Pictured above: the late Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
We interviewed Shantimurti about his view on the role of the guru:
What is the role of the guru?
The word ‘guru’ means teacher, or dispeller of darkness. So the guru is someone who helps to elevate the mind from an ignorant state to a knowing, enlightened state. That is the role of guru. Anyone who does that could be considered a guru.
Most people have one guru that they stick with. But then having said that, there are many people who have more than one guru. They may spend time with one and then move on to another. They may have more than one at the same time, usually from the same lineage. The guru might die and so they accept someone else as guru.
Don’t worship dead gurus – Swami Satyananda
For example, in the case of Swami Satyananda and his disciple Swami Niranjanananda, many who considered Swami Satyananda to be their guru switched to Swami Niranjanananda. And this was before Swami Satyananda died. Times change, lineages and organizations move on. Though I’m sure that a lot of people would have both of them in their heart and mind as guru.
How should a person behave towards a guru?
With respect. Once you lose respect for your guru, then obviously that person is waning on that level in your life. Ideally, the relationship between a guru and a disciple is love. It is a devotional, anahata kind of relationship.
Of course, many of us can experience that fleetingly. And for many of us our love is covered by all sorts of things without us even knowing. But from time to time in history, there has been the purity of the guru disciple relationship.
I think Swami Satyananda and Swami Niranjanananda would be in that category. Swami Niranjanananda appeared to be totally dedicated to Swami Satyananda’s mission and to Swami Satyananda himself – come hell and high water. And of course over the years there was hell and high water!
What about disillusionment with the guru?
There are many different levels of humanity and many different levels of guru too. On the pure level, the satguru is such a person – beyond reproach and possessed of all the higher virtues. But on a more human level there are plenty of gurus with mixed qualities.
And it is not the guru that makes the guru. It is the student who goes to the guru and makes that person the guru.
The student goes to have their darkness dispelled – to have their illusions removed. And sometimes this happens when they discover that the guru secretly has a girlfriend, or children, or drinks alcohol, or any other number of human characteristics.
Finding out the human side of the guru can be quite shattering. But what gets shattered? The student’s unrealistic expectations and imaginations about what the guru is. Sometimes the disappointment can be so great that the student commits suicide.
On a positive side, this disillusionment can be quite liberating because it challenges the student to be unconditionally loving and find a way of accepting the guru despite his or her human faults. And if we can accept the flaws of the guru, then it is easier to accept them in ourselves and others, we become more compassionate.
There are many gurus who have disillusioned their followers, especially in the late 1980s. Many had to come to terms with the humanness of these gurus. Some say their actions were designed to be lessons for their followers, but I don’t think that is the case.
Do you have to obey the guru?
As soon as a person accepts that guru, that’s it. After that, traditionally, what the guru says goes. What practice is given and sometimes what lifestyle is given is usually followed. This is why it is suggested to have a living guru. For most people this is hard. It makes the difference between disciple and student.
Swami Satyananda said when I was initiated, ‘as for the rules, I don’t think there are any.’ I know that under other circumstances it has been different with him. And certainly with other gurus and teachers it has been different – they’ve demanded discipline.
But in the final reality, if a person is completely open, completely honest and totally intelligent, they would have to acknowledge that there are actually no rules. There are disciplines that you do to achieve things, but there are no rules.
I think that as a person’s mind becomes more liberated, they begin to live a more unconditional life – free from dogmatic rules. For them life is a play of actions and consequences, and not artificial boundaries. There is nothing fixed anymore.
Who is your guru?
The late Swami Satyananda was my living guru for a long, long time. He was there for many, many years. But now that he has taken maha-samadhi, I don’t feel like I need a person in my life to fulfil the guru relationship anymore.
I have spent time around Swami Niranjanananda and I’ve always respected him – regardless of what the gossipers say. But I’ve never felt drawn to him as a guru. I think he is a fantastic leader who has done an amazing job. He has many, many beautiful disciples and devotees – a few weird ones too!
Are you a guru?
Am I a guru? I don’t know. If a person considered me to be their guru, in all honesty, I feel that I would have to honour that decision whether I liked it or not and act accordingly.
Acting accordingly could be anything. If I thought the person was not sincere, I might brush them off. Or, if I thought that they were truly sincere and choosing it as a part of their spiritual development, then I would feel obliged to honour it.
I am happy to teach people, but if someone came along and said “You are my guru” – as it has occasionally happened over the years – then a couple of times I really looked at the situation and acknowledged where they were coming from and honoured it.
Having people ask me to be a guru changed my idea of myself. I realised that whether I like it or not it is not my decision. It’s their decision – they’ve made it.
I try to honour the decisions that people make for themselves – especially when they are sincerely working on their spiritual life. I try to support and encourage them so they can move into their own spirituality quickly.
Once a person awakens the inner guru, then it is a whole different story. They don’t actually need any teaching anymore because they have awoken the real master within. They have awoken to real knowledge. They probably have all the techniques under the sun and have established themselves in sadhana (spiritual practice) and they just move more and more deeply into this aspect. I think there definitely comes a stage when a person transcends the need for an external guru.