Do I Need a Guru?
(Note: I write this inspired as I am this day, July 25, which commemorates the meeting of Mahavatar Babaji with Paramhansa Yogananda for the purpose of endorsing Yogananda's inspiration to go to America. Yogananda prayed all night for a sign that his going was the Divine will. The next morning the peerless Babaji came to him at 4 Garpar Road, Calcutta, to give his blessing to one who was destined to bring the work of kriya yoga to the West and to the world.)
Well, if that’s the question, I say, “Is the pope Catholic?” Mozart was once asked how it was he composed music at age 4 or 5? Mozart’s reply was simple: “I didn’t have to ask that question.”
If a person is seeking a partner in life and is attracted to someone, if he has to ask, “Am I in love?” I’d say, “Wait.” If you have to ask a question like that, it means the answer is no. Important things in life aren’t answered by listing out the “pros” and “cons” on a sheet of paper.
One who asks, “Do I need a guru,” doesn’t. And, not because he doesn’t, but because he isn’t ready. When he is ready, he won’t ask the question.
Now, many a person approaches the marriage altar unsure of herself. Self-doubt is certainly an obstacle. Things might work out just fine. Or, not! Yet, despite the doubt, the very fact of approaching altar speaks for itself. Others approach with great certitude only to later encounter stormy waters and crushing disappointment. Whether falsely confident or unnecessarily doubting, the mental static of each thwarts the power of intuition to know what is true.
When I read Autobiography of a Yogi the first time, I simply knew. It wasn’t that I said, “I have found my guru.” Rather, it was that “I knew.” I knew that I had to take the next step even though I didn’t know where it would lead. I had enough intuition and faith to take those steps. And, they weren’t timid steps, for these steps included leaving my birth family and moving to Ananda Village with little to no idea what I was getting into. I wasn’t thinking in terms such as “discipleship” to a person, but I was inspired by Yogananda’s teachings and by the opportunity to live those teachings with others in community. I was fired with calm enthusiasm and confidence.
Besides, Yogananda, as a person, died in 1952 when I was less than two years old. I had not yet met Swami Kriyananda but that didn’t seem to matter much either. I was blessed with a knowing. I never gave one thought to the details. In fact, it was 1977, one year after the fire at Ananda Village: there were no homes and fewer jobs in a remote corner of Nevada County in the Sierra foothills where Ananda Village was located. There wasn’t much there to see: besides a few tepees and huts, there was the Publications building, a very old farmhouse that was the tiny grocery store, a two-room Village office, an old barn and a schoolhouse on a hill.
My attraction may have included inspirational ideas but my response was, and had to be, very personal. One’s response to grace is always personal. For starters, it was personal because a person, Padma, was the one who introduced me to the "Autobiography;" for another, she introduced me to Swami Kriyananda and Ananda! For another, she was interested in me! It doesn’t get more personal than that. My life was about to change drastically and it was very personal!
Nonetheless, though I wasn’t averse or reactive to the word “discipleship,” discipleship wasn’t, for me, the operative word. It would have been too formal for my vocabulary at that time. But that is certainly what it was. And so, bit by bit, step by step, Paramhansa Yogananda came into my life and consciousness.
No response to grace by one person can define the spiritual path. But human life, in its conscious and intentional and intuitive forms, is a constant cycle back and forth between the impersonal and the personal.
For those who, like myself, begin at the point of ideas, the path becomes increasingly personal. For those who begin at the point of an inspired personal relationship, the path, in order to become whole and complete, becomes increasingly idealistic. But this cycle has to balance and is never static.
I have come full circle in my life on this issue, for, year after year I practiced kriya yoga; year after year I served at the first Ananda Community near Nevada City, CA; year after year I served with, listened to, was taught by and learned from Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda. You could say it kept getting more and more personal! It HAS to because WE ARE personally involved. Our very soul is struggling to emerge from the cocoon of ego. All the abstractions and metaphysical precepts in the universe can’t change the personal nature of spiritual growth.
I have come full circle on this in my life. Many students question why it is that to learn kriya yoga one must accept the disciple-guru relationship with Paramhansa Yogananda and the line of preceptors who sent him. With personal experience, I have come to know why.
