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Guru and Divine Grace

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  • Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
    From the book: Sacred Journey: Living Purposefully and Dying Gracefully by Swami Rama ISBN 8188157007 Published for the Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust by
    Message 1 of 1 , May 10, 2005
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      From the book:
      Sacred Journey: Living Purposefully and Dying Gracefully
      by Swami Rama
      ISBN 8188157007
      Published for the Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust
      by Lotus Press


      In the effort to understand life and approach death meaningfully,
      vairagya [non-attachment] and abhyasa [practices] are the
      responsibility of the seeker. When these two are truly undertaken,
      another help follows. That help comes in the form of guru and grace,
      each linked to the other, each so beautiful and comforting, each so
      powerful. Unfortunately, each is so frequently misunderstood.

      Western culture, which has increasingly welcomed and embraced
      traditions from the East in the last thirty years, has too often
      understood guru to mean simply a teacher. In the West guru is
      frequently considered to be merely someone who is trained in
      philosophy, meditation, and hatha yoga. From this point of view, the
      guru is expected to share this knowledge with the students, training
      them in scriptures and various spiritual disciplines. While the
      western student may become dependent on the teacher and have high
      expectations about what the teacher should do on behalf of the
      student, the guru is nonetheless viewed as a teacher only.

      In ancient times students received formal education in guru-kulas.
      The students lived with their guru from an early age and were given
      not only instruction on an intellectual level, but also were guided
      in spiritual development and in the maintenance of physical health.
      The guru had a very close relationship with the students and knew
      their habits and level of inner strength.

      In today's life there is no spiritual environment in which a seeker
      can fully concentrate on learning the language of silence in order to
      find inner fulfillment. It is very difficult for the student not to
      be distracted by the temptations of the external world. Modern
      education focuses on memorizing facts of the external world, and
      ignores the growth and development of the inner being. The guru-kula
      system of ancient times is not practical in today's world, but a more
      holistic approach to education can be adopted. Such an approach
      emphasizes spiritual growth along with the development of the
      intellectual aspects of the mind, and also includes guidance in how
      to maintain the fitness and health of the physical body. In the
      eastern tradition guru is much more than a teacher. He or she
      represents the special energy that is guiding individuals toward
      their fulfillment as human beings, toward perfection. Grace is the
      impulse of that energy.

      The word guru is a compound of two words, gu and ru. Gu means
      darkness and ru means light. That which dispels the darkness of
      ignorance is called guru. The energy and action of removing darkness
      are guru. Guru is not a person, it is a force driven by grace.

      To put this another way, there is an intelligent momentum that
      pervades the universe that is moving all human beings toward the
      perfection we call God. Guru is that intelligence. Everyone's
      receptivity to that intelligence varies. It depends on preparation,
      which includes the development of vairagya or nonattachment, and
      abhyasa or practice. In other words, guru is always there, but the
      student may not be ready to receive what the guru has to offer. When
      the student is prepared, the guru always arrives to help the student
      do what is necessary to progress in removing the veil of ignorance.
      It is said that when the wick and oil are properly prepared, the
      master lights the lamp.

      Guru is not a person, but guru can be represented in a person. One
      who has developed his or her own spiritual awareness to a very high
      level can guide others, and is considered to be guru. Only one who is
      finely attuned to the inner guide can inspire the awakening of the
      inner guide in another. Guru is not a physical being. If a guru
      begins thinking this power is her or his own, then they are no longer
      a guide. The guru is a tradition, a stream of knowledge.

      In India guru is a sacred word that is used with reverence and is
      always associated with the highest wisdom. The guru is unique in a
      person's life. The relationship between disciple and guru is like no
      other relationship. It is said that guru is not mother, father, son,
      or daughter. The guru is not a friend in any conventional sense. It
      also is sometimes said that the guru is father, mother, son,
      daughter, and friend all in one; the guru is sun and moon, sky and
      earth to the disciple.

      The truth is that the relationship of guru to disciple is
      indescribable. The relationship extends to the realm beyond the
      world, transcends death, and stretches far beyond the limited karmic
      bonds associated with family and friends. A mother and father help
      sustain the body of their child, and nurture and guide the child
      through the formative years of life to adulthood. Guru sustains,
      nurtures, and guides a soul through lifetimes to ultimate liberation.

      The relationship with the guru is based on the purest form of
      unconditional love. There is complete openness with the guru. The
      disciple should hold nothing back from the guru. This is why in the
      tradition, a student goes to the guru and offers a bundle of sticks
      to burn. The bundle symbolizes that everything the disciple has is
      offered unconditionally to the guru. Everything is offered to the
      guru so the guru can do the work of shaping the student spiritually.
      The disciple comes with full faith and entrusts his whole life to the
      guru. The guru takes that life and chops it and burns what is not
      necessary, and then carefully carves what remains into something

      In this chopping and burning, the guru is merciless. The guru's job
      is not to hold hands with the disciple and wipe away tears, but to
      cut into pieces the disciple's ego and all that stands between the
      disciple and freedom. The guru does not allow dependence. If the
      disciple becomes too dependent on the guru, the guru pushes the
      disciple away, insisting on independence. It is a remarkable
      expression of the deepest love.

