shastra)
e) Initiation into spiritual life (Mantra-diksha)
2) Service to Humanity (Paropakara)
a) Wisdom Sacrifice (Jnana-yajna)
b) Providing places of study (Vidya-ashrama)
c) Holy company (Satsangha)
d) Access to Revealed Scriptures (Shruti-darshana)
3) Exemplifying Union with God (Guru-Yoga)
a) Knowledge of the Mind (Guru-sadhana)
b) Upholding spiritual standards (Dharma-sthapana)
c) Meditating on the Essence (Chaitanya-dhyan)
d) Maintaining steady Wisdom (Sthiti-prajnasya)
4) Removal of Ignorance (Avidya-vinashana)
a) Destroying false conceptions (Bhrantidarshana-vinashana
b) Revealing the dangers of duality (Dvandva-mohena)
c) Removing desire complexes (Vashana-samskara)
d) Breaking chains of birth and death (Samsara-vinashana)
5) The Upliftment of the World (Lokasangraha)
a) Espousing the eternal nature of Reality (Brahmajnana)
b) Teaching discrimination/detachment (Viveka-vairagya)
c) Thoughts and actions in Love (Premabhakti-jnana)
d) The 4 states of divine abidance (Brahmaviharavada)


In addition to the Fivefold Foundation and its concomitants, Guruyoga also presents and explicates the science of qualification applicable to both guru and disciple. For example, the guru must be Trividyacharya — an adept of the three prime elements of the ancient ashrama. He must have mastered a science, excelled in his personal disciplines, and show proficiency in a field of learning while being able to transmit the essence of it to others. Three additional noble qualities should be his: realization of Brahman, motivation to remove the sufferings of others, and strength of body combined with purity of the mind and senses. This strength and purity he will place in expert service of God in mankind. Additionally, Yogacharya is another of the guru’s qualifications, meaning that mastery in all the important Yogas — Bhakti, Jnana, Karma, and Raja — should be his, as well as attainment in the more esoteric yogas such as Buddhi Yoga, Asparsha Yoga, Nirudyoga Yoga and Kundalini Yoga. With all this in mind, it is no wonder that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa declares: “Many need a guru. But a man must have faith in the guru’s words. That one succeeds in spiritual life by looking on his guru as God Himself. It is Satchitananda that comes to us in the form of the guru. If a man is initiated by a human guru, he will not achieve anything if he regards his guru as a mere man. The guru should be regarded as the direct manifestation of God. Only then can the disciple have faith in the mantra given by the guru.”


Guru’s Pathway to Perfection

  1. Kapata: Deception – as to one’s true nature
  2. Buddhi-vyapara: Reception – to higher mind/intellect
  3. Abhina: Recollection – of one’s true nature
  4. Nirupana: Inspection – of the real and the unreal
  5. Tyaga: Rejection – of the unreal
  6. Artha-bhavana: Reflection – on life’s true meaning
  7. Upalabdhi: Perception – of higher knowledge
  8. Brahma-chintana: Introspection – on Divine Reality
  9. Samyagdarshana: Perfection – abiding in the Self

Epitomizing the best of the radiant road to realization called Guruyoga, the guru has his own prescription for spiritual awakening, and this he lavishes on the apt and avid student. This is no easy path, and neither does the guru put on kid gloves when administering its prerequisites and practices. Deception, reception, recollection, inspection, rejection, reflection, perception, introspection and perfection — this is the sequence placed in operation and overseen by the adept guru. Deception in the mind gets loosened by reception — openness to the acidic effects of hearing the Truth. This openness allows for initial recollection of one’s true nature which in turn allows for deeper inspection of Reality and relativity. Rejection of what is unreal or insubstantial occurs next, giving rise and pause for profound reflection on the true meaning of life and existence. Heightened insight, or perception, follows thereafter giving rise to a deep-rooted desire to meditate on Reality, Dhyana, the path of introspection. This culminates in realization of the innate perfection of the Atman — the highest nondual Reality. This nine-tiered process transforms every sadhaka who strives for transcendence of dualities, freedom from suffering, the destruction of ignorance and the attainment of union with the Divine. The guru stands back and confidently witnesses the soul’s return to equipoise and equanimity once again. It is like releasing a homing pigeon from captivity in a pen, and observing as it unerringly courses its way homeward.

