Why Celebrate the Birthdays of Mahatmas?

If the Soul is immortal, why does Swamiji celebrate his birthday which belongs to the body?Swami Sivananda: “I do not celebrate my birthday. It is the devotees who do it. Celebration of such birthdays is equal to worship of Para Brahman. Worship of the Guru is worship of Para Brahman. The devotees take delight in celebrating the birthday, and they are benefited, uplifted. A spiritual wave is created year after year when the birthday is celebrated, and more and more people get a chance of knowing the existence of the Divine Life Society and my teachings. The celebrations of the birthday is an annual reminder to the aspirants of the purpose of their life. It is a fillip to their Sadhana. The pious, receptive attitude prevalent on such an occasion draws forth the grace of the Guru and God upon the devotees. The thoughts of peace, love, devotion, etc., sent out by the innumerable devotees that assemble together to celebrate the birthday go a long way to promote peace, harmony and spiritual well-being in the land.

“It is not without purpose that the Hindus celebrate the birthdays of religious leaders, saints and sages, such as Buddha Jayanti, Sankara Jayanti, Mahavira Jayanti, etc. The Hindu calendar is spotted with many such Jayantis and other holy days, so that the observance of these Jayantis and holy days may give the needed spiritual impetus to people and they may strive with increased zeal for the attainment of the purpose of life, viz., God-realization. The more we have of such special, holy days, the more we have the chance of being inspired to intensify our spiritual progress.” (pg. 44, May I Answer That?)

Swami Krishnananda: “The incarnations of God are supposed to come with a power of divinity, whereas the sages and saints are supposed to go with the power of divinity. As the one comes with Divine force, the other goes with that Divine force. This is why we lay much importance on the birthdays of Incarnations and the Mahasamadhi days of Siddhas and Masters. Such a holy occasion we observe every year on the Punyatithi Aradhana Mahotsava of revered Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj.” (Chap. 9, Spiritual Import of Religious Festivals: Message given on the 3rd of August, 1972, the Ninth Punyatithi-Aradhana of H.H. Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj)

Mata Amirtanandamayi: “…When we celebrate the birthdays of great souls like Christ, Krishna…, there is one prayer that we should never forget to recite, ‘Please bless us to realize the eternal ‘I’ in me.’ This prayer should be part and parcel of our spiritual life. Amma doesn’t want Her children to forget this prayer when they celebrate (them).” (24 December 2007 — Amritapuri: http://www.amritapuri.org/859/eternal.aum)

Mata Amirtanandamayi: “Mother is happy to see her children happy, and happily undertaking service activities on the occasion of Her birthday. Mother gets no speacial joy beyond that from these celebrations. She has agreed to all these only to see the happiness of Her children. Children, what makes Amma truly happy is seeing you love one another and being compassionate to others. Amma is happier to see you clean a nearby dirty sewer than to see you wash Her feet and worship them… What makes Mother truly happy is when Her children consider Her birthday as the day for wiping the tears of those who are suffering.” (Birthday Message [1990], pg. 11, Lead Us to Light, Vol.2)

Guru Purnima

Maharshi Vyasa


Sri Swami Sivananda

In ancient days, our forefathers, the Rishis of Aryavartha, went to the forest to do Tapasya during the four months following Vyasa Purnima—a particular and important day in the Hindu calendar. On this memorable day, Vyasa, an incarnation of the Lord Himself, began to write his Brahma Sutras. Our ancient Rishis did this Tapasya in caves and forests. But times have changed and such facilities are not common nowadays although Grihasthas and Rajas are not wanting who are able and willing to place at the disposal of the members of the fourth Ashrama such help and facilities as they can afford. The forests and caves have given place to the rooms of Sadhus in their own Gurudwaras and Mutts. One has of necessity to suit himself to time and place; and change of place and situation should not be allowed to make such a difference in our mental attitudes. Chaturmas begins from the Vyasa Purnima Day when, according to our Shastras, we are expected to worship Vyasa and the Brahmavidya Gurus and begin the study of the Brahma Sutras and other ancient books on ‘wisdom’.

Our mythology speaks of many Vyasas; and it is said that there had been twenty-eight Vyasas before the present Vyasa—Krishna Dvaipayana—took his birth at the end of Dvapara Yuga. Krishna Dvaipayana was born of Parasara Rishi through the Matsyakanya—Satyavathi Devi—under some peculiar and wonderful circumstances. Parasara was a great Jnani and one of the supreme authorities on astrology and his book Parasara Hora is still a textbook on astrology. He has also written a Smriti known as Parasara Smriti which is held in such high esteem that it is quoted by our present-day writers on sociology and ethics. Parasara came to know that a child, conceived at a particular Ghatika or moment of time, would be born as the greatest man of the age, nay, as an Amsa of Lord Vishnu Himself.

On that day, Parasara was travelling in a boat and he spoke to the boatman about the nearing of that auspicious time. The boatman had a daughter who was of age and awaiting marriage. He was impressed with the sanctity and greatness of the Rishi and offered his daughter in marriage to Parasara. Our Vyasa was born of this union and his birth is said to be due to the blessing of Lord Siva Himself who blessed the union of a sage with a Jnani of the highest order, although of a low caste.