I have said to others who question this need, “Go ahead: try to advance spiritually on your own.” Anyone who makes an ardent, sincere and intelligent effort will discover the truth (“that will make you free”): we are not alone and we cannot transcend the ego with the ego’s best efforts alone. Something else — a greater power — is needed. It’s like the website “Kickstarter.” To get a successful venture off the ground, you need spiritual “financing.”
All the kriyas, all the donations, all the creative, tireless, self-less service one performs for spiritual growth are necessary but they constitute only 1/4th of what it takes. For one thing, the doing of such activities are sticky: they stick to the sense of personal, egoic doership.
On the 8-Fold Path of Patanjali, among the five items he lists as the “Do’s” is devotion. Devotion is what propels self-effort towards the soul by way of ego transcendence. Recognition of the “otherness” of the soul, of superconsciousness, of God, and heartfelt self-offering into the guidance and power of the “Other” is the necessary “spice” that makes the soup of spiritual growth nutritious and soul-satisfying.
As I have stated earlier, the spiritual path is personal. Devotion becomes personal when, in response to our heartfelt efforts and devotion, God’s grace and presence flows to us and comes to us through the guru. Timing is everything. Timing includes the question of when we meet the guru face-to-face in the body. It’s not that the true guru is limited by time or space but one’s readiness to encounter the guru in human form varies from person to person.
We, at Ananda, are disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda but he left his body in 1952. Through the touch of his direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda, we have been inspired and instructed. A time will no doubt come in a future life or on a higher plane when our meeting will be complete in every way. So while the guru is already transcendent and doesn’t need a physical body, we need the guru to appear in human form for our own instruction and inspiration. Otherwise, without incarnation, how would I know anything about the guru: the teachings, the techniques, the life example and stories?
The fact of avatara (divine incarnation) is also the promise of our soul’s immortality. It also hints at how God created and sustains all creation: by an act of becoming. It is logically and philosophically necessary that a soul in human form has achieved Self-realization. This demonstrates the eternal promise, the covenant between God and man that we are His children, made in His image.
The guru is an incarnation of divinity. No single guru can circumscribe or otherwise limit the Infinite Power of God. Nonetheless, one who has “become one with the Father” (in a previous life), returns to human incarnation with the full power of divinity. As God has become the entire universe but the forms and beings of creation have not yet realized this truth, so God incarnates on earth in human form through the vehicle of a soul who has reunited with “the Father” and become Self-realized as a son of God.
Each true (or “sat”) guru remains unique, as each snowflake is unique. This is the law of creation and duality. Thus each guru in any given life will uniquely express God’s will and vibration appropriate both to the unique nature of that Self-realized soul and to the needs of those to whom that guru is sent. No one guru has the final “say.”
It has been well said that “idolatry is the bane of religion.” But so is dogmatism, sectarianism and just about every other vice that infests human consciousness. In the case of idolatry, it is the all too common error of mistaking the form (the human persona of the guru) for the divine spirit which animates the guru’s consciousness. Thus, some object to what they view as the “worship” of the guru for the fact that such devotion belongs solely to God and for the fact that human beings are imperfect.
No point “arguing” with that objection. A good disciple should try always see God as acting through the guru. Yogananda repeatedly reminded disciples that “God is the guru. I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He.” Still, if a sincere but somewhat less than clear-minded disciple lavishes his devotion somewhat too personally upon the guru, forgetting the correct philosophical attitude, it seems hair-splitting so long as the disciple harms no one in his devotions. The problem for such a disciple is that too personal an attitude will, in time, affirm the very ego that the disciple seeks to transcend by virtue of his devotion!
I have come, as I have said, full circle. I will do my kriyas; I will serve; I will do my best to attune my will to the divine will, but it is the mindful, affirmative, and real-time sense of the guru’s presence that is more important than anything that this “I” can do.
In meditation, I try to feel his presence; I try to visualize his eyes, his face, or feel that special state that, for me, says “He is here.” I go from my inner self-talk, monologue, to a dialog with him. I tell him my secrets; I ask his advice; I laugh and cry with him. The world around me may go up or down and all around, but so long as I have my guru at my side, I am whole. I am safe in the arms of his grace.
No, you don’t need a guru……..unless you want to know God; unless you want to be free from the limitations of duality, of the ego, and of your karma. But you may have to wait. You won’t find your guru by chasing and seeking but by becoming a better seeker, a living disciple of truth, of life, of God’s will. “When the disciple is ready, the guru appears.”