Guruyoga, then, is a salient and sempiternal pathway to Brahman which confers upon lineage-holders the grace and subtle power of Divine Reality. In keeping with this amazing fact, it proffers a detailed list of the many excellent qualities of the guru. These are rarely found outside of spiritual circles and even then attend only upon the most sedulous and enlightened of beings. A short list would include such remarkable attributes as integration of heart and mind, patience that knows no bounds, single-mindedness in thought and action, inwardness of vision, absolute control over mind and its emotions, composure impervious to problems and dualities, wisdom beyond logic and intuition, freedom from agency and the results of work, a retentive memory which remembers all inherent divine traits, continual alertness and wakefulness (the “insomnia of Yoga”), knowledge of the Self, the world, and the spiritual Source, recognition of the divinity underlying all things, knowledge of the past, present and future, freedom from embodiment and the ability to embody by choice, clear and proper conclusion regarding the knowledge of the scriptures, perfect realization, and more. Even the presence of one of these magnificent qualities in an individual would make him or her worthy of respect, but the Guru — by design of the Divine Mother of the Universe — holds them all, by degrees or in full measure, and thus warrants our heartfelt reverence.


Some Salutary Qualities of the Guru

  1. Driti – Infinite patience
  2. Hrydayamanasa – Unified heart and mind
  3. Ananyata – Singlemindedness in thought and action
  4. Antarmukha-vriti – Inwardly-oriented mind
  5. Yataman – Complete control
  6. Samatva – Absolute steadiness through austerities
  7. Buddhehparatah – Fully developed intuition
  8. Karmaphalatyaga – Freedom from motivated works
  9. Smriti-shuddha – Pure mind and perfect memory
  10. Utsaha – Constant wakefulness
  11. Shandilya-vidya – Comprehensive view
  12. Upaya-pratyaya – Attainment of enlightenment
  13. Pratyabhijna – Divine recognition
  14. Sakshatkara – Perfect realization
  15. Trikaladarshi – Knower of the three phases of time
  16. Urdhvaretoyogi – Master of sublimation
  17. Tadyatma – Perception beyond the body condition
  18. Purnakama – Supremely fulfilled and free of karmas
  19. Siddhantavakhyashravana – Conclusive insight

The guru is a murderer, for he systematically kills all that the ego thrives upon, putting it to death as well, but only at the appropriate time, at the auspicious moment. Essentially, he is destroying what is already dead, what is insentient, but which has been given an illusory life due to the delusion of the individual and collective mind. This significant demise of delusion culminates in the proverbial resurrection — the classic coming together and merging of the teacher and disciple in Brahman. Oneness, commonly spoken about but seldom achieved, is realized. As the Zen Masters say, “Daishi” — at some time the student must “die” on the meditation cushion. Along with well-guided, well-intentioned self-effort, then, training from an illumined soul is necessary. As Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa expresses it, “If a man in the form of a guru awakens spiritual consciousness in you, then know for certain that it is God the Absolute who has assumed that human form for your sake. The guru is like a companion that leads you by the hand.” And finding the guru is not so hard as people imagine: “It is a mysterious law of nature, that as soon as the field is ready, the seed must come, as soon as the soul wants religion, the transmitter of religious force must come.”

