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The Spiritual Teacher

guru shishya copy

In all spiritual traditions the teacher, or the guru as we call him in India, occupies a pivotal place. The teacher in the spiritual quest is not an instructor. He is not a director who tells you what to do, who shows you the way to libraries and books, and whose duty to you is done once you are out of the classroom.

A teacher is regarded in the Indian tradition as someone even more than the father. It is declared in the Tantric scriptures that parents give you a human birth but the teacher gives you a birth into the spirit of God. His is a greater service than that of the father. And a guru represents to the disciple, to the seeker, the very godhead, the very divinity to which he aspires.

Whatever may be the perfections or the imperfections of the teacher from the human level, the disciple opens to the divine part in the teacher when he accepts him as the guru. He is not merely fascinated by, attracted or bound to the human side; it is something divine in the teacher, something the soul of the disciple has an affinity with, that attracts him.

The true link is between the divine part of the teacher and the soul of the disciple. Through this central part the divine knowledge, the divine reality to which one aspires, emanates; it pours down upon the disciple.

When the teacher is satisfied that a seeker is intended to be his disciple and that he is intended by the divine to be its channel to reach Him, he decides in which line of yoga, in which line of spiritual effort the novice is to be initiated. He observes the seeker – his nature, his evolutionary development so far – his aspiration, the direction of his soul – and chooses the precise line that he is to be initiated into.

This initiation is a highly fascinating subject. There are as many as sixteen modes of initiation. It is not necessary for our purpose to go into too much detail about these diverse modes. All that should be understood is that there is not just one way of initiation. The traditional way, familiarised in India, of the teacher whispering some mantra or word into the ear of the disciple is only one way. There are many others.

The teacher just thinks of the disciple and an impact is made; something of the spiritual dynamism of the teacher impinges upon him and sets off a spiritual motor in his heart. Or he looks and in the very sight a contact is made. Or he touches the disciple – there is a physical transmission. And so on, there are various methods which are open to the spiritual teacher.

People ask me in person or through correspondence: “How are we to be sure that the Mother has accepted us as her disciples? She has not given us a mantra, she has not touched us and said, `you are initiated’.” I am obliged to tell them that hers is not the usual, traditional way; she has many ways of initiating, of accepting the seeker as a disciple. But one thing she has said is that when you accept her as your teacher, you may take it that you are automatically accepted by her as her disciple. The onus is upon the seeker; the sincerity with which he accepts her decides the depth upon which his discipleship stands.

By whatever means the teacher accepts the seeker as his disciple, it is graphically described in the mystic tradition of India that the teacher takes him into his own being. When the disciple is thus taken in, there is formed a foetus, as it were; he stays in the womb for full three days (three is a significant figure) and thereafter when the spiritual child is born the very gods are present to greet the newcomer. The past human birth and life is left behind and he is born into a new life.

The teacher Sri Aurobindo describes does not arrogate to himself a superior position, demanding obedience from the disciple. An ideal teacher is one who does not dictate. There is his teaching, there is his example; he is there embodying the ideal which you seek to realise. That he is present in concrete form is itself a great encouragement, a standing power to inspire the disciple.

There is, besides, his continuous influence, known and unknown to the disciple. There is an incessant radiation of the spiritual vibrations of the teacher falling upon all in his surroundings creating an effortless atmosphere of progress, of growth towards the ideal.

– M.P. Pandit