At a very tender age Vyasa gave out to his parents the secret of his life that he should go to the forest and do Akhanda Tapas. His mother at first did not agree, but later gave permission on one important condition that he should appear before her whenever she wished for his presence. This itself shows how far-sighted the parents and the son were. Puranas say that Vyasa took initiation at the hands of his twenty-first Guru, sage Vasudeva. He studied the Shastras under sages Sanaka and Sanandana and others. He arranged the Vedas for the good of mankind and wrote the Brahma Sutras for the quick and easy understanding of the Srutis; he also wrote the Mahabharata to enable women, Sudras and other people of lesser intellect to understand the highest knowledge in the easiest way.

Vyasa wrote the eighteen Puranas and established the system of teaching them through Upakhyanas or discourses. In this way, he established the three paths, viz., Karma, Upasana and Jnana. To him is also attributed the fact that he continued the line of his mother and that Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were his progeny. Vyasa’s last work was the Bhagavata which he undertook at the instigation of Devarshi Narada who once came to him and advised him to write it as, without it, his goal in life would not be reached.

Vyasa is considered by all Hindus as a Chiranjivi, one who is still living and roaming throughout the world for the well-being of his devotees. It is said that he appears to the true and the faithful and that Jagadguru Sankaracharya had his Darshan in the house of sage Mandana Misra and that he appeared to many others as well. Thus, in short, Vyasa lives for the welfare of the world. Let us pray for his blessings on us all and on the whole world.

Everybody knows that there are six important systems of thought developed by our ancients known as the Shad Darshanas or the six orthodox schools of philosophy, viz., Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta. Each system has a different shade of opinion. Later, these thoughts became unwieldy, and to regulate them, the Sutras came into existence. Treatises were written in short aphorisms, called “Sutras” in Sanskrit, meaning clues for memory or aids to long discussions on every topic. In the Padma Purana, the definition of a Sutra is given. It says that a Sutra should be concise and unambiguous; but the brevity was carried to such an extent that the Sutra has become unintelligible and particularly so in the Brahma Sutras. Today we find the same Sutra being interpreted in a dozen ways.

The Brahma Sutras written by Vyasa or Badarayana—for that was the name which he possessed in addition—are also known as Vedanta Sutras as they deal with Vedanta only. They are divided into four chapters, each chapter being subdivided again into four sections. It is interesting to note that they begin and end with Sutras which read together mean “the inquiry into the real nature of Brahman has no return”, meaning that “going by that way one reaches Immortality and no more returns to the world”. About the authorship of these Sutras, tradition attributes it to Vyasa.

Sankaracharya, in his Bhashya, refers to Vyasa as the author of the Gita and the Mahabharata, and to Badarayana as the author of the Brahma Sutras. His followers—Vachaspathi, Anandagiri and others—identify the two as one and the same person, while Ramanuja and others attribute the authorship of all three to Vyasa himself. The oldest commentary on the Brahma Sutras is by Sankaracharya; he was later followed by Ramanuja, Vallabha, Nimbarka, Madhva and others who established their own schools of thought.

All the five Acharyas mostly agree on two points, viz., (i) that Brahman is the cause of this world and (ii) that knowledge of Brahman leads to final emancipation. But they differ amongst themselves on the nature of this Brahman, the relation between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul, and the condition of the soul in the state of release. According to some, Bhakti and not Jnana, as interpreted by Sankara, is the chief means of attaining liberation.

Vyasa’s life is a unique example of one born for the dissemination of spiritual knowledge. His writings inspire us and the whole world even to this day. May we all live in the spirit of his writings!
(pgs. 3-6, Lives of Saint)

Siksha Gurus and Diksha Gurus

Man has a twofold duty here on earth-to preserve his life, and to realise his Self. To preserve his life, he has to learn to work for his daily bread. To realise his Self, he has to serve, love, and meditate. The Guru who teaches him the knowledge of worldly arts is the Siksha Guru. The Guru who shows him the path of Realisation is the Diksha Guru. Siksha Gurus can be many—as many as the things he wishes to learn. The Diksha Guru can be only one—the one who leads him to Moksha.(pg. 155, Bliss Divine)

If Swami Sivananda considered everyone and every experience as his Guru, he had a special veneration for his Siksha Guru and his Diksha Guru. On enquiring about the progress of the music class in the Ashram, he once told the students, “You should all greet your music teacher with folded palms and ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’. You should revere the Guru who teaches you the art. Only then will the learning be fruitful.”

The students were a little apologetic, “Yes, Swamiji, we are all doing that though we sometimes forget.”
“No, no, you should never omit this,” said the Master, and added thoughtfully, “See, I had Swami Viswanandaji’s company only for a few hours, yet I remember him daily in my Stotras in the morning. I include the name of Swami Vishnudevananda also, as it was he who performed the Vraja Homa for me. It is very necessary, only then will the spark of intense desire for liberation burn brightly in us.

And Swami Sivananda relapsed into memory of his boyhood days. “Once, I learnt fencing from an untouchable,” he recalled. “It lasted only for a few days. He was an untouchable, yet I used to greet him with coconut and betel leaves. Guru is Guru, to whatever caste or creed he belongs.” (pgs. 203-204, From Man to God-Man)

mantra-guru ara jata siksa-guru-gana
tanhara carana-age kariye vandana [Chaitanya Caritamrta 1.1.25]

I first offer my respectful obeisances at the lotus feet of my initiating spiritual master and all my instructing spiritual masters.

The meaning of the above is I offer pranam to my Guru who initiated me, and I also the same pranam to my other siksha Gurus. It should be noted that the diksha Guru is but one, whereas siksha Gurus can be many, and even innumerable.

