Like a flower bud, human life has the potential to blossom fully. The blossoming of human potential to fullness is yoga.
~ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
The saints and sages of ancient times evolved and perfected over centuries a system of self-development known as yoga. This unifying objective is achieved through the development of one’s own unique individual potential for Self-realization. Since time immemorial, the science and philosophy of yoga has always been taught by the preceptor to the student – transferred by the grace of the Guru (spiritual teacher) to the spiritual aspirant or disciple (student).
Parampara is the knowledge passed over in succession from the Guru to the disciple. It’s a Sanskrit word which denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most genuine, authentic valuable form; knowledge that is vast and endless, and which is based on direct and practical experience. The Guru and the disciple form the basis or links of this parampara or any lineage: the links in the transmission of knowledge which has been passed down for thousands of years. In order for yoga teachings to be effective, true and complete, they should come through this Guru-disciple parampara. Traditionally, knowledge could only be transferred after the student had spent several years with an enlightened Guru, to whom he had completely surrendered with his body, mind and spirit. Only then was he deemed fit to receive the knowledge.
Over a period of time, the world has far deviated from the real purpose of yoga and the Guru-disciple tradition. How many of us really understand the purpose of yoga? Several hundreds of yoga schools are mushrooming in the world which train thousands of people to become yoga teachers, but how many schools really talk about the true essence of yoga? Yoga has now become synonymous with doing some asanas (physical postures), some breathing or meditation techniques, or some other practices. It’s good that the world has retained this ancient wisdom, however, the challenge is not to remain stuck with the techniques but to go beyond and grasp the essence and purpose of yoga.
Throughout the history of yoga, the authentic Guru has often been regarded as the essential spiritual guide, a living example of the teachings he advocates. In yoga, the genuine spiritual master is one whose mind is the embodiment of spiritual philosophy; one who walks his talk, who lives by what he preaches, who takes on students to teach them what he has learned in life.
As the word connotes in Sanskrit, Guru is the person who, by his enchanted spiritual genius, is able to help “dispel darkness” and “remove ignorance” from our hearts and minds.
In other words, a Guru (gu+ru = dispeller of darkness) is one who removes the veil of existence and opens before us the infinite nature of life. The Guru helps divert us from the path of Avidya (ignorance) to Vidya (knowledge). He will remove all doubts and ignorance and transform the vicious samskaras (mental impressions). He does not simply stuff you with knowledge, he kindles life force into you. The Guru invokes and awakes the intelligence, not just the intellect. The pinnacle of intellect is intelligence. When you come to the Guru, seeking stops and blossoming begins. The Guru is presence unlimited, vast, infinite and all-inclusive. The presence of the Guru in one’s life brings fulfillment to all other relationships.
The Guru shows you who you are, what your highest possibility is. He helps you dive into your Self and attain your goal – not just show you some techniques or some path in order to do so. The Guru is God incarnate and the doorway to liberation. In other words, God, Guru and the Self are synonymous. To see the Guru is to see God. All great masters have clearly understood this.
Jesus Christ explained this in his saying, “I and my Father are One.”
Lord Buddha expressed this with the utterance, “My thoughts are always in the Truth. For lo! My Self has become the Truth.”
Lord Krishna said, “I am the goal of the wise man and I am the way.”
To live in proximity to a great Guru is a priceless gift hard to understand and appreciate, unless you have experienced it for yourself. These remarkable human beings hold the initiatory secrets to revealing the Spirit, bringing down the Spirit on Earth and unraveling the serenity of enlightenment. They are the living testaments of a spiritual lineage as old as the civilization itself.
Since there is much skepticism, controversy and misunderstanding these days about Gurus in the world, it is important to understand the essence of who a Guru actually is.
Infinity is available but not tangible; the Guru is both infinite and tangible. The divine is impersonal; the Guru is both personal and divine – the impersonal personified for your benefit. A Guru is so vast, yet tangible and available. Guru is infinite love present in a bodily form.
I began my yoga journey more than two decades ago and slowly it became both my passion and mission. But something was missing. I began to realize that my mission could not be accomplished without the guidance of a Guru. I strongly missed the presence of a Guru in my life. I had the intense desire to go to Gurukul (traditional yoga school) as described in the ancient yoga scriptures, and learn yoga from an unpretentious yogi and Guru, who could bless and guide my life and the path of yoga on which I was treading.
My desire was fulfilled when I met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for the first time. My journey got the direction and the momentum which was so badly needed. Without his guidance and grace, I would have just been playing on the shore of the vastly deep ocean of yoga. Boredom and indiscipline were replaced by unfathomable joy and loving discipline and commitment. The journey which was primarily limited to doing some physical postures and breathing techniques experienced its infinite potential. Yes, my physical practice has surely touched an entirely new dimension as well. Yoga is the union of body, mind, breath and soul. I started getting glimpses of this union during my practice.
There are tons of books, websites and DVDs on yoga available these days; you can practice some asanas and breathing techniques with their help, but they can’t offer you the true experience of yoga. They have a lot of information but to translate it into experience, one needs a Guru. He makes you feel the true essence of yoga which is beyond techniques.
While the world celebrates Guru Purnima today, the very first after we observed the first International Day of Yoga on June 21 this year, let us all pay reverence to our Guru who has been instrumental in bringing the vast knowledge of yoga into our lives.
This piece is based on talks by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and is written by Dr. Sejal Shah, an Art of Living Yoga faculty.