Spiritual Progress and Guru

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Does mantra initiation accelerate an aspirant’s spiritual progress?

There are and have been many people doing sadhana without having a guru, and still they evolve, but there have also been many people who have insisted on having a guru. Let me present Kabir as an example. As you know, he was not a superstitious man. He was very rationalistic, analytical and thorough in his approach. He had an adamant desire to be initiated, but because the circumstances surrounding his birth were not clear and his real parents were not known, he was denied that privilege.

So, one morning, he went to the ghat where Swami Ramananda, a great guru of that time, took his early morning bath. He lay down on the steps leading to the ghat, and as Swami Ramananda was descending the steps, he put his foot on the body of Kabir. When he realized he had stepped on a man, the swami cried, ‘Ram, Ram’, as we usually say. Kabir jumped up ecstatically and said, ‘I got the mantra. This is what I wanted to hear from you. Ram, Ram, that is my mantra.’

So, from that day onward, Kabir continued to repeat the mantra and increase his love for Rama. When people asked him, ‘What do you mean by Rama, Rama who was a man, the son of a king?’ he said, ‘No, I am talking of every Rama: a Rama who was the son of Dasharatha; a Rama who is omnipresent in all hearts and all beings; a Rama who has been playing this entire drama, who has been responsible for the whole creation; and a Rama who has transcended the mind, body and speech.’ This is how he had been working on the mantra which he obtained by cheating his guru.

If that is the case, why should we have doubts about it anymore? It may be possible for us to realize the highest without receiving a mantra from a guru, but we are not sure about it. Therefore, it is safer that we take a mantra from a guru even if it is not necessary.

When you accept a guru, you start to work on the plane of ego. If you do not want to have a guru, you are fighting on the plane of ego, and ego is the greatest barrier between you and your inner spirit. When you accept a guru, you are surrendering your ego, and unless you surrender your ego, you can be sure you are not going to have a guru.

What is the relationship therefore, between ego and spiritual progress? Spiritual progress is essentially linked with the disintegration of ego. Here I can quote many examples, but I will give an example of my own. I had been aware of the higher state of consciousness by the grace of nature, even from the age of six. When I was ten, I started practising something because someone had told me that the awareness I had was natural and that I must start to develop it. However, I found that when I used to lift my consciousness, I always reached a particular point of shoonya, void, which I could never go beyond. My mind became void. I had no self-awareness, no awareness of time, space and matter, just shoonya, no experience. It was like the hibernation of the entire process of consciousness.

I asked many people for guidance. I was living in Almora then and lots of sadhus and mahatmas used to pass through Almora on the way to Mount Kailash. Some of them advised me, but I did not understand what they said. However, one very nice swami said, ‘Look here, I cannot tackle your spiritual problem, and nobody else can, because you need a guru.’ I asked him why I needed a guru and he replied, ‘The curtain that hangs before you can only be removed by substituting a guru in its place.’ This was so difficult for me to understand. Anyway, circumstances changed and I left my home and went in search of a guru. I went to Rajasthan and stayed with an old swami who was a very good tantric yogi. He liked me very much, and from him I learned all about tantra. However, when I asked him how I could remove the barrier that blocked my path to higher consciousness, he said, ‘This I cannot say.’ So I left.

When I came to Swami Sivananda, I asked him only one thing. I said, ‘When I meditate something is wrong, I do not know where I am. What should I do?’ All he replied was, ‘Do guru seva.’ So I tried it and it worked. Therefore, in my personal opinion, there is no harm in taking a mantra from a guru, in following the type of sadhana he gives you, and in offering your inner devotion to him. That will only help your psychological or psycho-emotional condition.

It is true that many people are afraid of being exploited by the guru, but for that a disciple is more responsible than a guru. Your relationship with your guru is purely private and confidential. A guru is not a social event and a disciple is not a propagandist, a preacher or a public relations officer for his guru. A disciple is a guru’s personal investment, and therefore the mantra is confidential. The relationship between the two is also an absolutely private affair.

Many years ago, I met a brahmachari in Munger when I was staying in Ananda Bhavan. We knew each other very well, and once by mistake, I happened to ask him the name of his guru? He said, ‘How can I tell the name of my guru? It is so sacred. It is personal and intimate.’ So, when even the guru’s name is so sacred, the mantra that is given by him, the sadhana which he teaches you and the relationship which you endear, they are all very private matters. If this intimacy is respected, the guru can never exploit the disciple. Disciples are exploited when they are over ambitious. They keep stressing ‘My guru is great’ and they keep belting it out like a drummer beating on his drum. Then they exploit the guru and in turn the guru exploits them. This is a mutual affair.

What does it matter to you if your guru’s name is written all over the walls in neon lights? Guru’s name should be written on the walls of your heart and you know it. How much you love him and what type of sacrifice or offering you make to him only concerns you and him. Why should a third man come into the picture? Why should it be broadcast to the public? What has society got to do with your relationship with your guru? The relationship you have with your guru is purely spiritual and should be regarded as sacred.

Just as you treasure a valuable diamond and conceal it from the public, you should do the same with your relationship with guru. Do you show your diamond or nugget of gold to everybody you pass in the street? Do you brag about its monetary value? No, you keep it in a safe place and out of sight. Then why should your relationship with guru become so public, cheap and ordinary that you go around telling everybody about the miracles your guru performs, the greatness of his being, the eminence which he enjoys and the love and power and faith that he has? No, your guru should be your beloved. That is what Guru Nanak said, “My guru is my beloved, you have nothing to do with it.”

In this scheme of spiritual evolution, guru’s presence in your life is essential. If that is the case, then this is what you should do. If you have already received a mantra intuitively, or from your father, mother, grandfather, or any other family member, or if it is connected with the worship of any kuldevata, family deity, you go to a guru and ask him to chant that mantra in your ear. Listen carefully to the way he chants the mantra and the sound he is producing and try to reproduce that mantra in the same way. That becomes your sadhana.

13 October 1981, Munger