“The Guru is Spirit” by Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda

During his sadhana days in Swarg Ashram, Gurudev carried his sadhana to extreme levels. Afterwards, when he came to this side, he wouldn’t allow his own disciples to do some of the things that he did; for example, standing in the Ganga for long hours doing japa. Indeed, he recommended a balanced and integral yoga. He also said to eat a little, sleep a little, meditate a little.

And yet at the end of his Twenty Important Spiritual Instructions, which he tells us will lead us to moksha, he warns us that we must not give leniency to our mind. And Pujya Swami Chidanandaji, who can be very lenient with others, never gives leniency to himself, which indicates to us that a certain extremism is required for our spiritual life.

The scriptures tell us that if we practice absolute truth for 12 years that we will realise God. But this is a practice of truth that can only be considered to be extreme. It not only means absolute truthfulness with others in our daily life, but ruthless truthfulness within. And above all, it ultimately means the practice of Truth itself, abiding in the Truth. In addition, they tell us that if we will practise any other virtue equally strictly that that will also lead us to realisation.

However, even if we can keep our energy and determination at such a high level, the path and the goal of the spiritual life are so subtle that it is very easy to deceive ourselves and stray from the path. This is why we need a guru. But what if a guru is not available to give us this very subtle and fine guidance? Then we need to practise a basic truth that scriptures and the gurus try to impress upon us.

The guru is not his body. The guru is the Universal Spirit. And that Universal Spirit is omnipresent. It is present within us and without us. That Universal Spirit is capable of leading us and fine tuning us, not just through one body, but through any body It chooses to use, through any insight It chooses to give us, through any spiritual experience It decides to grant us—through any spiritual practice, through any passage in the scripture, through any casual remark from a friend. And, indeed, this knowledge in itself and the practice of this knowledge is a sadhana: “Practice the presence of God, seeing God in all, and that in itself can lead to you liberation,” Swamiji has said.

So while our spiritual life should be balanced and integral, we must not give leniency to our mind. We require a certain extremism. But above all, we require the constant guidance of the Spirit. Lord Krishna says, “If you want to cross this samsara, you must take refuge in Me alone.” In other words, for our sadhana, we must be constantly seeking His guidance—knowing that it is always available if we have the humility to accept it through whatever channel it comes.

Early Morning Meditation Talk given in the Sacred Samadhi Hall of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh

What is Guru’s Grace? What is Guru Kripa?

Swami Chidananda: “What is Guru’s grace? It is not some mysterious something that comes out of him, as Gurudev used to say, like water out of his kamandalu. His kripa, his anugraha (grace) is in the form of his sandesa, upadesa and adesa. They constitute the manifestation of his grace. His teachings, his admonitions, his instructions to us and his positive, imperative directives are the dynamic expression of his grace.

” ‘Sleep no more; wake up; sit in asana; do japa. Meditate on the Supreme Being. Read one chapter of the Gita. Have sattvic diet. Be simple in life; reduce your wants. Control anger through kshama (forgiveness). Observe mauna for some time every day. Speak the truth at all costs. Observe brahmacharya. Do charity every day according to your ability. Introspect; find out your defects and remove them. Draw inspiration from elevating, inspiring svadhyaya; daily svadhyaya will increase your knowledge and wisdom; your mind will become transformed and your heart purified, elevated and inspired. Read the lives of saints. Thus progress day by day.’

“In this way, the Guru gives practical suggestions and warns that these are all important spiritual canons and must be observed rigidly. You should not give any leniency to the mind. And if you do something wrong, punish yourself, atmadanda. Great ones have progressed through this method only. These positive and imperative commandments, adesa, directives, to spiritual aspirants, sincere seekers, disciples, devotees, constitute anugraha. They constitute guru kripa. They constitute the light in our life, the light that illumines our path and which shows clearly the goal that we have to attain.

“……….know that the Guru is where there is reverence for his teachings, an eagerness to fulfil his teachings and a keen desire to follow the path pointed out by him. Where there is an earnest, ardent and fervent wish to move along that path, to practise his instructions, there the Guru is fully present and guru kripa is fully present. The anugraha of the Guru enriches such an aspirant.”


(This is an excerpt from Swami Chidananda’s book “Sure Ways to Guru Kripa)


Who is a Guru? [Part 3]

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

Who is a Guru?  

gukaraschandhakarascha rukarastannirodhakah andhakaravinasitvad-gurur-ityabhidhiyate

“That light which removes the darkness of ignorance is the Guru.” He in whose presence you gain this, is the Guru; or that is the Guru. That moment or that event where the scales of ignorance drop away and this inner structure of theory (which has been put there by the instructions of the Acharya) begins to grow and is realised—there is the Guru.

When you go round India you will meet dozens of Gurus who say: “I am your Guru”. Gurudev never said that for one moment. Occasionally he used to say “You are my disciple” or “He is my disciple”; and some of the older disciples here probably have one letter at least where Gurudev said: “I have accepted you as my beloved disciple, I shall serve you and guide you.” But with all respect and adoration to Gurudev I may tell you that it was meant more as an encouragement to the disciple than as a statement of fact. When Swami Sivananda said: “I have accepted you as my beloved disciple”, you felt that you had a claim over Swami Sivananda, you could write to him more freely. That is what he wanted. The next sentence is: “I will serve you.” You have never heard of a Guru serving a disciple, the disciple is supposed to serve the Guru! So in that formula itself he has cancelled this Guru business. He never regarded himself as a Guru. It was for us, not for him.

