Of Gurus, shishyas and the Satguru
Updated: May 21
Let’s begin with this beautiful track of a Kabir song about the Satya guru sung soulfully by one of my favourite singers Channulal Mishra from Kashi. The song expresses much of what I learnt from my own Satguru, who among other qualities awakened in me an awareness of divinity in the daily activities of ordinary life and ignited a joy within not dependent on external circumstances. The song begins with a couplet awaring us of a false guru and goes on to explain the role of the Satguru. You can let the song play as you read the rest of this post 🙂
That guru is called True (music track)
When I first started this article it was going to be only about the Satguru and the Guru but I then realised that without the shishya who gazes upon them this would be an incomplete effort. So here I am eschewing upon a most difficult topic and wondering why I am even attempting this since I will probably open myself to more flak than appreciation. But when has that ever stopped me from saying what I feel. And as usual I write from my own experiences and inference and anyone is welcome to disagree.
For the purpose of this article I am going to use the word Satguru for true spiritual guru and guru for a teacher or acharya and shishya for student or disciple and seeker. I am purposely not using the word follower here as for me this implies a ‘blind’ faith in the person or path being tread, a pack mentality- sheeple as they are addressed now, lacking what is called, the vivek buddhi or power of discernment.
The coming of the Satguru in a disciple’s life is akin to the meteorite falling on earth that ended the age of the dinosaurs giving the Earth an evolutionary boost. The arrival brings to an end the dinosaurian mindset in the disciple ushering a new beginning. Dinosaurian here refers not only to a conditioned and atrophied mindset but also to the intellectual knowledge collected over years of study. Shams crashed into Rumi’s life reducing all his bookish knowledge to naught. The vibration of the Satguru is such that it transforms the disciple, sometimes at first meeting. There are many such examples, Yukteswar Giri and Yogananada, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda*.
English language has no appropriate word for Satguru. Popularly the word Master is used in its stead, but the word ‘master’ in all its nuances does not come close to explaining Satguru as understood in the spiritual context. Though I have used the word master, for want of a better word in English, for the title of my book One Master one disciple, it does not inspire me. For me the word master immediately brings to mind an autocratic figure wielding control over his slave disciples, which a true spiritual guru definitely does not do.
In earlier times it was common to address spiritual satgurus with the simpler guru. It indicated a person exhibiting the attributes of a Satguru even though not addressed as one, for example Guru Gorakhnath who is at the level of a deity! And Sikh guru’s, Nanak to Gobind, though referred to as Guru many of them exhibited the characteristics of the Satguru, i.e. the ability to transform by their mere presence the disciple, one of the principal quality of the Satguru who does not ‘do’ anything but by merely ‘being’ sparks in the seeker an inner light of divinity. Some of the great gurus did not even use a prefix or a suffix such as Kabir, Lalla, Lahiri, yet they were recognised by the then present as shining in the light of the divine.
One key quality to note in a Satguru is that their goal is the expansion of the awareness of the disciple, to disengage them from the external and move them inwards. A true spiritual guru is not an advisor for daily living…getting a job, having a good relationship, making money, doing well in class etc.
The paradoxes on the spiritual path become suddenly clear to the disciple after contact with the Satguru, arousing a knowingness of the universe by connecting with its blueprint within. The paradox that going with the flow gives control of one’s life, the disciple who drowns in the ocean of divinity is the one who actually gets to the other side rather than the one swimming on the surface. Jo ubhra so doob gaya jo dooba so paar!!
The Satguru awakens the disciple to the inner wellspring of joy enabling the disciple to become love and radiate love. All this the Satguru can do by mere presence. A technique or practice may be given to relax the grip of the disciples mind and the transformation is initiated.
The external physical Satguru introduces the disciple to the inner essential Satguru. A true spiritual Guru does not become the disciples crutch rather the Satguru guides the disciple to become self reliant. Physical proximity, after a while can reduce as the Satguru can, at will, contact the disciple who is receptive thousands of miles away. I have had this experience, as I am sure, have others.
*(Interestingly, most popular examples i could find or give from the past are of male gurus and their male disciples. Is it patriarchy that effaced the names of the women saints or were they themselves not interested in leaving behind a hierarchy. Not saying there were none, there are many examples of women Rishis but Meera, Lalla, many female ascetics from South India established no organised sect or religions, seemingly satisfied with their own connection to divinity and radiating it. There are scant mention of their key disciples. Similarly most pictures I found were also rendition of male gurus with male disciples. This trend has changed in recent times since the likes of Anandamoyee Ma. Hmn, this would be a topic of another more in-depth study…or not. )
Today the word Guru is often used more loosely to mean an expert in any particular field. So we have the management gurus, IT and tech gurus and even the love guru. They are well read and have “mastered” their subjects. The word guru in the present context for me means a teacher who throws light on the subject under study. In India anyone who teaches us anything, be it music, dance or sports is accorded the status of a guru, starting from our parents who are considered the first guru.
While the satguru is associated only with the spiritual field the guru or teacher can be from any field. But here we are turning the lens on gurus of the spiritual path so will focus on them.
The Satguru, by nature, lets the pure light of the Divine flow through without corruption and transforms the disciple; the Guru, on the other hand, teaches, fine tunes and perfects the technique given for practice by the Satguru to the disciple. The more clarity the Guru has in passing on the teachings sincerely, the more the benefit to the student. Depending on the lineage, the Guru guides the student in mantra or tantra, in yog or its specialised branches. The teacher inspires the student by living and naturally exhibiting the qualities that are the result of the practice, love courage, joy and peace, siddhis if that’s what’s being taught. In short by example and walking the path the teacher shows the way to the student.
Since the Guru is also evolving he/she is vulnerable to the pitfalls of human passions and emotions and can be easily influenced by Ego and Ahamkar. Most gurus fall prey to the adulations of their students, some of whom can and do praise sincerely or sycophantically. Greed for money and fame being another of the hazard the teacher watches out for. Therefore the Guru needs to be constantly in connect with the light of the Satguru. In the path of yoga, be in sync with the yama and niyamas. The swadhyaya -self study, turning the lens inwards, being a very important tenet for teachers on the spiritual path of guiding seekers, keeps the teacher realistic and away from delusions of being a satguru or profess taking on the role of the satguru.
Now wherein in all this does the shishya or pupil fit in?
In the clear gaze of the shishya the image of the Satguru and the Guru is reflected back giving them an unadulterated view of themselves. The Satguru shines in the sky like the sun radiating life, neither needing nor wanting, but the moment the shishya’s gaze turns upwards an enriching connection is formed, a connection of Love, in that exchange of love, the disciple flowers and the Satguru accomplishes the evolution of another soul.
In the case of the teacher, whats a teacher without the taught. Though the guru may be releasing a fragrance of knowledge and information like a flowering tree but its the sincere student who is drawn to partake of it, completing and complementing the role of that teacher to distribute knowledge.
The shishya, according to me, has the most difficult of roles in this trio – to recognise a satguru from a guru, a charlatan guru from a sincere one. Especially as both the Satguru and the Guru can physically appear the same. In fact the Guru often being still in the ego looks and behaves more pious than the Satguru who is more natural and whose aim is to shake and wake up the disciple. Contrarily a Guru might take on a role like a Satguru might, a zen master, being rude and harsh. Now the shishya has to sift this through the lens of his/her own discretion and recognise the sincere teacher and distinguish him or her from a Satguru!
A very difficult task indeed sometimes learnt after trial and error by the seeker, over many lives! One cannot base this identification on the number of disciples an existing Satguru has or the popularity of an organisation, here the seeker might just end up being a “follower”, similarly discovering an ascetic hidden in a cave in the Himalayas also does not guarantee a genuine satguru. The seeker to ‘see’ the Satguru needs an unbiased clear sight uncorrupted by conditioning.
Well I wish good luck to all such seekers.
Doodled some early morning musings that i found interesting and you might too.
Explaining the doodle, at the bottom we have the pool of creation that includes everything that is created- the whole universe. Here we focus on the pool of humanity from which come the seekers of many hues. Those that seek actively for a spiritual true living Guru or just a teacher of philosophies, yoga, spiritual techniques. Seekers who are entrenched in religions of their choice, following customs, traditions, religious functions. Seekers not seeking anything, happy or not in the trammels of daily life and seekers seeking material and external happiness. From this pool come the disciples and students.
Some find a teacher who leads them to a Satguru, others find the Satguru directly or vice versa the Satguru finds them. Some Satguru’s connect with a deity- Shiva and his rays Gorakh, Hanuman; Vishnu and his avatars, Ram, Krishna, Buddha; Shakti, the Mahavidyas, Kaali, Durga. These beings, for me being extra terrestrial and cosmic beings are in human form only because they are appearing on earth, on another galaxy they will appear like the locals! Some Seekers and Satguru’s might directly connect with the Infinite Ocean of consciousness, but usually even the most advanced and avataric beings have a physical guru/satguru and or diety, the reason for this I still have to figure out.
The infinite Ocean of consciousness is called by my Satguru Yogiraj Siddhanath as the Isness of the zero, not-zero who’s centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere. His poetry says it all:
वहां ध्यान न स्थान न नाद न बिंद, आकाश नहीं वहां काल कहाँ सब शून्य अशून्य का हैपन है, ईश्वर भी निरंकार वहां – योगिराज सिद्धनाथ
Between these two pools all drama is being played. And the wonder of this infinite consciousness being within us and discoverable is exquisite. The Satguru leads us back here effortlessly supporting us.