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The Role of the Guru

Choose a sect of Hinduism and a guru and dedicate yourself to him. The need for a guru is preeminent in Saiva Siddhanta. A guru focuses on our weakest areas, and thus helps us strengthen them and improve our life. To maximize spiritual progress scriptures and wise men all claim we must have a guru. It is the guiding hand of the guru that assures continued unfolding, as the guru tells the shishya, "You can do better! I know you can." Be loyal to your guru. Stick with him and follow his directions carefully.

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Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to

Unedited Transcript:

I thought an appropriate subject for the first talk of our Guru Purnima festival would be on the role of the guru.

Often we ask the question, "Is the guru really needed?"

The analogy I usually give in reply is with Hindu devotional music. However, we just heard that analogy. I will have to come up with a new one! I have another analogy. The spiritual path can be compared to learning Bharatanatyam. No parent would ever think of having their daughter learn Bharatanatyam without a teacher, right? Unheard of. One of the reasons is, in dance we progress because the teacher focuses on our weaknesses and consistently asks us to improve them. It is impossible to see our weaknesses in dance when we are just a beginner ourselves.

The guru is like the dance teacher. He focuses on the sishya's weakest areas and encourages him or her to improve them. Human nature is such that it is difficult to see ourselves clearly enough to identify our weak areas. A guru pointing them out is quite helpful.

Is the guru needed? By worshiping regularly at a temple and reading scripture, you can make some spiritual progress without a guru. But if you want to maximize your spiritual progress in this lifetime, you definitely need a guru.

There is an inspired lesson from Gurudeva in 'Living with Siva' on why a guru is necessary, which I would like to read from, here.

"Many of you have been studying with me for ten, twenty or thirty years. I want you to think and think through the rest of the day about the spirit of the satguru. Suppose you didn't have a satguru. You would be guided by the spirit of your intellect, or the spirit of your instinct, or the energies of confusion. The satguru only has one job, to keep his devotees on the right track. We do not follow the way of words, which is repeating from memory verses and stanzas of scripture with meagre mental interpretations of their meaning."

Go for it, Gurudeva!

" We follow the way of transformational spiritual unfoldment. We follow the marga of sadhana and tapas. Sishyas move from one stage to another in spiritual unfoldment as they progress through the different petals of the higher chakras and come into one or more inner awakenings, one after another. They are not to settle down in any one or several of the chakras and consider, "This is a nice life, I like this part of my unfoldment, so I won't strive further." They can't do that , because the spirit of the guru drives them onward. He is constantly thinking and saying, "That is not good enough. You can do better."

Did Chellappaguru ever say to Yogaswami, "OK, now we have done enough. Let us just be ordinary? NO. He kept walking him around and feeding him, walking him around and feeding him, walking him around and feeding him, walking him around and feeding him, until finally Satguru Yogaswami was walking around and feeding everybody himself, walking around and feeding everybody and eventually everybody was doing the same thing.

Passing on that spiritual quality., we don't have any problems. We don't have to solve problems with words. Problems are tackled with words when you follow the path of words. This can be a long, long, tedious process. But when spiritual awakenings are there, problems are solved by lifting consciousness. The problem goes away, just automatically goes away. It is a do-it-yourself process, a mystical tantra not to be ignored.

Every Hindu needs a satguru, a preceptor. The satguru is as much a part of Hinduism as are the temples, as are the Vedas and our other great scriptures, because not everyone can see for themselves. They need someone to see ahead a little bit for them and to keep them on the right track and in the right mood. Because people are tribal, they need a guide. I have heard prominent swamis all through the years remark, "You all need a spiritual guide. If you don't want me, find somebody else. But, you need someone to guide you through life. It could be a grandmother, it could be a grandfather, it could be your astrologer, a temple priest, a visiting yogi or a resident swami in your community, a sadhu, a pandit or a rare satguru -- somebody that you will listen to and follow. The choice must be made after much consideration, after talking with parents, consulting elders and searching the heart. Once the choice is made, don't change your mind. Be loyal and give him or her all the love and devotion you have to give and more. Take advice and admonition as golden offerings and proceed in confidence. Many benefits will come from their guidance on the path of dharma for a fruitful and fulfilling life."

And, the next paragraph is for me!

"A heavy burden falls upon the preceptor, too. He or she must produce results and continue to do so. Preceptors are not entertainers, content to be lauded or bowed down to in adulation. Rather, they must benefit their followers' lives, lessen their karmic burdens and strengthen the family, hold marriages together, as well as seek out potential religious leaders and train them well. They must follow the karmas of each individual and each family year after year. They must be there for devotees when needed most. They must demonstrate their shanti and bask in the bliss of attainment. They must be spirit, for spirit lives on."

Isn't that a nice quote? Spirit of the satguru. Moving on, back to my words.

Let us look now at the major tasks that a Guru does. I have created a list of five.

First, the guru provides encouragement to continue to strive and move forward. He encourages us to keep striving even when we are going through difficult times in our life. He also encourages us to strive to achieve more than we would otherwise.

Second, the guru helps us develop a spiritual self-concept. Whatever self-concept we bring to him - be it one of self doubt or one of great pride - the guru helps us move beyond it and identify with our spiritual nature so that we truly feel ourselves to be a divine being.

Third, the guru speaks the teachings and by listening to his spoken word, we have insights into the teachings far greater than we can acquire on our own by simply reading his books.