It is the disciple’s experience that is the Guru, and the Guru need not know when that experience happened to you. You may say, “You are my Guru”; it is not for the Guru to say, “I am your Guru.” I can go to the Guru and say, “I am your disciple” when I am prepared to do exactly what he tells me to do, and not till that stage is reached can I boldly say: “I am your disciple, you are my Guru.”

Till then there is no Guru. It is very important to remember this, otherwise you can get into all sorts of muddles. Suddenly you go to somebody and if he scratches your back and says: “Oh, I see a brilliant light around your face and you are going to attain enlightenment in three months”, you say: “Ah, you are my Guru!” If he asks you to bring a cup of milk from the kitchen you say: “Ach, what kind of Guru are you? You are no longer my Guru—it is finished.” This is a travesty of truth.

Gurudev insisted (as does the Yoga Vasishtha) that you cannot attain enlightenment without the help of a Guru, and to Swamis who wanted to be Gurus he said, “Be careful, don’t become a Guru.” You should not become a Guru, but I must have a Guru. I need a Guru but nobody is prepared to be my Guru! You see the tangle here? What must I do? Swamiji was emphatic there: “Be a disciple! From head to foot be a disciple! Then you will find a Guru.”

Early in 1947 Swamiji was sitting in the office. A young man from South Africa who had stayed with us for about two or three months was leaving that day. He walked in, prostrated to Gurudev, and started crying. With supreme love and affection Gurudev looked at him. He said, “Swamiji, I have to go today, and in Africa where do we get a Guru like you?” Suddenly Swamiji’s expression changed and with a very beautiful, meaningful and mischievous smile he said: “Huh, you don’t find a Guru in Africa?” By this time the man’s grief had gone, his tears had dried up. He found the Master laughing and smiling. Swamiji then fixed his gaze on this young man and said, “Ohji, it is very easy to find a Guru, it is very difficult to find a disciple!” If you are a disciple naturally you’ll find a Guru.

Disciple means discipline. What does the word ‘discipline’ mean? Not an army drill, but study. The Acharya gave you some information which produced a form within you; and now you wish to study this. The Acharya said that happiness is in you, that it is not in the object of pleasure—but that is not your experience. You have experienced pleasure from that object and in its absence you are miserable. So what do you do? You are studying this inner structure, studying the workings of the mind, the arising of the self, the ego. But it is not clear because you are full of impurities, dirt and filth. Therefore in the course of the study of oneself an extraordinary discipline arises. It is not discipline which is imposed upon you by others, it is not discipline which is goal oriented, but it is a discipline born of intense search. When this discipline manifests itself in your heart you will naturally find your Guru. You go and stand in front of someone and … that’s it. You don’t need to exchange a word.

Some of us came here in 1944 and found Swamiji and some others. He was radiating bliss, radiating peace, radiating joy. We looked around and saw that all the things that you and I consider vital to peace, happiness, prosperity and all the rest of it, were absent here. There was absolutely nothing. A cup of tea in the morning was almost celestial manna, ambrosia. Living in such conditions how were these people able to smile, to radiate joy! What is that, possessing which he led such a life? You began to wonder and something clicked. There was no need to exchange one single word. Looking into his eyes you realised that he had found the truth, you had not. That was enough to humble you, make you collapse at his feet.

Truth is not transmitted by word, but is always transmitted non-verbally. I can tell you I am angry with you, but you know the truth because non-verbally you have not sensed I am angry with you. There are occasions (of which I am sure you are aware) when someone might smile, and you sense anger. Non-verbal communication alone is truth, and truth can only be communicated non-verbally. Information you can pass on, so the passing on of the information is the business of the Acharya. Non-verbal communication of truth is by the Guru. I don’t know if the Guru also knows that his disciple has been enlightened or awakened. Gurudev never discussed this.

On a spiritual level it was most beautiful to observe how he regarded everyone and everything as his Guru. (It is very difficult to explain this and probably more difficult to understand it.) That is, when this discipline becomes total, there is total awareness of Guru everywhere. Whether a person wore a yellow, red or green cloth, to Gurudev he was always Swami. Everyone was a Swami, everyone was Bhagavan, everyone was Devi. That is probably the state you will find yourself in if there is this total discipline. Then the whole universe becomes your Guru.

>Who is a Guru? [Part 2]


Still we are at the stage of the Acharya and the pupil. There is mere transmission of information between the two. It is called ‘information’ because it creates a form in you—information. Gradually, drop by drop, these bits and pieces fall into you and take form. If you are quite satisfied with the form you are lost, because you build an image with this information and treat that image as the truth, as self-realisation. In your study of the Isavasya Upanishad you must have come across a puzzling Mantra: “They who are devoted to ignorance go to hell. They who are devoted to knowledge go to a greater hell.” How is that? If you are devoted to the image that has been formed in you when the theory was imparted you are stuck forever, there is no way out of it. 

