To light a candle one needs another burning candle; in the same way those who are unenlightened need the help of an illumined guru.
The Sanskrit word guru means ‘remover of darkness and ignorance’. It is a negative term in that it does not say that the guru gives you anything, only that he removes something. He removes the mental blocks and obstacles that prevent the spontaneous effulgence of the light of truth. The guru’s role is to remove the veil, the ignorance, the preconceived ideas and mental conditioning that prevent the already existing light from shining through. The more this accumulated dross is removed, the greater will be our awareness of ourselves and existence.
The means adopted by the guru varies greatly. It can be by personal instruction, by inspiring his followers, by rebuking his disciples for actions which are not in accordance with their nature (adharmic) and by guiding disciples so that their actions are appropriate to their own physical and mental make-up (dharma). But whatever the method used, the aim is the same: higher awareness.
The guru-disciple relationship
In a personal relationship between a guru and a disciple, the guru by virtue of his higher awareness can clearly see the mental blocks that the disciple himself cannot see. He takes steps to help the disciple remove them, by any means that axe suitable and justified. The gum supplies the strength which makes progress possible in spiritual life, and the divine love which makes it so rewarding and joyful.
The influence of the guru on the life of the disciple is very real but not always obvious. The process generally takes place on a subtle level and the relationship between guru and disciple on the physical level has little to do with it. In many cases the disciple never, or only rarely, sees the guru physically. On the other hand the disciple gives himself completely to the guru, using him as a focus for his spiritual aspirations. In a sense the goal of spiritual life, no matter what religion or philosophy, is to transcend the individual self and become united with the infinite nature of the gum. The guru is the gateway to the infinite through which the disciple tries to pass. The guru is the instrument of the Cod we are all striving towards. He is not interested in his disciples from a personal point of view. His interest is to take us all beyond ourselves to the personal realization of the eternal truth.
The only reason that the guru retains his individuality instead of merging with the absolute is the disciple’s need for him. As humans we need a human focus or medium through which we can project ourselves and from whom we can receive truly effective guidance. Few people are able to directly worship and give themselves to an abstract, impersonal God. Moreover, it is impossible to embark on the higher paths of yogic sadhana (spiritual practice) without the supervision of someone who knows its complexities and pitfalls. The guru does not need us, but we need the guru.
The love between gum and disciple embraces and transcends all other human relationships – mother and child, husband and wife or lifetime friends. It is through the gum-disciple relationship that the disciple’s potential and energy are given shape and direction to work the best possible good in the world as part of the divine plan.