      To be on a spiritual path with a guru is not an easy thing. It is not
      pleasant. The guru tests the disciples, puts them in the most
      difficult situations, and creates obstacles for them. All the tests,
      difficulties, and obstacles are meant to train and expand the
      consciousness of the disciple.

      That is the sole work of the guru. The guru wants nothing from the
      disciple. Guru is that force moving a soul toward enlightenment. The
      guru's actions are from pure compassion. As the sun shines and lives
      far above, the guru gives spiritual love and remains unattached.

      Guru is a channel for spiritual knowledge. Jesus repeatedly reminded
      his disciples of this. "I have not spoken of myself, but the Father
      which sent me." The Father is that stream of pure knowledge. Jesus,
      as an enlightened being, was attuned to that knowledge.

      No human being can ever become a guru. Guru is not a human
      experience, or, better said, guru is not a sensory experience. It is
      a divine experience to be a guru. A human being allows herself or
      himself to be used as a channel for receiving and transmitting by the
      power of powers. Then it happens. Then guru manifests. To do that, a
      human being must learn to be selfless, must learn to love. Real love
      expects nothing. That is how genuine gurus live. Selfless love is the
      basis of their enlightenment, and the basis of their roles as
      channels of knowledge.

      Guru is not the goal. Anyone who establishes himself as a guru to be
      worshipped, is not a guru. Christ, Buddha, and other great persons
      did not set up any such example. Guru is like a boat for crossing the
      river. It is important to have a good boat and it is very dangerous
      to have a boat that is leaking. The boat brings you across the river.
      When the river is crossed the boat is no longer necessary. You don't
      hang onto the boat after completing the journey, and you certainly
      don't worship the boat.

      Many times students come to the guru with a preconceived idea of what
      the guru should be like. They come with expectations of what the guru
      is there to do for them. Perhaps the students think the guru should
      give them much attention, or make decisions for them, or take on
      troubles they have created for themselves. Sometimes the students
      think the guru should behave in a certain way. When these
      expectations and preconceived images are not met, the student becomes
      upset and may even leave the guru.

      This is not the proper way to approach a teacher. A student should
      not be filled with expectations and preconceived images, but with a
      burning desire to learn, and with firm determination. Then there will
      be no difficulty. The guru and the disciple can then do their work

      The spiritual seeker should not worry about who the guru is, or what
      the guru will do. The seeker's first concern is getting prepared,
      organizing her or his life and thoughts in a spiritually healthy way,
      and then working toward a way of life that simplifies and purifies.
      At the right time the master will be there.

      Once the guru has arrived, the methods and behavior of the guru
      should not be the disciple's concern. The disciple's work is to act
      on the instructions and teachings of the master, and at the same
      time, work toward more and more selflessness, and surrender of the
      ego. It is the ego that is the principle barrier to enlightenment.

      A spiritual master's ways of teaching are many and sometimes
      mysterious. To one student the guru may show much attention, spending
      much time with a student, even doting on a particular student.
      Another student may be utterly ignored by the master. It doesn't
      matter. Each student is getting a teaching, and because of the
      insight of the master, just the right teaching at the right time. The
      guru is not in a student's life to give the student what the student
      thinks she wants, but rather to give what is needed to progress

      Jesus' parable of the prodigal son illustrates this. Briefly retold,
      a man had two sons. One day one son asked for all the property and
      wealth that would come in his inheritance. Then he went away and
      lived a wild, sensory life of rich foods, drink, gambling, and women.
      When all of that wealth was spent, the son returned. The father ran
      to his son when he saw him, and hugged and kissed him. He gave him
      expensive clothes to wear and ordered a feast to be held.

      Meanwhile, the other son had remained all this time with his father,
      working for him and beside him, always respectful and devoted. When
      the devoted son saw all the attention given to the wayward and
      reckless son, he asked his father how this could be.

      "I've been here all these years with you, always serving you, obeying
      every commandment, and you've never so much as given me a goat to
      throw a party for my friends. Now my brother returns after
      squandering all that wealth and living a wild life, and you treat him
      like a king and make a grand celebration for him."

      The father's response was essentially that the wayward son needed
      this attention at this time, and the devoted son did not. Each son
      was given what was right for his spiritual growth at the right time.