You have devotedly and devoutly built it up and the whole being resists any change in that image, so you are lost. But once this image is formed, if you realise that it is only information about Atma-jnana—it is not Atma-jnana itself but merely a description then it is possible that you are inspired to go further. The ‘Jijnasu’ stage is over and you are creeping into the Jnani stage. Then someone else appears, and that is the Guru.
If you read the first chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita very carefully you will see that Arjuna thinks he is the Guru. He boldly and arrogantly teaches Krishna what is right, what is wrong. When he discovered that Krishna refused to be his disciple (!) he collapsed, and as he collapsed the words ascribed to him are very inspiring: 

yacchreyah syannischitam bruhi tanme
syshyas-te ’ham sadhi roam tvam prapannam (II. 7)

Arjuna said:
Destroyed is my delusion, as I have gained my knowledge (memory) through Thy grace, O Krishna. I remain freed from doubts. I will act according to Thy word.

Tvam prapannam—“I have surrendered myself at your feet because I don’t know the truth. I thought I knew, but looking at the way you are unimpressed by my teaching, I feel maybe I am wrong. So I surrender myself at your feet.” Sishyas-te—“I am your disciple.” yacchreyah syannischitam bruhi tanme,—“Tell me what might lead me to Sreyas.” This word ‘Sreyas’ is extremely difficult to translate. It has been taken to mean ‘your ultimate good or spiritual good, enlightenment, liberation’. That is where Arjuna says: “I am your disciple.” Krishna is still not the Guru. It is only in the eleventh chapter that Arjuna bursts out: “Oh! you are the Lord of the whole universe.”

What is the state of the disciple when he has found the Guru—not the Acharya? It is beautifully described towards the end of the Bhagavad-Gita:

nashto mohah smritir-labdha tvatprasadan maya ’chyuta
sthito’smi gatasandehah karishye vachanam tava. (XVIII. 73)

All these are vitally important. Nashto mohah—“my confusion, my delusion has gone.” There was a confusion to begin with, but that has completely disappeared. If that happens you are an enlightened disciple, you have found the Guru. Smrtir-labdha—it is not merely gaining or regaining memory but… Normally, you remember what others did to you and you remember what happened to you so far, but you don’t remember yourself. You don’t know yourself, but you know everybody else; you don’t know who you are, but you know the entire world! Even when you try to recall a past experience all that you remember is what others did and what others said. The self is completely ignored in knowledge, as well as memory. So smrtir-labdha means: “Now I remember who I am.” Tvatprasadanmaya’chyuta—“By your Grace,” not by your instruction! The Acharya is gone. The Acharya merely put up a structure within and the student became aware of that structure. The structure knocked down false notions and deluded ideas that were entertained before, and created the climate for enlightenment.

It is the Guru’s Grace alone that brings about this enlightenment. No amount of theory and no amount of knowledge can ever bring about enlightenment. If the cloth is dirty you put it in a bucket of water with a lot of soap in it. Has the cloth been cleaned? You hope so. When you take that cloth out it is full of soap. That’s not clean—the cleaning happens afterwards. In order to get rid of the rubbish called worldly knowledge you may need a spiritual instructor who gives you knowledge about the self, but in order to gain self-knowledge none of these would do. It is only the Grace of the Guru that flows directly into your heart without the interference of your mind that can bring about this self-knowledge, Atma-jnana. Gatasandehah—“There is no doubt,” the mind and the heart are free from doubt, and therefore whatever has to be done is done without hesitation. That is what is called ‘spontaneous action’. The shock of the vision of this cosmic form probably brought that about in the case of Arjuna, because a similar expression occurs even at the beginning of the eleventh chapter: 

yat tvayo’ktam vachas tena moho’yam vigato mama (XI. 1)

Arjuna said:
By this word (explanation) of the highest secret concerning the Self which Thou hast spoken, for the sake of blessing me, my delusion is gone.

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

>Who is a Guru? [Part 1]


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.

An Avadhoota Had 24 Gurus

Yadu who was versed in religion saw a young Brahmin Sannyasin, full of wisdom, wandering about fearlessly and put him the following question as Yadu was eager to know Dharma.

Yadu asked, “O Sage! How did you, doing nothing get this clear wisdom and light by which you were able to give up all attachments and roam like a child fearlessly in perfect bliss?

“Generally in this world people exert themselves for virtue, wealth, desire and enquire about the Atman only with the motive of attaining longevity, fame and wealth. You are able-bodied, full of wisdom and skill and good-looking. Your speech is sweet and is like nectar and yet you neither work nor exert in the least. You like nothing. People in this world are scorched by the fire of lust and greed. You are not at all afflicted by the fire. You appear self-satisfied and blissful, just as an elephant immersed in the cool waters of the Ganga does not feel the heat of the forest fire on the bank. Please enlighten me as to the source of your joy or bliss. Tell me how you derive bliss in your self alone, untouched by sense objects and living a solitary life? You have neither family nor sensual enjoyment. Whence then is your bliss?”

Sri Krishna said, “Being thus asked and honoured by the intelligent Yadu who has devoted to Brahmins, the noble Brahmin spoke to the king who stood bending in reverence.”

The Brahmin said, “Many are my preceptors, O King, whom I resorted to through my own understanding; with the wisdom imbibed from them I roam about on this earth free from attachments. Listen who they are.
The earth, air, sky (Akasa), water, fire, the moon, the sun, the pigeon, the python, the sea, the moth, the bee, the elephant, the honey-gatherer, the deer, the fish, the dancing girl Pingala, the osprey (raven, Kurara), the child, the maiden, the arrow-maker, the serpent, the spider, the beetle (the wasp)—these, O King, are my twenty-four Gurus or teachers whom I have resorted to. I have learnt all my lessons from their characteristic traits. I will how narrate what I learnt from each of them.

