What is the function of the guru element or guru tattwa?
People say that the guru is the remover of avidya, darkness, 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 Sage 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. However, 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. However, when it comes to removing the veil of avidya from the heart, then the guru comes in, as it is the 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, and so on. The spiritual teaching that is imparted by the guru is to develop the unconditional heart, not the unconditional mind.
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 that 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.
—14 November 2001