The expression gurukripa hi kevalam means the grace of guru is absolute and is the only reality. For a disciple, this expression holds good, because in his spiritual life and in the wild abyss of life, to what shall he look? When ships approach a harbour they are guided by a lighthouse. Just as the lighthouse is very important for a sea navigator, guru is equally important for guiding the disciple through the wilderness of life.
If you contemplate carefully, you will realise that you do not really know who you are and where you are. In truth, we do not know anything about ourselves, and if we try to dive deep in order to acquire self-knowledge, we confront frightening experiences. Therefore, in the darkness of life, there has to be one lonely light in the hands of a traveller. That is why they say 'gurukripa hi kevalam'.
My guru, Swami Sivananda, was a saint, not a preacher. Although he was the author of over two hundred and fifty books, he was not an intellectual. He was like a child, innocent and pure in intention, and he had many brilliant disciples with him. They served him with love and sincerity, and now, just as I feel his grace, I am sure they are receiving it too. I will tell you something about this.
While I was with Swami Sivananda, I worked very hard in order to scale the wall. I had no intention at all of having ashrams and disciples and I never had any ambition to be promoted to guruhood. Even to this day I am not sure if I am a guru. Many times I try to find out, but I don't find any guru in myself. I find discipleship, of course. I never had any intention to be a preacher or a teacher, I just wanted to live as free as a bird, to move with the breeze and be tossed like the waves of the ocean. My ideal was to have nothing to do and nothing to accomplish; nothing to gain and nothing to lose; to be, that is all.
And I succeeded in maintaining this standard of life from 1956 up to 1963. I never stayed at any place or associated myself with anyone. I lived like an ordinary beggar, like one of the thousands you find in India. And if you would have seen me, you would have pitied my lot. I used to spend my nights in the alleys and lanes, and drink water from any place. I slept anywhere, amongst all types of people. And I liked this life because there was total and unspecified freedom. Nobody wanted me to follow a social code or a religion. Nobody talked to me about the so called responsibilities of the society, family and nation.
Then, one night in July 1963, I heard the thunder. It broke into the place where I was staying and I heard the summons clearly. And today, I find that I am following it, not because I am honoured, but because he has chosen me. That is called the grace.
If he chooses me to suffer, I will accept it as his grace. Not only good things represent the grace; not only the positive and congenial situations in life represent the grace, either of guru or of God. The grace has a purpose even if we don't know what it is. Actually, my philosophical tradition is Vedanta and not yoga. I know more about Vedanta than yoga because I studied that subject for many years. However, I am preaching yoga and not Vedanta, because he understands that everybody is suffering from infirmity of will and that yoga alone can help them.
When I lived in Swami Sivananda's ashram, it was difficult for me to accept anyone as my associate. I never wanted anybody to depend on me. My one thought was always, 'I came alone and I will go alone, therefore I must live alone.' But nowadays, in the ashram, I find that everybody is too attached to me and people are always circling around my room and waiting outside my door. It is so unbearable for me because I am a different type of person. You don't see me coming to your room and talking to you, that is not my nature. Many times I have considered living quietly, but every time I think about it, I hear the thunder again, 'Continue.' Okay, I continue with the sufferings.
Although I continue to be a disciple, gurudom is imposed upon me, and I must accept that heavy cloak. As a disciple, I don't feel I have any other choice. So when people ask, 'Are you my guru?' I say, 'Yes.' I would prefer to say, 'I am like you. I am your elder brother, your senior friend.' But I have to say, 'Yes, I am your guru,' because the grace of guru must be followed and the disciple should have no choice. If he has a choice, there is an iron curtain. Then the guru is on one side and the disciple is on the other, and communication is not possible.
I have read the life stories of many great disciples and one of the most recent ones was Swami Vivekananda. How he was tossed by the grace of guru! Ramakrishna completely submerged him in his grace, and throughout Swami Vivekananda's short life, he lived in total dedication to the choice of guru. In the beginning he was a very negative man and used to say, 'Oh, I don't like this sadhu at all.' But Ramakrishna had made his final choice, and once the guru makes his decision the disciple has no other way to go.
Not only in India, but even in Europe, there is this holy tradition of guru's grace in the life of a disciple.
Disciples exist today no doubt, but the disciples to whom the grace of guru is earmarked are rare. And often I wonder why Swami Sivananda chose me. I think it could only be for one reason. I had always been his very keen follower. Even an ordinary act in his life meant a great commentary to me. I noted each and every word and expression, I observed every movement of his life - what he ate and how he ate, how he slept and how much he slept, how he greeted the people and how he treated them. There were times when I knew exactly what he was thinking, and on other occasions I could predict what he was going to do before he had a chance to decide anything. A disciple has to understand before the guru can decide.
In certain situations inmates of the ashram used to ask me what I thought Swamiji would do, and I was able to make exact predictions. When I stood beside him, I could see how his thought currents were functioning. Even now I don't believe that he is dead. Of course he is, but it is very difficult for me to feel that, because when he lived, the body I perceived did not seem to be composed of empirical stuff. It appeared to be made of a fine, divine fabric. Not just for a day, but for a full twelve years I saw his body like that.
During my life with Swami Sivananda there was not one point where I was not in rapport with him. That kind of unity must be established between guru and disciple, then the grace flows automatically. So the expression is gurukripa - grace, hi - indeed, kevalam - absolute. I believe in God as many or most of you do, but what is there to think about him, and how to think about him? What is he and what is he not? God is not a man, he is not just a little idol; he is the totality. How can I think of totality with this little mind? The mind is finite and God is infinite. Can you believe that a finite mind can ever visualise the infinite?
In order to experience, know and behold the infinite, you have to be infinity first. Therefore, I came to the conclusion years ago: unite with your guru, become one with him. Just as salt dissolves in water, sugar dissolves in milk and fragrance dissolves in the air, become one and not two. The water becomes salty and the salt becomes watery. They adopt each other's qualities. That kind of unity has to be achieved, then the grace of guru is always there. But no matter how much we talk, practical life is another matter. Mind is very hard stuff to crack, and we fail, even if we know the truth.