“A wise man should not swerve from the path of righteousness, though he is oppressed by creatures who are themselves under the direction of providence. This forbearance I have learnt from the earth. I have learnt from the mountain, which is a part of the earth, that all our actions should be for the good of others, and that our very existence is for the sake of others. I have learnt from the tree, which is also a part of the earth, that I should be at the disposal of others.

“The sage should be content with mere supporting his life. He should never long for what gratifies the senses so that knowledge may not be destroyed and the mind may not be dissipated on worthless objects.

“The Yogi should not be attached to the objects, like the air, although he is placed in the midst of objects with different attributes and though he is placed in the physical body. His mind should remain unaffected by the good and evil consequences of the objects, just as the air remains unaffected by the good or bad odour of objects over which it blows. The soul enters the body and the attributes of the body seem to be its own, but it is not so. The air is charged with odour but the odour is not the attribute of the air. This I have learnt from the outside air.

“I have learnt from the Prana (vital air) that one should eat to live and not live to eat. He should not eat to give strength and nourishment to the senses. The food should be just sufficient to feed the flame of life.

“Atman is all-pervading. It is not affected by the body and the bodily attributes. This I have learnt from Akasa which is all-pervading and is not affected by clouds and other objects. Even though the sage lives in the body, he should contemplate through his identity with Self or Atman which is all-pervading like the sky (Akasa), which runs as a substratum or a thread in the garland of flowers through all movable and immovable objects, which is not subject to any limitation in respect of time and place and which is not touched by anything else.

“Naturally pure, smooth and sweet is water. So is the sage among men. He, like unto holy waters, purifies others by mere sight, touch and the utterance of His name. This I have learnt from water.

“Bright, powerful in knowledge, and glowing with asceticism, with no receptacle for food except the belly and eating everything, the sage, like fire, is not polluted thereby.

Sometimes he remains unnoticed. Sometimes he becomes known to those who desire welfare. He eats the food offered to him by pious devotees and burns up their past and future evils or impurities.

Fire is the same and only one, though it enters fuels of various sorts. Just as fire burns in a triangular, circular, rectangular or other shapes, according to the shape and size of the wood, so also the Lord of the Universe, who has created the world and entered into all beings, appears different because of the different bodies (Upadhis) in which He resides. He enters this Universe of various objects, high and low, created by His own Maya and appears to be like every one of those objects, just as fire does in different kinds of fuel. Birth and death are for the body and not for the Atman, and are caused by time, just as the flames are subjected to change but not the fire.

“The waning or waxing conditions of the moon are due, not to any change in the substance or luminosity of the moon, but, to the fact that only part of the sun’s rays get reflected by it. I learnt therefore that the birth, growth, decay, death, etc., are states of the body and not of Atman which is illimitable, birthless and deathless. The moon remains as it is, only there is an apparent change over it owing to astronomical motions.

“The sun draws water by its rays and gives it all away in time. The sage takes in order to give but not in order to add to his own possessions. Just as the sun, reflected in various pots of water, appears to the ignorant as many, so also the Atman appears as such in different bodies on account of the Upadhis caused by the reflection through the mind.

“Too much attachment is bad. One should not have too much affection or attachment for anyone. Too much attachment towards anything causes one’s own destruction. This I have learnt from a pair of pigeons. In a certain forest, on a certain tree, a pigeon built a nest and with his mate lived there for some years. They were much attached to each other in love. They reared their young ones with great affection. One day they left their young ones in the nest and went about in search of food for them. A hunter came and caught the young ones by spreading a net. The parent birds returned to their nest with food. The mother had too much affection for the young ones. She fell into the net of her own accord. The male pigeon also fell into the net himself. The hunter caught the pigeons with the young ones. He was quite satisfied and went home.

Thus the miserable family man, who has not controlled his senses, who has not withdrawn his senses and mind from the worldly objects, who finds delight only in the married life and maintains his family with intense attachment, comes to grief with all his relations like the pigeons (Kapotha and Kapothi). He who, attaining a human birth which is like an open gateway to Mukti or the final liberation, is merely attached to the householder’s life like the bird, is considered as one who has fallen from his status.

“The pleasures obtained through the avenues of the senses, whether in this world or the next, are transient and fleeting. The wise man never hankers after them.

“The huge Ajagara serpent remains where he is and is content with whatever food that comes to him. Like the Ajagara, one should make no effort but only swallow the mouthful that is brought to him by chance, delicious or distasteful, much or little. If no food reaches him, he should lie quiet even for a long time without any food and without any exertion to get it; because, he should, like the Ajagara, subsist on what providence brings to him or destiny decrees. Holding still the body endowed with energy, fortitude and strength, he should lie wide awake and not exert, though he has sound organs.

“The sage should be calm, profound or deep, difficult to fathom, illimitable and immovable or not liable to be perturbed by worldly circumstances like the tranquil ocean. The ocean may receive volumes of water from the rivers at times or may receive no water at other times but it remains the same. Even so, the sage who has set his heart upon the Lord, neither swells with joy when he has an abundance of enjoyable objects, nor shrinks with sorrow when he has none.

“The man of uncontrolled senses, seeing a woman, the God’s Maya (enchantment created by the Lord) and being allured by her behaviour and feelings, falls into the blinding darkness and comes to grief, just as the moth falls into the fire. The fool, who with his mind allured by women, gold ornaments, clothes and other things created by Maya, regards them as objects of enjoyment, loses his correct vision and perishes like a moth.

