>Who is a Guru? [Part 1]

Posted: February 19, 2011 in False Guru, Guru, Guru;Jivanmukta, How to Recognise a Guru, Who is a Guru


The following is an excerpt from Swami Venkatesananda’s “Sivananda Yoga”

He who imparts the theory concerning self-knowledge and guides us in our practice is not a Guru, but an ‘Acharya’, a teacher. From this teacher you learn about self-knowledge. It is not self-knowledge but a peripheral knowledge, which may be very necessary as otherwise we might be easily misled.

Just as the description is not self-knowledge, a technique is also not self-knowledge, nor does it lead to Atma-jnana; but it is necessary. In the Yoga Vasistha you have a fantastic double negative statement concerning this. Vasishtha says that a teacher does not give you Atma-jnana, but you cannot attain Atma-jnana without a teacher. As we go on, this will become clear. 

The Acharya is the person from whom we gain an understanding of the theory, the peripheral knowledge or a description about (not of) self-knowledge, self-realisation or Atma-jnana. He guides us in our practice and may even prescribe a practice for us, and if we are responsive to him he removes the obstacles that we may encounter on the path. He is not exactly a teacher in the modern sense of the word. Here the word ‘teacher’ refers to some kind of a person who is aloof, who walks into the class, spits out what he has not been able to digest and walks out. 
That is what you see in schools and colleges nowadays. In the Gurukula system where the students lived with the teacher, there was the transmission of theory and guidance in practice without aloofness. There was a certain amount of physical and psychological intimacy, and a certain openness between the teacher and the taught. This is not to be confused with the modern definition of a teacher in the schools and colleges of today, where there is no psychological rapport at all.

This word ‘Acharya’ to me nearly sounds like the word ‘Achara’. Acharya means teacher, Achara means your conduct, your lifestyle. So an Acharya is involved in the pupil’s Achara, external behaviour. For instance he might emphasise punctuality, so that you come at the stroke of nine. He might emphasise that you should not look through the window, or look here and there. There can be training in behaviour, but no Acharya can compel your attention, no Acharya can impose understanding upon you, so there must be a certain psychological rapport. Only then is there a guidance or governance of behaviour. If you are attentive he transmits to you information about self-knowledge, and guides you in your practice. That is the only responsibility of the Acharya. So an Acharya is more a teacher than anything else.

Apart from the word ‘student’ there is another word, ‘pupil’. A pupil is not only the person sitting in front of the teacher trying to learn something from him, but the word ‘pupil’ also means the diaphragm which closes and opens in your eyes. When you go in the sunlight the pupils close, and when you are in darkness they open. That is what happens in the relationship between the teacher and the pupils. If the teacher is brilliant they close up, they can’t take the light anymore. If the teacher is interesting, funny, dark or stupid they open up wide—with the result that it seems to be far easier to learn rubbish than to learn something worthwhile. If someone sits there and discusses a hundred ways of robbing a bank it is interesting, there is not a dull moment, the pupil is keenly interested in it. But if someone sits there and discusses Upanishadic wisdom not only the pupils but the eyelids close.

If there is psychological rapport and if the Acharya is able to govern the pupil’s behaviour then it is possible for some transmission to take place. Psychological rapport is possible only if both the teacher and the taught are on the same wavelength—otherwise you go to sleep. Physical behaviour can be tailored, but the teacher has no access to your mind, leave alone to your heart. In a strange way, Gurudev Swami Sivananda understood this. He understood the psychology of the masses, the problems of young seekers—people who are used to the theatre, to films and an exciting, fast life. If they are put in a Vedanta class they would probably go to sleep, so he invented interesting methods of transmission. A dialogue from the Upanishads was enacted here and people who otherwise fall asleep when exposed to the ideas of the Upanishads sat up and looked and listened and something got through. 
This was Swami Sivananda’s wonderful method—and later he invented the Yoga museum—audiovisual instruction where you participate and try to understand.


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