[This passage has been taken from a transcription of the lecture “What is a Guru” from the series titled “Yoga in Daily Life” by Pandit Usharbudh Arya, 1976. Usharbudh Arya became Swami Veda Bharati upon taking sanyas. It was previously published in the June 2017 edition of the AHYMSIN Newsletter.]
The word Guru is used in many, many different contexts in India. Nowadays anybody who teaches you anything is a Guruji. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which as you know is the most important text of the yoga philosophy, which is the bible of the yogis, says that God is the Guru of even the most ancient ones, of the earliest one. So it’s very confusing. You hear about all kinds of Gurus nowadays. You know my definition of a Guru in America? Anybody who can touch his nose to his toes advertises himself as a great Guru, great teacher. Is there some kind of a certification to make you a Guru? Maybe you can have a university degree or you can have some kind of test or you’re a dues paying member of the Guru association or something. What makes you a Guru? When The Beatles became disappointed with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, they said, “Well, in India a person becomes Guru by same process by which you become a popular rock band in the west. You develop a following.”
So what is a Guru and what is the test of being a Guru? What is all this Guru business anyway? It’s very difficult to start somewhere, to find somewhere to start the discussion on this subject. As I said the word is used in so many different contexts.
Sometimes it’s just an expression of respect. We are told in the tradition in the culture in which I was born that your mother is the first Guru, your father is the second Guru, your teacher is the third Guru, and your spiritual Master is the fourth Guru. Then there is a book called The Laws of Manu. The major ancient book of laws for the Indians, for India which says that one Guru equals ten paid teachers. A hundred Gurus equals one father and a hundred fathers equals one mother. So anywhere you derive wisdom from is Guru.
The Sanskrit word for a school was Gurukula, the Guru’s family, and the child’s education took place in Gurukula, in the Guru’s family. A child was sent between the age of five and eight to live with the Guru’s family out, away from civilization in the forest, in the hermitages. They have a special areas preserved, and those areas were so sacred an ashram. Those were places known as ashrams. Those places were so sacred that a king could not enter there but in a humble garb. He must not carry the signs and symbols of royalty with him when he enters an ashram. A police man must remove his badge getting there. No secular authority was allowed. No animal could kill another animal in those areas. No hunters, no trespassers. You could go there only with a very, very spiritual outlook. There was no taxation. Some of these ashrams were really great, became very great universities. In the fourth century B.C. for example the university of Taxila, or Taxshasheela, with twenty thousand resident students all free. Paid for by the state, yet the state had no say in deciding policy. Knowledge is above all. If there is one motto of the civilization in which I have grown up, for example, that is knowledge above all. Vidyayam amritam ashnutea, one gains immortality from wisdom, from knowledge.
So what was a Guru? Guru was a guide for a whole life. Even now you cannot say that everybody who claims to be a Guru is a supremely realized person, but he has some guidance to give. So while the ideal of a Guru is a great yogi who is fully self-realized and can guide people all the way, since there is such a shortage of such people in the world, there are so few of them, we have a problem. Everybody wants to be the disciple of the greatest realized person, but the unfortunate thing is that the greatest realized person too operating, working in the world, has some limitations placed on his time. So he cannot, let us say if there are fifteen fully realized people in the world and there are let us say three billion people, how can he guide everybody personally? And when Swami comes to town every one of the seven hundred initiates of the temple wants a half hour appointment with him, and it just doesn’t work that way. It just can’t work. So you have guides whom their followers, their students also honour as Guru but in matter of fact they are just Guru replacements, Guru substitutes. If you have walked a mile you can guide somebody who has walked only half a mile, but this person who has walked a mile is in need of guidance to walk five miles further. Now what happens in many cases is that since there are a large number of people, hundreds of thousands of people who have walked only half a mile, a person who can guide you one mile gathers a following of hundred thousand people. Says he’s a great Guru; he has hundreds of thousands of followers. But quite often the greatest yogi has very, very, few people with him because he lets the job of those people who have walked only half a mile, he leaves in the hands of others who will bring them to a mile, who will bring them to five miles, who will bring them to seven miles. Am I making myself clear?
Now a lot of these people nowadays walking around in the world claiming themselves to be Gurus have developed this great feeling. They feel that “I have hundreds of thousands of followers. I have beautiful magazines published in America. I can rent the biggest hall in the United States and jet my people over there so I am great and big!” We don’t measure a Guru in those terms. The tradition looks askance upon them.
Now let me explain to you the process of yoga initiations as much as I am permitted to explain because there are many things which to me may be very clear. To others they may seem like hallucination. That too is possible. Just as I may dismiss other people’s views as hallucinations it’s very natural for somebody to dismiss my views as hallucinations. So our tradition says give as much as people can take and then slowly let them develop and let them see for themselves what. There is a word in the yoga vocabulary, mental son, or mental child, or mental progeny. Just as a particle, an essence and particle of father and mother dropped somewhere becomes a physical offspring, so the theory goes in yoga, a drop, a fraction, a particle of the Guru’s mind drops somewhere becomes the disciple. All right, call it science fiction. If somehow you could take a part of your invisible mind, not your brain, invisible mind, all the essence of your mind power and put it in the head of the cow, what would that cow become? The cow would become your disciple and will be elevated to your level of being.
Ok, let’s take a different analogy. You have a field of energy. Its intensity is low, but there is some way, come control, some knobs with which the volume can be raised and it can be intensified. So that your life force and your consciousness force becomes more intensified. The field of a dying sick man is a very low volume, low intensity. His whole consciousness, his activity, his movement, his words, everything is feeble. If it were possible for you to put a little bit of your healthy mind, little bit of your field, intensity of your field, into him he would perk up. That’s the secret of spiritual healing.
So the higher initiations in yoga are that. The Guru is one in whom this field is very intense. In that person that focus of the great God, great Self, great energy, great Shakti, great supreme transcendental energy is very powerful. I have seen my Master take off his shawl and throw on somebody, just throw it on him and put him in higher state of consciousness just like that. You know the story of Christ and the robe? Who is touching my robe I see my power passing? That’s not a myth. It happens in the yoga tradition today.
Now so in a Guru that is a person who has become a man of high spirit. This force, the transcendental force of life, consciousness, awareness is heightened. He sees things you don’t see. He hears things you don’t hear. He feels things you don’t feel. He can extend that field to others like a magnet. What is a Guru? A magnet. What is a disciple? A few needles. So long as a lump of iron lays there it’s a lump of iron. The moment you bring the magnet close to it, it’s magnetized. Now this lump of iron now becomes a magnet and you bring another lump of iron near it now this magnetizes that and then that magnetizes that and that magnetizes that and this is the chain that we pay homage to when we say homage to the long tradition of Gurus. I used to teach yoga meditation before I met my Master. I just wasn’t effective. I knew all the theory. I knew all the texts you see. I could recite all the Sanskrit passages. I now give the same philosophy I gave then. The philosophy hasn’t changed but somehow I could not bring people to the path. Therefore, whatever I do, I say it’s not “I”. The chain of magnets does. There is something of his mind that has been passed into my mind. This is something that is very difficult to believe for an average person. I had my father who trained me in childhood so I did have the tradition of a different kind but I was looking for a Master. All my life I was looking. I’ll tell you that story another time.