“The sage should wander from house to house taking handfuls from each house till he gets just enough food for his sustenance, without making any house feel burdened, like the bee which gathers honey from all flowers.
“The intelligent man should extract the essence from all scriptures, great or small, just as the bee does from flowers. The sage should not store food for the evening or the next day; the hands or the stomach should be his vessel; he should not hoard like the bee. He who stores food is destroyed with his store like the bee.

“The Sannyasin should not touch even the wooden figure of a young woman even with his feet. If he does so, he would be caught as is the elephant through its attachment for the touch of the she-elephant. The wise man should shun the company of women as if it were death to him; for he would be killed like a weak elephant by other elephants.

“The miser who hoards wealth, neither gives nor enjoys his riches. Whatever he collects with difficulty is carried away by someone else, just as the collector of honey carries away the honey collected by the bees.
“Like the collector of honey, the Sannyasin first enjoys those good things which householders collect through hard-earned wealth in order to enjoy.

“The ascetic should not listen to sensuous music. He should learn a lesson from the deer which, enamoured by the hunters’ music, gets ensnared. The sage Rishyasringa, born of deer, listened to the sensuous music of women and was easily entrapped by them. He became a toy or a playmate in their hands.

“Just as a fish that is attracted by baits falls an easy victim to the bait by means of the hook, so also the foolish man who allows his sense of taste to overpower him, who is stupefied with the charms of taste and delicacies by the turbulent and greedy tongue, meets with death. Tongue or the love of taste is most difficult to conquer. If the sense of taste is controlled, all other senses are controlled. One cannot become master of his organs until he controls the organ of taste. No man can be said to have conquered his senses unless his organ of taste is completely curbed. Thoughtful men soon subdue their senses by fasting.

“There was formerly in the city of Videhas a public woman called Pingala. I have learnt something from her. Listen to it, O King! One day she put on beautiful dress and waited at the door of her house in the evening, to receive and bargain customers for the night. She invited some persons but sent them away as she thought some other wealthy man would richly pay her. With this inordinate desire she waited sleepless at the door, now going in, now coming out, till it was midnight. Through this anxious expectation of money, she spent the night in a fever of hope, worry and disappointment. She felt extreme disgust for her life of greed and desire which made her unhappy.

“In her utter disappointment she sang, ‘Indifference to worldly objects is like a sword to cut asunder a man’s fetters of expectation or cords of desires. One does not wish to get rid of the bondage of the body until he has become disgusted, just as no man without insight into the truth or knowledge could rid himself of the notions of “I” and “Mine” or the clinging to the objects.’ Pingala said, ‘Lo! How deluded am I for want of control over my mind! How foolish am I to seek the satisfaction of desires from such creatures as men!

“Discarding Lord Narayana or the Eternal Atman, seated near in my heart, who is a fit lover and can satisfy me, who can give me everlasting bliss and wealth, I am courting a puny man who cannot satisfy my desires and who causes misery, fear, disease, grief and infatuation. I have been indeed very stupid.

“Oh! In vain I have afflicted my soul by this most reproachable mode of living, viz., that of a public woman; I have sought wealth and pleasure from pitiable mortals, who are greedy and slaves of women, by selling my body to them.

“Who, other than myself, would be taken to this house which is built of bones which are like beams, rafters and posts of a house, which is covered over with skin, hair and nails, which is furnished with nine openings for discharging filth and filled with offal and urine?

“In this town of Videha, full of wise beings, I am the only woman who has tied her hopes, happiness and desire, to the body. I am the only silly being or wicked woman who seeks any other source of enjoyment or object of desire than the Lord who bestows Self-realisation.

“He is the true friend, protector, Lord, most beloved one, the master and the very Self or Atman of all embodied beings; winning Him over, by giving up the body to Him, I shall enjoy His company like Lakshmi and find everlasting happiness in Him alone.

“What is the use of serving others? The favours of gods and mortals are limited by time, capacity and various other obstacles. What delight can the sense-objects, men or the gods confer on women? All have a beginning and an end.

“Surely I must have done something in my previous births to propitiate Vishnu, for it is by His grace alone that this Vairagya (dispassion or disgust) cutting at the root of all unholy desires, has arisen in my mind. Through His grace only, I have attained the way to everlasting happiness and peace.

“If the Lord had not been propitious to me, such disappointments, as lead to renunciation and dispassion, would not have arisen, which enable one to abandon all attachments and attain happiness.

“I accept, with humble devotion, this gift of the Lord on my head. I now abandon all vain expectations and evil desires and take refuge in the Supreme Lord. Contented, full of faith in the Lord, living on what chance brings to me, I shall enjoy the eternal bliss of the Lord, Paramatman. Who else but the Lord can save this Jiva who has fallen into the deep pit of Samsara (births and deaths), with eyes blinded by the objects, with the vision robbed by the senses, and who is swallowed up by the serpent of Time.

“When one realises the evanescence of this universe, when he beholds the universe in the jaws of the serpent of Time, he will surely and firmly scorn the fleeting, doubtful, worthless, illusory pleasures of this world and the next. He will become very cautious, turn himself away from the illusory sense-objects and will seek repose in the eternal bliss of his own Atman. When one becomes disgusted with everything else, Atman is the protector of Atman, the Self alone is the saviour of oneself.”

