Guru and Disciple

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Guru and Disciple

Compiled by

Sri Swami Venkatesananda

Supreme Solicitude
Sowing the Seed
Self Purification
Welfare of Disciples

In his books Swamiji has given the essence of traditional teaching, imparting to those teachings the secret message of how to keep in touch with this truth, how to make it an integral part of one’s life. The teaching was embodied in him. For instance, though his whole life was one of karma yoga in the truest sense of the word, his actual writings on karma yoga were very meagre. Though he didn’t lecture very much, the few words of instruction that his disciples heard from him were unforgettable. He was the living truth for the most part. His actions spoke far louder than a loud speaker.

The enlightened guru cannot verbalise his fundamental experience. What has been written down, committed to memory or verbalised, is only a fraction of the sage’s experience. There is something which he has experienced that is inexpressible. Even the little fraction that he is able to verbalise is lost in transmission, because the disciple is not attentive; so Swamiji didn’t often encourage people to take down notes when he spoke, but to write down the conversation or dialogue afterwards.

Communication is almost always non-verbal. Often it was found that when a highly inspiring dialogue was jotted down it wasn’t so inspiring, because Swamiji’s ‘hum’, his smile and the expression on his face and in his eyes had a tremendous impact and tremendous meaning. That was where communication took place. Communication can take place only when the disciple and the master have become like one, where they are at the same level and on the same wavelength. Then the teaching is picked up without the need for words. It is said in the Katha Upanishad:

Uttishtata jagrata prapya varan nibodhata.
Arise, awake, be vigilant; then approach a great master and attain enlightenment.

The arising and the awakening are the disciple’s problem, not the guru’s; but Swamiji went out of his way to admit to the ashram people who did not have all these qualifications. He did not hide spiritual truth—it was there, published—and he did not parade his knowledge. That was an extraordinary trait in him. Many swamis and yogis when asked even a simple question like: "Can one bathe in the Ganges in the winter?" would give a whole talk on vedanta: "You are not the body, you are not the mind. You are the immortal Self." It is not the immortal Self that feels the cold, it is the body and the mind that feel cold! Swamiji never spoke like this. If at all, he erred on the other side. He was more interested in the aspirant’s physical and intellectual welfare, rather than impose a sort of religious instruction everytime one sneezed or coughed. He waited for the aspirant to ask a spiritual question, and when the seeker was keen he communicated that knowledge in a mysterious way.

It was the tradition in those days for holy men to hide themselves in a cave, and wait to be approached by qualified disciples who had experienced an inner awakening, who were vigilant and keen and who at great expense of energy and time went to them and asked for instruction. Swami Sivananda adopted this tradition to a great extent by ‘veiling his wisdom in a big overcoat’, so that the people who went to him often remembered him for his affection and love, for his great concern for their physical and material welfare. These were his main preliminary concerns—wisdom or Atma jnana came in its own time. But, when in total affection and love the disciple became one with him, then it was easy for non-verbal communication to take place. That was his secret. But, he did recognise that unless a person had wisdom, dispassion, noble virtuous qualities and a steady yearning for liberation, no amount of verbal instruction would be of any use whatsoever, and non-verbal communication became impossible.

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