Friday, July 20, 2012

Do I Need a Guru? Part 2

Swami Kriyananda (my teacher and founder of Ananda) was once asked by an interviewer, “Do I need a guru?” He smiled, paused, and replied: “No — — — unless you want to find God!”

You see that’s the problem with this question. Imagine someone asking himself, “Do I really want a life partner?” Most people don’t even question their desire for a life partner. In fact, they are eager (often, too eager) to find him or her.

There’s a story about Mozart. He was asked how it was he composed symphonies at a young age. His answer was, “I didn’t have to ask that question!”

Yes, we can speak philosophically about the need for a guru. I did that somewhat in the first article. And that is helpful for some people to understand more about what a true guru is and what a true disciple-guru relationship is really like. Such knowledge can plant a seed of receptivity. But so long as you are asking the question, you probably aren’t ready.

But when a person falls in love with someone, he doesn’t have to ask the question, “Do I want a partner.” (If he does, then, well, can he really say he has fallen in love?”)

But as to the question, “Do I need a guru?,” it can’t be answered on its own terms. The cliché “When the disciple is ready, the guru appears” is the only real “answer” to the question.

As a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda I am bereft of the actual physical presence of my guru and his personal guidance in my life as another human being. When my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, speaks or writes of his experience of Yogananda (whom we refer to as “Master”) it is very inspiring and instructive. Yet, I cannot easily put into direct practice these lessons because Yogananda (“Master”) is not here in my life in the same way.

I have met disciples of other, living gurus, however. While many have had at least one physical contact (meeting) with their guru, few have had direct, daily or even at-a-distance personal access to their guru. Some have been given specific and important guidance but most have only received general guidance, or a mantra and others no direct guidance at all. In fact, this is not uncommon. Some gurus don’t even speak. The number of direct disciples of a true master (not just a popular spiritual teacher) are very, very, very few.

The number of great saints (indeed, avatars, or saviors) are fewer still. But among disciples, only some are receptive on a deep level (or, put another way, “advanced” disciples). Read books on the lives of great saints (East or West) written by disciples and you’ll see immediately the truth of what I speak. Read the gospels and see how clumsy, ignorant, dense or stubborn were Jesus’ own disciples. Judas betrayed him directly but Peter denied him three times. Thomas was the doubter. All of them failed at different points along the way.

For many years I have taught classes based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. I find that many students are wary or put off by the guru word. Many have ceased their studies at the crucial moment of being invited into discipleship. (Our meditation and raja yoga classes are not intended to “convert” students into disciples. The precepts of raja yoga are for everyone. But one of those precepts is that one needs a guru to achieve union with God. So as a matter of principle we teach the precepts of discipleship.)

Just so, many more are put off by the “God” word. But the reasons are as misplaced in the one case as in the other. Both are just words, but words that carry far more baggage than their three or four letters should be burdened with. (I won’t veer off the track and talk about the “God” word just now, however!)

It saddens me to see so many sincere souls turn away at the point where their desire to learn kriya yoga requires them to take discipleship to Yogananda and the line of Self-realization masters who sent him to America. For just as the “God” word can be understood from endless points of view — at least one of which would satisfy even the most hardened scoffer, so too discipleship is not at all the enclosure or imposition that so many students image it to be (usually without the slightest thought, but only reactively).

I don’t intend to dilute the guru principle or to suggest that students just wave their hand past the image saying “What ho!” as they take kriya initiation. Rather I am saying that most simply have no idea that what is being offered to them is the farthest thing from a threat to their freedom and character, for the guru holds the key to their own Self-discovery. But here, too, I don’t mean to so glamorize the idea that readers will immediately turn away from yet another pie-in-the-sky spiritual platitude. So if you’re interested, have a seat. Light up a peace pipe of curiosity and open-mindedness.

Let’s go to the beginning. You know, the Big Bang and all those cosmic gases. OK, then, let’s not. Let try another tact. When we look at this vast universe or the marvelous microcosm of the human body and mind, it is at least equally possible that the creation is a manifestation of a grand conscious intention as it likely that all this stuff came from nowhere and randomly evolved (driven in part by impulses of survival and procreation). The fact that we (indeed humanity since time immemorial) can sit here and can ponder the question as much as suggests that there is a tad bit greater likelihood of the former hypothesis than the latter.  

So, if for the sake of discussion and contemplation, we posit that the universe and we ourselves are manifestations of consciousness (some objects being more successfully self-aware than others, say people vs. rocks), than we can say that some species (and some among such species) are likely to be more aware, more intelligent, and more creative than others. We might step upon the high mountain of perspective and see that evolution seems to go in the general direction of greater and greater intelligence and self-awareness. The mental boundaries of a child would be suffocating to an educated, world-traveling, sophisticated and mature adult. Heroes of justice and compassion break the boundaries and self-enclosure of ego-affirmation and self-interest to include the well-being of others, yea, the whole world, with their own. Such heroes inspire others to break free from ego as well.

