WHY THE GURU IS NECESSARY
(SRI SWAMI ATMASWARUPANANDA)
Perhaps the most important relationship in the spiritual life, especially in the Vedic tradition, is the relationship with the Guru. Most devotees do recognise the need of a Guru, although some question it. They say, “Can I not learn from the scriptures, from books, lectures, tapes, videos, discussions? Do I really need a Guru?”
In a sense, no one can say that anything is absolutely necessary, but even at a physical level we need teachers. Does a person really learn how to cook without seeing someone else prepare food? A cookbook may be a great help, but there is no substitute for actually watching someone else. And so it is in the spiritual life, which is the subtlest of the subtle and the most difficult attainment of all. We need someone to explain the inner meaning of the spiritual life, because ultimately it is something that goes beyond words. It is about something that no one can describe; they can actually only point towards it or demonstrate it. Even Gurudev, who wrote so many books, would finally point towards himself if a certain type of question was asked.
Thus, our relationship to the Guru is meant to go beyond hearing, watching, worship and even emulation. The reason is that even emulation may not change us too much fundamentally. Why? Because the essence of the human being is wanting to keep control of his or her own life. The essence of ego or separation is: I will serve, I will give, I will bow down, I will emulate, but I will keep control of my own life. Therefore, Gurudev constantly warned: “Obedience is better than reverence.”
We have to understand the difference between being a devotee and being a disciple. A devotee can give everything, but a disciple gives him or herself. A disciple means someone who is under discipline. It means that we give up that which is most central to us, which is our will. Our will becomes only to do the Guru’s will, which eventually is meant to lead us to a “Not my will, but Thy will” relationship to the Divine.
Pujya Swami Chidanandaji has taught us much about the Guru-disciple relationship. One morning he said, “The only purpose of the Guru is to get rid of the ego of the disciple.” Ego in this sense meaning not only our negative qualities, but specifically our self-will. He continued, “If the disciple understands this—and longs for it—then the relationship clicks. Otherwise, it does not.” In other words, we may feel we have a relationship to the Guru, but from the Guru’s point of view, for that relationship to click the disciple has to understand that it is based upon getting rid of his ego—and the disciple must long for it.
The question then arises, what if a living Guru is not available? Pujya Swamiji has often said that Gurudev’s Universal Prayer, Twenty Important Spiritual Instructions and Sadhana Tattva are Gurudev to him. He has also said, “Obey the teachings.” If we study Gurudev’s Twenty Important Spiritual Instructions, and endeavour to obey them, we will find many things that our egos do not want to do. Obeying the instructions becomes a way of wearing away our ego. Another way is to offer our obedience to the Guru’s successor, even though he or she may be junior to us.
These are all methods of getting rid of our separate will—and training us to do God’s will—which from one point of view is what the spiritual life is finally all about.