      The guru does not operate from what seems fair, or outwardly
      appropriate. He is not constrained to such cultural amenities. He can
      seem harsh, even brutal. He will put students in situations that make
      no sense, or are very uncomfortable. He will say things that won't
      make any sense for months. He will ask things of students that
      students think are impossible. Everything the guru is doing is for
      the growth of the student. The student need only have faith in that

      The guru also teaches without words or actions. As the disciple
      learns to surrender and move the ego out of the way, and grows more
      selfless, the ability to learn intuitively from the guru grows. The
      student learns in the cave of silence. It is like tuning into the
      guru's frequency or plugging into that stream of knowledge. The guru
      is always working from there. The disciple's role is to gradually
      learn to also work from that place. The disciple learns this by doing
      all duties with love, by being nonattached, and by surrendering. The
      disciple should always be striving to purify and prepare for more and
      greater knowledge. Then God will say, "I want to enter this living
      temple that you are." Remove the impurities and you will find that
      the one who wants to know reality is the source of reality.

      There is also the activity of grace. Grace is the impulse or the
      impetus of the energy to dispel darkness. There is the grace of the
      scriptures, from the wisdom that has passed down from others. There
      is the grace of the teacher, who imparts that wisdom and helps bring
      it to life in the student. There is the grace of God, or pure
      consciousness, that is alive and ever present in everyone's life.
      Integral to these three graces is the grace of oneself, having the
      will to undertake a purposeful journey in life, to do the spiritual
      work of life, and to prepare oneself.

      How do we get this grace? It comes of its own when a seeker has made
      maximum effort. When all efforts have been made, and all efforts have
      been exhausted, then grace comes.

      A Sanskrit word for grace is shaktipata. Shakti means energy, and
      pata means bestowing. Shaktipata means "bestowing the energy" or
      lighting the lamp. Sometimes shaktipata is translated as "descent of
      power." A power comes from above, of its own, to a vessel that is
      cleaned, purified, and is prepared to receive it. When the
      instructions from the guru have been completed, the seeker has become
      strong in selflessness and surrender, and the samskaras have been
      burned, grace comes.

      In my own life, since I was a small child I was raised and guided by
      my master. I had done all that he asked of me. Grace had not come and
      I grew frustrated. So one day I went to my master and said, "You have
      not done shaktipata for me. That means either you don't have shakti
      or you don't intend to do it."

      I told him, "For so long now I have been closing my eyes in
      meditation and I end up with nothing but a headache. My time has been
      wasted and I find little joy in life."

      He didn't say anything, so in my exasperation I continued talking.

      "I worked hard and sincerely," I said to him. "You said it would take
      fourteen years, but this is my seventeenth year of practice. Whatever
      you have asked me to do I have done. But today you give me shaktipata
      or I will commit suicide."

      Finally he said to me, "Are you sure? Are you really following all
      the practices I have taught you? Is this the fruit of my teaching,
      that you are committing suicide?"

      Then he waited a moment and said, "When do you want to commit

      "Right now," I said. "I am talking to you before I commit suicide.
      You are no longer my master now. I have given up everything. I am of
      no use to the world, I am of no use to you."

      I got up to go to the Ganges, which was near, and was prepared to
      drown myself.

      My master said, "You know how to swim, so when you jump in the
      Ganges, naturally you will start swimming. You'd better find some way
      so that you will start drowning and not come up. Perhaps you should
      tie some weight to yourself."

      "What has happened to you?" I asked him. "You used to love me so

      I went to the Ganges and with a rope I tied some big rocks to myself.
      When I was ready to jump, my master came and called, "Wait. Sit here
      for one minute. I will give you what you want."

      I did not know if he meant it, but I thought I could wait at least a
      minute. I sat in my meditation posture and my master came and touched
      me on the forehead. I remained in that position for nine hours and
      did not have a single worldly thought. The experience was
      indescribable. When I returned to normal consciousness I thought no
      time had passed.

      "Sir," I said to my master, "please forgive me."

      With that touch my life was transformed. I lost fear and selfishness.
      I started understanding life properly. I wondered if this experience
      came about because of my effort or my master's.

      His answer was simply, "Grace."

      "A human being," he explained, "should make all possible sincere
      efforts. When he has become exhausted and cries out in despair, in
      the highest state of devotional emotion, he will attain ecstasy. That
      is the grace of God. Grace is the fruit that you receive from your
      faithful and sincere efforts."

      Grace is only possible with a disciple who has gone through a long
      period of discipline, austerity, and spiritual practices. When a
      student has done these practices and followed the teacher's
      instructions with all faithfulness, truthfulness, and sincerity, then
      the subtlest obstacle is removed by the master. The experience of
      enlightenment comes from the sincere effort of both master and
      disciple. When you have done your duties skillfully and
      wholeheartedly, you reap the fruits gracefully. Grace dawns when
      action ends. Shaktipata is the grace of God transmitted through the

      Guru is the disciple's guide through life, through the mysterious
      terrain of the spiritual heart, and into and beyond the realm of
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