Fourth, the guru helps us improve our behavior through focusing on our weakest areas as well as giving us guidelines as to how we as a spiritual person should behave.

And fifth, the guru provides initiation to quicken our unfoldment.

Here is an example of encouragement. One of the themes of my talks during moksha ritau is always about realizing the Self. The idea is, we tend to put off into the future the possibility of realizing the Self with such thoughts as, "I am not ready yet or I am not yet worthy of Self Realization."

Gurudeva tells us that, "You are already That which you seek. There is none other." We are the Self but our soul body is becoming like the Primal soul. This is the mystery of both being and becoming Siva. Gurudeva's statement empowers us to claim our identity as the Self, right now.

Let us go deeply enough into meditation that we experience the Self. How would we know if we were successful? We would have a new perspective on ourself. Be aware for the first time of the transcendent part of us. A part of us which transcends time, form and space.

Let me read you a short talk which I found on the internet, in January 2001 on this subject.

"Thinking this morning a little about the Moksha ritau, the concept of realizing the Self and the perspectives related to that. You know I love analogies! To draw an analogy, when you are traveling a lot, you come home and you are dreaming. What do you do? Quite often you dream about traveling, you dream you are traveling and you are not yet home. You are dreaming and dreaming and dreaming. Then you wake up and say, "Oh, I was home the whole time. I was just dreaming that I was not home."

Has anyone done that coming back from a trip?

This is like the realization of the Self. You are going along in the conscious mind, in this case dreaming is in the subconscious of course. But when you wake up you are in the conscious mind. So in this case, we are in the conscious mind and we are thinking we are not realized, we are not realized, we are not realized, we are not realized. We are not home and then all of a sudden we wake up and say, "Oh! Do you know I have been home the whole time?"

What does that mean? It means there is more than one sense of reality. When we are dreaming, our dream is real, right? Totally real, we are certain that we are traveling and then as we get near waking up we start to doubt the reality of our dream. "Wait a minute. I think I have to go to work soon. Maybe, I am dreaming." We start to doubt the reality of what we have been experiencing as we start to come out of this. We wake up and we are in a different reality, in the conscious plane and say, "Oh, I was home all the time and I have to go to work. I am glad that I woke up."

We are accustomed to dealing with two different realities all the time, our dream state and our waking state. If we take the waking state as the dream and the realization of Parasiva as waking up, that is the analogy.

We are going along in the conscious mind, we are going, we are going, we are going, and we are moving closer and closer to the Self. Thinking that one day in the future we are going to get there, it is like we are going to get home. When you wake up by realizing it you say, "Oh, you know I was there all the time!"

We are dreaming that we are not Parasiva, that we are going to realize Parasiva sometime in the future. But realizing Parasiva is just like waking up. We say, "Oh you know, I was already Parasiva. I was just dreaming that I was not." It is like that.

We just have to claim it. We have to step beyond time and space, step out of the concept that we have to do something and then something else, and then something else in order to realize it. It is like when we are traveling in a dream. We just have to wake up and we find we were home all the time.

Moving on. In the list of the five major tasks of the guru, the second task is that he helps us develop a spiritual self-concept. Whatever self-concept we bring to him, the guru helps us move beyond it and identify with our spiritual nature, so that we truly feel ourselves to be a divine being.

Gurudeva chose to make this topic the first sloka of 'Dancing with Siva'.

"Rishis proclaim that we are not our body, mind or emotions. We are divine souls on a wondrous journey. We came from God, live in God and are evolving into oneness with God. We are, in truth, the Truth we seek. Aum."

Gurudeva found over the years that many of his devotees came to him with a negative self-concept. This is a sense of feeling that you are inherently flawed and inferior, that others are vastly superior to you. Parents create this in their children through frequent critical comments such as, "How could you do such a stupid thing? You are so dumb, you will never amount to anything."

It can take the guru years of work with the individual to help them replace the negative self-concept they received from their parents, with a positive self-concept in which we think of ourselves as a worthy individual, deserving a wonderful life.

Gurudeva accomplished this task in a number of ways. He emphasized throughout his writings that we are divine beings. He also gave us a number of metaphysical tools in 'Merging with Siva' to actually accomplish this transformation such as Vasana Daha Tantra and the power of affirmations. He offered abundant personal encouragement, as much as was needed.

The other possibility with our self-concept is that we are quite proud of our intellectual abilities. This can come from University training. We are smarter than others and want them to know it. This problem can be corrected by sincere worship of the Deity in the temple and home shrine. By acknowledging the Deity as so much greater than ourselves and learning to open ourselves to His blessings, the ego becomes subdued and a spiritual humility is developed.

Having a positive but humble self-concept about our outer self allows us to move into the second phase of the spiritualizing of our self-concept, which is to identify with our inner self, which is a divine being, a radiant soul.

However, Gurudeva does not allow us to stop there. He keeps us going deeper into ourselves, into the core of our soul until we claim our oneness with God as all-pervasive consciousness and transcendent reality.

These ideas regarding the soul are beautifully stated in 'Dancing with Siva', sloka number 26.

"Our individual soul is the immortal and spiritual body of light that animates life and reincarnates again and again until all necessary karmas are created and resolved and its essential unity with God is fully realized."

We will save the other three major tasks of the guru for subsequent talks during Guru Purnima. We have to have something for my two classes!

Hope you enjoyed that.