In Guruyoga — different forms of which are common to all traditions — impeding mental impressions are destroyed, despondency is put on the run, destructive thoughtforms are obliterated, mental distraction is equalized, contrary thoughts and views are removed, falsehood and deception find their end, gaps in the mind’s awareness are filled in, and even refined mind is purged of its subtle inhibiting tendencies — all to facilitate the descent of nondual Awareness with its gifts of peace, wisdom, truth, love, freedom. Even doubt and fear, the mind’s most persistent assailants, die away, rendering the mind to be “no mind,” its field and periphery revealed as vast and boundless.


Some dangerous mental tendencies destroyed by Guruyoga

  1. Samskaraskandha – Mental complexes
  2. Vishada – Despondency, depression, dejection
  3. Vitarkas – Destructive thoughts
  4. Manorajya – Unfocused mind, drifting mind
  5. Vijatiya-vritti – Contrary and turbulent thoughts
  6. Shushna – Falsehood and deceit
  7. Chanchala – Inconsistent thinking
  8. Kashaya – Subtle attachment to pleasure

Critics of Guruyoga point out its dangers. That they do means that the subject of their various diatribes is not the true Guru. They are looking at pretentious posers — pretenders to the throne. Moreover, these dangers really exist predominantly in the minds of said critics themselves. They also help to form the procrastination of the complacent and justify the enjoyments of the pleasure-seekers. In the “doubting Thomas,” for instance, if arrogance, jealousy, pride, resistance, inadvertence and the like were effectively done away with by preliminary practice and austerity early on, the distinction between the true teacher and the fake would be clear to begin with. And, regarding the outright ill-wishers, they only stew in a homemade broth of denial and complaint, “barking like village dogs on the heels of an elephant,” to quote Sri Ramakrishna. So, whereas some have been duped and damaged by “false prophets” greatly due to their own blindness, others just lack the subtle insight or the determination to follow the spiritual path for more than a few months, despite any antecedent commitment to the ideal.

The problem of false teachers, apparently false teachers, and short-sighted students which plagues the path of Guruyoga is put into clearer perspective by certain profound teachings found in the revealed scriptures. In the Avadhuta Gita, Dattatreya states wonderfully “Of the teacher — even if he be young, illiterate, or apparently addicted to the enjoyment of the sense objects, even if he be a servant or a householder — none of these should be considered. Does anyone shun a gem fallen in an impure place? In such a case one should not consider even the quality of scholarship. A worthy person should recognize only the essence. Does not a boat, though devoid of vermillion paint, nevertheless ferry passengers?”

Milarepa, the wandering writer of divine hymns in the mountains of Tibet, also notes the mind’s tendency to find fault — even in these most critical situations involving luminaries: “When you accompany your guru, do not look upon his merits and demerits, else you will find mountains of faults. Only with faith and loyalty will you find your way.” And further: “When you give service to your guru, refrain from thinking, ‘I am the one who works, he is the one who enjoys.’ Should you have this kind of feeling, quarrel and discord will certainly follow and your wish for enlightenment can never be fulfilled.” Thus, the entire matter rests upon the presence of imperfections in one’s own mind. One sees everything through the distortions of these. As Sri Ramakrishna says, “If one puts on glasses with yellow lenses, everything will turn yellow.” This is why Christ declared, “Before removing the mote of dust from the eye of another, remove the beam of wood from thine own eye.”

The definitive measure regarding the authentic Guru has been given to us by Adishankaracharya, the great Advaitin. Akamahata, Avrijina, Shrotriya, and Brahmavittama — if your guru has these four qualities, that is, desires only for your enlightenment, lives a pure and simple life, can transmit to you the essence of the scriptures, and is a knower of Brahman — then you may fall at those hallowed feet in devout supplication. Following this formula without compromise, none should go astray. Applying this formula to the host of potential gurus, all frauds and fallacies should be revealed. The Great Master concurs: “Everyone will surely be liberated. But one must follow the instructions of the guru; if one follows a devious path and teacher, one will suffer in trying to retrace one’s steps. It takes a long time to achieve liberation. A man may fail to obtain it in this life. Perhaps he will realize God only after many births.”


