The Role of a Guru in One’s Spiritual Search
Excerpts from the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda
The Role of a Guru
The Guru Gita (verse 17) aptly describes the guru as “dispeller of darkness” (from gu, “darkness” and ru, “that which dispels”). A true, God-illumined guru is one who, in his attainment of self-mastery, has realized his identity with the omnipresent Spirit. Such a one is uniquely qualified to lead the seeker on his or her inward journey toward perfection.
“The blind cannot lead the blind,” said Paramahansaji. “Only a master, one who knows God, may rightly teach others about Him. To regain one’s divinity one must have such a master or guru. He who faithfully follows a true guru becomes like him, for the guru helps to elevate the disciple to his own level of realization.”
The guru-disciple relationship is the highest expression of friendship, for it is based on unconditional divine love and wisdom. It is the loftiest and most sacred of all relationships. Christ and his disciples were all one in spirit, as are my master [Swami Sri Yukteswar] and I and those who are in tune with me, because of the common bond of God’s divine love....One who partakes of this relationship is on the way to wisdom and freedom.
For success in the divine search, as in every other aspect of life, it is necessary to follow God’s laws. To understand the secular knowledge available in a school, you have to learn from a teacher who knows it. So also to understand spiritual truths it is necessary to have a spiritual teacher, or guru, one who knows God.
When you are moving blindly through the valley of life, stumbling in darkness, you need the help of someone who has eyes. You need a guru. To follow one who is enlightened is the only way out of the great muddle that has been created in the world. I never found true happiness and freedom until I met my Guru, he who was spiritually interested in me and who had the wisdom to guide me.
Within your heart cry constantly for God. When you have convinced the Lord of your desire for Him, He will send someone — your guru — to teach you how to know Him. Only he who knows God can show others how to know Him. When I found such a one, my guru Swami Sri Yukteswarji, I realized that God doesn’t teach through mystery, but through illumined souls. God is invisible, but He becomes visible through the intelligence and spiritual perception of one who is in constant communion with Him. There may be many teachers in one’s life, but there is only one guru. In the guru-disciple relationship a divine law is fulfilled, as demonstrated even in the life of Jesus, when he acknowledged John the Baptist as his guru.
He alone who is God-realized, and who has been commanded by God to redeem souls, is a guru. One cannot be a guru merely by thinking he is. Jesus showed that the true guru acts solely at God’s behest, when he said: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” He gave all credit to the power of God. If a teacher is without egotism, you may know that God alone resides in his body temple; and when you tune in with him you are in tune with God. Jesus reminded his disciples: “Whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but Him that sent me.”
The teacher who accepts personally the adoration of others is merely a worshiper of his own ego. To find out whether a path is true, discriminate according to what sort of teacher is behind it, whether his actions show that he is led by God, or by his own ego. A leader who has no realization cannot show you the kingdom of God, no matter how large his following. All churches have done good, but blind belief in religious dogma keeps people spiritually ignorant and stagnant. Many times I have seen vast congregations singing God’s name, but God was as far away from their consciousness as the distant stars. No one can be saved just by attending church. The real way to freedom lies in Yoga, in scientific self-analysis, and in following one who has traversed the forest of theology and can lead you safely to God.
A Living Embodiment of Truth
Such a guru, ordained by God to help individuals in response to their deep prayers, is not an ordinary teacher; but is a human vehicle whose body, speech, mind, and spirituality God uses as a channel to attract and guide lost souls back to His home of immortality. We meet various teachers in the beginning, through our vague desire to know truth. But a guru is a living embodiment of scriptural truth and an agent of salvation appointed by God in response to a devotee’s incessant petitions for release from the bondage of matter.
Delusion is destroyed by good company, by the company of saints, and by devotion to the messengers of God. Even the thought of saints will help you to remove delusion. It is not personal association so much as attunement of thought with the messenger of God that destroys delusion. The true guru has no desire to place himself in the hearts of others, but rather to awaken in their consciousness the consciousness of God. Master [Swami Sri Yukteswar] was like that: he was one with us — never any show of his greatness. If anyone in the ashram wanted recognition or a high seat of authority, Master would give him that position. But I wanted the heart of Master, the divine consciousness he had within; and as a result, he is forever here in my heart. That is the attunement you want with the great ones.
My Master said to me: “I will be your friend from now through eternity, no matter whether you are on the lowest mental plane or on the highest plane of wisdom. I will be your friend even if you should err, for then you will need my friendship more than at any other time.”
When I accepted my Master’s unconditional friendship, he said: “Will you give me the same unconditional love?” He gazed at me with childlike trust.
“I will love you eternally, Gurudeva!”
“Ordinary love is selfish, darkly rooted in desires and satisfactions. Divine love is without condition, without boundary, without change. The flux of the human heart is gone forever at the transfixing touch of pure love.” He added humbly, “If ever you find me falling from a state of God-realization, please promise to put my head on your lap and help to bring me back to the Cosmic Beloved we both worship.”
