About the Guru Shishya Tradition

Role of Guru in Sadhana

As with all Indian educational systems, more so with spiritual systems, it is essential to have a spiritual preceptor (Guru) who himself has tread this path and continues to strive to keep developing himself. Without such valuable guidance and control it is very easy to stray from the spiritual path especially in the formative years.

While we walk on this spiritual path it is very important to understand that to succeed we must use all the help that we can get. On one side is grace through the Guru and on the other is effort that is Yog. The Guru and grace are both alien concepts to the modern man, more so to westerners than to Indians, but there is a whole section of Indian society that does not understand them either. According to the Kashmir Shaiv philosophy god has five functions. These are creation, maintenance, destruction, projection and concealment (maya) and the fifth is grace. The Guru is this fifth function or god as grace. This grace needs to flow through a conscious vehicle so it chooses a person; this person is also called Guru. Grace is the actual transfer of spiritual energy, knowledge and techniques by the preceptor to the aspirant. A guru must not perform experiments on his students but must have undergone the sadhana himself and must have received authorization through his lineage and only then has a right to pass it on to an aspirant. He must also be able to control the process. The aspirant (shishya) on the other hand must dedicate himself/ herself to obeying all the Guru’s instructions especially the spiritual instructions. There are only two things that a spiritual aspirant can give to his Guru. These are to serve him with all his heart and some wealth in the form of doantions. Irrespective of what he does for the Guru or he gives the Guru yet it is always the Guru who does more. Water always flows from a higher level to the lower. Here one must clearly understand that this relationship is not a give and take relationship though at a surface level this may seem so. The connection between Guru and Shishya is a very deep one, at the level of the soul, and a connection between their hearts and minds. Since the Guru is at a higher level of consciousness he will always give more. In India, we say that there are three debts that can never be repaid. These are debt to the gods (Devas), to the Guru and to one’s parents. In a spiritual journey the contribution of the Guru to an aspirant’s development is eighty percent and self effort when done with full force is only twenty percent.

I feel there is a need to understand the tradition more deeply. The Guru’s task it not to hold his student in an Iron grip but to guide him/her to find his/her own self, to become realized. To some extent, it is like a protégé and mentor relationship, though actually it is much deeper than that. The Indian system allows a lot of space, choice and is quite flexible in many ways. There is much to be said on the Guru Shishya relationship which in all the Indian spiritual systems is a key ingredient to the success of the spiritual journey. (Read article--Guru Shishya Parampara written by this author). I must also point out that surrender by the student, to the Guru, obeying the Guru’s directions, doing one’s spiritual practices regularly, and in the case of the modern student- telling one’s Guru the truth and allowing him to thereby help the shishya to control the spiritual process are really important. I have also observed that many people believe that the Guru must know everything about them all by himself. But it will suffice to point out that in reality this does not happen always. Each individual must take up responsibility for him/her self and communicate some of his/her problems especially the spiritual ones so as to receive proper directions.

There are many reasons that a spiritual preceptor may not know what is happening with one of his students. It may have to do with the Guru’s own level of perfection. At least that is what most people like to believe. That may sometimes be the reason, but before you as a spiritual aspirant decide that, please ask yourself what is your own level of perfection as a spiritual aspirant. What have you done so far on the spiritual, mental, emotional, material, physical level to deserve a perfect Guru? The Guru has numerous students, is it really possible to know what is happening to all of them all the time? Should your Guru leave his own spiritual practices and spoon feed you? OR will you decide for yourself to be responsible and follow the given instructions?

The Guru is a real part of the process of your spiritual transformation, and can be looked upon as a catalyst to the whole process.
To sum up the process of transformation I will use an age old Indian saying “To make ornaments of gold one has to melt gold in fire, then is beaten to form an ornament and finally polished before it can be worn”. Such is the process of spiritual transformation.

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