Significance of Guru Bhakti Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Guru Bhakti Yoga is important in the lives of everyone since each person has a special and personal relationship with the guru. The experience of guru’s presence and the inspiration we draw from it is Guru Bhakti Yoga. While the rituals of yajna, havan, worship and chanting of mantras have their place in society, at an individual level it is extremely important for devotees and sannyasins to ponder upon and arrive at a clear understanding about the way in which one can establish a practical relationship with the guru. Those sannyasins who are manmukhi, influenced by their own minds, listen to the whims and fancies of their personal ambitions and desires whereas sannyasins who are gurumukhi make an attempt to connect with the guru tattwa.

What is the idea that most of us have about the guru tattwa? This concept is primarily influenced by the way in which our minds work. When you are sick and somebody suggests some medicine to you, you say, ‘The medicine worked, this person is my guru!’ If you learn yogasanas from someone, you call that person your guru. This implies the nature of your understanding in which anyone who teaches you something is a guru. When you are so unaware of what ‘guru’ really means, how can it be possible to experience the guru tattwa?

Guru tattwa is an experience; it is the experience of the luminosity of the spirit in life, it is the experience of divinity in life. It is absolutely imperative for sannyasins to connect with the guru tattwa. Manmukhi sannyasins are wrapped up in their own wishes, indulgences and ambitions for that is where they find their happiness. There are many who receive initiation and the next day they declare that they are gurus themselves! They are manmukhi and only concerned with their own self-interest.

Even the idea, ‘I wish to do something for society’ reflects a manmukhi mentality. They think about serving society but what about serving the guru? There has been no thought about working for the guru’s mission. When we think about going into society and doing this or that, we follow the dictates of our minds and put our emotions at the forefront. This is later justified by saying that this work will add to the glory of the guru’s name. Is this truly the propagation of the guru’s name or merely satisfying the demands of one’s own ego?

This prevents one from establishing a pure relationship with the guru and is the reason which causes the downfall of a devotee, an aspirant and a sannyasin. However, when we are able to connect with the guru tattwa and derive inspiration from the guru, it is this source of energy that takes us ahead in life. This energy and inspiration impels us to work for the divine in our life, gives us a direction and makes it possible to uplift ourselves. The tradition of Guru Bhakti Yoga is an opportunity for sannyasins and householders to make an effort to learn from the inspiration and teachings received from the guru to become good, think in a better manner, act in a better way and see if we can incorporate at least one aspect in our lives.

Everyone wishes to meditate and attain moksha, however what kind of meditation is possible when even the desires within oneself are unmanageable? People may say they meditate, but if they are unable to tolerate harsh words from another person, what kind of meditation is that? If the mind is troubled by mere words or when an unpleasant act causes disturbance and distress, that is not spiritual life at all; it is only a superficial participation in satsang. The Bhagavad Gita is full of satsang for Arjuna had said, ‘The mind is fickle and restless, Krishna,’ and Sri Krishna spoke of many remedies. However, was Arjuna able to adopt and apply them? No. If you are under the impression that in the battlefield Arjuna sat down and practised pratyahara and meditated, you are mistaken. If someone truly understands the teaching, a practice is adopted as part of one’s everyday life and those who do not understand, merely adopt a philosophy at an intellectual level. This is the basic difference between a dedicated sannyasin and a manmukhi sannyasin.

People talk about philosophy – this is how things should be, this is what should be done – and for thousands of years people have only been talking, yet has there been any real change? It has remained within the confines of a philosophy without translating into concrete action. When philosophical concepts are brought alive, the practical form can be applied and become a source of inspiration for all. The principles of Vedanta which were hard to understand were clearly explained by our guru in one word: atmabhava. What is the point of reading scriptural principles about what is Brahma or what is the world and what is unreal or real? We have been given the means, a path has been created for us. Understand what atmabhava means and everything will become clear.

Atmabhava is the teaching of Sri Swamiji. People think, ‘Atmabhava, what a wonderful word!’, yet how many make the effort to incorporate this in their lives? There is envy and hatred towards others, there is a lack of understanding and conflicts in relationships, and yet people speak about atmabhava. This shows that atmabhava is only a philosophy for them, it has not translated into reality as there is no effort made in that direction. The day an effort is made, there will be an undeniable change in behaviour and thought, everything in life will change because of a connection with the guru’s inspiration.

It is for this reason that it is necessary for an individual to decide how to connect with the guru tattwa for only then the true significance of Guru Bhakti Yoga will be experienced. Otherwise, one comes to a program, it feels good, there is a beautiful ambience and all that, but the mind is not willing to go any deeper.

This is why the first rule prescribed for sannyasins is samarpan, dedication and surrender. Until there is samarpan, unless pride and ego do not bow down in humility, a relationship with the guru tattwa cannot be established. Forget about the ego. Though you say that you will sacrifice the ego, are you even able to grapple with the desires and whims of your mind? Nothing has been left behind, neither desires nor the ego. Sacrifice is just a fantasy of the mind as there has been no real effort.

The teaching of the guru comes in just one sentence; it is not necessary to give a long lecture. Swami Sivananda spoke only one sentence to our gurudeva, ‘Work hard, do your duty, do your seva and the veils within you will lift so that the light within can blaze forth.’ What upanishadic principles did Swami Sivananda expound upon? Did he lecture on Vedanta, Samkhya or tantric scriptures? He only gave one single instruction: discover the qualities within, ignite the light within and seva is the path or method you can follow to achieve this end. Our gurudeva latched on firmly to that one single instruction, he did not go and attend any classes or lectures. It is not necessary to talk about the nature of the relationship he shared with Swami Sivananda. In a matter of moments, Swami Sivananda’s ‘hard drive’ was transferred to Swamiji through shaktipat. Why? Swamiji was gurumukhi. If it was one of us, we would have said, ‘Oh! I have come here to do sadhana but Guruji is asking me to work hard. This place is not good. I should go somewhere else.’ This is manmukhi behaviour, a manmukhi mind-set.

Guru Bhakti Yoga is an occasion to become gurumukhi in order to uplift our lives. I have given many examples and a single indication is sufficient for an intelligent person. One can teach the entire scriptures to a donkey yet an intelligent person will grasp the message in a trice. If it is the scriptures that you seek, then you have missed the guru’s message. Make a strong resolve infused with energy, purity and divinity so that you make an effort to connect with the guru tattwa today and not with whims, fancies and desires, not with likes and dislikes ‘Oh, I like this. I dislike that’. Rather connect with the feeling, ‘I have untethered the boat and set it afloat upon the river; take it to whichever shore You wish.’ There should be unshakeable trust and faith in the one who guides the boat. Guru is your navigator. Do you have complete faith in him?

4 June 2021, Rikhiapeeth, India