What is the function of the guru element or guru tattwa?
People say that the guru is the remover of avidya, the darkness, the nescience. Where does this avidya lie? What does it mean? The darkness, the nescience, the avidya, is the covering over the light, which has to be removed. The centre of this light is the heart, not the mind. From unconditional light it has become conditioned light, from unconditional love it has become conditioned love, from unconditional feeling it has become conditioned feeling. There are many such coverings over the heart and the guru aims to remove them.
You have to deal with the mind yourself. The process of dealing with the mind has been defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: management of the mental modifications is yoga this is the second sutra. After you have managed your mind you will establish yourself in your own nature this is the third sutra. Here, personal effort is emphasized in order to deal with and manage the mind. But when you want to remove the conditionings from life and express the unconditional nature, then the guru comes in.
For the practice of yoga and for managing your mind you do not need a guru. Systems have been defined very clearly. You can learn and practise yoga at home from a book, from any teacher, and you will get some benefits. But when it comes to removing the veil of avidya from the heart, then the guru comes in, because it is that guru who tells us how we can let go of our ego, how we can surrender, how we can develop our faith, how we can develop conviction, how we can develop clarity of perception, action, thought, speech etc. The spiritual teaching which is imparted by the guru is to develop the unconditional heart, not the unconditional mind.
So the role of the guru is to open the heart. The role of yoga is to open the mind. The role of an ashram is to open the perceptions which allow you to involve yourself in effort. These roles are predefined. In the ashram we practise effort, purushartha, we learn to control the mind through discipline and to awaken the bhava, the emotion, towards the guru. These are the three components: ashram life for discipline and motivation; yoga for mind management; guru for opening the heart.
Is prayer said with faith and emotion received or not, because we have heard that even with praise the gods and goddesses become happy?
When you praise somebody you are using your mind to create a concept, an idea, which is pleasing to you and which you feel will please the other person. This means that your heart is not in it it is only a manipulation of words and emotions.
The senses, of course, like praise because they feel fulfilled by it. Each sense has its own specific function and role in which it becomes fulfilled. The ears like to hear praise because the ear is directly connected with the ego. Physiologically the ear is connected to the brain, but yoga and the other ancient traditions say that there is a direct connection between the ego and the ears. Therefore, whenever something pleasant happens or when something pleasing is said, we feel elated and happy because the ego has been pumped up. But when something unpleasant is said, we feel unhappy because the ego has been deflated. So what you hear is going directly to the aspect of ego, influencing self-esteem and self-image. Those people who identify with the ego, who see themselves as great or small, big or tiny, like praise very much. But praise is only a manipulation of words and emotions to either boost up the ego or deflate it.
Praise is not prayer. Prayer is heart talk, and it becomes effective when it is isolated from the mind, when it is purely a heart feeling. When all the external doors are closed, then only one door opens the internal door. When all the external doors of the mind are closed then only the door of the heart opens. When the crookedness of the mind has been stilled, when the agitations of the mind have become peaceful, when the deviousness and dubious nature of the mind has been transformed then the heart becomes active.
Prayers that come from the heart go straight to God. That is the direct phone line. If you ever want to phone God, don't use the public call office of the head, use the private call office of the heart. Then you will have a direct connection, because from the private office the call is local and from the public office the call is intercosmic and very expensive!
Change the sentence God is nowhere to God is now here. This is all you have to do in praise and prayer. In praise God is nowhere, in prayer God is now here it's as simple as that. Prayer is the song of the heart, and this prayer is your connection, your telephone line, which will always be heard. Praise may not be heard but prayers will always be heard.
What pleases you?
Definitely not your praise because if you can praise me today you can abuse me tomorrow! Prayer doesn't reach this far because prayer is directed only to God, not to another human being. What will please me the most is your determination and motivation to live in a just, appropriate, positive and creative manner. If you can do that then neither praise nor prayer is needed.
—Ganga Darshan, November 14, 2001