The Brahmin said, “Pingala having thus determined in her mind, and fixed her mind on the Lord, gave up all hopes and expectations due to hankering for lovers, sat on her bed with a serene mind. She abandoned all unholy desires that troubled her and became happy. She slept soundly with a tranquil mind. It is hope that gives us trouble. Without hope we are happy. Desires, hopes and expectations are the source of grief. Abandonment of all expectations and desires is the greatest bliss. It is the happiest state. Vairagya is the source of bliss as can be seen from Pingala who slept happily, casting aside the hankering for lovers.
“The source for affliction and misery is indeed the acquisition of anything whatsoever that men hold as dearest. But that man who knows this truth, gives up all possession and does not think of any acquisition and attains unlimited happiness.
“An osprey (Kurara—a bird of prey) had a piece of flesh in its mouth. The stronger birds that had no flesh pounced upon it, but the Kurara dropped the piece of flesh and became happy. Renunciation of dear objects is good. It gives peace.

“I do not care for honour or dishonour. I do not think of the house, wife or children. I sport in Atman and take delight in Atman and roam on earth like a child.

“Only two are free from anxieties and immersed in the highest bliss—the child that knows nothing and the man who has realised the Supreme Being, who is beyond the influence of the Gunas.

“In a certain place, a girl herself had to attend to the comforts of those who visited the house to ask her in marriage when her relations had gone out to some other place. As she was husking the paddy for their meal in a solitary place, the conch bangles on her wrists made a great noise. The intelligent girl thought it disgraceful and was very much ashamed of her poverty. She thought that the party might detect her poor condition. She broke the bracelets one by one, leaving only two on each hand. Even those two bracelets produced a sound when she went on husking. So she removed one of these also. No sound was then produced from the remaining one though she continued husking.

“Wandering over the world in search of truth and experiences, I learnt from the girl’s experience the following instructions. Where many dwell together there would be quarrel. Even between two people there would be occasion for debate or talk. Therefore, one should live alone like the single bangle on the hand of the girl.

“Having controlled the breath and practised firmness in seat, one should, like an archer taking his aim, fix or centre the mind on the Supreme Self. He should be on the alert to keep the mind steady through renunciation, constant application and systematic practice. Just as the fire exhausts itself when the fuel is consumed, so also the mind firmly checked in its outward wanderings, becomes oblivious of the diversities caused by the Gunas, slowly shakes off the bonds of Karma, abandons gradually the impulsions to work, gets free from Rajas and Tamas through increased Sattva, subsides and attains tranquillity in the absence of the fuel of Gunas and their products and the sense-impressions which feed it. It becomes one with the object of meditation. It becomes entirely absorbed in the object of contemplation. Then having his mind entirely absorbed in the Atman, he does not see anything else at that time, inside or outside, just as the arrow-maker with his mind absorbed in making the arrow, did not see the king passing by his side. I have learnt concentration of mind from the arrow-maker.

“The wise man should wander alone. He should be homeless and be ever alert. He should resort to a cave and should not exhibit his real worth. He should remain without friends. He should indulge in as little speech as possible.

“It is very troublesome and useless for an ascetic to build a house as his body is fleeting and perishable. Just as the serpent enters and makes itself comfortable in any hole dug by others, so also he should make himself comfortable at every chance residence or place that comes in his way. He should have no fixed abode.

“Just as the spider brings the thread out of itself, spreads out the web, sports in it and devours it itself, so also the Lord creates the universe out of Himself through His Maya consisting of three Gunas, sports in it and takes it back again into Himself.

“Whatever form a man constantly thinks of through love, hatred or fear, that he attains in course of time through concentration on the form he thinks about, just as a worm becomes the wasp.

“Thus from the above twenty-four preceptors I have learnt the various instructions.

Uddhava Gita 2:24 – 4:23, Bhagavatam 11:7:24 – 11:9:23 (Swami Sivananda’s translation)

Guru Oriented Life By Sri Swami Chidananda

The devotee who has devotion and reverence for God tries his level best to live his life in accordance with the will of God; he does not go contrary to the will of God. Reverence and devotion cannot coexist with contrariness to His will, at the same time in the same person. If there is reverence, there is obedience. If there is reverence, there is the attempt to carry out His will in thought, word and deed. If we say that we revere and do not do this, then it means that there is something wrong. There is an essential inner contradiction.
Similarly with the guru. Our life should be guru-oriented. Our life should be a life of harmony with his will and teaching. That would be therefore the way we express our reverence for the guru. And that we should do daily. We should live a guru-oriented life in close accordance with the teachings to us, not only daily but also every hour from morning till night.
If you revere some being, you would also wish to carry out his instructions and orders, the way that he wants to walk you to walk, the way that he has shown by his teachings as well as by his living. The genuine manner of showing reverence in a practical way would be to live in accordance with his will, and not contrary to it.
We must be aware that this orientation in our life is one of the essential ingredients of discipleship. We may even say that it is the essence of discipleship. Then indeed all blessings will be ours. Then indeed day by day we will proceed and progress towards the Goal. The guru’s teachings will find fulfilment in the disciple’s living, and all blessedness will follow. We must sincerely, earnestly and diligently strive to this end without ceasing. Our supreme good and highest welfare lies in this.
May the divine grace of the Supreme and benedictions of the guru enable us to do so and live so! May God and Gurudev’s grace and blessings enable you to do so most effectively, most fully, for the benefit of all humanity!
This article is a chapter from the book Daily Swadhyaya.