In every field of human striving, we see the greatest of these breaking self-enclosing boundaries of culture, tradition, or orthodoxy. If God is consciousness itself, and we find ourselves conscious and self-aware, and we can observe that there are some who transcend what is considered normal ego satisfactions for a much greater reward, it shouldn’t threaten us that there may be some souls who have “found God” (meaning an overarching field or state of consciousness). Why should this be a threat? Is it not, in fact, a promise? Is it not a promise that our own immortality lies beyond the confines of the ego and the physical body, just as the energy that animates our body is the same energy in all bodies and in all objects? That energy is neither created nor destroyed, but only changes form -- or so science tells us!

The question legitimately asked is whether such a state of being precludes, destroys, or eclipses that which we call “I?” Again, like the “God” word, maybe the question is misleading and unhelpful? If energy cannot be destroyed, certainly the consciousness out of which the energy arises cannot be destroyed either. It may change form; it may expand (like gas when heated), but it is still consciousness! In fact, it is just as likely that what we call “I” is simply that universal consciousness particularized (like water vapor cooled and made hard into ice) and identified with the limited life span and appearance of one physical form.

Still, the question haunts us: if I expand my consciousness into God consciousness am “I” not destroyed? Who could not but admit that the “ego” as we know it would evaporate? But instead of being destroyed, consider that it is being released from its frozen and locked state to expand towards infinite consciousness. If consciousness underlies all matter than ours is freed from its prison of ego identity! And, as all things come from, exist in, are sustained by, and are withdrawn back into pure consciousness, even the very memory of the limited “I” remains forever in the universal consciousness. What a liberating thought!

Put this another way: when I was a child, my world was a small world of playthings, my house, and my family. Now, as an adult, my world is much bigger. I am still the same person and my childhood memories and experiences are still part of me and are not lessened by the experiences which I have gained as an adult. I have expanded and I have not lost, but instead I have gained. For most of us who are far from perfected beings we seem to have lost the specific memories of childhood but experiments have shown that under hypnosis memory of many things is rediscovered and was always there.

This is why, in part, one can have a guru who is in a human body or not in human body. What the guru has to offer is not limited by a human body because consciousness is infinite and a true guru has achieved Oneness with the Infinite Consciousness. “I killed Yogananda long ago,” he said. “No one dwells in this form now but Spirit.” But, at the same time, for those of us still trapped in human form, it is far easier and effective to invoke God-consciousness in a form that we can either see with our eyes or visualize with our inner eye or invoke through devotion (the latter two powers being more subtle, more of consciousness itself, are actually more effective than merely “laying eyes upon” another human being). Many people meet a true guru while he or she lives but are not changed. It’s an “inside” job, so to speak.

You see it is ALL CONSCIOUSNESS. The guru is like a swimmer with a mask on who can swim and see the fish under the surface while we, without our diving masks on, cannot see the fish below. To us the depths are opaque, mysterious, even threatening. To see, to become a seer, is what we were born to achieve and this is one reason why it is taught that we must have true guru — because “tat twam asi,” Thou art THAT. The purpose of God’s creation is for souls to become Self-realized. It is not, as is commonly thought and taught, to escape the creation in rejection. It is to realize that the creation is but a dream of the Creator. Therefore there must be some who have achieved this goal and it is such souls who can teach others how to do the same. That's not a threat. It's a promise, though, to the ego, it is a threat, for sure!

And, it is they who come to awaken our lost memory of our true Self. God comes to us in human form because this creation IS God made flesh and dwelling among us and within us. But He is hidden in most things and people, but becomes Self-aware in those who have become Self-realized. Thus from soul-to-soul, one-by-one, we awaken like dreamers back to life from our dreams. The idea, so common to many, that “Why can’t I go to God directly? Why do I need a guru?” is again a case of asking the wrong question. Like Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz, what we are seeking is right here.

And if you are thinking (as I know you are), “Well if God is within me, I ask again, why do I need a guru?” Ok, fair enough, but have you found God? How do you know that by self-effort alone you will achieve success? Upon whose testimony in this effort are you relying? The testimony of the ages is that God sends his prophets, his messengers, his saviors to bring us "salvation!" Why is that so difficult to accept? We see its equivalent in every field of human activity that is worth pursuing. Every field has its masters, its geniuses, its wayshowers. You see this is where the rubber of self-effort meets the road of God’s grace in the form of the guru. 

Only those who have tried with great effort, common sense, and intelligence come to the realization that they need help! Such ones are “ready” and, sure enough, the guru appears! Do you see now?

If you find yourself drawn to a great guru, like Paramhansa Yogananda and the path of Kriya Yoga, what is stopping you? Toss aside false notions of being imposed upon or limiting your choices. When you commit to someone in marriage do you bargain for the right to keep shopping? If you seek the help of a world famous doctor to help cure you of a potentially fatal disease, do you pick and choose among his treatments, going, at the same time to others?

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman