Guru and the Great Beyond


Sri Swami Brahmananda

This article is a chapter from the book “Pointers on Vedanta”.

In addition to the fourfold qualifications, unflinching devotion to one’s spiritual preceptor is also insisted for spiritual aspirants, for quick spiritual progress. Some aspirants who have great devotion to God and firm faith in the scriptures, may lack the required intensity in their devotion to their spiritual preceptor. This is caused by their unpurified lower mind which noticing the preceptor’s Cheshtas (instinctive activities of the physical body) and finding no difference in them from their own actions, rank him as one among themselves. They fail to understand the real Guru in the personality of the preceptor. This is a great danger in spiritual path. The Svetasvatara Upanishad states that the ultimate Truth reveals Itself only in that high-souled one who has supreme devotion to his spiritual preceptor. Those who lack this requirement are disqualified to study the Vedantic texts, as this impurity of the intellect would stand in the way of realising the most subtle truths contained therein. The Secret of all secrets remains a secret to such aspirants. Hence, we find great spiritual texts even if made available through printing and free distribution, continue to remain as closed books among the majority. The egoism which persists in the aspirants till they leave back the last rung of the spiritual ladder, is likely to push them down the steps at any moment, unless they are extremely vigilant and watchful at every step. Any slight inadvertence is enough to cause a great and immediate fall, even as a ball dropped unawares at the top-most step of a staircase falls down on the ground in no time. Complete surrender to God and one’s own spiritual preceptor who are not really different from one’s own Self, can alone save one from such a catastrophe. A fall of the aspirant from spiritual heights is more dangerous and painful than a fall of the physical body from great mountain heights. For, in the latter, harm is caused only to one body, while in the former, it results in suffering in the form of transmigratory life in several bodies.

The scriptures are never tired of insisting on devotion to the spiritual preceptor. The Chhandogya Upanishad says: “A person who has a preceptor knows Brahman” (VI-14-ii). The Tripad-Vibhuti Maha-Narayana Upanishad states: “Just as a born-blind man cannot have any knowledge about colour and form, even so, one cannot get the knowledge of Truth without the instruction of the preceptor even in a crore of Kalpas” (chapter V). The Advaya Taraka Upanishad closes its instructions on the Atman-Brahman with a glorious tribute to the spiritual preceptor.

Even pragmatic knowledge–mere collection of information about the perishable objects of the world, not about their real nature but about their name and form alone–one learns only through a teacher. What to speak of Brahman-Knowledge, the Knowledge of the Reality that is hidden under the names and forms! It can never be had without a preceptor. This has been the experience of those who have successfully treaded the spiritual path. Reason also supports this fact. For, Brahman-Knowledge being beyond the ken of the intellect, one has to depend upon one’s own preceptor. The preceptor who is well-versed in the spiritual lore and himself established in the Truth, through a mysterious power, imparts the Knowledge. The Atman alone reveals the Atman to the Atman. An illustration from our daily experience is given by Acharya Suresvara, in his Naishkarmya Siddhi, to show how it is impossible to explain logically the part played by the Mahavakya ‘Tat-tvam-asi’ in the revelation of the Reality in the aspirants. A sleeping man is awakened by a mere sound. How the man is awakened cannot be logically explained. One cannot say that the man hears the sound and therefore wakes up, for in the state of deep sleep his organ of hearing, along with the other organs and the mind is absent having merged itself in its cause. Can one deny that the man does not hear the sound? No, for he could not have woken up without hearing the sound. Thus we cannot say that he does not hear. This simple fact seems to be a mystery when we try to explain it. The action of the Mahavakya imparted to the disciple by the preceptor, is something similar, says the Acharya, impossible of rational explanation, for it is the realm of the Great Beyond, which is beyond the range of the limited human intellect.

Having given this piece of precept to readers, the spiritual aspirants treading the path, regarding the role of the preceptor in the scheme of Self-realisation and the basic necessity of an attitude of self-surrender to the preceptor, Totakacharya offers his obeisance to his preceptor, the great Acharya Sankara of world renown, the greatest expounder of the philosophy which goes by the name of Advaita, in beautiful, poetic language, revealing the disciple’s absolute self-surrender to the preceptor, the bestower of Immortality. ‘O Lord’, says the author, ‘I have been swaying like a pendulum in the swing of never-ceasing cycle of births and deaths caused by the beginningless nescience. My head has been reeling due to the sufferings in my innumerable births in all kinds of wombs, high and low. Like children clinging to the swing out of fear of falling, I also have been holding fast to this life of transmigration, mistaking the unreal for the Real, the insentient for Sentience and pain for Bliss. O my saviour, you, the foremost among the wise on the face of this earth, grant Liberation from the thraldom of this phenomenal existence, to your disciples who possess the fourfold qualifications and who surrender themselves to you, by imparting the supreme Knowledge of Atman-Brahman. You have, once for all, destroyed the nescience in my mind, through your instructions, like the effulgent sun doing away with the darkness of night through its rays of light. I offer my prostrations again and again at your holy feet, through my body, organs and mind. O my Lord, you, the greatest of the Paramhamsas are my Saviour. I shall continue to remain at your feet, serving you throughout my life.

The fourfold qualifications are:

Discrimination between the Atman and the not-Atman, real dispassion born out of such discrimination, the six virtues (viz., tranquility of mind, control of the senses, calmness, endurance, faith in one’s preceptor and the scriptures and one-pointedness of mind), and an earnest and burning aspiration to get out of this Samsara.

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