Spiritual and religious texts expounding Eastern thought are full of master-disciple stories of surrender and obedience. Many people who visit the ashram and many who write to me are inquisitive about the role of a guru on one’s path, they ask me if it is necessary to surrender. Furthermore, many admit having trouble exercising complete surrender to any guru. In continuation with the earlier post on surrender I wrote a while ago, let me share my thoughts with you.
There are thousands of quotes in various texts that lay emphasis on the importance of having the right guru. Is it truly that crucial? The answer is it depends on what you are after. If you simply need a teacher who can point you in the right direction based on scriptures and books, there is no dearth of such people. However, if you need someone who can demonstrate any bit of direct experience, someone in whose presence you feel safe, secure, loved, and peaceful, you have little choice.
The guru-shishya (master-disciple) relationship has been around since time immemorial. Unfortunately, in this day and age, I see more exploitation than exploration. The majority of today’s gurus are busy with worldly projects, they are selling merchandise, funding private hospitals that are run for profit, they are building ashrams everywhere they can, they are hoarding money, they are collecting profits; how close you can get to them often depends on how much money you have to offer. It pains my heart to see such fleecing and deterioration. Is there anything wrong with that? You decide.
If you meet someone who claims to be a Godman, someone who is giving you a sacred diksha (initiation) without examining you, who is simply interested in all that you have to offer, who makes you feel unworthy, insignificant, who banks on your fears, I would say: abandon that person. He is a wolf in the guise of a sheep, a sinner in the garb of a saint. Never ever hesitate to ask questions. If the guru snaps at you, can he ever preach you eternal peace? If he is attached to his material things, is he the right one to teach detachment? If his negative emotions of anger, jealousy and hatred swell up like any other seeker, how will he ever get you to rise above them?
Before you exercise surrender or before you accept someone as your spiritual master, take your time, be critical. Who was Buddha’s spiritual master? Mahavira’s? No doubt Buddha, for example, studied and practiced meditation, tantra, yoga, and austerities under various masters, notably Alara Kalama. His own realization though came from treading his own path with utmost steadfastness.
You need not go looking for a guru; just stay sincere to your own path, to your practice of peace and love, of compassion and contentment. When you do that, the right guru will present himself out of nowhere. Providence arranges for it. Take my word for it. So, is it necessary to surrender? And what if you cannot surrender? Read on.
The truth is, it is not in your hands per se. What chance does frozen butter have in front of fire? If the fire is real, the butter will melt automatically. The right guru, with the fire of truth in his heart, with the warmth of compassion in his being, with the heat of tapas, penance, and his direct knowledge will melt you in no time. He will leave you with no option. Let alone just surrender, you will find yourself willing to do anything for him. He can inspire you to give up your life for a cause. With his mere presence, he can empty you so you may be filled, he can soften you so you may be molded. He can transform you. With his one glance, he can wash ashore all your bottled up negativity, anguish and pain.
Why do scriptures require showing due respect to a guru? Why are you expected to bow in front of him? Imagine two glasses, one is full of water and the other one is empty. If you have to transfer water from the one that is full to the empty one, the empty one must be a step below it; the full glass needs to be higher so that the contents may be transferred. While living in the Himalayas, sometimes villagers would pass by carrying heavy bundles of wood on their heads. They wanted to greet me in the appropriate manner befitting our culture, but because of the weight on their heads, they were unable to bend down.
Similarly, a lot of people carry an enormous weight on their heads, the weight of labels, of the ego, of attainments, of bookish knowledge, of titles. Such a burden makes it hard for them to bend; it stops them from surrendering. The right guru will decimate your ego without preaching to you. So should you surrender or not is an empty question, a futile one. The question is: are you ready to transform yourself? If you are happy with yourself, why bother with all this master-disciple stuff? If you feel you need to work on yourself and you do not know how to go about it, well then you need to do whatever it takes to learn from the one you look up to.
Imagine a deep wound. If someone has to clean and dress it, it is going to hurt a little. It will become a little itchy as it heals, thereafter it may leave a light scar for some time before disappearing completely. Provided, of course, the person dressing it is a bona fide medical professional. Similarly, when you allow someone, the right guru, to work on your ego and your shortcomings, it is going to hurt a little, but eventually, it will result in healing.
A while ago, I wrote on the four pillars of sadhana, spiritual practice. It briefly touches base on the role of a guru. You can read it here.
Surrender requires putting aside one’s ego, it requires strength. Do not try to exercise surrender artificially, let it come from within. If you feel you should be surrendering but you are unable to, that is perfectly fine. Give yourself time. If the one in front of you deserves your submission, you will find yourself doing it automatically. As long as you are not disrespectful, you are good. Be free, be fearless.