|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 491 ]
"Few follow the path of goodness, and even fewer reach the goal. Those who have followed this path and can show others how to follow it, are spiritual heroes. Those who desire to follow this path of the good and wish to be taught, are also spiritual heroes. [However], one cannot follow the path of the good through logic and reason alone. A teacher in whom one can place complete trust must show the way. Else the attractions of the ‘path of pleasure’ will delude the seeker."
~ KATHA UPANISHAD
Probably one of the most used and abused of the Sanskrit words in contemporary culture is guru. Its utterance may still invoke images of an old Indian man with a white beard and saffron robe in a regal meditative posture atop a majestic Himalayan outcropping.
This guru of lore was the keeper of a repository of mysterious secrets of the universe, who offered shelter and guidance to those willing to walk the arduous path to self-awareness. This is the one who has united his lower being to the Higher Self -- the one who, on the threshold of nirvana, liberation from this worldly existence, voluntarily renounces that privilege in order to guide others to the gates of freedom. In the traditional sense, the word guru was reserved solely for this highest spiritual teacher of humanity.
The term guru itself means "remover of darkness," or "one who guides from darkness to light." These 'illuminators of truth' belong to no particular creed or sect, culture or philosophy, and world history has born witness to many of these great souls. Throughout the ages they have been the guides and guardians of mankind, drawing the devoted and sincere aspirants of truth and understanding under their gracious wings.
Nowadays, however, the word guru is used quite loosely, often as a mere substitute for the word 'teacher' in a variety of fields and situations. In the West we have certainly seen a real perversion of this term, with guru entering the realm of pop-culture in numerous ways -- the self-help gurus, the investment gurus, the relationship gurus, and of course the self-proclaimed spiritual gurus representing a dazzling array of ideologies, approaches and teachings. It is little wonder that the average person today regards this title of guru with a measured cynicism.
The Need for Guidance
I read a recent advertisement from a so-called yoga school in America, which proclaimed that "you do not need a guru." This was a troubling assertion to me. The notion that one has no use for a guru for higher understanding is reflective of the typical ignorance that surrounds yoga and spirituality today. The Western mind (and increasingly the Eastern one as well), struggles with the notion of authority. It values 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' above and beyond all, and to feel in any way subjugated to the will of another is considered demeaning and insulting.
Thus, we rebel against our parents, we rebel against our teachers and our institutions, our government, and even our religions. By the time one has reached adulthood, they have gathered a firm hold upon their sense of 'independence' and freedom from the dictates of all others -- society and state. This attitudinal character -- the pride of independence -- is valued and protected perhaps above and beyond all else that the modern man/woman possesses.
So the automatic, subconscious response often is to view the guru as such an authority figure, with the same negative associations from one's past, instead of seeing the guru for what they rightly are -- one who, through their infinite love and compassion, selflessly offers his/her guidance for the understanding and growth of others.
Indeed, sometimes this guidance is not pleasant and can be difficult to follow. On the path to wisdom, the sadhaka is forced to take a frank and often painful look into the mirror of truth. In Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahamsa Yogananda made these very same observations of many of the students of his guru, Sri Yukteshwar:
"Students came and generally went. Those who craved an easy path, that of instant sympathy and comforting recognitions of one’s merits, did not find it at the hermitage. Master offered his disciples shelter and shepherds for the aeons, but many students miserly demanded ego-balm as well. They departed, preferring before any humility, life’s countless humiliations… Sri Yukteshwar’s… wisdom was too powerful for their spiritual sickness. They sought some lesser teacher, who, shading them with flattery, permitted the fitful sleep of ignorance…
… The disclosure of Divine insight is often painful to worldly ears. (The) master was not popular with superficial students. The wise, always few in numbers, deeply revered him. "
The one who has gone far on the path of yoga is quite familiar with the problems and realities of the inner life. He/she has come to understand, through experience, that the mere possession of 'academic intelligence' and 'worldly experience' is insufficient for this kind of work; because spiritual unfolding takes place on planes which are beyond the scope of the psychic faculties...
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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