It was only after we had made this spiritual pact that I began to understand fully the significance of a guru to a disciple. I never found complete satisfaction, comfort, and God contact until I attuned myself with unconditional loyalty and devotion to the divine consciousness of my Guru.
The Best of Givers
To the world God speaks only through His enlightened devotees. Therefore, the wisest of all actions is to tune in with the will of the guru who is sent to you by the Lord as a response to your soul’s desire. He is not a guru who is self-proclaimed as such; he is a guru who is asked by God to bring others back to Him. When there is a little spiritual desire, the Lord sends books and teachers to further inspire you; and when your desire is stronger, he sends a real guru....
There are teachers who expect their followers to be always at their beck and call, ready to obey instantly; and if they don’t, the teacher becomes angry. But a spiritual teacher who knows God and is truly a guru never thinks of himself as a teacher at all. He beholds God’s presence in everyone, and feels no resentment if some students disregard his wishes. The Hindu scriptures say that those who tune in with the wisdom of a true guru make it possible for the guru to help them. “Comprehending that (the wisdom from a guru), thou, O Arjuna! wilt not again fall into delusion.”
The friendship that exists between guru and disciple is eternal. There is complete surrender, there is no compulsion, when a disciple accepts the guru’s training.
I can think of no relationship in this world greater than that which I had with my Master. The guru-disciple relationship is love in its supreme form. I once left his ashram, thinking I could more successfully seek God in the Himalayas. I was mistaken; and I soon knew I had done wrong. Yet when I came back, he treated me as if I had never left. His greeting was so casual; instead of rebuking me, he calmly remarked, “Let us see what we have to eat this morning.”
“But Master,” I said, “aren’t you angry with me for leaving?”
“Why should I be?” he replied. “I do not expect anything from others, so their actions cannot be in opposition to wishes of mine. I would not use you for my own ends; I am happy only in your own true happiness.”
When he said that, I fell at his feet and cried, “For the first time there is someone who truly loves me!”...
Even though I ran away from the ashram to seek God, his love for me remained unchanged. He didn’t even rebuke me....I had never imagined anyone could be so interested in me. He loved me for myself. He wanted perfection for me. He wanted me to be supremely happy. That was his happiness. He wanted me to know God; to be with the Divine Mother for whom my heart longed.
Was that not divine love he expressed? to wish constantly to guide me in the path of goodness and love? When that love is developed between the guru and disciple, the disciple has no desire to manipulate the master, nor does the master seek control of the disciple. Supreme reason and judgment govern their relationship; there is no love like this. And I tasted of that love from my Master.
The guru is the awakened God, awakening the sleeping God in the disciple. Through sympathy and deep vision, a true guru sees the Lord suffering in the physically, mentally, and spiritually poor, and that is why he feels it his joyous duty to assist them. He tries to feed the hungry God in the destitute, to stir the sleeping God in the ignorant, to love the unconscious God in the enemy, and to waken the half asleep God in the yearning devotee. And by a gentle touch of love, he instantaneously arouses the almost fully awakened God in the advanced seeker. The guru is, among all men, the best of givers. Like the Lord Himself, his generosity knows no boundaries.
The Guru’s Promise
Those who have come to Self-Realization Fellowship truly seeking inward spiritual help shall receive what they seek from God. Whether they come while I am in the body, or afterward, the power of God through the link of the SRF Gurus shall flow into the devotees just the same, and shall be the cause of their salvation....
All devotees who are regular and faithful in their practice of SRF teachings shall find that their lives become purified and transformed. In their persistence and steadiness, true devotees of this path shall find emancipation. Implicit in the SRF techniques and teachings are the help and blessings of the SRF line of gurus. Devotees who conduct their lives according to SRF principles will be blessed with the hidden and open direction of the SRF line of gurus. The ever-living Babaji has promised to guard and guide the progress of all sincere SRF devotees. Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswarji, who have left their physical forms, and I myself, even after I have left the body — all will ever protect and direct the sincere members of SRF/YSS.
God has sent you to me, and I shall never fail you....Even when I am gone, my help will always be given to devotees all over the world, if they keep in tune. Never think for a moment that when I am physically absent from you all, I am not otherwise with you. I shall be just as deeply concerned for your spiritual welfare when I am no longer in this body as I am now. I shall always be watching over each one of you, and whenever a true devotee thinks of me in the silent depths of his soul, he will know that I am near.
- “The Guru: Guide to Spiritual Freedom,” Finding the Joy Within You by Sri Daya Mata
- The Guru: Messenger of Truth, audio recording by Sri Mrinalini Mata
- The Importance of a True Guru, audio recording by Brother Anandamoy
- “Letters on the Guru-Disciple Relationship,” God Alone: The Life and Letters of a Saint, by Sri Gyanamata