The Guru’s Outer Guidance
A teacher of any subject whether it is sport, academics or spirituality, will have guidelines and rules for their students, to help them achieve the highest standard possible.
There will be practises and habits for them to adhere to, to help them towards their goal, and also habits to avoid because of the dangers they may bring to ones progress in a particular area. Even in the corporate world, each business has baseline standards and practises for success with an awareness that slipping below these could mean failure for the business. Guidelines and standards bring harmony and a feeling of being ‘on track’ to the lives and minds of those working towards a goal either individually, in a group or team. Without this harmony there can be no progress and no ultimate success. Spiritual teachers over the ages have pin-pointed the particular habits and lifestyles that help one progress in Yoga as well as helping us to steer clear of behaviours that could endanger our practise.
It is difficult for a Guru to be of any help to a student if their body and mind are full of restlessness and disturbances brought about from certain lifestyle choices and/or habitual wrong thoughts and wrong actions. The Guru will therefore first ask the student to begin practising the codes of life that will bring a certain level of harmony and peace into the body and mind of the individual. From this point the student will be open enough and in the right consciousness to receive the Masters guidance. “If you want to give the spiritual life a chance to please and fulfil you, you must live it in the proper way.” – from The Master and the Disciple by Sri Chinmoy.
Each spiritual Master differs slightly in their standards and guidelines and also in the number and calibre of disciples that they accept. Some Masters are happy to accept many disciples of all levels of development, while others will only accept a handful of very dedicated and advanced seekers and may be very strict. But each Guru will have a basic standard that all students need to meet, for them to continue to be of service to them.
A true Guru has the capacity to take us to the top of the God Mountain, to samadhi and beyond, but if we cannot meet the Master at ‘base camp’ on this mountain, by following their initial codes for the spiritual life, then we may not be ready to have a Guru. Each Gurus lifestyle guidelines, give the student a safe foundation to base their Yoga practises on so that they can make real spiritual progress without losing inspiration. The spiritual Masters from the East who are teaching the path of Yoga or aspects of the path of Yoga that has been taught for centuries, all have very similar standards that correspond directly with the first two limbs of Yoga as prescribed by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. These are known as the Yamas – the restraints or commandments and the Niyamas – the rules for living. The five Yamas are: Ahimsañnon – non-violence, Satya – truth; Asteya – non-stealing; Bramacharya – celibacy or non-attachment to sensual pleasures; and Aparigraha – absence of greed. These Yamas practised in our every day life can be described as the very basic foundations of the spiritual life. The Niyamas are the rules for living: Saucha – cleanliness; Santosha – contentment; Tapas – aspiration; Swadhaya – self-study; Ishvara Pranidhana – devotion and dedication to God.
All the Masters researched for this paper, without fail, prescribe these codes and rules for living at great length in their writings in and their teachings. The Yamas and Niyamas together form a collective way of behaviour that can be called right thought and right action. Without right thought and right action the negative forces of the world, our own inner weaknesses and the waywardness of the mind and the ego will prevent us from progressing in our yoga journey. Sri Daya Mata, one of Yogananda’s foremost disciples says: “Right attitude is the way to God. Without it one can never know Him. It is the very foundation of the spiritual life.” – Sri Daya Mata.
Not just the spiritual Masters from the East prescribe the Yamas and the Niyamas, in their teachings. In Buddhist philosophy the eightfold path parallels with the Yamas and the Niyamas as do the ten commandments of Christ. No matter what path you are following, you will have to begin with right thought and right behaviour. This is a Universal law, there is only one truth, this same truth in essence runs through all spiritual paths and religions.
Even if you are not following any particular spiritual path, the application of the Yamas and Niyamas will raise your life to a higher level of consciousness and therefore a higher happiness and fulfilment will dawn within you. From this foundation will begin the ascent of your consciousness. Even the laws of most countries are based on some of the Yamas. Humanity has collectively agreed and witnessed to some extent that without these Universal codes of living there will be destruction not just individually but globally. True inner freedom; freedom from fear, freedom from doubt, jealousy, worries and anxieties, comes from our obedience to these codes of right living.
When you have a Guru, the right application of the Yamas and the Niyamas in your life will create receptivity, which is the ability to absorb the higher teachings and higher consciousness they wish to offer you. Receptivity is like pulling open the curtains of your inner being to receive the light that has always been there trying to shine in. If the curtains are always shut the Guru is powerless to be of help to you.
The Yamas and the Niyamas form what can be seen as the beginning of our disciplined life. A life where we are constantly conscious of our thoughts, actions and reactions. A life where we introduce daily practises of reading spiritual writings (Swadhaya), cleanliness (Saucha) both outwardly and inwardly to bring forward physical and mental purity. From these practises our lives will develop purity, humility, simplicity and serenity and we will be then in a position to begin practising the other limbs of yoga such as Asana-posture, Pranayama-breath control, Dharana-concentration and Dhyana-meditation.