Attainments and Qualifications of the Guru

Trividham Pramanam – Guru’s Proof and Testimony
a) Anubhava – Direct Perception of Reality
b) Yukti – Inference and reason
c) Shruti – Authority of the Scriptures
Trividyacharya – Adept of the ancient ashrama
a) Vidya-snataka – master of a spiritual science
b) Vrata-snataka – master of a spiritual discipline
c) Vidya-vrat-snataka – master of science and discipline
Apta – Preceptor possessing the three noble qualities
a) Tattva Darshana – Realization of Reality
b) Karunya – Motivation to remove suffering
c) Karana Patava – Strength and Expertise
Triyogacharya – Master of the three rare yogas
a) Buddhi Yoga – Perfection of mind and intellect
b) Asparsha Yoga – Master of witness consciousness
c) Nirudyoga – Constant union with Brahman
Acharyachatushtaya – Holder of the four qualifications
a) Akamahata – Devoid of personal desires
b) Shotriya – Knows the essence of the scriptures
c) Avrijina – Leads a pure and stainless life
d) Brahmavittama – Is a knower of Brahman
Purnayogi – The consummate luminary
a) Avyavahara – Free of worldly concerns and desires
b) Prapti-prapya – Fully satisfied in the Self
c) Nirdvandva – Beyond gunas and dualities

The Guru, rightly seen, is God in human form. Obversely, the Guru, wrongly beheld, or mistakenly evaluated, is an open doorway to the land of lost souls. Swami Vivekananda informs us, “Too much faith in personality has a tendency to produce weakness and idolatry, but intense love for the Guru makes rapid growth possible.” Thakur Sri Ramakrishna adds His salutary advice as well, declaring the age-old allurements of pleasure, power and profit to be the culprits: “People with a little occult power gain such things as name and fame. Many of them want to follow the profession of guru, gain people’s recognition, and make disciples and devotees. These beings turn the profession of teacher into that of a prostitute. It is the selling of oneself for the trifle of money, honor and creature comforts.” This is a huge problem in the world today. Thousands flock to such beings and their organizations, all the while imagining them to be spiritually oriented when they are not much more than a sideshow for demonstrating occult powers and a marketplace for the selling of religious wares.

The true blessings of spiritual life, then, must not be overlooked or allowed to become tarnished in any way. One of the ills of organized, formalized religion in the West is that the guru/disciple relationship has never received the strong footing it deserves. Instead, the church has taken its place. This absence in spiritual life of the one-on-one communion of teacher and student, the presence of which is seen in every other aspect of our society, has robbed us of divine potential, stifled our souls, and rendered religion helpless to save or inform us. As a result, our sense of reverence and worship has been distorted by being obtusely mixed with and directed towards politics, business and sports. We falsely worship the powerful, the successful and the musclebound, forgetting God. Thus, Swami Vivekananda states, “The mind takes up various objects, runs into all sorts of things. That is the lower state. There is a higher state, when it takes up one subject, and excludes all others, of which samadhi is the result.” With all this in mind, relevant to both the spiritual and terrestrial realms, he also stated, “Every system that weakens the mind, makes one superstitious, makes one mope, makes one desire all sorts of wild impossibilities, mysteries and superstitions, I do not like, because its effect is dangerous. Such systems never bring any good; such things create morbidity in the mind, make it weak, so weak that in the course of time it will be almost impossible to receive truth or live up to it.”

Guruyoga introduces the sincere and aspiring mind to authentic spirituality. Wherever beings congregate, it will ever be a subject of contemplation. And related topics will be legion — Brahman, Ishvara, sadhana, maya, etc. The knowers of Brahman will talk about nondual Reality, the devotees will focus on Ishvara. Aspirants will discuss sadhana, and the worldly will talk about their suffering. But all must and will be exposed to that which duly and deftly transforms human nature into an image of pure Spirit — the touch of the master’s hand.

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