Within the last few decades, as the Occident started turning towards the yogic science for new inspiration in life, side by side the necessity to find a proper guru who could impart this knowledge was being felt by more and more people. Of course it is very easy to purchase a book on hatha yoga and follow the instructions but this is an impersonal method, and most people find it unfulfilling. Therefore, even in the Occident, people are starting to become aware of the guru tattwa.
In ancient days knowledge of every science, trade, etc. was only had by word of mouth from guru to chela, or master to disciple. Though every aspect of life concerning the empirical and spiritual worlds was recorded in the four Vedas, the tradition of oral tuition continued, and is still very much alive even today in India. In early times before any written knowledge had been collected, it was up to the disciples to memorise perfectly the teachings of their gurus. As time went on, the disciples decided that it was necessary to write down the precious knowledge they had imbibed.
The modern system of teacher and student cannot be compared to guru and disciple because it lacks one vital element: the guru tattwa. In India the guru is considered as more than a teacher. When the common layman comes in contact with any guru, he is full of inner respect towards him, whether the guru's appearance and manners are cordial or not. He accepts the guru in a physical form, because he understands that it is only the outer shell of the inner enlightened soul and consciousness.
As people are delving deeper into the yogic science, the practices of hatha and raja yoga are becoming well known. Many adherents have heard about swara yoga but when they search for a book pertaining to this science they find nothing available. Even in India it is the same. If you want to learn the science properly you have to find the swara guru.
In India many people still have knowledge of swara yoga. It is not difficult to acquire a general understanding of the science, but those who practise it are not willing to disclose their knowledge to just anyone. Even if you refer to the original texts, you will have difficulty understanding the symbology and terminology used.
Due to this, the Sanskrit texts are sometimes misinterpreted. So it is not completely effective to learn only from the scriptural references. If you are going to seriously delve into swara yoga, it is safer and easier to try and find the guru who can initiate you into the science. This is exactly what the Shiva Samhita (3:9) states: "Having received instructions in yoga, and obtained a guru who knows yoga, let him practise with earnestness according to the method taught by the teacher."
In this modern day, it is rare to find the swara guru, and initiation into the practices is kept more secret than other tantric initiations. It is not just for the sake of being secretive, or to keep some valuable treasure exclusive to India alone. The sages had a very logical reason for withholding from the general public those sciences which rapidly expand the consciousness by increasing the pranic and mental capacities.
In the past these specific branches of tantra were kept secret because people frequently misused the techniques in order to gain greater power for selfish and destructive motives. Many suffered on account of this. But worse than that, the reputable science of tantra and yoga was defamed. Therefore, we should not consider any branch of the yogic science as dangerous or corrupt, but the correct purpose for which it is meant to be used must be kept in mind. For this reason, since ancient times, such techniques as swara yoga could only be learned under the tutelage of the guru.
An important question arises from these considerations. What is meant by the 'spiritual' intentions of swara yoga? The term 'spiritual' has nothing to do with religion or mysticism or anything in the spirit world. If your concept of spirituality has any of these connotations, then it needs some alteration. 'Spiritual' implies transformation of the lower mind so that it becomes capable of perceiving subtler and higher realms. When the transformation occurs, experience of another, all encompassing and all knowing mind existing in the substratum of every living and non-living thing is perceived. It operates something like a main radio station sending signals to smaller substations and radios. But it is only after the consciousness has undergone a certain stage of evolution that the higher mind can be realised. This is the experience of the 'inner guru'. So, if you desire to awaken the vast dormant area of your brain through swara yoga and experience the higher consciousness, then you will have to find an evolved and enlightened person, who has already undergone such an experience.
In India the guru tattwa is the most relevant part of an individual's life and sadhana. Whether your sadhana follows the lines of swara yoga or has no such formalities, the fulfilment of serving the guru is most vital.
In the tantra and yoga shastras the opening sloka always starts with an invocation to the primal and supreme guru. Of course the name of the guru may vary depending on which era the text was written in. Some texts claim Shiva to be the param guru, others Brahma or Vishnu. Nevertheless they are all referring to the one supreme consciousness which pervades every aspect of creation.
The Shiva Swarodaya first salutes Maheshwara, the Maha-Ishwara or greatest master and lord, also known as Shiva. This is intended to remind us of our ultimate existence, purpose and destiny. The invocation does not even require faith. The mind is ever evolving; when you consciously think of the highest, purest experience, eventually your own individual consciousness will be taken into that realm where the sat guru or true guru exists.
For the people who do not have spiritual convictions and are striving consciously to find a satisfying and permanent experience, the path of swara yoga is very effective. There are also those who cannot accept anything other than the mundane existence. These people too can practise swara yoga, because it consists of a scientific and practical system which enables you to even enjoy worldly life more fully. The Shiva Swarodaya (v. 12) clearly sums up the whole science, stating that: "It is helpful to those who are believers in a supreme being, as well as for those who are non-believers. Even to non-believers, it will give many surprises."
The greatest surprise occurs through the practice of swara yoga as the techniques start having a noticeable effect upon your whole being and your concepts of life. Then the purpose for which these practices are intended begins manifesting in tangible experience. As swara yoga was designed to awaken the higher consciousness, then whosoever should practise it is bound to have this experience eventually.
This system is based on scientific lines, whereby you start from a logical, comprehensive point in your physical existence, and manipulate the mental and psychic forces. By concentrating on the two dualistic energy forces, and eliminating all of the accumulated impurities within the energy pathways of the physical, mental and psychic bodies, the third most powerful force can be generated. That is the spiritual energy which awakens the higher faculties in the brain and consciousness.
Through swara yoga the monitoring centre in the brain, known as ajna or guru chakra, situated at the pineal gland, is directly activated. 'Ajna' means to command, therefore, through ajna chakra instructions from our higher consciousness to the gross mind and body are mediated. For the purpose of awakening ajna chakra, the swara shastras emphasise the necessity of the external guru before the internal awakening process is begun.
Thus the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (3:12) declares that: "He who is devoted to any knowledge, while pleasing the guru with utmost attention, readily obtains the fruit of that knowledge." Another reason why the guru is necessary is that no one will know the science better than he. The guru is fully experienced and shows you, according to your own personal development, the systematic process by which you can progress.
Therefore, even if you do not want to practise swara yoga for the realisation of higher consciousness, but prefer to use it for worldly fulfilment, still it is most necessary to have a guru. He will know your inner desire and capacity, and will allow the expansion of your consciousness to proceed at a rate which you are able to handle. He knows how and for whom the practices will bring best results. Therefore, the Shiva Samhita (3:14) states that: "Only by the guru's favour is everything good relating to oneself obtained. So the guru ought to be served daily, else there can be nothing auspicious."