The Guru-Disciple Relationship — Part 3

The Role of a Guru

A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist working in France asked me about my research regarding the Guru-disciple relationship. I gave him a short summary about what all I had done. Interestingly, though the idea of the Divine or That Absolute, whatever we choose to call It, was not a problem for him, he did have major issues with grasping the notion of a human Guru and why would someone choose to surrender himself to another human being. He just did not seem to comprehend why a human Guru was given as much importance as the Divine.

I do understand his scepticism and unease. Firstly, there have been more than enough examples of so called Gurus who have mislead their disciples, broken their trust, deceived them. India is full of such incidents. Secondly, to surrender oneself to another human being, to trust completely whatever he says and obey all that he commands can be a very dangerous prospect. Most fundamentalists operate in this same manner. So where do you draw the line between blind, dogmatic fundamentalism and conscious self-giving? And more importantly what is the role of a real Guru, why is he needed at all?

I found some of my answers in the conversations I had with the various disciples I had interviewed (see my blog 1). According to them the Guru plays the following five roles in their life:

  1. He himself becomes an example and influence.
  2. He provides the onus, the environment and encouragement to begin the journey of self-discovery.
  3. He provides the right guidance on this journey.
  4. He removes various obstacles from this journey.
  5. He finally leads you to your own inner Guru.

The first and foremost role a Guru plays in the life of a disciple is that of being an example and an influence. His life and works in their entirety serve as the best example of the hidden possibilities that lie ahead in the life of the disciple. It is by observing and discovering the various facets of the Guru that the disciple is inspired to take up the journey of self-discovery. The Guru on the other hand reveals to the disciple the highest aspirations and possibilities that secretly await their manifestation in him. A.B Purani in his book Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, gives a very pragmatic reason behind why a disciple seeks a Guru. He says,

Greatness is magnetic and in a sense contagious. Wherever manifested, greatness is claimed by humanity as something that reveals the possibility of the race. The highest utility of greatness is not merely to attract us but to inspire us to follow it and rise to our own highest spiritual stature. To the majority of men Truth remains abstract, impersonal and far unless it is seen and felt concretely in a human personality. A man never knows a truth actively except through a person and by embodying it in his personality.” pp. 6-7

The Guru by living out himself this eternal Truth provides a lasting and powerful influence on the disciple.

The Guru also provides the much-needed onus and encouragement to begin the journey of self-discovery. Most of us are too busy living our surface, day-to-day life to ever really think about all that happens in the inner half of our being. Who of us has seriously decided to take up the journey of finding our true Selves? It is only when painful and challenging circumstances in life steer our attention to the hidden dimension of our being that we sometimes start looking for the strength and joy within. But mostly we tread along unconsciously on our life’s path. Whereas, with the help of a Guru, a disciple consciously begins to discover himself. The Guru creates an environment wherein the search for the Self becomes the priority, there is nothing more important in life than going within. And on the other hand it is the love and respect that the disciple feels for his Guru that push him further on this inner adventure. It becomes the central purpose of the disciple’s life. The Guru provides the conviction that life and the world have a much deeper purpose and then himself becomes an inspiration for the disciple to discover this purpose.

One of the most important role of the Guru is that of being a guide. I remember one of the disciples explained it in the following way, “Imagine you are in an unknown forest and you have lost your way. You don’t know anymore your way out and then even the footprints of an animal or the song of a bird or a flowing stream can help you find your way back. Similarly anyone who shows us the way is our Guru.” He also added that in life there is nothing right or wrong just a long way and a short one and the Guru takes you by the shortest way available. According to the disciples the guidance of the Guru comes in all aspects of their life. So whether it is the unfolding of the next phase in their sadhana or a decision to be made in their outer life or an instruction to be given for work, the Guru’s directions are always available. It is his constant support and guidance that gives life the much-needed clarity and purpose. But the Guru’s biggest role as a guide is that he can lead the disciple to his deepest Self and help him find the eternal source of peace and happiness. I remember one of the disciples expressed this in the following way, “The role of the Guru is to attract you in the first place in his net and then teach you how to fly out.”

Another important role of the Guru is that he provides concrete help in the inner and outer workings of the disciple’s life. The help comes not only to overcome the various challenges and difficulties faced in life but to also support and assist the many phases of their spiritual growth. All the disciples that I spoke to shared their experiences regarding the power of the consciousness of their Guru that constantly presided over their life. They spoke about the silent and invisible transference of strength and love from their Guru to them that allowed all adversity to melt away. Swami Yogananda expresses this inner power of the Guru in the following passage from the book “Autobiography of a Yogi.” He says,

An indescribable peace blossomed within me at the master’s glance. I was permeated with his fragrance, as though from a lotus of infinity. To be with him, even without exchanging a word for days, was experience which changed my entire being. If any visible barrier rose in the path of my concentration, I would meditate at the guru’s feet. There the most tenuous states came easily within my grasp. Such perceptions eluded me in the presence of lesser teachers. The master was a living temple of God, whose secret doors were open to all disciples through devotion.

The final role of the Guru is to lead the disciple to find his own true identity — whether it is the inner Guru or the transcendent Divine or the manifested Krishna. At the end there is no place for the human Guru, for the disciple has discovered the most secret of secrets, that of locating That One Self in and behind all creation.

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