My own teacher, Sri Chinmoy has standard guidelines for his students that parallel with that of many other Masters through the ages and with the eight limbs of yoga. All the standards are to prepare the students mind and body for a higher consciousness such as, daily concentration and meditation, weekly group meditation, physical exercise or Asana, to help bring discipline, strength, stillness and clarity to the body and mind so that one can meditate properly. Sri Chinmoy like most spiritual teachers advocates a vegetarian diet to help purify and bring calmness to the body and the subtle energies of the being, so that the student can access higher levels of consciousness. Moving away from drugs, tobacco and alcohol is also important for the purification of the mind and body. These standards, as well as the Yamas and Niyamas are like the ultimate recipe for removing restlessness and disturbances from the being so that one can begin to access their inner being. Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: “Day after day, let the Yogi practise the harmony of soul: in a secret place, in deep solitude, master of his mind, hoping for nothing, desiring nothing.” – from the Bhagavad Gita.
Many Westerners cherish the false notion that freedom is being able to do whatever you wish, whenever you want to. Our culture and society ideals only encourage this attitude. When it comes to having a Guru and moving towards a pure and disciplined life, there can be resistance from Westerners, especially when we are not always brought up to embrace the ideals of the Yamas and Niyamas. Many Westerners want to follow the spiritual life in their own way, on their own terms. They want the peace, light and bliss offered from the path of Yoga, yet the want the indulgences of the outer life that the Western lifestyle promotes as ‘the good life’, drinking, smoking, addictions of every kind, lethargic living, selfish goals and sexual misconduct. However the two lifestyles are very difficult to mix, and the seeker trying to live both lives usually cannot maintain any purity in their nature or regularity in his or her Yoga practises, and therefore inspiration dissolves away. A true Guru will be uncompromising in his or her basic standards for the good of their disciples, in the same way that a parent will not always let a child do what he or she wants to do, because of their love for their highest ultimate good. As Sri Chinmoy writes: “He can never be a real Master if he accepts you as a disciple on your own terms.” – The Master and the Disciple by Sri Chinmoy.
If a spiritual teacher is strict in their standards, it is only because of their sincere love and concern for our spiritual growth. Once applied these guidelines bring a true inner happiness, inner freedom, and contentment (Santosha) that cannot be achieved from outer possessions or achievements.
As well as guiding their students through the stages of Pantanjali’s eight limbs of Yoga, which is known as Raja Yoga, the Guru also guides the disciple to find the inner and outer path of Yoga that particularly suits them, the path that will best suit the expression and strengthening of their unique soul and its predominant qualities. This may be Bhakti Yoga, the path of love and devotion, Karma Yoga, the path of service to God, or Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge and wisdom. We will all touch these paths in our daily life and Yogic practises. When we meditate in the morning or sing devotional songs it is Bhakti Yoga, when we work with an attitude of service and non-attachment to the results as Krishna taught in the Bhagavad Gita, it is Karma Yoga, when we study spirituality it is Raja Yoga. Each seeker though, may find more fulfilling, one of the Yoga paths more than the others. The Guru may encourage a disciple in particular activities or works that will best suit their development. So under the same Master and Yogic philosophy, each disciple will be practising Yoga in an individualised way that suits them best. All the Yogas will bring one to the experience of the last Niyama; Ishvara Pranidhana: devotion and dedication to God. Ultimately the different Yogas merge into one path, of which there is only one subject: God-realisation.
All the great teachers emphasise that one cannot realise God through mechanical practise of the limbs of yoga but must develop a personal intimate relationship with God. The fastest way to do this is through love. As Krishna explains to Arjuna after showing him a vision of his Universal form: “Not by the Vedas, or an austere life, or gifts to the poor, or ritual offerings can I be seen as thou hast seen me. Only by love can men see me, and know me, and come unto me.” – from the Bhagavad Gita.
Each Spiritual Master will leave a treasure of instruction behind when they leave the earth plane that can be continued and passed on by their disciples and others. These works may be philosophical or instructional writings, poetry, stories and anecdotes, answers to questions, devotional songs, art, or Yogic exercises and systems to practise. The Gurus works are like a map of the Yogic journey that the Master has made in achieving union with God. They will be filled with the pure God-consciousness of the Master and an aware seeker will be able to feel and receive from this consciousness flowing through the works.
Each Master although achieving the same goal and expressing the same truth of Yoga, will express and reveal that truth in his or her own unique way, depending on the age and culture they are born into. God may also wish them to express some aspect of the Yoga path in a new way that may suit the characteristics of the people and ways of that time. Whether someone is a disciple of a particular Master or not, they will be able to access the works of the various Masters even centuries later and follow their teachings.
Following a Masters outer guidance and instruction is the beginning of the journey and for some, may be all they need in this lifetime. Through their outer instruction we can make considerable progress in the external limbs of yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara. But to expedite ones progress and really make solid and considerable progress in Yoga in this lifetime, having a personal connection with a Guru and receiving their daily inner guidance is of utmost importance and forms the most significant part of the role of the Guru. Sri Chinmoy has said that the outer guidance of a Master is only the surface of their real work, and that the most part lies unseen in the inner worlds. This is where the differences between a spiritual teacher and a teacher of an outer subject lie. In this last chapter the inner guidance of a Guru and the relationship between Master and disciple will be explored in more depth.
“The presence in one’s life of a living teacher is an immense opportunity and privilege. The Guru accomplishes many things for us, accelerating our progress and shortening the time till our own realisation by many incarnations.” – Jogyata Dallas.